A Disturbing Perception

I was curled up with a pretty good book, when I came to a chapter that made me sit up and yell, “What? I can’t believe I’m reading these words!” The book was “Please Look After Mom “ Translation Copyright 2011 by Kyung-Sook Shin.

The story takes place in Korea, and in this particular passage, the young woman, who is a writer, is telling her mother about a very weird experience she had. She talked about her visit to someplace called the Braille Library, somewhere in Korea. They had contacted her and told her they were planning to publish her latest book in Braille. She knew nothing about Braille, “except that it was the language of the blind.”Please note the quotation marks because these are the author’s words, not mine. If you want to push one of my hot buttons, then call Braille a language. It is not a language. Read on.

They were asking for her permission to recreate her book “in a language only they could communicate through. She really said that. It sounded like she was talking about aliens, not people who were blind. Read on. They invited her to come to the library on something called “Braille Day,” and speak at an event about her book. They presented her with a copy of her book in Braille. The description of how she felt when she opened the book and saw an “infinite number of dots on white paper” was a bit melodramatic, but it illustrated the complete and utter amazement people experience when they encounter Braille, especially when it is something they themselves have created.

When she stood at the lectern, she felt her back stiffen. She was terrified. She didn’t know what to focus on, speaking to 400 people who could not see her. She didn’t know who to look at or how to start talking. Some people had their eyes closed. Some wore dark glasses. Some looked straight at her, but since she knew they couldn’t really see her, she felt they were looking straight through her. She wondered, “What would be the point of talking in front of these unseeing eyes.” Then when they began to ask her questions about herself, she understood that they could think, have opinions, and have life experiences. They asked about a book she had written on travel. One man said traveling was his hobby. She was stunned. She thought, “Where would a blind person travel?”

I could almost forgive her for calling Braille a language, because it is a common misconception, but the thought of a writer, who was so freaked out about an audience made up mostly of blind people was dismaying to say the least. Does this mean that when we have conventions of ACB, the American Council of the Blind, our speakers are terrified of us? Do they think of us as freaks, with our half closed eyes, fully closed eyes, eyes that don’t focus, and dark glasses? Is this why some people who meet a blind person for the first time are struck speechless? Suddenly, I felt diminished to a non person’s status, that of being part of a population of weird beings that have their own language that only we can understand.

If you read this book, and you don’t have this same reaction, or if you do, I’d love for you to leave a comment. I may be over-reacting, but then again, I might have just had my own eyes opened to a harsh reality.

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