"This is our first day of kindergarten." The faces of the small children grouped around the teacher all looked up with energy filled expectation. "I want us to talk about one very, very important skill all teachers want their students to learn. It is reading. First, to make sure we understand new words --- what is a skill?" Teacher and students shared back and forth, clarifying several key words.
The teacher asked, "How many of you can read?" Nearly all hands shot up. "Oh my, what a smart class." Testing prior to the beginning of school had shown the teacher each studentís skill level. Nearly all of them could read, most only a few words and a very few could actually read beginning childrenís books.
"Why do you think being able to read is important?" Many voices and hands answered her question.
Pointing to a small girl bouncing on her knees, hand pumping, the teacher chose, "Breanna."
"ďTo read to your mommy and daddy."
"Good answer. Reading to your parents is an excellent reason. Thank you."
After taking several more answers the teacher moved into the next phase of the dayís plan. "It is also important for you children to learn from one another. Today, I have asked two students to bring one of their favorite books and read it to the class. And by the end of this school year, I expect that you all will have your turn." Indicating the kid-size chair at her side, ď"Michael, you are first.Ē
Seated, the small boy nervously fingered his brightly colored book, holding its cover forward to show it to his audience. ďMy favorite book is ĎRuffles, The Big Red Dog.Ē Positioning it on his lap, he began reading.
"Thank you Michael. And now, Kendra. Please come up to our reading chair." Tapping the chair, the teacher watched the small girl with her arching cane home in on the sound guide.
"Students, remember, earlier today, we learned about why Kendra uses a white cane when she moves around the school."
"A young voice from the audience said, "She blind."
"Yes, she is blind." Carrying on, the teacher said, "And so now we are going to learn about Braille, which is how Kendra can read."
The small girl seated, cane at her feet, the teacher asked, "Kendra, first please show and tell us the name of your book. Then tell the class a little about Braille."
Composure intact, Kendra answered, "I learned to read when I was three. You read print because you can see it. I read Braille, because I am blind and blind people read Braille with their fingers. Braille is raised dots. I can read as good as anybody." She raised the book up for all to see its cover. "My favorite book is the ĎPrincess and the Pea.í My daddy calls me his Princess."
"Hey," exclaimed a student! "No picture! No letters!"
After the stories were read, the teacher again addressed her class. "Miss Young, my assistant has arranged the chairs in a circle. Each of you have your own chair, your name is on it. So to find your chair, you must read the name-tag." The classroom noise level fell, then swelled; expressions on faces ranged from blank wonderment, to knowing intelligence. "Reading is important. I know some of you cannot read yet. However, soon I expect that you will. So for help now, ask your neighbor or Miss Young or me to assist you." The noisy reading and sorting began.
"Sheís sitting in my chair!" The outcry of the small red-haired boy was all but lost in the overall noise level.
"Kendra --- Tommy, we need to check the label,Ē" intervened the frazzled Para. Lightly touching the petite blind girl sitting quietly on the chair in question, "Honey, did you feel for the Braille label on the back of the seat?" Leaning forward to look herself as she spoke.
"A problem here?" The teacher walked up.
"Oh my," Miss Young looked at her boss, "the name-tag is missing."
"Tommy knocked it off and it fell on the seat," said the boy from the next chair over.
"Yes, Iím sitting on my name," said Kendra. "And Tommy, you need to learn to read Braille."
The eyes of the two adults met, both smiled, the teacher said, "Kendra, we are going to call you, our Braille Princess."
