Future Reflections Fall 1991
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READERS AND BRAILLISTS
by Patricia Munson
Reprinted from the Blind Citizen, Fall 1990; the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of California.
My first readers were my parents and other family members. All young children are read to by someone. Today, the reader might be a recorded voice, but children have someone to perform that task until they learn to read.
When I went to school I did not have access to a tape recorder so my reading was done with a personal reader. Until high school, all my reading was done by family members. I do not know how I would have gotten through school without everyone's help. Even my much younger sisters read to me as soon as they knew how. My sisters saw adults doing the job, so they thought that they were really important when they could read to me.
In high school a lot of good students wanted to read for me, and the reading was much too much for my wonderful family to do. I learned that if I found readers who knew the subject matter, I could save myself a lot of time and agony. For example, when I was studying music theory I found a fellow to read to me who has since made a career for himself as a pianist. I learned a great deal from him for he had already been trained by the best instructors. It was fun having student readers and most of them became good friends.
When I started college I quickly realized that I was going to have to have a million readers, for I had ten times as much reading to do (of course, none of them read full-time), and I needed readers for a great variety of subject matter. Biology was my first challenge. The professor drew a million diagrams on the board and spoke at the same time. I made a good trade with a couple of fellow students. They put a piece of carbon paper and a sheet of paper under their drawings for me to study later, and I typed all the notes for them from my Braille notes. The deal worked well for all of us as no one could draw and take good notes at the same time. Also, I had my reader come to every class when it was test time, and I took my tests at the same time as everyone else. I simply found an empty room where I went with my reader to take my test. The important thing is that I turned my test in with everyone else.
When I started taking classes in dance I found a reader who could dance well, and I had her attend the class and do exactly what the instructor was doing while I felt her body movement. When it came time to learn choral conducting I stood behind my reader and felt her hands and arms as she copied the teacher's gestures. I even found a reader who was great at copying teacher's drawings. I would then feel the raised line from the back of the sheet and could follow the lecture at the same time.
My readers were always willing to do what I asked, and we always invented a way for me to receive the same information as the other students. I called all this my "expanded education," and it was worth the little extra work. There were sighted students who copied some of my alternative techniques, for many of my methods were very useful for all students. Now do not get the idea that I had my readers attend all my classes with me, for that was not so. I only had them attend when there was unusual visual material that I needed to learn exactly as all the other students.
A number of my readers learned Braille so they could put Braille labels on the charts and other visual material they made for me. I did have a number of wonderful Braillists from the Berkeley Red Cross who did my Brailling the entire time that I was in college. These Braillists volunteered their time, and I deeply appreciated all of their work. However, they could not always do everything needed. I had one blind friend who studied German. She could not find Braillists to transcribe her German language textbooks. She used a reader to read the German texts, and she transcribed the books into Braille for herself.
When I was in college we had no computers. Since I was not a good typist I would type the rough draft and have a reader read the draft to me so that I could dictate the corrections to be recorded on the draft. Then I would have a typist do the clean typing. Once I typed a term paper myself to prove that I could do it, but once was enough. I think that before I left college I had taken at least one class in every department. I think I wanted to show myself that I could manage anything taught. I must thank all those very patient readers who sat endlessly while I invented a workable way to achieve a task.
When I started my student teaching I had many students who wanted to read to me. They were very useful, but I never had them read for the class in which they were enrolled. I was worried about other students thinking my readers were the teacher's pets. They were all very nice and I certainly appreciated their help when I was learning to teach. Before I started my first year of teaching I found a retired teacher who went to my classroom with me about a week before school started, and we cleaned out twenty years of another teacher's junk. That loyal reader worked for me my first ten years of teaching. I cannot thank her enough for all the extra help she gave me. When I had 150 music notebooks to correct, she came to school and read many long hours and saved me the problem of having to carry all those notebooks home. I also had students reading for me. There were endless papers to read on a daily basis. It was all these readers working at the same time that made for a well-oiled machine.
About twenty years ago one of my student readers read a note which said, "If you ever need a reader, give me a call". The note writer knew who I was because I had two of her children in my classes. To make a long story short, she is still reading for me today. Somewhere along the path of time she started doing all my NFB reading. Now she knows as much about the movement as I. How does anyone find the words to thank someone like her?
I am sure that a lot of the work I have accomplished could now be done with the use of a computer. I did it the "old way". I think everyone should know how to work without machines because machines frequently have a habit of not working when you need them the most. Also, I cannot find any substitute for wonderful human, caring companionship!
To all the people who have helped me to learn and later work on terms of equality I say a big thanks! Without these people, I most likely would have survived, but it would not have been as enjoyable or easy.
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