Future Reflections Summer 1991

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by Betsy Zaborowski, Psy.D.

The following article was originally published in the Spring 1990 issue of the Newsletter of the Human Services Division, National Federation of the Blind. The author is the president of this division.

It is now possible for me to comfortably write this article after putting in a ten-hour day at the office. Just a few months ago, if such a task needed doing and I was tired, I would have to put it off till my eyes had rested. Now I lay my tired body down, shut off the lights, and play with this wonderful computer, the Braille 'n Speak.

I began to learn Braille about 5 years ago. I, like so many blind persons who have some usable vision, was never taught Braille. And also, like others, I began to lose additional vision in my 30s. Quickly (to my surprise) I learned the basics of Braille as I began my internship in clinical psychology. Keeping an appointment book and taking notes with a slate and stylus was slow but possible, and I was determined to complete my doctorate on time. But when it came to writing in a proficient manner that enabled me to edit my work, the Braille I had learned in a few months was not enough. I got through my doctoral paper using dictation and readers to edit. Writing became a task I avoided. Now that I am in private practice and teaching at Johns Hopkins, writing has become an even more essential skill.

Learning Braille is not a difficult task, but practicing the skill in a disciplined manner has always been a struggle for me. I recognized I made progress reading and writing in Braille whenever I applied myself, but a busy schedule and some usable vision served as excuses. Increasingly, however, I found myself frustrated with the inefficiency of struggling to read and edit by enlarging, so it became clear an alternative was needed. After observing others talk about and work with voice access computers I knew this was the route for me. But like so many others of my generation I had my share of computer phobias. Terms such as hard drive, bytes, K of memory, and talk of numerous software options would induce a slow panic. I would think to myself, "You are a global thinker, one who is comfortable with abstract thoughts, not paying attention to details or the exactness and precision that computers (so I thought) demand." Now don't get me wrong; I usually view new learning as a challenge and see myself mastering things quickly, but this computer stuff was feeling so contrary to my nature!

Well, as a good psychologist should know, in vivo practice is the best treatment for phobias. So I thrust myself into the computer age and the `90s by buying a Braille `n' Speak. When talking to Dean Blazie, the inventor and distributor of the Braille `n' Speak, I confided in him that learning all the commands seemed much worse to me than studying for the psychology licensing exam. He used humor to reassure me and promised support and availability in time of crisis. My husband did wonder if a specially adapted padded case could be developed to insure the safety of the machine (and himself) when I throw it across the room in a fit of impatience.

To everyone's surprise my progress with this tool was swift and without incident. The immediate feedback features, help file, and flexibility to use a combination of grade 1 and grade 2 Braille, facilitated for me the rapid access to the many uses of this little portable computer. I call myself a grade 1 1/2 Braille user and improving. As one writes one can have the machine echo back what has been written; thus errors such as reversals of Braille signs can be easily detected and corrected. It is amazing how fast I have been able to automatically write in Braille.

The Braille `n Speak is also small and portable, making it easy to take to the various meetings I attend, as well as to work with it at home and at the office. I use this tool to write items that in the past often were left undone. It is actually fun and headache-free to write now. Recently I was asked to write a book review, an article for a psychology association newsletter, and numerous memos and communications related to committee work. The Braille `n Speak has made it substantially more convenient and efficient to complete these tasks. I write everything from telephone numbers to long articles. On the job, intakes and evaluation reports are done in a timely manner. I use a print printer at home, and I am now feeling brave enough to think about a Braille printer and a larger computer with all those disc drives and other stuff. I don't imagine I will ever be a computer jockey, but it does feel good to be over this phobia.

Please contact Dean Blazie (Blazie Engineering, 3660 Green Mill Road, Street, Maryland 21154; (301) 879-4944) or the National Braille and Technology Center [see photo and address on this page] if you are interested in learning more. Communication is the name of our professional game, so these types of tools are essential if we are to keep up. Good luck with your phobias-I hope you have as good a resolution as I have had.

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