e-mail responses to firstname.lastname@example.org
**1. That's a really sweet story! I'll get to the point though. I definitely think learning Braille is very important, and blind children should be learning it at the same time their sighted peers are learning to read print. Children should not have to be ashamed to have to do things differently, and this is where a positive attitude from their parents and teachers comes in. I started learning Braille when I was 3, and I too was quite fluently reading by the time I was in first grade. In fact, I was often asked to read to other kids in my class for some of the same reasons you described in this story. The other advantage to introducing Braille to kids at such a young age is because they're much more likely to be genuinely curious and not resentful because this child is getting more "attention" than they are. I know most kids at that age responded positively to me--it was only after I got a little older that they started picking on me because I was blind. But the ones who were my friends as we grew up, I believe they were initially drawn to me by a fascination of what was different, because they wanted to learn something, but also they could always remember what they had learned from me. I also think it's important for a child to learn Braille from an early age and not be too heavily dependent on audio because if they are, they're going to lack skills in proper use of spelling and grammar. No offense, but the majority of blind people I know are terrible at either spelling, grammar or both. They don't know where punctuation belongs, and ask me to proofread their work sometimes. I don't mind doing that, but I can't help but think each time that they would have been better off if they had not relied so heavily on others reading for them. I think books on tape or CD do have their place, especially college textbooks that would be impossible or impractical to obtain in Braille, but I honestly think that, even with the use of contractions, one "feels" the text under their fingers much the same way a sighted person reads with their eyes, and that helps the brain to "visualize" and remember how things are spelled, rules of grammar, etc. I know there are sighted people who have trouble with spelling as well, but it just seems odd to me that so many blind people I've met have this problem. I went to a school for the blind, and I encountered that with most of the people I met there. I wouldn't give up my early education in Braille for anything, and I definitely th ink it's sad that the number of blind people who are illiterate as a result of not being taught Braille is at such a high percentage.
Well, that's just my two cents.
Desiree Oudinot, Pennsylvania, USA
**2. I think it is important for children to learn Braille at an early age. I learned it when I was 5 years old. For me Braille is invaluable. Using braille helps me when studying or giving a presentation in class. I also think it is important for the children to learn what braille is and how their blind classmate used it to read just like they can. I was surprised that the girl was able to find her seat but I was proud that she was able to do it.
Rania, Ismail nj
**3. Kendra already has a very good start. Obviously, her parents worked with her and got her some training, before she was in school. She knows how to read Braille and a little about her cane. So, she has a very good start.
It's also refreshing to see teachers who aren't afraid to talk about their blind student, and introduce blindness and her alternative techniques to the other kids. I think, by doing this, right from the start, Kendra has a much better chance of being included with the other kids, in their activities, than she might otherwise have.
Also, from an early exposure to a positive view of blindness, the other kids in the class will have a better attitude toward blindness and not be as apprehensive when they meet another blind person.
Kendra, in her first morning of school, has done a great deal to instill proper attitudes, with the kids and teachers, alike. But, at the same time, she is still a kid. She sat down in a chair, not looking for her name, even though her name was there; just not where she expected it to be. So, the kids will learn from Kendra, and Kendra will learn from her teachers and the other kids.
Cindy Handel Willow Street, Pa.
**4. Well, if all kids, blind or sighted, had such a positive view of reading, we'd have far fewer difficulties in our educational system. Universal literacy? Universal acceptance? Glad to read this particular T.P. Also glad to consider it might reflect some real life circumstances. On a far more sour note: There exist those educators who still consider braille as something less functional than print. No news here.
**5. Children in kindergarten seemed like a lifetime ago since I was in there shoes. After reading this thought provoker, not only was I focusing on the narrative, I found myself back in Mrs. Posyís kindergarten class. There were so many new and exciting sights to behold. Above the blackboard was the alphabet. I can remember staring at those letters. Some I knew, many I didnít. However after reading this several times I saw different facets of this account.
Reading is by far the most important tool we have. Without being able to read the world is closed to us. Education is the key ingredient, and reading is the fundamental foundation education is built upon.
Letís once again go inside this classroom.
We see many excited, yet reserved children. Who can read asked the teacher? Numerous hands shoot high into the air. Certainly many of these children know a handful of words they can spell, or identify. Many, the exact number we arenít subjected to, canít spell there name. Perhaps those who could find there seat were able to distinguish the first letter of there name.
However letís back-up a tad.
Kendra the blind girl is asked to come forward. With the use of her cane she approaches the teacher and the chair in question.
Kendra is asked by the teacher to tell the class about Braille. She holds up the book, and tells the class this is a book of Braille. This is what blind people read. I can read as well as you and have been since the age of three.
I would venture to say Kendra can read, or perhaps identify the letters better than the majority of the other children in class. This isnít spoken of, or even eluded to. Many on this list have been sightless since birth. This narrative didnít expose whether or not Kendra was born blind. However to support my argument Iím going to state this young lady has never nor will ever see.
Children are exposed to many factors while they are growing. Spotting the written word for sighted children are everywhere. Perhaps recognizing letters stem from exposure like this. I said they can recognize the letters, not necessarily being able to name them.
