Future Reflections Summer 1996, Vol. 15 No. 3

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When Mom Learns Braille

By Lois Wencil

Editor's Note: Many NFB chapters and state affiliates sponsor Braille classes or Braille tutoring programs. Some of the programs are structured classes, others are informal-a matter of helping people as the need arises and as a member of the chapter is available to help. Two years ago the NFB of New Jersey initiated a very successful state-wide Braille tutoring program. A volunteer coordinator takes calls from people (newly blinded adults, children, and sighted family members) who want to learn Braille and matches them with a volunteer Braille tutor in their communities. Naturally, there are times when volunteers in one part of the state have no one to tutor while people in another part of the state must wait for a Braille tutor. Nevertheless, many satisfactory matches have been made in the last two years. One such successful match was between tutor Lois Wencil, a blind career woman who has raised her children to adulthood, and Donna Panaro, a young sighted mother of a blind preschooler. This is what Lois Wencil and Donna learned about why sighted parents should learn Braille:

Donna Panaro is the mother of two healthy, happy children: Thomas who is three and Kristin who is four. Kristin was born totally blind.

"I had many fears concerning my daughter's future. The greatest of which was that I would not be able to help her with her homework. My dad helped me with mine. I always counted on him to be there if I could not grasp something or if I became confused. I dreamed of doing this for Kristin!"

Donna registered her child with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and later joined the Parents of Blind Children Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. In the New Jersey NFB Newsletter she read about the offer of Braille training or tutoring. She called the coordinator and enrolled that same day. One year later, while still taking care of her home and managing the run-around schedule of a mom, Donna can read and write Braille on a Braille writer with the best of them.

"The hardest thing about learning Braille was getting the time to do my homework and continuing practice. I was not afraid of the contractions because I had learned steno."

Kristin lives in a Braille environment in which her personal items are labeled. She and her mom read print-Braille books together, some of which Donna Brailled. She Brailles on clear stick-on Braille sheets, peels off the backing, and sticks the Braille label on the printed page. Donna Brailled The Foot Book, I Love Snow, and several Doctor Seuss books in this way. Donna also produced a tactual Brailled alphabet book. Each Braille letter is placed on a page with an item starting with that letter. Donna produced a boxful of more Brailled items to use with the alphabet book so she can work with Kristin on the sounds of the letters as they are introduced in Kristin's preschool program.

What next? "I want to learn to use the slate and stylus because it will be more portable for us to use. It never loses its battery power," Donna says. As for Kristin, she continues to search out and ask for her Braille which she calls her "bumpies."

As the mentor privileged to have been a part of this Braille literacy adventure I am proud to know this very special mom who is determined to experience the joys of Braille literacy with her very lucky daughter.

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