Future Reflections Winter 1996, Vol. 15 No. 1



by Eric Duffy

Editor's Note: Eric Duffy is Director of Field Services for the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. He and his wife Tracy live in Columbus and are expecting their first child. Braille is deeply important to both the Duffys, but there was a time when it looked as though Eric would be denied the right to learn it. Here is his story:

As a young child I enjoyed being read to. Whenever I could persuade anyone to sit down with me and a book, I was delighted. I particularly remember Peter Rabbit; The Cat in the Hat; and of course the classic, Mother Goose. When we were very small, my little sister Barb and I would pick up our books and pretend that we were reading. Sometimes we read to ourselves, and sometimes we read aloud to anyone who would listen.

I memorized things quickly, so pretending to read was easy for me. Barb could pick up any book and, by looking at the pictures, tell the story. I knew, however, that it wouldn't be long before Barb would no longer be pretending. She would be able to read books, newspapers, and everything elseþjust as the rest of our family could.

Eventually the day came when Barb began to read. She began to recognize the letters of the alphabet and then to sound out words. That is when I began to recognize that my blindness really might be a problem. I was the big brother, and I should have started reading before she did. I began asking my parents a lot of questions: how am I going to read? Am I going to go to school?

My parents explained that I was going to go to a special school for blind children. They said that I would learn to read and write Braille. Of course, I had no idea what Braille was. In order to give me some notion of the code, my mom punched small holes into a sheet of paper with a pencil. Obviously, these holes made no sense to either of us, but at least I was comforted by the knowledge that I was going to learn to read.

The time came when my mother took me to the Ohio State School for the Blind. I was given a variety of tests, most of which I do not remember. However, what my parents and the school officials did with the results of these tests might well, under other circumstances, have had a dramatically negative effect on the rest of my life. Because I have mild cerebral palsy, my parents were told that I would probably never learn to read and write Braille.

But when I started school, I did not know that I was not supposed to be able to read and write Braille. No one bothered to tell me what I could not or would not want to do, and I can only assume that my first-grade teacher chose to ignore the pronouncements of the experts. She simply gave me the opportunity to learn to read and write with the rest of my class. I started school in April, and by June I was reading and writing as well as anyone else in my class.

Today I use Braille in every aspect of my life. At home I label food items, cassettes, and compact discs. Braille reading is essential for playing board games such as Scrabble and card games such as Euchre. On the job I use Braille for note taking, writing down telephone numbers, and labeling file folders. I cannot even begin to name all the ways in which I use Braille at home and on the job.

Today I take my ability to read and write Braille for granted. But it frightens me to realize that I was almost denied the opportunity to learn it. What follow are the comments of the clinic evaluation team of the Ohio State School for the Blind: "Eric was a very cooperative boy who had difficulty walking. Although he has some vision, it does not appear to be adequate for reading any fine print. Developing usable Braille skills may be rather difficult for Eric because of his poor manipulative skills. His chief channel of learning will most likely be the auditory channel. Eric exhibits readiness for a beginning program for visually handicapped children." Educational Specialist

This evaluation almost led to my not learning Braille. I know for certain that there are blind students today who are not learning Braille because of evaluation results like mine. My plea to parents and educators alike is this: give your children a chance to learn Braille. It is better to err on the side of Braille instruction than to deny any child the opportunity to read.