In Romania visually impaired persons have had for more than twenty years a weekly broadcast called The Inner Eye, which is transmitted at the main national radio station. Here I listened in the autumn of 2011 to something that was at the same time for me, surprise and encouragement: a woman from Spain, Teresa Bornez Abascal, told how she learnt the braille alphabet at the age of 81. And she did it in an essay which had been awarded with the first prize in a European contest. So, it was possible...
In that moment I was 77 years old and I didn’t dare to get close to the writing with points.
Perhaps I needed an exterior challenge. I knew I would be blind because the affection evolved slowly. But I didn’t know how I should prepare myself, what would be useful for me. I lost my sight at a ripe old age after an active life, physically and intellectually. The space of movement was reduced to my home and the means of information were the radio and my family. But I missed the written information. I wished to feel again the pleasure of browsing a book, and to say, „I read”. I knew that visually impaired persons have their own writing, but I didn’t imagine how it looked like. I compared it to shorthand.
A few days later after the radio broadcast I previously mentioned, I called the main office of the Blind Association from Romania, I explained my situation and I requested a page with the alphabet, the punctuation and the figures, both, in braille and regular writing.
As soon as I got the material, I started to study it. The letters were written far-apart; under them, was spelt their Latin correspondent. In the same way there were illustrated the punctuation and the figures from 1 to 10. Learning, I realized the coherence of the placement. At the end of the rows, was the alphabet chart that helped me in page orientation. I started to work. I asked my wife to check in order to observe if I still knew the order of the letters from alphabet. Some clarifications were needed regarding the place of the letters K, Q, Z, W and Y. Only while I was sleeping and eating did I leave the cardboard...
In two weeks the letters were memorized. Concerning the punctuation, I worked more because at school these signs are not learnt in a particular order. Helped by my wife I learnt the name of each sign in the order from the cardboard; another two weeks. As for the figures, I didn’t have any difficulty. For some letters or signs, I didn’t distinguish the number and lay-out of dots. Then, I assigned with my wife a code: firstly she had to read the dots from the left column and after that those from the right one, counting off one, two and three. Thus, I knew what letter is where from its lay-out and number of dots. I understood that the braille alphabet is organized rigorously and it must be learnt as such.
One month later, I knew the alphabet, the signs and the figures. I had to move on the next level, to start reading, but I didn’t have materials.
This is why, I appealed to the association again, requesting a primer and a braille magazine. Paradoxically, I knew the alphabet, but it was later when I read the primer.
Surprise: in the primer there was no letter represented also in regular writing. It was normal, because the book was addressed to visually impaired pupils. But I managed to finish the three volumes of the primer in a month.
The transition from the primer to the magazine shocked me. I said to myself I would be pleased to know the alphabet, and about reading, maybe I would learn in two or three years, or never... When I opened at the first page, I thought the dots were thrown at random. I didn’t distinguish between rows. I tried to unbind the words like the rebus, but I didn’t decipher anything. A little upset and nervous, I stopped and I found something else to do to calm myself. Then, I remarked there is on the page a single letter, or a group of two I could read. It was a great discovery. There were prepositions, articles and conjunctions. Slowly, I was reading short words; in two days I deciphered a page, reading and guessing. When I discerned a sentence, I repeated it two or three times to memorize it, but however I made mistakes when I reread it. I encountered difficulties to find the next row and I realized this is due to the fact that I pressed too much with my fingers. In one month, I finished reading the magazine.
Three months had passed since I had begun to learn the braille alphabet, and, I could say, I had succeeded. If the lady from Spain learnt to read at 85 years old, I did it at 77. I didn’t want to learn for performance, it was great the desire to have a written source of information and a little self-dependence.
In order to learn this writing, you must be able and you must want. To be able means that you must have a good tactile sensitivity. It is not enough to want, you must want inveterately.
If you get bored or if you are nervous, you may stop, calm down and you will resume later; but don’t give up. In the end, the happiness will be fantastic.
You need a little help from someone and together to have a common code. I was helped by my wife, but all those minutes are not more than two hours.
The brilliant Louis Braille reduced the letter to its essence: the point. In his alphabet, the letters are not tailed, they are not capital letters. With the six dots, you can write and describe an entire world. I feel this alphabet has an intrinsic value like the gold from a jewel. If sighted people knew it’s the beauty and simplicity, they would learn for their enlightenment. In my situation, braille helped me to see the world in a different light; it pulled me out from isolation.
And for a complete experience, I made from my own story a braille essay. An essay which, the simple fact about which is, for me that it is already a winner.