Kendra, as all, or the majority of blind children are exposed to Braille. From an early age there fingers are on the letters. Letter A is dot one. C is one four. So this blind child is learning the letter by identification by feel. So the reinforcement is there.
On the other side of the coin are the sighted children. What is the two aspects of Braille recognized by the children? There are no pictures, I donít see any letters. I think that is a good observation. However to Kendra the letters are there. No pictures one child says.
I wasnít born blind I lost my sight as an adult. However I might be wrong with my observation however hear me out.
A blind child seeís with their hands. There fingers are there eyes. Something concrete you can put a name to. How do you explain something you canít touch? A cloud, fog or any color. Yes Iím certain all of you can give me a good definition of most imperceptible objects. However how do you explain these things to a child?
What is a picture to Kendra, or any insubstantial object, besides a word?
Now I have a mixed outlook on the ending of this narrative.
On the back of the chair is your name the teacher states to the children. See if you can discover which seat is yours? The children in a bemused group are searching for their chair. Kendra we learn is already sitting. Her name isnít on the back of the chair, or is it? I am going to suggest that Kendraís name was on the back of the chair. She touched the vertical portion finding nothing. Her fingers moved down the back of the chair. Well low and behold her name is on the seat. Well the seat has four sides. The left, right, front, and back. She found her name on the back of the seat. Why do I believe this? She is sitting on her name. So this is where the teacher placed it. If she didnít believe this I think she would have said, my name wasnít on the back, it was on the seat.
Now Tommy who accidentally knocked off her name. Iím not certain this was a truthful mistake. I could be reading more into this than what is stated. However I have never been someone who believes still water runs shallow.
This can be entirety conjecture on my part.
Iím certain you all know that person who canít be wrong. They want to be the center of attention with everything they do. Iím going to suggest that Tommy is such a person. Who is the attention focused upon? In Tommieís mind, why not him? Knocking off Kendraís name accidently perhaps, intentionally maybe. Without knowing Tommyís personality this question canít be answered. However I just wanted to add this element to this narrative for speculation.
Peter Poliey published author and poet.
**6. This is a charming story, but I am afraid it is just that-a fiction story. I visit a class of preschool and elementary school children yearly. This school has classes for pre-school and elementary school children. I have yet to see a kindergarten child who could read Braille. This is unfortunate, but this particular school has a population of children from different countries, many who have non-English parents-and they are Unfortunately not nearly as educated as your story indicates in this particular class. A few of the children are encouraged to read Braille at school, but get no help at home. An even fewer of the brighter ones eventually learn Braille, but I am afraid the percentage of them can barely make through school in order to graduate.
Sorry to sound so pestimistic, but , as important as learning Braille is, it is not not nearly as pushed as it should be.
**7. This sounds like a wonderful kindergarten class. I don't really remember kids learning braille at three years old when I was growing up but there are no blind children in my life right now so maybe I haven't kept up with the times as well as I should.
I love the way the teacher and her aide have fostered and encouraged imagination in their students, both the sighted ones and the blind one. It is important, not only to help blind and sighted people to be aware of, and sensitive to, each other but to actually be able to imagine and get a feel for each other's circumstances. This empathy shines through in the story of Kendra and her classmates.
**8. Wow! I'd have liked to be in a class so well-mainstreamed where the teachers know how to cope with blindness and make Kendra feel at home; Kendra will surely have a good image of school being a place where everybody is equal if the school year started out so well. Painfully at least once in our lives our first day of whatever class we take (be it grade school, university or courses we take to keep professionally upbeat) always leaves a mark (be it positive or negative) on how the year will progress; I say this from experiences I've had both good and bad. though it's our job to teach blindness skills and how to interact with us to the teacher/facilitator and the group, it definitely feels awesome when the teacher/facilitator has had experiences with blind people; I always get a good gut feeling when this happens that I won't be left out from activities because the teacher beforehand, thinks of ways to include me in them.
secondly would have liked to have been able to have known Kendra's Braille reading level when entering school; I would have felt better and more integrated with the other students. Seems Kendra has a good self-esteem especially in the comment that she can read as well as everybody else and seems she has internalized this feeling. Thus, self-esteem marks a difference in one's experiences in school and in life.
**9. This reminds me of a running gag by cartoonist Joe Martin. He draws an absurd act, then writes the caption, "People unclear on the concept."
