by Nathanael Wales
EDITORíS NOTE: Nathanael Wales is the President of the California Association of Blind Students.†
There came a night during the third grade when I couldn't wait to fall asleep.† The sooner I fell asleep, the sooner I would wake up and the sooner I would be able to go to school.† Then I could use this new machine that would make print "really big."†† The machine had been brought by a woman named Bobbie and I remember that someone had called her a vision teacher.† From time to time, Bobbie visited my school and called me out of classthat was really special.† Bobbie would help me with class work and occasionally show me some magnifiers.
On that big day in third grade, she brought a large machine that was known as a CCTV (closed-circuit television).† It was about the size of a television and made whatever papers or books that you put under it look really big.† There was a knob to adjust the size, 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.
I thought the CCTV was a really cool machine.† It made it easier for me to read things in school.† 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 smallest size of the print that I was able to read 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.† On many occasions, I would spend 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 had the book, a piece of glass to flatten out the pages of the book to make them easier to focus on, and the piece of paper that I was doing the homework on.† I would put the piece of paper that I was doing the homework on under the CCTV, put the book and piece of glass over it, read the problem, remove the book and put it next to me on my desk, re-focus the CCTV, write out the problem, put the book back under the CCTV, re-focus the CCTV, and then read the next problem.† Sometimes 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 wasn't 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 "Fast Glance System" 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 in the library.† In fact, the CCTV in the library was in color instead of just black and white.† My vision teacher got a few more full-sized CCTVs later that year, and I got two more of them: one in my math class and one for my social studies/science class.
In high school, I ended up having 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 class, I was on my school's 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 not only read under but also write under.† 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 began reading 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 vendors' 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.† There were a number of vendors there, and the exhibit was one of the best I have been to.
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 students, and they were talking about a number of things.† 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.† It didn't seem to matter too much to me since I was only a sophomore in high school, but I noted the experience 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 vision teacher.† He talked about teaching all of his blind, and even partially sighted, students Braille and 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 bills.† Blind college students and professionals talked about how fast and useful Braille was in their lives.† I came to the conclusion that Braille might just be something I ought to learn.† I realized that sometimes a CCTV isn't as 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 Grade II.† 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 that I used.† 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 she really noticed that my performance improved with the 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 probably 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 Grade II Braille code, and I began learning how to be proficient in using a slate and stylus.† I learned how to take notes in Braille in 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 haven't taken it with me to college.† There is a CCTV at my university, and I've used it four or five times in the past two years when it's not been convenient for a reader or roommate to read something such as mail or an article from my university's student newspaper.
I have found Braille to be useful in classrooms, meetings, and church functions.† It may, depending on the situation, mean using a Braillewriter, using a BrailleLite, or using a simple slate and stylus.† Braille is lighter to carry, more versatile in its uses, and can be faster than a CCTV.† Although I didn't realize it on that long ago night as a third grader, Braille and the NFB, not a CCTV, would end up having a major impact on my future.
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