Braille: Excerpts from Chapter 21

…In the second grade I began to learn Braille. A Braille teacher who traveled up from St. Augustine two days a week taught Paul and me. Paul was the only other blind child in Duval County. We were bussed to the same elementary school, probably so Mrs. Williamson could teach us together. She gave us flash cards with individual words in Braille on them. We had words like “run,” “go” “come,” and “see.” I said I sure wished I could see.

I loved Braille and learned it quickly. Soon I was reading a book about Alice and Jerry and Jip, the dog. I could finally read for myself! Every letter and symbol in Braille is composed of a combination of just six dots; each cluster of dots, arranged in two columns of three, is called a cell. In a cell, the letter A is represented by the upper left-hand dot; B is the upper left-hand dot plus the dot underneath it; and C is the two dots going across the top.

Braille is much more complex than print because of its 300 to 400 shorthand symbols. Words like “with” and “for” are spelled out in print but are written as single-cell symbols in Braille. Also, while every letter of the alphabet is represented by a Braille character, many letters can also stand alone to symbolize a word. For example, the letter “W” standing alone is the word “will.” A standalone W with one dot before it gives us the word “work”; with two dots, the word “word”; and with three dots, the word “world.” Braille books come in volumes. The volumes of the Braille Bible, stacked vertically, stands 5 feet 3 inches high. When I walked into Mrs. Williamson’s resource room in my elementary school, I found many bookcases containing Braille books. Even though most of them were textbooks, I liked reading them. On her supply-room door, Mrs. Williamson always posted a Braille poem. I particularly liked one called “Tain’t.”

            Tain’t what we have,

            But what we give;

            Tain’t who we are,

            But how we live;

            Tain’t what we do,

            But how we do it—

            That makes this life

            Worth going through it!

While Mrs. Williamson was teaching me Braille, she also taught me how to type on both a Braille writer and a regular print typewriter. I took my Braille writer to class for some tests, like Math tests, and my typewriter to class for other tests, such as Spelling tests and English tests. I couldn’t figure out which machine made more noise. Anyway, they both made more noise than the sound of a pencil. When Mrs. Williamson came up to the school, she transcribed the Math answers for my regular classroom teacher.

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