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I Can and Will Learn Braille!

Terri Webb

Growing up, Tonya Johnson struggled quite a bit with visual tasks like reading. She remembers as she entered kindergarten the school told her parents, "We can't take her. She can't see." She went to an optometrist and was fit with glasses, but still she struggled.

Throughout grade school and high school Tonya spent many more hours than her peers to get through her studies. Along the way, she learned tricks that helped her. "I found that if I read very quickly, the letters didn't move around. And when I got to college, I began recording the lectures and listening to them over and over again."

Her eye doctors didn't know what was wrong, but encouraged her to learn braille. She repeatedly heard "If you don't learn braille as a child, you never will!" As an adult, Tonya took that as a challenge and decided "I'll show you. I can and will learn braille!"

And so she has. Tonya completed the entire braille series with Hadley and is grateful for it. "Braille shouldn't only be for the completely blind. Had I used this earlier in my life, I wouldn't have struggled as much as I did."

It was only in her 40s that Tonya finally met with doctors who diagnosed her visual impairment. A neuro-ophthalmologist described the eye condition she had been living with her whole life: her optic nerves had come in at an extreme angle and were very thin. "When I was fit with special lenses for the first time I cried—I could see!"

Even now, however, there are still many situations in which Tonya's sight is not great. "Having some sight brings its own set of challenges," she explains. "Just because I can see doesn't mean I can see well."

And Tonya continues to turn to Hadley to help her learn practical skills like personal safety. "I was a bit skeptical at first that the course on personal safety would be appropriate for me as I'm not completely blind. But I'm finding the techniques I'm learning are extremely useful."

"Sometimes it feels like Hadley is far away," Tonya notes. "Waiting for the mail, for instance, creates distance. But the relationships I made with both instructors and peers I've met at various office hours make Hadley feel more like home to me. I have truly met friends who have bettered my life."

Photo: Tonya Johnson isn't just passionate about braille—she is in her second year raising chickens, after one simply showed up in her driveway!

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