First, consider the student who yelled, "Hey! No pictures!" At first glance, you might think it means he does not understand that Kendra is blind, and that pictures are useless in a Braille book. That is true. But it also speaks volumes about the sighted child's concept of print. His demand for "pictures" is typical of lazy sighted children who want to take the easy way out. A school-age child must reach the point where he does not need "pictures" to understand what is on the page. It is said that "A picture is worth a thousand words." But it is better to know a thousand words than to know a single picture.Incidentally, the fact that Kendra learned Braille at age 3 (and the fact
that she was cool and composed) is a testimony to her parents. Realizing that she would need special skills, they didn't wait to put her to work. There was no delay in her cane-training, either, and this went a long way in building Kendra's confidence, to do what she had to do. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Therefore, Kendra was ready to hit the ground running.
Another thing to notice is "the overall noise level," which drowned out the protest "She's sitting in my chair!" That tells me that most of these children had not been taught how to behave themselves in a public setting. All the shouting and chatter among them got to be rather confusing. Meanwhile, Kendra spoke calmly. She also listened carefully for the sound of the "tap." This also is a testimony to her parents. They wisely taught Kendra to listen. After all, her hearing would be no better, but it did need to be more disciplined. And Kendra's calm speech is a subtle way of avoiding one pet peeve among the blind. Have you ever had sighted people shout at you, as if you were hard of hearing? Then you insist, "I'm blind, not deaf!" So her parents must have said, "Speak calmly, and you will get calm responses. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." (On the other hand, I wouldn't mind if you shouted at me. My hearing is getting pretty bad.)
Kendra does make one mistake. She insists, "Tommy, you need to learn Braille." Not necessarily. Tommy should figure out that the presence of dots (and the lack of print) indicates that this is Kendra's seat. That's like saying he needs to learn sign language just to figure out where the deaf kid sits. No, Tommy has enough information to know his place. Then he should memorize it, label or no label. Of course, he could learn Braille, if he wants.
The teacher makes a mistake as well. She should not refer to Kendra as the "Braille Princess." This could develop into jealousy in the other children. Kendra should be commended for her skills. But she should not be placed too high on a pedestal, either. There's a fine line there. Blind kids generally do not want to be pitied; but neither should they brag about learning skills that everyone else should know such as reading and behavior. Put that in reverse: if a sighted kid was a skilled reader, should you tell blind kids that she is the "Print Princess"? I wouldn't.
David Lafleche RI
**10. It's good not to be ashamed of blindness. It's great that Kendra is reading Braille. It's also good that the kids are learning that an equivalent way to do something--reading--exists which makes Kendra their equal, if differently so.
**11. I wonder what kind of school this is in the story. When I went to school I didn't learn to read until I was in the first grade. They say here that the students could read in kindergarten, well at least most of them could read their favorite stories. My mother learned most of her beginning reading at home. She read labels on things, Etc.
How did Kendra start reading at three years of age? Was her mother a teacher? I know this isn't the point of the thought provoker, but I was struck by this early-reading phenomanon.
Now to the point. Kendra and the teacher were showing the whole class braille which was really neat. They even put a braille label on her seat. What a special thing to have a personalized seat. I think it would have been fun for Kendra to have a braille label on everybody's seat so she could learn where everybody sat in class. Amyway I think what the teacher did was a great idea. Everybody had a great attitude about how important it was for Kendra to have her braille to read and to study along with the rest of the class. She loved to read too.
**12. I'm really glad you brought this provoker to our attention. with the Braille literacy crisis, all of us (including blind people) need to be reminded of the importance of braille.
I'm really glad that the teacher brought Braille to the students' attention, but I felt that perhaps it could have been done with a little less attention drawn to Kendra (is that her name?). In any case, it's already hard enough being the only blind kid in a school or classroom, but to single one out can be challenging especially since blind kids are often charged with the responsibility of educating their peers. I'm not so sure that kids should be charged with educating their peers because it does single them out. I spent my whole life doing that, and I'm not so sure it was always a good thing. Sure, the kids need to be educated, but I'd rather see a reading fair or a book fair where a blind adult does the educating about Braille in a non-performing kind of way so that Kendra can actually just be one of the kids. I feel the same way about her being called "The Braille Princess." I think it's important to realize that blindness is a part of one's identity, but singling out a blind person like that could potentially start the pattern of "She's so amazing" and having her swallow that as part of her self concept just because she does normal things.
