Have you always been blind? What caused your blindness?
Yes, I was born blind. Basically, my optic nerves did not develop correctly. Although I can see some light, for all practical purposes, I am totally blind and will not be applying for a driverís license any time soon! :)
Did you go to a school for the blind, or were you mainstreamed into public school?
Both, actually. Growing up I attended the Tennessee School For The Blind in Donelson, TN. During my sophomore and junior years of high school, I attended classes at a regular high school for part of the day. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to spend my senior year at Beech High School in my hometown, Hendersonville, TN.
How did you manage in a regular school? Were your books in Braille?
Most of the time I was not able to get Braille copies of my textbooks; however, I was able to get some of them on cassette. I found volunteer readers (other classmates or sometimes my mom) to read assignments or tests to me. I also used a typewriter to type papers and other assignments. During my years as a student at Belmont University, Mom was out of the picture when it came to reading assignments, so I usually had to pay the readers who worked for me. :)
What is Braille? Was it hard to learn?
Braille is a system of raised dots that was invented during the early 1800ís by a blind French teenager named Louis Braille. The ďbaseĒ of Braille, the Braille cell, is made up of six dots that form a small rectangle which is three dots long and two dots wide. Every Braille letter, word, punctuation mark, or musical note is a combination of one or more of these dots.
Braille was not very hard for me to learn, because I began learning it in kindergarten at the same time my sighted friends were learning their letters and numbers. I read Braille rather quickly, probably faster than I can talk.
How do you write Braille?
I use several different devices to write Braille. Sometimes I use a device called a Braille writer, which is kind of like a small typewriter. A Braille writer has nine keys. Six of the keys are used to form the Braille letters or symbols. In addition, there is a line-space key to move to the next line on the paper, a backspace key, and a small space bar. Sometimes I also use a small device called a slate and stylus. The slate consists of two strips of either metal or plastic that have been hinged together. The top strip contains several lines of grooves for the Braille dots. The paper is placed between the strips of the slate, and the stylus, a pear-shaped piece of wood with a thin metal ďpointerĒ attached to the smaller end, is used to punch the Braille dots onto the paper.
Most of the time, though, I take advantage of modern technology. My favorite method for writing Braille is to use my computer, which is equipped with software that translates regular print into Braille, as well as a Braille printer, so that I can have a Braille copy of a file when I need it. When I'm on the road, or if I need to take a quick note, I love using my BrailleNote, a Braille PDA which allows a blind person to write and edit documents, keep track of appointments and addresses, check e-mail, surf the Internet, and more.
How do you use a computer?
Basically, my computer talks to me. I use screen-reading software that takes whatever I need to know, everything from where I am on the Desktop to the text in a file that I am reading or working on, and communicates it to a voice synthesizer that speaks the information to me. In addition, I have a scanner attached to my computer, along with OCR (optical character recognition) software that is specifically designed for the blind. This basically means that I can take a piece of printed material, such as a phone bill or some equally desirable piece of mail, :) scan it into the computer, and have it read aloud to me so that I know what it is. I have also read tons of good books that way. With the help of all of this technology, including the BrailleNote mentioned above, I can use my computer for everything from writing checks to responding to e-mail to reading the latest bestseller.
Do you put on your own makeup?
Yes, and I am usually the one who fixes my hair as well. Although most of my makeup is labeled in Braille, Iíve been putting it on for so long that I donít really think much about how I do it. Iíve found that when it feels right to me, it usually looks right, too. Many of my sighted friends have been amused at catching me in my bedroom, standing in front of the mirror, putting on my makeup with the lights off. I guess I forget sometimes that most people donít put their makeup on in the dark! :)
Do you understand color at all?
Yes, I have a very vivid imagination, and I have always loved colors. Itís hard for me to describe what I see in my mind when someone tells me that something is red, just as it would be hard for you to actually describe the color red to me. When trying to describe my idea of colors, I tend to associate different colors with different temperatures. For example, red is very hot and vibrant, while blue seems very cold, ice-cold in fact.
How do you match your clothes?
I try to hang each part of an outfit together in my closet, either on the same hanger or on separate hangers that are next to each other. Once it has been described to me, I can usually remember the color of a particular outfit by touch.
How do you cook?
I have Braille or tactile markings on all of my kitchen appliances. My spices and canned goods are also marked in Braille. I have tons of Braille cookbooks, and I also find a lot of recipes on-line. Microwave cooking is my favorite! And yes, you can actually cook with a microwave oven.
How do you get around?
Transportation is a challenge for most blind people, and I am no exception. Since I am such a ďsocial bug,Ē I usually prefer to run errands with a friend whenever possible. However, I also use cabs or other transportation services sometimes.
On most of my out-of-town trips, I travel alone. Airports are a challenge, but for the most part, I have found the flight attendants to be courteous and helpful. I use a cane to navigate hotels, office buildings, and other unfamiliar places independently.
What is the best way for a sighted person to help you?
First of all, if you are hanging out with me and you wonder if I need help in a particular situation, you are more than welcome to ask. Just donít be surprised or offended if the answer is, ďNo, thanks, I can handle it.Ē It may take me a while to do things sometimes, but I am very independent, and I prefer to take care of myself as much as possible. However, no man is an island, and I do know my limitations. When I need help, Iím not afraid to ask for it.
If you are my designated ďSeeing Eye person,Ē traditionally known as a sighted guide, I will hold onto your arm, just as if you were escorting someone. You do not need to tell me about steps up or down, or about turns to the right or left, because I can easily follow the movement of your arm. If we are in a restaurant together, you may need to read the menu to me, but it is not necessary for you to order for me. My eyes may not work, but my mouth works just fine, if it does work overtime on certain days! And speaking of what works and what doesn't, my hearing is 20/20, so PLEASE don't yell at me when you introduce yourself or ask if I need your help... I can hear you, I promise! :)
Is your blindness ever a frustration for you?
Well, Iím human, and Iím not Super Woman, so yes, I do get frustrated at times. Usually the cause of my frustration is not my blindness itself; it usually has more to do with the reactions of people who are not comfortable with me because of it.
Like many visually impaired people, Iíve had to overcome a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions regarding my abilities as a person who canít see, and there are days when that gets really old. While God has blessed me with many friends, sometimes I have been hurt by the realization that there are people who are reluctant to reach out to me because they are uncomfortable with getting to know someone who is ďdifferentĒ on a personal basis. Then there are those who donít necessarily want to get to know me as a friend, but they want me to be their project or good deed for the day.
Itís a tough pill to swallow, but it is at those times when I realize the significance of my relationship with a God who loves and values each one of us unconditionally, regardless of our perceived abilities or disabilities. I am continually learning to trust in the fact that He really does order my steps (Psalm 37:23), and that the potentially destructive power of every frustrating moment in my life is broken when I give it to Him (1 Peter 5:7).
If you have a question that you would like for me to answer on this page, feel free to e-mail it to me. Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question.
Want to find out what's out there for visually impaired people? Visit Jana's page of Blindness-Related Resources.
If you are blind and would like some help with your computer skills, Jana would be happy to assist you. She offers professional computer training for a wide variety of adaptive and off-the-shelf computer products. For more information, visit the Technology Training Page, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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