Every day we hear something in the news about the value of reading. “Read to your child,” news stories say. “It encourages mental development and fosters a love of reading that will last a lifetime.” As far as I can tell, it’s all true. I believe this because I have been blind since birth and have lots of experience both with being read to and with reading for myself.
I began learning to read and write braille in kindergarten. I was exposed to my first braille book in kindergarten, too, but in those days, and perhaps even now, there was much more material available as talking book recordings than in braille. It was only natural that I got used to listening to books. besides braille books are big, bulky, and expensive. If you want to borrow braille library books, it generally involves placing an order with your nearest regional library for the blind to have the books shipped to you in large cartons, often more than one carton per book. You can see why many blind people use recorded books for the lion’s share of their reading. I think there is real value to listening to high-quality audio books. Listening to a well-narrated book can teach pronunciation of unfamiliar words, good diction, the reading of dialog to bring written conversation to life, and lots of other subtleties that enrich oral reading. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to experience the fine narration I’ve enjoyed over the years.
After several years mostly listening to family and friends read to me and listening to talking books with the occasional braille book for variety, a couple of things happened around the same time that made a big difference in my reading. First, my wife and I had a son. Second, I gained access to a braille notetaker, a portable computer with a one-line braille display. I really wanted to read to my son. While he was little, I read to him from braille books I had from childhood, from books I borrowed from the braille lending library, and from new books we bought. Then I learned that braille book files were being made available for download from the Internet for those who couldn’t read standard print. These books could be loaded into a braille notetaker such as mine and read easily with no need for bulky volumes. Suddenly I had a treasure trove of good reading available to me in braille, my native written form. My son is now fourteen, and I have been reading to him almost every night since he was small. Of course I do a lot more of my own personal reading in braille, too, these days.
I firmly believe that books have a huge amount to offer us and that there’s great value both in being read to and in reading for oneself. Novels, biographies, histories, books on science and imagination, what treasures for the ears, the eyes, and the fingers!
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