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LIVING WITH LOW VISION

Winning the Braille War

by Michael Eusanio, Merrick, New York

The time has come, as the vision diminishes, that I now need to start learning braille. The vision is down to 5 percent, and I find the more tools in the arsenal, the better. I still have sufficient central vision to read most anything I want. What I canít read easily, I just copy, paste, and enlarge the type to a font more manageable. I know the time is coming, however, and the engineer in me demands I plan ahead and be ready for when I will need it. A special thanks to Nancy Sharpenberg for her help and amazing patience in teaching me this new code.

As with most things related to my battles with retinitis pigmentosa, nothing ever seems to be quite as easy as I think. My biggest issues with learning braille are that I tend to cheat by looking at the bumps, and the fact is I need to cheat that way because it seems Iíve been gifted with fingers the relative size of kielbasa (really thick Polish sausage for the uninitiated). This makes the tactile sense required for braille a bit of a problem. I am sure I will figure it out soon enough, but I needed an interim solution that would help me learn braille in a manner that suits my general sensibilities. As it happens, I found one. I also found a way to add just a little bit of competition to it all, which I always say, never hurts.

For me, learning braille is more about learning the placement of the dots as they relate to the braille cell. Once I have that down, when I get to reading by touch it should all fall right into place.

I got a pack of three by five index cards. Then I used a quarter to trace circles on the cards to represent the braille dots. I made 26 cards, all with six circles or a full braille cell. This took about 20 minutes. Next, on each card I colored in the appropriate circles to match a braille letter. I wrote the correct letter on each card on the back of the card, using one of the colored-in circles as a shield. I reasoned that I might try to look through the card instead of looking at it. Like I said, I was cheating.

Simply memorizing the braille alphabet seemed a bit of a dull process, so I thought about how to zip it up. I made a duplicate set of index cards, which, oddly enough, gave me a total of 52 cards, the same number as a deck of playing cards. As a child, one of the more popular card games, decades before video games, was war. It is a simple enough game, the highest card wins. Ties are decided by a three card mini war. So, I merely attached number values to the letters as they appear in the alphabet, a=1, b=2, c=3, etc. It helps speed up the learning process, makes it fun, and adds just a bit of competitiveness. I am still learning braille, but it is coming fast, and I plan to use the same method when I move to the next level of braille, Grade 2. I find this game helps me learn, while I figure out how to thin out my fingers.

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