Before I go any further, I must point out that the experiences and technology I talk about in this blog are mine, so remember there are other options used by different people.
Also, whilst modern technologies have made some things easier, it doesn’t mean blind and vision impaired people didn’t live independently in the past.
When I was at school, there was no such thing as having a laptop or tablet. The tools I had available to me then were a clunky portable typewriter, Perkins Brailler (braille typewriter which weighed almost 5kg), a four-track tape recorder and copious amounts of braille volumes.
To give you an idea on how bulky braille is, my year 12 biology book was 24 volumes of approximately 140 pages. Of course, it was impossible to carry it all, so I had to know which chapters we would be using in a class to ensure I had the correct volumes with me.
The Perkins Brailler was quite a noisy piece of equipment, but my classmates soon got used to it. If detailed notes had to be taken, I sometimes recorded the lesson and would replay it at home and do my notes then.
Most of my homework was done on the typewriter so teachers could mark it. My fortnightly visiting teacher from the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind School in Burwood would translate Maths and Accounting from braille by hand.
There is one incident which was momentous at the time, hence I’ve never forgotten it. I had to write a 2000-word essay for English. I had a tendency (still do) not to write notes, just to order things in my mind and put it on paper. So, one Saturday I sat down and wrote this essay and handed it to the teacher on Monday. The first thing she said was, “there’s nothing on this paper, it’s blank”. I was devastated!
We worked out that the ink had run out on my typewriter ribbon. It had taken hours to do the essay and as I said, I never took notes first, so I thought I would have to do it again from memory. Luckily my Teacher was very understanding and patient and soon found a way to save me from doing it again. She found that if she held the paper to the light, she could read the indentations left by the keys striking the paper. From that time on, I always had my dad check the ribbon!
After high school, I moved to Melbourne from Myrtleford in northeast Victoria, there being no employment opportunities in a country town.
Watch this space to learn more about my employment journey.