My Favorite Writing Experience (hint: Braille)

Many people read with their fingers.

At least they do if they are blind or visually challenged. These folks have the amazing ability to read Braille. They run their fingers over the surface of raised dots on blank pages and quickly ‘read’ the words that only they can see feel. The World Health Organization reckons that 39 million people are blind on planet Earth. In the United States, it is estimated that ~60,000 students are visually impaired with the total number of folks (age 4-20) at ~678,000.

Braille Books

Have you ever seen a Braille book? Held one? Run your fingers over the raised bumps on the stiff paper? I never had. At least not until I wrote John Fastramp and my wonderful friend, Kim, introduced me to the children at the NY Institute of Special Education.

The point of fiction, at least to me, is to create an emotional experience for the reader. Have you ever had someone smile with such joy, that the emotion radiated from their face, their smile as if they were internally illuminated with a flood light?

I experienced this joy when my books were converted into braille.

Let me back up.

NY Institute of Special Education

As stated on their website, “The NY Institute of Special Education is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonsectarian educational facility which provides quality programs for children who are blind or visually disabled, emotionally and learning disabled and preschoolers who are developmentally delayed. The school was founded in 1831 as The New York Institution for the Blind as one of the first schools in the United States to provide an educational program for children who were blind or visually impaired”.

My Experience with Braille

I’ve had many memorable experiences because of my stories. Children have enjoyed John Fastramp and his friends since 2007. I’ve done plenty of readings to school children, tons of book fairs and had many group discussions. I’ve donated books to charities, fundraisers and other causes: Us Too – prostate cancer patient support and book donations for children in need in Fiji – to name just two. These were all (and continue to be) great activities in which I participate, contribute and enjoy. But, nothing was as personally rewarding as watching the children at the NY Institute of Special Education listen to me read John Fastramp as they ran their fingers over the three-dimensional surface of those blank pages!

My friend, Kim, thought the children would like my first book, JOHN FASTRAMP AND THE DAKOTA 3000 CHALLENGE, and invited me to read to the children. Before I went, I sent a copy of the book which they converted into spiral-bound Braille books (see photo). When I arrived at the institute, I was given a tour, and I’ll never forget the machines that were converting text into Braille. The constant, high-speed banging machines heralded the forthcoming ‘words’ that would help open the doors to my world for these children.

When I read to these children, it was magical. There is really no other way to describe it. They sat in a semicircle facing me. Some were blind, some had poor vision, some couldn’t hear – some had a combination. But when I read to them and watched their fingers glide across the pages, I was moved by the smiles that beamed forth. Like a lighthouse beam cutting through the dark night, so did the radiance from their faces! You can see pictures from a reading at the Institute here.

I was able to watch the emotion roll across them as they were able to see, with unbelievable clarity, images, each of their own design, based upon the words I read and the dots they touched.

It was a glimpse into the power of human imagination.

The Ghost Speedway in Braille

Years later, when I wrote the sequel, JOHN FASTRAMP AND THE GHOST SPEEDWAY, the Institute converted that book into Braille as well. I did another reading with the kids and found it just as rewarding as the first. Some of the local media covered the event, and you can see the video here or photos on the NY Institute of Special Education’s website.

A Request

Are you a writer? Find a local equivalent of the NY Institute of Special Education. Perhaps, they will translate your book into Braille and, if you’re very lucky, maybe they’ll let you do a reading. You’ll never find a more appreciative audience.

As the Yellow Pages used to say (sort of) -help someone’s “fingers do the walking.”