Otsuki Prize Essay

"Braille Changed Me"

Mr.Katsutoshi Takahashi (55)

I lost my sight when I was in my forties.

A little over ten years have passed since I attended my first session on a life-skills training course at the Shiobara National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Visual Disabilities in Tochigi Prefecture,near Tokyo.I went there determined to master Braille,but in the end,the intensity that I felt for those Braille characters surpassed anything that I had expected.

I had to thank my wife for the understanding and cooperation she showed me when I was losing my sight.She was my salvation.My character also helped.I was able to acknowledge the fact of my losing my sight,so the psychological impact was kept to the minimum.

Despite what you may call these "favorable conditions," I avoided going out of the house at all costs.It's no exaggeration to say that I became a virtual prisoner in my own home.I became hyper self-conscious of those around me.I imagined people looking at me in a strange way or pointing at me as I walked past.As this peculiar shyness welled up in me,I withdrew into myself.The thought of me holding a white cane was out of the question.

By listening to my favorite records,I managed to get through the days,but I just could not get over the inconvenience of not being able to read and write.There was no possibility of sorting through my things,and I couldn't even write a simple memo.I was completely reliant on other people.But for me the bitterest experience was not being able to read.I began to think that if I was ever to make my life a little richer in the future,I would have to learn how to read Braille.

So I entered the center.Apart from my eyesight,I was in good health,so I felt I could go there without any worries.

There are various life-skills programs at the center,but the most important must be the Braille and walking programs.This was the time that I first held a white cane in my hand,but I felt little resistance.I suppose that was because I was together with other people in the same boat as myself,and I was on unfamiliar ground.

As I spent many hours practicing the skills I needed to walk,I began to understand the meaning of holding that white cane.And I found out just how much information you can get from it.

Braille proved to be more difficult than I had ever imagined.If you can remember the patterns it is comparatively easy to write in Braille,but reading was a nightmare.The feeling in my fingertips just would not transmit smoothly to my brain.As I concentrated,I could feel my head aching from the inside.

After six months at the center,I could read after if I took my time.It seems that the younger you are,the faster you learn.As a result of this,I think my life at the center took on a whole new meaning.

As soon as I got home from the training program,I tried going out.I confirmed that that weird sensation had disappeared completely.Again I must thank my wife here.As we walked together,apparently some people did stare at us,or stand and watch me go by,perhaps because they weren't used to such a sight,or because we looked unusual.But she didn't care a bit.In fact,she was interested in their reactions.I felt more and more at ease.

As I waved my white cane around and walked around town,I came to think that it would be good if I could encourage people who had found themselves in the same predicament as me.It was a word of thanks.But the pleasure of reading was something else entirely.

As I got more used to Braille,my reading speed increased.It seems that practice does make perfect.Several years ago I managed to learn how to read Braille sheet music.By sticking Braille labels on things,I can tidy up around the house,too.

Even though I have lost my eyesight,I haven't given up looking at things.I watch TV and movies,and I go to art galleries.With a little explanatory help,I find enough pleasure in these activities.

Recently computers have become more and more convenient.You can get any information you want in quick time.E-mails can be exchanged in an instant.I use a computer sometimes,and I'm sure that there are many ways to enjoy that convenience.But I'm an old stick in the mud at heart and I cling to old-fashioned reading and writing.I lost the printed word but gained Braille.No matter how much time I take,the characters stand up and wait patiently to be read.

More and more people are losing their sight in middle age like me.Therefore,many people must need the kind of life-skills training that I was given.They shouldn't have to travel too far to receive it.Even if support centers cannot be set up in every city,town and village,at least there should be one in every prefecture.

Katsutoshi Takahashi profile:

Born in February,1949 in Niigata Prefecture.He began to lose his sight because of retinitis pigmentosa,an incurable disease,in his early forties,and he left the company where he had worked.He received special training,especially how to read Braille and walk unassisted,at the Shiobara National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Visual Disabilities in Tochigi Prefecture.Currently he is able to detect some light in his left eye only.His three children have already left home and he lives with his wife in Nishikawa Town,Niigata Prefecture.He is 55 years old.

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