You are here:

Question Box

Editor's Note: Have you ever wondered about techniques of blindness or tools that can make dealing with blindness easier? Send us your questions and we will research them for you. Send questions to: The Canadian Blind Monitor, P.O. Box 5058, Kelowna, BC, V1Y 8T9.

Question: My blindness was caused by diabetes, I have heard that diabetic neuropathy can make it impossible to read Braille. How do I know whether to learn Braille or not?

Answer: For years it was considered common wisdom that blind diabetics could not learn Braille. We know now that wisdom was not very wise. According to Gerry Whittle, Braille teacher at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, diabetes need not keep an individual from learning Braille. Even where neuropathy exists, there are techniques which can dramatically lessen this effect.

The biggest hurdle is psychological. If an individual begins learning Braille with the idea that diabetes may make success impossible, the possibility of failure may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to Gerry, every diabetic individual he has dealt with has gained some proficiency in the Braille code and increased independence. He suggests learning the Braille code, even if it can be written but not read. Begin with a slate and stylus. The process of writing Braille will help prepare a student mentally for reading it. The same principle is used in the Montessori methods of teaching reading. By learning to write words, students find it easier to read words and sentences.

Reading the same line repetitively can also build skill. So can "guessing" words by context and following along while someone else reads aloud. In other words, practice, practice, practice!

It is often helpful to read on one's lap rather than on a table. If the hands are lower, circulation is sometimes improved. Warming the hands and doing gentle hand exercises before beginning to read can also be helpful.

Remember, most people have trouble recognizing Braille characters at first whether they have neuropathy or not. Our culture does not encourage development of the sense of touch. Everyone who begins reading Braille as an adult finds the experience frustrating at times. It takes a lot of practice to develop speed and accuracy. Don't assume that diabetes will keep you from success. The rewards are well worth the effort.