Amanda Jones reading Braille
Amanda Jones reading Braille

Blind Girl Fills Life with Art, Song, and Books

by Russell Dean Newman

From the Editor: Amanda Jones and her twin April have attended NFB conventions for half their lives. Their grandmother, Pat Jones, is active in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and the girls have clearly benefitted from their exposure to NFB philosophy and from their friendships with many competent blind adults. The following story appeared in the November 22, 1998, edition of the Chattanooga Free Press. Here it is:

She likes to rollerblade and ride her eighteen-speed bike— especially fast. She plays the clarinet. She sings in the Chattanooga Girls Choir. She has a boyfriend she doesn't like to talk about. Her favorite subject is reading. And she's been blind since birth.

Twelve-year-old Amanda Jones is in the seventh grade at Ooltewah Middle School. She and her twin sister April moved to Chattanooga to live with their grandparents six years ago. Amanda recently won an award for her essay and artwork on the subject of "My Family Is Great." She wrote the essay on her Braille writer and used colored and flexible thin wax sticks for her bas-relief artwork.

Amanda relies on her imagination to form an image of what she feels, hears, and creates, whether she's working with her wax sticks or her messy pottery wheel. "I know what a person looks like," she said, "but I don't try to imagine colors."

Although she was excited about winning the contest, Amanda thought it was just another language arts assignment.

"I didn't even know it was a contest until I got a letter," she said. "I did my family roasting marshmallows at a campfire and used the wax sticks because I could tell what I did." She speaks with lucid and precise words through smiles that fill her entire face. "[My family] roasts marshmallows up in Wisconsin," she said, "and I thought that would be a neat thing to [show]."

Amanda has straight blonde hair which touches her shoulders.

Her eyes roll involuntarily, revealing elusive blue irises. Her winning artwork, which hangs in the Family and Children's Services (FCS) building on Eighth Street, shows an alluring arrangement of color. The center of the artwork shows a red and yellow fire which roasts marshmallows stuck on bright blue sticks. A green stick figure in each corner of the relief holds a stick, and the two lower figures rest on blue chairs.

She'll tell you there is nothing she's prevented from doing because of her blindness. And it's not a special ability that allows her to do everything. "It's because I want to," she said.

She likes to read "any kind of book except biographies, because they're boring." Amanda began learning Braille in the first grade, and, like everything else, "it's easy when you get used to it."

A black and white Cocker Spaniel named Lady works her way into Amanda's lap. The seeing fingers feel their way down the dog's back. "I read R.L. Stine (Goosebumps) books and Grace Livingston Hill," she said as she manipulated Lady's metallic orange tag with the fingers of her right hand.

The first time you see a Braille book can be an eye-opener. The books are not books. They are extra-large three-ring binders thick with taupe bump-filled sheets. Amanda needs both hands to carry this version of an R.L. Stine book from the living room to the dining room. She walks toward the eight-inch vertical transition between the two rooms and steps up like she had the benefit of sight.

Ask her how she knows just when to step up, and she'll say:

"I'm not stupid."

She drops the binder on the table and opens the large cover.

"I just know where I am," she added. She turns several pages and skims the bumps with both hands; her fingers flow up and down softly like she's pressing piano keys without producing sound. She reads aloud with eloquence. The more time spent with Amanda, the less difference there seems between her and any other twelve-year-old.

"You have to order these or ask for them from a library in Nashville," she said, after finishing a sentence. "There're not enough books in Braille"—a dilemma when reading is your favorite school subject and hobby.

As for her future, Amanda looks forward to a London and Paris trip with the Girls Choir and has "some things in mind" for a career. She's considering teaching either home economics or art. Then again, she might just be a lawyer.

Amanda does have something to say about being blind. "There's no difference in [being blind] and being sighted," she said as she scratched the underside of the table, "except you have to make some adaptations. And everything is easy once you get used to it."

Her persistent optimism remained even after more than an hour of talking, and she offered some logical ideas about editing. "Try to put [this story] on the front page," she said, smiling, "unless the editors have something else important; then tell them don't worry about it."

The contest sponsored by FCS coincides with November's National Family Week. Contestants range from grades one to seven. At an awards ceremony held at the Read House recently, Amanda received the winner's certificate, which had been overtyped in Braille. Cornerstone Bank opened a savings account in her name and donated her first deposit of $75. Cassy Sebastian, Amanda's language arts teacher, received a $100 gift certificate donated by Chattanooga Office Supply to be used for classroom supplies.