Tag Archives: Braille

My Parents’ Gratitude List

28 Jul

by Nancy Scott

I sometimes wonder how my parents managed to raise two children, one of whom was totally blind. Hindsight is 20/20, even when you can’t see. So now I see many things my parents must have been very grateful for as I grew up.

For instance, they surely celebrated my ability to tell time. This was partly because I was a responsible child (or early control-freak). If my mother said “Inside by five,” I’d verbally start coralling my brother around twenty of.

Braille watches were and are expensive and fragile. The lids open and expose the hands. You can’t get them dirty or wet. I was not a fragile child. I went through more than a watch a year. But my new watch always arrived after about two weeks of my constantly asking, “What time is it?”

My parents were also grateful that I liked reading. They wanted me to have an education. They also wanted me to have something to do in the back of the car during three-hour trips to relatives’ houses. Beating my brother up or constantly asking “What do you see out the window now?” were somehow not agreeable childhood behaviors.

Until I could be distracted by novel-length Braille books, my parents spent considerable energy on an invented game concerning “claiming” expensive cars my family saw as we travelled. I of course was score-keeper. For instance, if someone claimed a wrong car or a car no one else saw, they lost one car and I got one. If two people claimed the same car at the same time, I got the car. My mother was bad at “Claim It,” so I got a lot of cars. Until adulthood I never suspected the game’s true purpose.

And speaking of long car trips, my parents probably breathed a huge sigh of relief when I mysteriously lost the very small amount of light-perception that I had. Its only practical application was knowing if flashlights worked when they held them up to my face. But seeing bright light from the corner of my left eye meant I could see cars’ passing lights. I counted 86 of them one night coming home from a New York visit to my grandmother. I thought I was very clever, but my parents tired of confirming each set of lights.

Naturally my parents’ gratitude list was longer than three things. Like when I finally learned about line-of-sight and stopped sticking my tongue out and annoying grown-ups who could see me but weren’t in the same room. (I also learned about corners.) Or that I finally got scared and stopped begging my mother to stay up with me for late-night horror movies. But you get the idea.

Nancy Scott, Easton, PA, is a blind essayist and poet. Her over 600 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries. An essayist and poet, she has published three chapbooks. She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Stone Voices.

 

Drying Paint

13 Mar

by Nancy Scott

Ernie chaired our local radio-reading-service’s programming committee. I was former chair and still a member of the monthly phone meeting. Since Ernie also read for RADPRIN he read several newspaper essays of mine on the air. One night he said something about my essays that I’ve never forgotten. “I bet you could write about paint drying, and it would be interesting.” At the time I laughed, but couldn’t think of a paint-drying incident to write about.

But three years after I moved to a big apartment building I had my first paint encounter. Building management decided to paint the halls and apartment doors. No one told me when the painter would arrive. I am an observant (nosy) tenant, which saved me from wet paint.

I knew from a neighbor that the second floor was finished. Several mornings later I heard rattling of probable ladders and buckets. Once I opened my door I smelled fumes and asked what was happening.

The painter didn’t understand why I needed to know where he was. I patiently explained that I couldn’t see the paint, and asked when he would get to my door. When he understood, he told me his painting plan.

It was quick-drying paint, so staying in my apartment until around 5 p.m. for the two days he worked was not difficult.

* * *

Wet paint is an occasional problem. But it points to a larger concern: things like printed signs and notices under doors that I can’t read. When I first moved in, the cleaning lady delivered such notices and she always knocked on my door to read about water being shut off or air conditioner filters being changed.

The management of my privately-owned building has never figured out that a phone call would be helpful. I’m not asking so much for accessibility. I’d settle for common sense or common courtesy.

One neighbor suggested that I seem to cope so well that people assume I’ll figure this out. “They forget you can’t see.” But I always use a cane, and I can’t read print.

I have hidden a Braille label to mark my floor number outside the unmarked elevator. I have accessorized my door with bells hanging on the outside.

In our last hall-painting experience—different painters, but same exact scenario—they took down the hanging fixtures, saying we couldn’t hang things any more. But I needed an identifier. So I used a twisty tie to hang a tiny dream-catcher from my door-knocker. I did that the same day the paint dried.

It’s still there, a month later. I’m currently wondering how to sneak dots onto the digital treadmill in the exercise room. (With people who deny access, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.)

Stay tuned.

Nancy Scott, Easton, PA, is a blind essayist and poet.  Her over 600 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries. An essayist and poet, she has published three chapbooks. She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Stone Voices.

Hand Blind

22 Jan

by Nancy Scott

Too much grasping,

too much stroking and guessing,

too much need for fur and feathers,

too much checking for dust.

