"How Braille Literacy Has Changed My Life"

Ms.Kylie Forth (18) Western Australia

I stood,swaying with the motion of the Lee Win sailing ship,balanced on the ship's high main mast 33 metres above the far-away deck.Having successfully scaled the mast with no eyes and one leg,I reached out to read the inspirational inscription placed on the masthead to reward the successful climber.I had no need for the eyes of the other climber to impart this message to me.I could read it myself as it was in Braille.As I read the message unaided,I saw this achievement as a culmination of my successes,which would not have been possible without the ingenious script used by vision impaired people,Louis Braille's remarkable invention: Braille.

Having lost my eyes to cancer by the age of three,I had no recollection of sight and I calmly arrived at primary school,unaware that I was to learn to write with a different code to my peers.Learning Braille with the ease of a six-year-old I soon overtook my teacher,who was also learning Braille as she taught me.Before long,when she was transcribing my schoolwork she would consult me in the correct transcription of a word as I was a quicker reference than her book.As I became a fluent Braille reader,the world of the written word expanded before me.No longer was I dependent on others to read me the stories that all children love.I was able to devour as many books as I could lay my hands on.In fact,I was so enthralled by the books I could now access that I read almost every book in the nearest Braille library.Thanks to Louis Braille,I did not have to ration my books as he did,so that I did not read them too quickly.My library seemed limitless.

To be literate is to be empowered with independence.Any person who is unable to read or write relies completely on others to perform such minor tasks as reading food labels and writing telephone numbers.Without any means of written communication,people are severely restricted in their career opportunities as almost every occupation relies on some form of the written word.Visually impaired people are no exception to this rule.For those who lose their sight after learning to read and write,the only difficulty is finding a form of writing that they can access.They have already learnt the fundamentals of reading.Children who are visually impaired from an early age,however,rely heavily on Braille for their education.Without the use of this highly accessible,tactile written code,many visually impaired students would find it difficult to learn the basic rules of spelling and grammar.Without the ability to read texts by themselves,these students would not be able to gain the same literary skills as their peers.These students are well prepared to enter the literate workforce on an equal footing to those who regularly use print.The medium may be different,but the result is the same.

My Braille literacy has provided me with the opportunity to complete Year 12 and to sit all of the necessary exams as an equal participant.Throughout my school career I have read from the same textbooks,notes and novels as my fellow students.I have not had to rely on friends to read these texts to me,which is often inconvenient as we have different schedules.I am able to pick up and put down any of these texts on a whim without the necessity of troubling others.I can therefore pursue the perfectly normal,often erratic routines of any student,studying to the small hours of the morning or not at all.I am just an ordinary,everyday student,but the only difference is,I can read in the dark.

My academic achievements,made possible with the use of Braille,have enabled me to move on to university.Unlike visually impaired people in earlier,I have as many career opportunities as sighted people.I am not restricted to repetitive physical labour as I have the ability to read and write,albeit slightly differently to other people.This has enabled me to pursue my dream of a stimulating career in Clinical Psychology.My extensive knowledge of Braille has also allowed me to teach others this precious gift of written communication so that they too may benefit from the advantages of literacy.We are fortunate to live in a world where Braille is accepted and acknowledged as the visually impaired people's written word and is freely taught to those who are willing to learn.

Braille has opened all of the doors which were closed to me when cancer stole my sight as a three-year-old.From the top of the Lee Win's mast to the classroom,I am equal to my peers because I am as fluent a reader as any sighted person.The incredible advances that the advent of Braille have initiated are remarkable in that they enable visually impaired people to participate fully in our lives and to reap the rewards which go hand-in-hand with literacy.No longer are our minds confined due to a lack of written communication; we are empowered with our own form of writing and the opportunity for education and mental expansion.Braille literacy has changed my life because it has returned to me the opportunities that I lost with my sight.I treasure this gift of written communication as it allows me to express myself adequately and participate equally in a sighted world.

Affiliated Organization: Blind Citizens Australia

Career: Currently studying Clinical Psychology at university

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