LEARNING TO READ

by Patricia Maurer

Patricia Maurer, the wife of the President of the National

Federation of the Blind, didn't learn to read until she was well

along in school. Her blindness wasn't the problem. It was

simply that nobody had offered her the opportunity and the

stimulation to learn Braille. Today she has a college degree, is

a certified teacher, and is the mother of two active sighted

children--a boy named David and a girl named Dianna. Here, as

she tells it, is the story of how she learned to read.

I was standing in the check out line at the grocery store

with a friend. She was reading from the front covers of the

magazines displayed on the rack. She read quickly and fluently.

She was reading aloud because she knew I was interested in the

information on the cover if only in passing.

As she read to me, I thought of the millions of things that

are out there to read and how people often take reading for

granted. At this stage in my life, I suppose I do myself, but I

doubt I will ever do so in the way that others may do.

I have been blind all of my life. As a child I had some

residual vision. I grew up in a small town in Iowa, where my

family had very little contact with any programs serving the

blind, and certainly no direct contact with blind people--not, at

least, when I was a child.

Although I had very little sight, my parents decided to send

me to the public school in our community. In kindergarten I

noticed that the other children did not have to get so close to

their work. They did not have to bend way over to see the paper

on their desks. When I cut things out of paper I very often could

not see the line which was there for me to follow. I think I knew

then that school work was different for me from what it was for

my classmates.

As I progressed through that small town public school, my

teachers, my friends, and my parents read the material aloud to

me. I would tell them the answers to the questions on the tests

and they would write them down for me. If I wrote the answers

myself, very often neither the teacher nor I could read what I

had written.

As the material to be read grew in volume, I was spending

more and more time in the evenings reading with my parents. There

were hours and hours of homework. Many blind people will find

this story familiar.

When we would take trips to the library, I would check out a

few books and bring them home. I would sit by a strong light or

use a lighted magnifier to try to make out the words on the page.

I finished very few library books that way.

When I was in the sixth grade my family learned about the

library for the blind in Iowa. We contacted it and I began

receiving books on long playing records. For the first time in my

life I could read books whenever I wanted to do so. It was

wonderful then, and it still is.

I still had the problem of getting my school work done.

Someone had to be there to read for me and to write down answers

to questions. There was a teacher who decided that it would be

advantageous for me to learn to touch type. This was a great

help.

Now I could write things down for others to read, but I

still could not read them myself. Looking back, I think math was

the most difficult thing for me to do. I would be given the

problem and I would try to figure it out in my head. I would try

to recite the steps for solving the problem, and the person with

me would write them down. I still could not read and write for

myself. By this time I was in high school.

One evening on the television I heard a public service

announcement regarding services for blind people. My father and I

spoke to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and he told us that I should learn

to read and write Braille. He gave me a Braille textbook to take

home. It contained the alphabet.

I was to enroll in the training program in two weeks for my

first lesson. I met my Braille teacher. Oh, I was thrilled. I

took that book home and learned the alphabet. When I went for my

first lesson I knew it all. At the end of that summer I could

read and write Braille. For the first time in my life I could

read and write.

I went on to college and got a teaching degree. I used a

combination of methods for getting the work done in the

classroom. I used Braille. I used books on record and on cassette

tape. I used a person to read materials and I often Brailled

portions of textbooks. I worked hard. I discovered how much

easier it could be with a variety of options--lots easier when I

could read and write for myself.

Yes, I got my degree. It was a degree in teaching elementary

school. My first job was teaching remedial reading to third and

fourth graders. The children could see. They needed help learning

to read.

As I sat in that classroom working with those children, I

thought about what a joy it is to be able to read. I hope that I

was able to pass on to those children a little of that joy. It is

a joy which is with me now and I know that will stay with me for

the rest of my life.