 

In alchemy of rebellion,

my hand turns touch to sand,

invents grit and friction

till skin peels

its release from feeling.

 

Slender fingers of my youth

demand different attention–

lotions, cocoa-butter soaps

and less time in water.

 

Now, I am grateful

to have the brush of healing

when flannel feels soft,

to find dust with conviction

and to read Braille with silken speed

of ungloved second sight.

 

Nancy Scott’s over-600 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries. An essayist and poet, she has published three chapbooks.

Recent work appears in  Breath and Shadow,  Contemporary Haibun Online, and Thema.  She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest.

Balance Beam

1 Dec

by Nancy Scott

I practice impatience, balance
it with my book on the porch rail
where I try to read Braille
with February coat sleeves,
thinking the sun must be the color
of the good poems I can only
write in April when the ice melts
and my hair curls with things to do.
I dare to wear no gloves,
read one-handed; too slow
to lure robins.

 

Nancy Scott, Easton, PA, is a blind essayist and poet.  Her over-500 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries.  Her third chapbook, co-authored with artist Maryann Riker, is entitled “The Nature of Beyond.

The Braille Lesson

16 Nov

by Paul Hostovsky

The letters were all locked up in the Braille cell
calling to her in one voice as she passed her index
over them. It was her first day, her first lesson.
How could they possibly fit in there, she asked him,
and how would she ever learn to tell them apart
without a pencil sharpener for her finger? She laughed
as she said this, and her laughter touched something in him
that needed to be touched. He suggested she try
touching the letters to her lips, because her lips
knew better, and could feel what her fingers could not,
not yet, being a beginner. Then he took a deep breath
as she held the white page up to her face, so it looked
like she was reading with her eyes, but really she was
reading with her lips. And yes, she could feel the dots
better that way, she said, and continued grazing them
with her imperceptibly pursed lips—not kissing them
exactly, just grazing them with her mouth, the way lovers
do between kisses. And although his lips would never
find her lips, her finger did eventually learn all the letters
and contractions by heart. And to this day it still
sometimes returns to her lips, to tap there abstractedly,
as though thinking of him. Or so he likes to think.

 

Paul Hostovsky is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Hurt Into Beauty (2012, FutureCycle Press). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and two Best of the Net Awards. He makes his living in Boston as a Braille Instructor and Sign Language Interpreter. To read more of his work, visit him at http://www.paulhostovsky.com

Braille and Poetry

2 Jul

by Mani G. Iyer

It isn’t like scotch and soda
or, pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream
or, for that matter, burger and fries.
It just so happens
that my braille teacher is a fine poet too.
 
The big braille book lies between us,
I amble the trail of irregular bumps,
nimbly with the tip of my index finger.
He rides the same trail
with his eyes, and waits for me
to tell him what I discovered, at every clearing.
 
When I put my index finger to rest,
on the next milestone, lest I not lose the trail
or revisit the trodden path,
we discuss line breaks in poetry,
when to do them, and when not to.
 
He recites Stopping by woods on a snowy evening,
shows me the sentence patterns.
I visualize Frost on an evening trot,
his horse being more intimate with
the ground beneath them.
 
When I am done with assembling the bumps
into words and relate the final sentence,
he tells me, I am on the right track.
For the next lesson, he types up
the Frost poem in braille
for me to feel the poetry.

 

Mani G. Iyer was born and raised in Bombay, India and has lived in the United States since 1985.  He is deaf-blind due to Usher Syndrome.  He became deaf by the age of 4, night-blind by the age of 12, and now has very little usable vision.

Creative Person of the Week

18 May

A while back, I invited everyone to let us know about blind people you know that are doing interesting and creative things.  This was submitted by a volunteer in Myanmar (Burma):

Aung Lwin Oo from Myanmar a young man (totally blind) who invented (developed) a software.  He is skillful in using computer and his software is “Braille to Myanmar” “Myanmar to Braillex”  It is like “Duxberry English-Braille/Braille-English” software. He invented it in 2010. It was launched in 2011 and widely used for academic texts and other books for visually impaired persons in Myanmar.

Other sighted people in Myanmar had developed this kind of software. However, they did not include any visually impaired person in the process. As a result, it is not as good as that of Aung Lwin Oo.