I liked how the teacher suggested that the sighted boy learn Braille. That's a good idea. It wouldn't kill sighted kids to at least learn the alphabet.
Finally, I think that we need to understand that Braille is more than a code. It's reading. Too often, people separate the two even though they're the same thing.
**13. Greetings, I think the fact that this child knew Braille was a good thing, as well as the fact that she already had cane skills at such a young age, which is something that I didn't, even though I went to a school for the blind, have at that age yet. And the fact that this child already knew Braille, and already knew how to use a cane, well, this girl exuded confidence and self-assurance, despite her blindness. It was truly a wonderful thing to read/hear.
This brings to the forefront of my mind the fact that only a small percentage of blind students learn to read Braille. And I'm wondering how this would affect them as far as issues of independence and self-esteem go.
Ginny Quick, Winter Haven, Florida
**14. I will be 77 years old in December. I was declared legally blind 52 years ago, and have been completely blind with no light perception for about 25 years. I learned Braille at the tender age of 50, when I attended my first major rehab facility. I worked very hard to learn it, then upon my return to the mainstream life, I found I had little use for it, and my limited skills were quickly lost. I returned to rehab later for a three week course in computer literacy, and found my niche. I have found no situations where something other than Braille skills would not have rescued me. In my opinion, the 13 weeks I spent learning Braille would have been better spent learning to use a computer and the internet. Having said that, I think it is great that young blind children learn to use all of the tools available to them, even if they never use them. In this story, I am not clear how Kindra found her chair if the Braille tag had been knocked off, but I do find it disturbing that a teacher and an aide of mainstream education, should find humor in a blind kindergartner's problem. I wonder if the two adults are being patronizing or maybe if they have a "conventional reading method prince?" There are probably implications here of reasonable accommodation and other things, but not being a professional, I have difficulty assessing a problem or a solution for this situation.
Jim Theall, Longmont, CO
**15. Is it realistic for a first grade teacher, whose mission it is to teach her students reading with all that entails, beginning math and other subjects to teach her class braille also? If a blind child is mainstreamed it is important to point out the differences in learning and mobility, but this sounds like a pretty heavy load for a regular first grade classroom.
Judith NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**16. I like what Robert's done. Yes, it'll be a heavy load for the class, however, Braille interests sighted youngsters. And, if this student is willing to share what she knows with her classmates, and the teacher is willing to encourage it, then by all means, let the class learn Braille. I commend the child for being so firm in her belief that her fellow classmates should learn how to read like she does, and being able to explain the differences between her form of reading and their's.
Aziza NFB Writers' division Mailing List
**17 I like the open mindedness of the teacher, but she shouldn't teach the other kids to read Braille. Its not necessary.
Justin Williams NFB Writers' division Mailing List
**18. Why not? Lots of kids who aren't deaf learn sign to talk to deaf friends. So why can't kids learn Braille to pass notes to a friend? But in this case, I expect the teacher wouldn't be teaching all the kids Braille. Even vision teachers (at least in my state) don't know enough Braille to really be effective.
(Sorry. Can't seem to keep the cynicism out of my emails!)
Lori Stayer NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**19. The fact that Braille is reading and writing can never, ever be overlooked by touchy pictures, wild straw drawings, noodle art or colorful paint globs. BRAILLE IS READING. It is not always read by a cute little boy or girl on grade level in public schools who happens to have diligent parents. No matter what, BRAILLE IS READING. At its basic level, it is language.
If we believe blindness is a simple characteristic present in an individual the way curly hair is, we must not call too much attention to the touch technique required for finger reading. Demands for reading and writing must resemble those of the demands for students using print. We long to have our blind children included in classes, not set apart because he or she happens to be cute and "sort of" smart. Inclusion must mean inclusion. Braille must be reading and writing!
Braille literacy is beautiful without drawings and photographs to appeal to the eye. We can add them for fun, but Braille is at its best plain and basic.
(When I deliver speeches or programs to groups, I tell my life story as "Princess-want-to-be" because I always believed my life was supposed to be luxurious and problem-free. Wrong!)
Pat harmon NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**21. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves in a "cute," way, but the fact is sighted people see a blind child reading or doing something "amazing," and it is "cute." Even blind adults get that treatment/reaction sometimes, its just the way it is. I doubt that will ever change. People who haven't been exposed to blindness are easily astounded.
