Susan van Wyk’s story, in her own words

The day I discovered that I was going to have a baby, I started to wonder: “How am I going to help her if she can see?”

I was born blind, and I don’t know how to read or write in print. Only braille.

As the thought of her being on her way sank in, I worried about how I’d assist her as she grew up – separated as we’d be by two different forms of writing. With no immediate answers, I clung, for the present, to a mother's instinct and just hoped that everything would be okay in the end.

Like any other mom, I started to talk and sing to Riana even before she was born. And when she was a baby, I started reading her stories and making up songs for her. As a mom, you find ways to do things a bit differently so that you can accommodate your child.

When she started to walk I became more careful as I moved around, but she quickly realised that she had to be on the look out for me. One day she wanted to play ball and we sat on the ground with our feet forming a ring in which we rolled the ball. When she started to throw it, we stood very close, so that I could sense where the ball was.

I’m an avid reader, and tried to the find time to continue. Whenever I did, Riana also wanted to feel the braille pages - and then said that she was reading too. So I got an alphabet card from Blind SA’s Braille Services, and started to show her the letters. This card has the print as well as the braille letters on it. At the bottom, it shows how numbers are formed in braille, also with the corresponding print equivalent.

One day she said she wanted to take the card to her crèche with her, which she did. At the creche, she told the teacher that she could count in braille, showing the numbers and making as if she was reading with her hand as well.

Later, when it was my birthday, Dad had to mark my Perkins Brailler for her and dictate the positioning of the dots so that she could write a birthday card to me.

When Braille Services got the means to produce braille graphics, I also had the ability to show Riana different shapes and pictures. I once had a book showing faces with a smile, or being sad. It was then easy to explain these emotions to her while she was looking at the pictures, and I could feel it. There were also faces with parts missing, so I could ask her what was missing and I would know if she was answering correctly.

When she started to learn letters, we took a page with an ordinary picture and the corresponding starting letter of the word. It was laminated, and I wrote in one corner of the page the specific letter. I would use this the same way as they would in class.

When they started to read short sentences, we took the text and laminated that as well. I would then braille the exact text at the back or on top of the print with my Perkins Brailler. I would read the sentence first and then give it to her to read. I also asked Braille Services to make me a copy of print letters in graphics with the equivalent braille letter below. This I used to teach her how to form and recognise print letters.

Since then, Braille Services has also undertaken to braille her children's Bible for me. We’ll be reading that together. When she was smaller, she would mostly look at the pictures while I read the text, but now that she is bigger, Riana will also read some text and ask me if she is uncertain of a word.

At school, they need to prepare speeches and learn poems. I get the material in print and Dad either scans or dictates it for me so that I can put it in braille or have it electronically so that I am able to assist her while she’s rehearsing.

Being the child of a blind mother makes my daughter very independent and caring towards other people who have any sort of impairment. One of her friends at school wears hearing aids, and Riana protects her from the other children.

If I was not braille literate, I would not have had the opportunity to assist Riana in her life as well as I’ve managed. For continual support in her education, I rely more and more on braille as my anchor.

She is so very precious to me and I try hard to assist her as well as I can. Braille is not cheap, but no price is too high to assist my child so that she can reach her dreams.

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