The Toast

20 Feb

by Paul Hostovsky

When Gilbert asked me to be his best man
I started writing this little toast in my head
about the National Braille Press where we all
work, me in transcription, Gilbert and Lisa
in proofreading, where they fell in love among
the dots, reading volumes in the goose bumps,
reading love in each other’s voices. And I knew
there’d be lots of blind people at this wedding,
faces tending to the sides and to the ceiling,
heads swaying to the music of their bodies. And I
pictured the white canes sticking up out of the pews
or folded in the laps in red and white bundles.
And I compared the first time I saw them kiss (I
couldn’t help staring) to two single-engine planes
coming in for a landing, zero visibility, turbulence
as they navigated the air currents and crosswinds
that separated them, touching down successfully
with a bump, then coming to a complete stop
which they held for a very long time, like a lost
suitcase the hands believed they would never
see again. And I described how I loved to look
at the hands reading, and would often eavesdrop
over the shoulders, watching the fingers flying
like the pursed lips of the wind. And when I was done
I brailled the toast and gave it to Gilbert to read,
to run it by him before his big day. But he didn’t
like it. In fact he hated it. It was all about me, he said.
My sensibility via his blindness. The story of his
life. And he didn’t need it repeated on his wedding day.
And he tore it up before my eyes, and sprinkled it
on the floor like so much torn up braille. 
 

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com .

The Day My Uncle Hank Sat Down to Lunch with Helen Keller in a Café in the Philippines, August 1948

14 Nov

by Paul Hostovsky

it was raining,
but raining so hard that he couldn’t
see what his hands were doing
in front of his own face, so he climbed
carefully down from the truss
of the cantilever bridge he was building
with the Army Corps of Engineers outside
Manila, and made his way into the city under
friends’ umbrellas twirling toward
the brothels mostly, but Uncle Hank
who was always more hungry than horny
headed for Fagayan’s for a bowl of beef stew.
 
Helen was building bridges too, she told him—
“bridges out of Braille dots” (visiting schools
for the blind all over Asia). Then she smiled
and turned to Polly Thomson sitting beside her
(Annie Sullivan dead 10 years already)
and asked her if the young American soldier
sharing their table in the crowded café
with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths,
sounds of Tagalog, Spanish, English mixed
with the clacking curtain of rain filling the doorway—
was smiling at her Braille joke. Yes, he was,
 
but he couldn’t see what her hand was doing—
the fitfully pecking bird of Polly’s hand
fingerspelling into Helen’s palm—to make
the words, his words, almost as fast as he was saying them:
“How do you do that, that, with your hand…how
does she understand?” And so it happened
that my mother’s youngest brother Henry Weiss,
who hadn’t written home in over six
months, learned the American Manual
Alphabet from its most famous reader,
over beef stew, brown bread and beer,
on a rainy day in Manila, and now had something
 
to write home about. Of course he’d heard
of Helen Keller—who hadn’t?—but here
she was, older, stouter, and drinking
a beer, and sitting across from him, holding
his hand now, molding it, arranging his                                                     
fingers and thumb into the shapes of the letters
one by one, teaching him her tactile
ABCs. And her hands were large and strong
for a woman’s hands, and she smelled good too,
and to see his eyes smiling when he told it
to my mother, whose eyes smiled telling it
to me years after, the way her generous
bosom swelled above the checkered table cloth
as she leaned in close to Uncle Hank
and shaped and sculpted and praised,
 
it aroused in him something he never quite
got over. And walking back to the barracks
in the pouring rain, gazing down at his right
hand still practicing the letters, feeding them
to his left, which he cupped like a nest under them,
he must have looked to anyone observing him
like a man bent over his own praying hands;
or a man wringing his hands, for love; or maybe
a man who has just found something small
and glinting, and of great value on the way
to wherever it was he was going, and pausing
in the middle of the road now, he considers
this strange, new, marvelous light it casts
on his hands, on the road, on his whole life.
 

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com .

The Can Can Sale

27 Sep

by Nancy Scott

Without Braille’s tact,
I can’t tell corn from carrots
from peas from peaches if they’re canned.
Fruit might be in big, fat
cans, but it’s just unidentified fruit.
I would know mushrooms, stems and pieces,
but not if I also bought mandarin oranges.
Soups all look the same–
the smaller cans needing
water, or is it milk?

 

Once or twice a year,
we go to the Can-Can
sale. You can
read the flyer, I can
make the list. You can
read signs and labels, I can
help push the filling carts, you can
bag and organize, I can pay.

 

You can lift and stack, I can too
but slowly, you can
put more than 100 cans
in their right rows, I can
put magnetic Braille labels
in front of those rows.
You can see
if we’ve missed anything.
I can now tell corn from carrots
from peas from peaches.
I can. 
 
Nancy Scott, Easton, PA, is an essayist and poet.  Her over-500 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries.  Her third chapbook, co-authored  with artist Maryann Riker, is entitled “The Nature of Beyond.”