When we were told that Ronan was visually impaired at birth, we started imagining all of the technology that we could design for him – after all that is our profession. We discussed wall-sized screens with high contrast shapes and letters; interactive games for learning those letters; special software that integrated speech in children’s games. By the age of one however, it was clear that Ronan would not have enough sight to read letters. He would be a Braille user.
As with all of the surprises that Ronan has brought us, we dived in head first and decided to learn Braille. We wanted to teach him to read just as we would have done if he had read letters. We scoured the internet for learning materials and found this excellent introduction – Crack the Code: Teach yourself to sight read basic braille, from the ClearVision Braille lending library in London. We were quite relieved to discover that we would read Braille by sight rather than touch.
Niki completed the booklet in just two and half hours on a flight to Athens to visit his family. By the time the plane landed, he was able to write Ronan’s name and even short sentences. The booklet teaches the Braille alphabet, punctuation and numbers and has many simple reading and writing exercises. Although we had had the impression that Braille is very difficult, it was much easier than Niki expected.
Braille is just the alphabet dressed up as dots after all. One of our goal ball teammates gave us a quick tip: the letters ‘k’ to ‘t’ (i.e. from the 11th to the 20th letter in the English alphabet) are the same as ‘a’ to ‘i’ (i.e. the first 10 letters) plus dot number 3. So really, there are not that many of dot combinations to learn. The Braille alphabet cards from the Royal National Institute for the Blind and Perkins School for the Blind are organised in a way that makes this more obvious.
Drawing dots on a piece of paper is a rather inefficient way of writing Braille. We are looking forward to improving our Braille with the Perkins SMART Brailler. We will receive Marty through the SMART Brailler Backpacking Programme. Stayed tuned to see what transpires!