Aziza NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**22. Aziza is right about kids finding braille fascinating. in our community, because of the actual kids, and the kansas university students, we can never have enough braille alphabet cards for our public events! they are extremely popular.
Robert, I liked this TP. my only concern was more of a human one. as a blind kid who was mainstreamed, I experienced this first hand. Sadly, blindness does set you apart from your classmates, and sometimes the kids are far less kind or considerate than in your story.
Jim Canaday M.A.
NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**23. What a wonderful teacher. If Kendra is a real person, I want my grandson to go to her school! Here in Florida's public schools blind children and other special needs kids are not mainstreamed. It's rare that a teacher has time to give attention to teaching children with special needs of any kind. Teachers here have so much paperwork process daily on each child that in a 40-minute class, perhaps 10 or 11 minutes are devoted to actual teaching. Instructors teach to the yearly achievement test, and anyone without the potential to pass the test with high marks is not given a chance to take it. In this way the schools show that they are turning out achievers.
Meanwhile, children with special needs, ranging from blindness and deafness to severe autism, are usually lumped together in a closet-sized classroom or in an airless mobile that may or may not have "facilities". They are babysat by an overworked teacher who often has to deal with problems that are not taught in college, and who frequently ends up with the blame when things go wrong.
Carolyn Gold FL
**24. No sighted child should have to learn Braille because it is not necessary. However, each child should be taught to appreciate the reading method best suited to each individual. The teacher handled the situation well.
**25. Awww! That is such a cute story which explains a lot!
Macy McClain NABS Mailing List
**26. This is an encouragement to any parent or teacher to know that early learning of reading is possible. I am speaking of either in print or Braille. They are equal reading systems. We can learn to read either by sight or hearing or touch. though, listening isn't really a pure form of reading. Listening is a passive action and though it allows you to take in information, it is not the same as reading by sight or touch, these two systems are superior. We should always strive for the best systems. Braille is a surperior system, just as print.
**27. I too learned to read at three. My great grandfather taught me to recognize print letters in his huge family bible. His gnarled work hardened finger moved along the lines of print and I spelled out the words and said them proudly if they were recognizable like "The, and, or, God." By age six, glaucoma had drawn a misty curtain across my vision and I was kept out of school for two more years while doctors experimented with drops and three surgeries to save my sight. After all the light left my world, I was finally entered in school and learned to read again. Books became my companions when others played games I couldn't participate in playing. They helped me explore the world and have been a joy ever since. My husband teases me that I would read Ketchup labels if they were in braille and--I would too! Audio books are fine for keeping my mind busy when I am doing boring housework, but braille gives me independence to organize my world, without the dependence on electricity or complex machines. It never needs expensive upgrades, doesn't tell me battery low, can be produced with a slate and stylus, or sewing needle and thread. I use a note taker with a braille display to edit my writing, keep notes while speaking. I label everything that stands still from clothing to personal papers. You can count me a braille princess too!
DeAnna QuietWater MO
**28. Believe it or not, there was a time when I didn't want to learn Braille. I vaguely remember my mother sitting me down in front of small alphabet flash cards and forcing my fingers down upon those wretched dots which felt so strange. I was probably not even four, and did not yet know the power this code brought: to me or to the rest of the blind.
Then I found it. I don't know how and I don't know when, but somewhere along the way, Braille clicked. It was the catalyst that set off all my other academic adventures. Because of my early start and my parents' persistence, I developed a love of reading that holds true to this day. I have pulled that trick many times over the years of staying up late into the night with a book under the covers, as many Braille readers out there can relate. On a few such occasions, those books were textbooks: Noreen Greice's Touch the Stars, for example, or a few sacred volumes of our eighth-grade science book. The school had switched the grade levels' books when I was in seventh, but I didn't care. I was reading physics and chemistry a year ahead of the standard biology curriculum to satisfy what I now know was the beginning of an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that only understanding of the physical sciences could provide. Even now, when I do college-level physics, I can visualize the mathematical relationships between quantities only by remembering their Nemeth symbols. Last year, going through a period of no physics at all, my vision teacher Brailled out a twenty-one page formula sheet. The equations under my fingertips radiated a tangible energy; it was as though I were connecting with the very scientists who had developed them. They held the secrets of the universe. All I had to do was learn and follow.
