Braille with Five Fingers by Lindsay Kerr

Picture shows Lindsay, with blonde hair and blue eyes, wearing a floral shirt.

From the Editor: Lindsay Kerr is a senior at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) in the Liberal Studies Program. In addition to being a senior at CSULB, she works in her Students with Disabilities Office as the Instructional Materials and Technology Consultant. Her career goal is to be a teacher of blind students.

Like most children, I was introduced to the print alphabet at an early age. From there, I learned to read and write in print. The only difference for me was that as I got older, the letters got bigger and bigger because I was having a hard time seeing my school assignments. Not only was I having a hard time seeing the words on a page, I was also having issues seeing the board in my classroom. It did not matter how close I got to the board—I just could not see it. When my teachers realized I was having these challenges in my education, they decided that the best thing for me would be to get assessed by a Teacher of the Visually Impaired. After this assessment, it was determined that I would need large print textbooks and a monocular to see the board in my classes. These tools worked great until I was in high school, when my life changed forever.

In my ninth and tenth grade years, I experienced headaches, vision changes, and lethargy as a result of a malfunction in the shunt valve that was keeping me alive. A shunt is a plastic tube with a valve on the end that is inserted in the brain to drain fluid to another location, such as the abdomen, to be reabsorbed. I need a shunt valve to stay alive because I was born with congenital Hydrocephalus, which is an increase of cerebral spinal fluid on the brain. The only treatments for this require brain surgery. During my ninth and tenth grade years of high school, I had three brain surgeries. After these brain surgeries, I was having an even harder time seeing my school assignments.

As a result of the challenges of completing my school assignments, it was determined that I would have to learn Braille. This vital skill posed its own challenge because in addition to losing a lot of vision, I was also born with Cerebral Palsy, leaving me with limited use of my left hand and leg. Having Cerebral Palsy brought its own set of challenges because Braille is typically written with two hands. When writing in Braille, people will use their left hand to press the backspace, and dots 1, 2, 3 keys. They will then use their right hand to press enter, and dots 4, 5, 6 keys.

My Teacher of the Visually Impaired had to find out if a one handed Brailler existed because there was no way I could write characters that require two hands. Before finding a one- handed Brailler, I used a swing cell in order to learn the alphabet and basic punctuation. A swing cell is a block with two rows of three holes going down vertically. To represent each braille letter, pegs would be put in the corresponding holes. After much research, my teacher found that a Brailler did exist for one handed individuals, like myself. This would give me the ability to lock down the keys on the left side, so that I could press the keys on the right freely. For example, if I were to write the letter “q”, I would lock down dots 1, 2, 3. Then to emboss the letter “q”, I would press dots 4 and 5. This method does not work if I was writing a letter where dots 1, 2, or 3 was used by themselves. If I was writing a letter where dots 1, 2, or 3 were used by themselves, I would lock down the dots needed and then press space to emboss the letter. When it comes to using the backspace or enter keys on a one handed Brailler, they work just as they would on a traditional Brailler. Not only was there a one handed Brailler, the advanced Braille note takers have a function to be used with one hand. In most cases, using one handed mode on a Braille note taker works similar to the Brailler. The only difference is that one must press any of the eight braille keys and then press space in order to make any action or write any letters. With the discovery of these vital tools, I was able to learn how to read and write in an accessible format. Had my Teacher of the Visually Impaired not taken the time to do the research to find a one handed Brailler and the one handed mode capabilities on a Braille note taker, I would not be able to compete with my sighted classmates. Not only did having access to braille help me to compete with my classmates, I even use this skill to do my job at one of the 23 CSU campuses.