Friday, December 8, 2017

My Journey With Braille

This article was published in the Fall 2017 issue of Dialogue Magazine.
I love books.
One of my earliest memories is sitting with my patient grandmother, slowly reading to her from the Bible story book she’d given to my brothers and me for Christmas when I was in first grade. It wasn’t long though before I couldn’t see well enough to make out even the large print in those early children’s books.
Then I would bring books home from school and beg my mother to read to me. My favorite was MY FRIEND FLICKA. But my parents were farmers, and they had four kids to take care of. There could never be time to read enough books to satisfy me.
When I turned eleven, something happened to change my world.
I learned braille.
I was so hungry to read books for myself, I rushed to learn this new system. I was introduced to talking books at the same time, and I love them too. But braille has always been my favorite.
For forty-five years now, braille has been an everyday part of my life—for pleasure reading, writing, housekeeping, school, and work.
When I started my own writing, I filled an unbelievable number of three-ring binders with poems and short stories. I took notes in school, all the way through graduate school, with a slate and stylus.
From the time my children were babies, I found joy in reading to them—The Chronicles of Narnia, The Little House Books, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Treehouse Mysteries, so many more.
I was the queen of braille labels—everything from the colors of my hair ribbons when I was a teenager, to cans of food and other household items, to the office files when I was a secretary at the University of Missouri. And when I became a rehabilitation teacher, the most fun part of my job was teaching braille.
When the opportunity came along about ten years ago for me to take a class in braille transcribing from the Library of Congress, I jumped at it.
After becoming certified in braille transcribing, I moved on to the braille proofreading course. This was after I’d been brain injured from an accident, and I’m sure that made it more difficult. I can remember almost finishing so many pages of braille lessons, down to the last line, and then making a mistake. I can’t begin to count all the times I had to start over and redo a page.
I complained about this constantly to my family, and finally my daughter Rebecca gave me a cheerful reply. “Every time you make a mistake, put a quarter in a jar. When you’re done, use all the quarters you’ve saved to buy yourself chocolate.”
She was good for me. I didn’t do it, but this was a perfect response to cheer me through my whining and discouragement.
After all those hours of work and starting pages over again, I received a certification for Braille Proofreading as well.
Then came Unified English Braille, UEB. If I wanted to continue with braille transcribing and proofreading, I could study for the Library of Congress UEB test to add to my other certificates.
I love braille. I would love to keep braille as a part of my working life.
But what was all this?
A list of contractions which would no longer be used. Changes in how contractions could and could not be used. And then all the changes in punctuation and new symbols, to more accurately copy print, and to be more useable with computers.
I don’t know if other braille readers would agree with me, but I believe that it won’t be hard for general readers to become comfortable with UEB. Just by reading, they will get used to the lack of some contractions and the new ways some contractions are used. Also, many books and magazines list the new symbols at the front of the book.
To me, it seems it will be hardest for teachers and transcribers to learn to switch from the former rules, to try to use all the new rules perfectly.
But I was willing to try. I studied for months.
And then came the test.
I had a two-part, at home test to take, allowing me to look up rules I had questions about.
More and more hours of work, and so many pages to redo.
I complained to Rebecca again. She had two suggestions.
“Think of all the good you’re doing to the environment for me, all that paper to recycle.” And: “Think of all the good exercise you’re getting for your fingers.”
Grumbling, I said I liked the chocolate idea better. But I kept on working.
Then came the grade for the first part of the test. No errors were found. Oh, how my head swelled.
The second part of the test. Oh, how my head deflated.
I did not make the required 90 points to pass this part of the test.
However, since my score was above 80 points, I could redo the parts of the test I’d gotten wrong.
More grumbling. More hours of work. Thinking, searching the rules, trying to figure out what mistakes I’d made. But finally, I had the resubmission of the second part done as well as I could do it, and it was mailed.
Now all I had to do was wait.
My letter came yesterday, August 9, 2017, and I passed the test. No need to swell my head with pride about the score, but I passed. I am so excited. Now I can look for more work to do to continue my journey with braille.

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