Otsuki Prize

"How Braille Literacy Has Changed My Life"

Ms.Amanda Kym Acutt (15) Australia

I can quite vividly remember when,at the age of five,I first ran my fingers over these little raised dots known as Braille.Little did I know,in the years to come,these interesting little raised dots could open up a whole new world for me: the wonderful world of books.

Reading books in Braille has become a significant part of my life.Since the age of seven,when I had become more confident with the Braille alphabet,I started reading books by the dozen.I suddenly realized that not only could books be a form of amusement,but they could also teach me things,and consequently,satisfy my hunger for knowledge.The first books I ever read were tactile ones.This meant that when the other boys and girls in my class read picture books,I could too.It also helped me to interact with my fellow classmates because sometimes we would read together,if they could find the corresponding print book to my Braille one.I particularly enjoyed reading books about Winnie the Pooh.Although these books were not illustrated,I could imagine the situation that Pooh and his friends found themselves in.Being able to read books in Braille has enabled me to participate in class and interact with my friends.

The arrival of my little brother Trent was one of my most exciting experiences.Before he was big enough to play with me,I could entertain him by reading him stories.I read children's books to him that had Braille stuck to the print page,which meant that Trent could look at the pictures as I read.Even now,seven years later,as I read books for my own age group,Trent still shows interest in the Braille dots,running his hands over them and pretending he's reading too.

From the world of children's books,I progressed to reading adult books.This has helped me to become an average teenager because I,like thousands of others,am a Harry Potter fan.While other people are able to get books from their local town library,I can borrow mine from the Queensland Braille Writing Association in Brisbane.This association makes available a great variety of books,ranging from fantasy through to the classics.Reading is now one of my favorite leisure activities,taking me from the reality of my own experiences to those of other people.

One of my early memories of learning the Braille alphabet was using egg cartons and ping-pong balls to make the shapes of the letters.This was an effective learning method as egg cartons have six holes,and the Braille letters are made up of a combination of six dots.So,in order to make the letter "c" using the egg carton and ping-pong ball method,you would place one ping-pong ball in the top left hole of the carton,and another in the top right hole.This became an enjoyable activity,and many of my pre-school friends began to join in.Soon after,some of them had most of the letters of the Braille alphabet committed to memory,and later recognized the letters as I typed on the Perkins Brailler.

Without Braille,I would not be able to effectively study at school.I would need everything taped or committed to memory.However,I can get my textbooks from the Queensland Braille Writing Association,so I have access to the same information as my peers.By means of a scanner and a Braille embosser,a wide range of assignment research material can be translated into Braille.Of the subjects I study at school,one is Japanese.A Braille system of Hiragana (Japanese phonetic script) has been devised so that I can write in Japanese,and thus communicate with other blind students in Japan.Therefore,Braille has played an important role in my studies at school.

When I was in Grade Six,my teacher put the Braille alphabet up on the notice board,to give the other students in my class an idea of how I write.One day,towards the end of term,our class was taking a grammar test.Whilst we were being examined,one of the girls in front of me kept looking at my Braille page,then at the notice board,and then back at my Braille page.I did not realize that she was trying to cheat off my paper until the test was over,and she asked me why some of the letters I was writing did not appear on the Braille alphabet up on the notice board.The reason was that I had written in Grade Two Braille,and so she would not have been able to read it.It was then that I realized that Braille could be a form of privacy,because none of the students or teachers,(except,of course,my Braille teacher),could read it.My parents and other relatives cannot read Braille either,so I can write in my diary and leave it lying around,and no one would find out what I had written.

One day,one of my friends asked me,"Amanda,did you get all those history notes down?" .

I replied,"Yeah,why?"

"Could I have a print-out then,because I didn't get them all."

The girls in my class always tell me that my notes are always more detailed than theirs.They say that it is due to the fact that I can type Braille faster than they can write in print.

One day,when I was eight years old,I went to McDonalds with my Aunt Orinda to have lunch.Aunt Orinda was sitting across from me at the table,drinking her Coke,when she suddenly grabbed my finger and asked,"What does this say?" Feeling slightly puzzled,I ran my fingers over the cup,and was surprised to feel Braille on it.Since then,I have been more observant,and discovered that Braille is not only on McDonalds' cups,but on the automatic teller machines (ATM) at the bank,and on labels for the different types of plants at the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens.

On one occasion,my family and I were visiting the Fords,some friends of ours.While we were there,one of the Ford children brought out a pack of Uno cards and said,"Let's play!" I had no other choice but to sit and observe the game.This triggered my thoughts,and I wondered,was it possible to get Uno cards in Braille? I begged mum to investigate the matter,so she contacted the Royal Blind Foundation in Brisbane,and discovered that not only could you buy Braille Uno,but you could also get Monopoly,Scrabble,and many other games.From then on,I was able to participate in games with my family and friends,and have just as much fun as they did.It also meant that I could play independently,and not have to rely on a sighted partner.

There is one person for whom I have great admiration and respect,Louis Braille.His brilliant invention of the Braille dot system,and his perseverance with it,has given many blind people all over the world the opportunity to study and achieve academically,and most importantly,to read and enjoy books.I simply cannot imagine where I,and others in my situation,would be without Braille.

Career: Currently attending Girls Grammar School,Rockhampton,Australia

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