I read extensively out of school as well. By third grade, I had read all the Braille books in my elementary school's library. Bookshare and Web Braille were far-distant dreams then, and even now it still awes me how there are so many books being produced.
The Harry Potter series has always been one of my favorites; I have bookcases filled with all seven. The words of authors took me places. Traveling through space and time with Robert Hineline and Madeline L'Engle, I discovered the wonder of science fiction and decided to write my own. I compose novels and poetry so that one day, readers will read my work and I can spread the message of hope and literacy. There is a special pleasure in reading poetry in Braille, a suspense as to what the next line will invoke. As far as learning the "music" of the words, audio does not measure up. I cannot imagine what it is like when other blind people tell me they don't know or have never learned Braille. Braille has given me every opportunity in life: It allowed me to hold office in the NFB at the national level; it allowed me to return home from Colorado with my plane tickets properly labeled and identified; it brought amazement to my classmates when they found out I don't have to abbreviate my notes.
Earlier this year, Dr. Schroeder asked me if I was going into space with the Louis Braille coins. I told him I wished I could, and someday intend to follow them to the final frontier. As I was listening to the shuttle launch, I smiled at all the familiar radio calls as everything was reported to be nominal. When they made it into orbit, I thought I was there with them, circling the globe at 17500 miles per hour, looking around at the stars and the small blue planet we call home, realizing my dream of being an astronaut. The symbolism of knowledge gained by blind people and by astronomers studying the depths of the universe with the Hubble Space Telescope was not lost on me; it was amplified. Those coins being launched were my two worlds coming together, and they were just waiting for me to join them.
We must keep teaching Braille. Those six dots unlock doors. Those six dots help solve the mysteries of the universe. Those six dots give freedom. Braille makes dreams reality. While important, it is not rocket fuel, but Braille that will carry me to the stars. Braille gives us words; words give us knowledge; knowledge gives us power.
Chelsea Cook NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**29. Like respondents have already pointed out, blind people learning to read braille at a young age is just as important as it is for sighted people to learn to read print. So, the age at which the child begins to learn to read braille should be the same as when sighted children start learning how to read print. Sure, there are screen-readers that convert text into speech and there are talking books, but blind people, whether a child or an adult, should still learn how to read braille. It should only be in such circumstances as nerve damage that prevent the person from being able to feel with their fingertips when the blind person would not be forced to learn how to read braille.
As for calling the child "the Braille Princess", I don't think that she's any different from any of the other students other than the fact that she's blind. So, she really shouldn't be set apart as some kind of "special" person. I hate it when disabled people are singled out from among the group like that.Linda MN
**30. I think calling her ďthe Braille princessĒ is funny. I think they donít mean to set the blind girl apart but they think she can read the Braille bumps by sitting on it and feeling it with her bottom like the princess and the pea, who felt the tiny pea through a stack of mattresses. . By the way I can read Braille through many layers of fabric but not with my rump. Now that would be a useful skill.
Mike Sivill Corvallis, Oregon
**31. Is it really a wonderful day when on the first day of kindergarten, students read aloud from books, standing, regimented, one by one? When I went to school, kindergarten was for social skills and a little bit of what used to be called reading readiness. When my son went to school, kindergarten was two years in an experimental school in a class called early childhood. They did lots of exploring what was around them, outside and inside, lots of fantasy activities and some early reading for those who were clearly ready to handle it. It was generally believed that children didn't have bilateral vision and other neurological development that would enable them to read easily until they were seven. Fantasy, imagination are important because, like reading, they are symbolic.
So, I find this account of the first day of kindergarten a bit disturbing. What isn't disturbing, however, is that this blind student had access to reading braille. Sighted kids see words all around them in ways that associate them with objects. Unless they are specifically taught, blind children won't have this advantage.
**32. I can't remember a time when I couldn't read. Though Kindergarten is vague in my mind - all I really remember is hating afternoon nap - in First Grade I owned six shelves full of books, preferred the Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew and had a subscription to Highlights for Children. My point is, the doubt raised by a few responders to Kendra's having been a reader since the age of three hold no water as far as I'm concerned. If a sighted child can learn to read at around three and be a fluant reader by the time she reaches Kindergarten, it stands to reason that a blind child can do the same.
Kerry Elizabeth Thompson, NFB Writers Division Springfield, MassachusettsTOP OF PAGE