Future Reflections Special Issue: Low Vision and Blindness 2005
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by Nathanael Wales
Editorís Note: Nathaniel Wales was a college student when he wrote this article for the Student Slate, a publication of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). He has since graduated and currently works as an engineer for the State of California Department of Water Resources. When I asked Wales to update our readers on the techniques he uses today, he explained that he uses a computer with speech and an electronic notetaker with a refreshable Braille display. And for those who might find this information useful, he says that the cause of his blindness is congenital cataracts and glaucoma, and various complications arising from these conditions. Here is what he has to say about his personal experiences with the CCTV:
There was a night during the third grade when I couldnít wait to fall asleep. The sooner I fell asleep, the sooner I would wake up and go to school. Then I could use this new machine that made print really big. My ďvisionĒ teacher, Bobbie, brought the machine to my school just for me to use. (From time to time, Bobbie visited my school, called me out of class, helped me with class work, and showed me how to use different magnifiers.)
On that big day in third grade, she showed me how to use this machine called a CCTV (closed-circuit television). It was about the size of a television and made the print in papers or books that you put under it look really big. There was a knob to adjust the size of enlargement or magnification, a knob to focus the image on the screen, a switch to make black print on white paper look like white print on black paper, and a switch to make the image look really weird and upside-down so you could use the machine with a typewriter.
The CCTV was a really cool machine. It made it easier for me
to read my schoolwork. It was so helpful to me that my grandparents bought one
for me to use at home. My vision decreased through the rest of third grade and
into fourth grade. Little by little, the print needed to be magnified larger
and larger. I began to use and depend upon the CCTV more and more. It became
the way that I got things done for school. I regularly spent several hours a
night using the CCTV to do my homework.
I developed many ways to make using the CCTV faster. For example, when I did math homework I used the textbook, a sheet of glass to flatten out the pages of the book (this made it easier to focus on), and the piece of paper on which I was doing the homework. I put the homework paper under the CCTV, put the opened textbook (with the piece of glass on it to flatten the pages) on top of the homework paper, and focused the CCTV. Then, after I read the problem, I removed the book (with the glass balanced on top) and put it next to me on my desk, re-focused the CCTV on the homework page, wrote out the problem, put the book back under the CCTV, re-focused the CCTV, and read the next problem. It was slow but I got the work done.
In the spring of my fourth grade year, I had a surgery that improved my vision enough so that I wasnít completely dependent on the CCTV. I began to use it in combination with high-powered magnifiers and enlarged photocopies of pages of my schoolbooks. For example, I now could put my math book next to me on my desk and read the math problem using a high-powered magnifier and write out the problem under the CCTV. I called the system the ďFast Glance SystemĒ because it was faster than moving the book back and forth and re-focusing the CCTV.
As I entered junior high, my vision began to decrease again. At that point, my vision teacher brought me a portable CCTV. This portable machine was always slower and I could never write under it, but it was better than nothing. I still had a full-sized CCTV in my English class and a full-color one in the library. My vision teacher got a few more full-sized CCTVs later that year, so I had two more: one in my math class and one for my social studies/science class.
In high school, I had CCTVs in four of my six classrooms, a
large color CCTV in the library that I shared with a couple of other visually
impaired students, and a portable CCTV for the two classrooms where I did not
have a full-sized CCTV. Outside of my class work, I was on my schoolís mock
trial team all four years of high school, and I used the portable CCTV during
competitions at the counsel table in courtrooms.
In my sophomore year my vision teacher brought me a new portable CCTV that I could use for writing as well as for reading. That was the ultimate. Sure, it fit in a case that was the size of a suitcase, but now I could read and write anywhere there was a table and a few minutes to set it up when I needed it and a few minutes to pack it up when I was finished.
My parents and I were always interested in the latest adaptive
technology, especially CCTVs, screen-enlarging software for computers, and scanners.
We regularly went to vendorsí exhibits. During my sophomore year of high school
we went to such an exhibit at the state convention of the National Federation
of the Blind (NFB). The exhibit was one of the best I had ever attended.
However, there was much more at that convention of the National Federation of the Blind than a technology exhibit. I attended a meeting of blind college students and they were talking about a number of things that caught my attention. They talked about Braille, which I thought was reserved for only the most poorly off blind people. They also discussed something called a Disabled Student Services Office as well as the administration of the S.A.T. tests. All this stuff didnít seem to matter too much to me since I was only a sophomore in high school, but I noted the information in my mind anyway.
After the NFB state convention, I began receiving tapes from
the NFB. It was a magazine called The Braille Monitor and I read it
because, in-between doing homework and mock trial, I had little else to do.
There was an article by a blind man who had been a teacher of blind students.
He talked about teaching Braille to all of his blind and partially sighted students,
and he showed his students how to get around the playground with their fellow
sighted students. He even taught them how to play tag.
The Braille Monitor also published testimony on Braille literacy legislation. Blind college students and professionals talked about how fast and useful Braille was in their lives. I came to the conclusion that Braille was something I ought to learn. By that time I had realized that a CCTV isnít versatile in all situations.
During my senior year of high school, I asked my vision teacher to teach me Braille and she was happy to do it. I had lessons once or twice a week and by the end of the year I had learned most of contracted (literary) Braille. Most importantly, as I learned Braille, I began to put what I was learning to use, particularly in mock trial. I still used the portable CCTV, but I also had notes in Braille. It was great to use the Braille notes at a podium or when moving around the courtroom making arguments to the court and questioning witnesses. One of the coaches remarked that my performance had improved with the use of Braille because I was now able to read as fast as I could think.
During my senior year of high school, I realized that I could
use some improvement in my skills as a blind person before heading off to college.
Nine days after I graduated from high school, I enrolled at an NFB training
center. In two weeks I finished the contracted (literary) Braille code and I
began learning how to write Braille proficiently with a slate and stylus. I
learned how to take notes in Braille during meetings and in classes. I read
novels and magazines in Braille, and I began learning the Braille code for mathematics
and science. I also worked on my skills of traveling with a cane, using a computer
with a speech synthesizer, and living independently as a blind person. I not
only developed competence in Braille and other skills, but I developed the confidence
to make them my primary alternative techniques.
Today, Braille is the principle way that I read and write. I take notes in Braille, read as many texts as are available in Braille, and read my Bible in Braille. When I am home visiting my parents I use the old CCTV from elementary school and high school days for personal reading, but I havenít taken it with me to college. There is a CCTV at my university, and Iíve used it four or five times in the past two years when itís not been convenient for a reader or roommate to read something such as mail or an article from my universityís student newspaper.
I find that Braille is useful in classrooms, meetings, and church functions. I may, depending on the situation, use a Braille writer, a Braille Lite (an electronic notetaker with a Braille keyboard), or a simple slate and stylus. Braille is lighter to carry, more versatile in its uses, and can be faster than a CCTV. Although I didnít realize it on that night long ago when I was in the third grade, Braille and the NFB, not a CCTV, would end up having a major impact on my future.
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