January is Braille Literacy Awareness Month. Last week, a doctor asked me what I did for a profession, and I replied, “I’m a vision rehabilitation therapist.” Yes, of course, I had to explain what that was. He immediately shared two thoughts with me. He reported that his “heart went out” to people using a white cane in the snow and cold, and he wanted to know if I knew how braille was made!
His first comment was so thought provoking, because I know until I started working in this profession, I too often had that knee jerk reaction to someone using a white cane, or frankly, many other types of accommodations (let me add here that I am not a long white cane user). I shared with the doctor that working and playing with individuals traveling with white canes, I’ve heard many complaints about sidewalks not being shoveled, getting hit in the face by low lying branches, falling over snow banks, and slipping on ice. None of it sounded any more heart wrenching than the times any one of us has slipped on ice, grumbled about tramping through deep snow…in fact many of the stories included humor and laughter! As I looked at the doctor, I wondered how we are going to convince employers that individuals traveling with a white cane are often more than qualified for the jobs thay are not getting, if the employer’s “heart goes out” to them to the point they no longer consider their viability as a potential employee? It remains thought provoking to me, because human compassion, particularly these days, is certainly an admirable quality, yet I wonder to what degree this may adversely affect our perceptions of other people’s capabilities?
Which brings me to the easier question, about braille. I wondered, if this doctor was so interested in braille, and how it was made, how many other people, outside my profession, had no idea what braille is and how it is made? The neurons started firing then, and I wondered what might happen, if for 31 days, I invited people to share a video, a thought, a trick, a tip, about how braille is used on a regular, every-day basis?
One of the things that intrigues me the most about braille, is the reaction I sometimes get when suggesting braille to someone with a recently acquired vision loss. There is often a reluctance–not always, and I wonder to what degree this is because learning something new like this can sometimes be more of a challenge than some of us wish to undertake, or because braille may be one of those symbols, like a long white cane that labels someone as “blind,” or evokes another to feel an unwarranted sense of pity? Do we feel compassion for individuals accessing the local newspaper on their tablets or smartphones–do we assume they are unable to access it in print, on paper? Do our hearts go out to people driving in cars, because we immediately make the assumption they are unable to walk, ride a bicycle or navigate public transportation? Forgive me, if these comparisons feel like trivializations, I am merely suggesting that these feelings we have about labels or alternative ways of doing daily tasks may serve us all better, if we challenge or shift them at times.
Thirty-one Days of Braille begins #31DaysofBraille. Can you share a tip or thought about braille? Let’s get the word out! Share your thought with skelley4195 at yahoo.com or send a tweet to @lowvisiontech or leave a comment after this post or on the LowVisionTech Facebook page.
Happy Birthday Louis Braille on January 4!