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
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
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
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
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.