All Braille Readers Are Leaders: A Blind Parent’s Journey
By Jamie Principato Crane
I remember, as a young adult, thinking that the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest—sponsored by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and the National Federation of the Blind—had an unfortunate name. Sure, it rhymed, and I guess it was catchy to some. It still felt like a stretch to me. If I tried to read Braille as a blind twenty-something-year-old, I sounded like anything but a leader. In fact, I think I sounded like a kindergartener, maybe with an attitude problem if I got frustrated enough.
When I was a kid in school, Braille was never a priority. It’s not that my ability to read print was especially good. At one time, I recall needing seventy-two point font. I was lucky if each of my weekly spelling words fit on a single sheet of paper. I often worked in isolation during the school day, in the back of the classroom where a massive CCTV magnifier was set up. Sometimes I was at the teacher’s computer, where I typed instead of writing by hand.
Years later, other students quickly traveled to multiple classrooms throughout the day, chatting as they went. However, my need for bulky and stationary magnifying equipment caused me to miss these interactions, as well as substantial amounts of classroom instruction. Being a print reader wasn’t exactly helping me become a leader either.
Despite this, I was a talented student. Even though I missed class and struggled with eye strain, back pain, and the inflexibility of my reading environment, I excelled in the humanities, paradoxically performing many grade levels ahead. I did receive Braille instruction from about fourth grade onward, but it was only about half an hour per week. I never used Braille anywhere else during the school day or at home. I learned, whether this was said to me or not, that this was because Braille was too slow, and I read it too poorly. Even though reading print was also painful, isolating, and increasingly difficult with the complexity of academic subjects, it would have to do.
So why, now that I’m in my thirties with a well-established career, am I learning Braille? Nine months ago, I gave birth to a blind daughter. I want her to grow up to be a leader. To me, that means that she must not be isolated from her peers while she’s learning. She needs to be able to sit among them and collaborate. She must not be burdened by headaches and back pain when it’s time to go the extra mile to drive a good idea to fruition. I want her to have all of the flexibility and opportunity that I missed because Braille was not prioritized in my life. And I want to be available to her as a teaching resource, which means it’s time for me to learn ahead of her and model to her that Braille is beautiful, valuable, and wonderful.
For the first time in my life, I am participating in Braille Readers Are Leaders. I am truly a novice, spending long evenings trudging through such classic works of literature as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? But now, I also truly feel like a leader. I am a leader in my family. I read these books in Braille every night to my daughter, and to my two-year-old sighted son. It takes longer than if their dad just read the print to them, but they are patient. I am getting faster and more fluent with every book we read together. My kids are seeing the roller coaster of struggle and perseverance, of humility and pride that comes with learning to read all over again as an adult. I have been seeing this impact them both greatly.
My daughter immediately looks for bumps on a page with her tiny hands whenever she finds a book. She lights up and squeals with joy upon finding that familiar texture. My son, on the other hand, has started trying to read print. He is only two, so he isn’t exactly tackling War and Peace yet, but he has been sounding out words like “big” and “red” and “dog.” He beams with pride every time. He says that he’s learning to read “just like mama,” which motivates me to continue modeling this process for him. He says he wants to learn to “read bumps” too, because then he can read all the books his sister and I get to read, and also read in the dark after bedtime. Clearly the value of Braille is not being lost on my kids, and it is no longer lost on me either.
Editor's Note: Jamie Principato Crane is a blind parent in our California affiliate.