I ordered a swim cap to protect my hair, which has suffered damage from the chlorine in the pool at the Y. I hate having to wear one, but I laughed at the description in the listing on amazon. It said “retro.” Well, that’s OK with me, because at my age, I’m retro too.

In fact, lots of my belongings are retro. While my friends who are blind use fancy-dancy high-tech gadgets to take notes, create documents, and post notes on Facebook, I use one of the earliest pieces of technology there is. It’s so old you can’t buy a new one anymore. It’s called Braille ‘n Speak. No braille display comes with this little wonder, but you have to know braille to use it. A keyboard that resembles that of a Perkins Braille-Writer is used to store data, which is retrieved by listening to synthesized speech. Various key commands allow the user to read line by line, sentence by sentence, or the whole document at once. Other features include backspace, delete, insert, speak faster or slower, louder and softer, and even more. I use the calculator function and sometimes the stopwatch function when I’m practicing a speech. As I said earlier, they don’t make these valuable gems anymore, so I pray mine never dies. Blind friends smerk at my use of such a dinosaur, but I can find a phone number or jot down a note faster than they can boot up their high-tech, multi-thousand-dollar gadgets.

Those of us who use the Braille ‘n Speak can’t play games, send email or texts, or make phone calls, but for storing information and taking notes, I’ll be a loyal fan of this retro piece of equipment.

Every time I go through security at the airport, I fear that their scanning equipment will wipe out my whole life that is stored in my BNS, but since they have no idea what it is, it usually passes through without a second glance.

I’m sure there are other retro belongings lerking in my house, like articles of clothing. My daughter took my granddaughter to LL Bean to shop for a top for me. “See anything that looks like Grandma?”

My grandaugher looked around and said, “This whole store looks like Grandma.”

So what’s that supposed to mean? Retro? Flannel shirts? Lined jeans? No nonsense boots? Yet, that’s me all right. Retro.

Mary Hiland

Author of Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life and The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261


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