Editor’s note: In January, we celebrate both National Braille Awareness and National Glaucoma Awareness months. Guest writer Jasmyn Polite shares her experience and advice as a person with glaucoma who has learned braille.
Learning the Importance of Braille
by Jasmyn Polite
I have glaucoma and have progressively lost vision as I have grown older. When I was a young child, I thought that braille didn’t apply to me, and it was too hard to learn; however, that all changed when I started volunteering at my school as a teacher’s aide for the first grade students at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Florida. Working with the students who were blind was very hard because I didn’t know braille at the time. This ordeal made me feel bad because I didn’t feel connected to the blind community or others who may have glaucoma like me. I feel like my school should have taught me braille from elementary to high school because I had a progressive eye condition.
Getting Help with Learning Braille
As a result, over the years, I started asking my friends who were blind to help me learn braille and provide me with materials to practice. I even took a braille class at my school when I entered my senior year. My friends gave me a braille writer, books, paper, and a slate and stylus, another writing device that produces braille. I also received braille books from the National Federation for the Blind, American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, and the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Talking Library in Des Moines.
After leaving high school, I decided to increase my skills by taking braille through the Iowa Department for the Blind, Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and by getting help from my mentor, Ted Hart, from the National Federation for the Blind.
Advice for People Losing Vision
Given this experience, my advice for people losing vision is to be prepared for what life may throw at you and be open to learning new things. I’m not afraid if I lose my vision from glaucoma because I know how to use braille and also learned many other life skills at the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Orientation Center where I was taught skills under the blindfold. I feel it is important to plan and prepare for the future. In my case, learning braille and blind skills will help me to cope with vision loss from glaucoma.
Why Should Individuals with Glaucoma Who Have Low Vision Learn Braille?
In my personal experience, it is important for individuals who have glaucoma and have experienced vision loss to learn braille. It is important to be prepared. Although your eye pressures may be controlled with eye drops or surgeries for a long time, glaucoma can still be progressive, and treatment may not work. That’s why I think it is important to learn braille and other independent living skills. Yes, you might be ok right now, but what if your eyesight deteriorates? We all must think of what the future will hold for us and be ready for the challenges that will come our way. (Note: Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can lead to blindness by damaging the optic nerve. The eye continuously produces a fluid, called the aqueous, that must drain from the eye to maintain healthy eye pressure. Glaucoma results in peripheral or side vision loss initially, and the effect can be like looking through a tube or into a narrow tunnel. This "tunnel vision" effect makes it difficult to walk without bumping into objects that are off to the side, near the head, or at foot level.)
Ways Learning Braille Can Help with Living with Glaucoma
Braille can help people of all ages, including older people with glaucoma. Magnifiers and large print help with reading and school work, but even with magnification, reading may be difficult. Audio is another learning tool but doesn’t offer the experience of touch. I feel there is nothing better than touching a book and experiencing it. Those who rely on audio all the time may not be able to accomplish other tasks. Braille can be helpful in many ways: labeling items, reading, making notes, etc. Simply put, learning braille increases your options in life!