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First Person Singular: Braille instructor Maurice Boyd

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Many of my students have lived most of their lives sighted. And they can have moments of absolute fear and frustration in class. It's not just a reaction to learning Braille, which is difficult in its own right, but sitting in that classroom, you are reminded of what a dramatic change has occurred in your life. I have a student now who actually drove herself to the hospital because she was having problems with her vision. After surgery, she lost her sight for good. She had no time to prepare for this. She has broken down crying in class several times. Think about it: You've spent the last 37 years in one world -- driving, raising children, working 10 or 15 years on the job -- and now you are no longer able

to live in that world. These are doers, independent adults who now have to wait for other people to do things for them. These are my students.

I was born with glaucoma but had lots of vision until I was 10, when an accident hastened my loss of vision. So I try to tell them how I felt -- that although every loss is a little different, each is devastating in its own right. I tell them, "No one can tell you when to get over it." You have permission to sit down and cry as many times as you want until you have your closure.

I don't get that frustrated anymore, really. But last night, I was apologizing to my daughter because it had come time for her to get her learner's permit, and I had to rely on someone else. I couldn't be the one to teach my own daughter how to drive. But usually it's just little things like public transportation being late -- it's cold as hell and I just want to get in a car and drive. Or I'm hanging out with the guys, a woman walks by and one of them says, "I wish you could see that."

Given all the advancement in screen readers, people do ask if Braille is necessary. Those of us who advocate for it see it like this: If a sighted person doesn't know how to print or read print, we call them illiterate. If you're blind and can't read and write Braille, that's illiteracy to me.

There's an advantage in studying things, lingering on them. There's something about coming upon a passage in a book or a story and just staying there. You may not remember your teacher, the teacher's voice or the classroom, but you will remember the words you read.

Interview by Amanda Long


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