THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

by Ron Schmidt

Here is the other side of the coin. As you read this story, think about what Barbara Pierce wrote in the previous one, and think about what you might do to help us end the needless waste and pain. As is right and proper, we who are members of the National Federation of the Blind are taking the lead in doing for ourselves in solving this problem, but we can’t do the job alone. Ron Schmidt is a husband, father, breadwinner, and Braille reader. Here is what he has to say:

I have been totally blind since age two. So luckily, no one tried to decide for me whether I should use limited vision for reading print. My mom read everything she could to me in my first six years of life, but it was never enough. Helping my dad run a busy dairy farm didn’t give her a lot of free time to read to me, but I was eager to hear stories, as all kids are, and to learn as much as I could about the world I couldn’t see. Reading other people’s words (pictures of places and events and feelings) gave me a wonderful feeling of learning and understanding.

The most exciting event in my life as a child occurred when I went to a school, and my teacher said she would teach me to read and write Braille. Finally I would be able to read all I wanted, and about anything I wanted to know more about.

It was so much fun and so exciting that I never thought of it as schoolwork. By the third grade I had already gone through the Braille reading books our school had for children up to the sixth grade. I borrowed all the books I was interested in from the state library for the blind, and throughout the thirty-five years from then to now, I have been thankful every day that I learned Braille.

Through junior and senior high school and later in college I tried to get every course book I could put into Braille. It usually meant getting lists of books from teachers six months ahead of needing them. But all gladly tried their best to do it for me. It was always so much easier to understand and retain more of what I read by reading it myself with my fingers than to have it read to me by readers or by my use of recorded material.

Braille also allowed me to participate in reading aloud in class with my sighted classmates and to talk about what I felt with my family and friends. My roommates in college were always envious of my being able to read in bed late at night without any lights on, which they couldn’t do without disturbing others who were trying to sleep.

As I write this, I am just turning forty-five years of age. For thirty-eight of that forty-five years I have relied upon the reading and writing of Braille for my happiness and success in school, college, career, and life overall. I read Braille books to my twin girls now and have since they were one year old, starting with the Twin Vision books. I demonstrate Braille to their schoolmates and explain how it makes it possible to learn.

Getting my present job as a reservationist for the Homestead Resort depended (and, for that matter, still depends) on my being able to Braille pages of room and condo rates and other information, which changes regularly and which I must have at my fingertips to communicate to prospective vacationers when they call our office.

I use my Perkins Brailler, and my wife reads what I need while I dash it off at night and have it fresh at hand for the work the following morning. I doubt that I could have convinced my employer of my ability to handle the job efficiently enough to have been hired without the ability to use Braille.

There is nothing that makes a person feel more assured and independent than being able to write and read his or her own material—whether for work, education, or leisure. I urge anyone with children who have little or no eyesight to do all they can to get their youngsters to learn Braille. It is easier at a younger age, I believe, and can make a great difference in school and the rest of a child’s life, just as much now as it did for me more than thirty years ago.