When I was in first grade, my class took a field trip to the Public Library. I remember that library smell-- dust, and paper, mixed with the aroma of focused silence. We trooped around, looking at the brightly colored books. I don't remember anything of what the teacher or the librarian said, but I do remember how I felt. After the talk, explaining the library and probably the Dewey Decimal System (something I still do not understand to this day), all of my classmates broke up into small groups to explore. I sat, on a hard wooden chair and waited to go home. It's the only time in my life I've ever wished to be sighted.
I could read using a closed-circuit television (CCTV) which magnified the text of a book onto a screen. While I managed to get my school work done using this device, it left little time, nor inclination, to read for pleasure, so I didn't. But I always wanted to read, just like the other kids in my class, I wanted to look at the different books, pick out a few, and take them home.
The reading opportunities for people with print-related disabilities have expanded a great deal in the last twenty years. We have
<"The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped">
As well as other options.
We can get books on tape or CD, in Daisy format, either audio or print, in specially formatted files for braille displays, and in MP3 format to put on an iPod or one of the small special-made reading devices for hearing blind people. We could even buy a regular print book, and scan it with a flat-bed scanner if we had one, or had the time to do that.
It's only been very recently that we have had truly instant access to books equal with our sighted peers.
A few months ago, I started a series of fiction books. I read about ten in this series before I got to a stopping point. The next book in the series was not available. I searched, I asked friends if they knew where I could get this particular book. I have more than enough books to stop reading this series and wait for the book, and read something else in the meantime. But I wanted this particular book and I wanted it right then! In the old days I wouldn't have had a choice. I'd just have had to wait until someone scanned a copy or until the Library for the Blind got a braille copy. I would have been waiting a while because this book was of a subject matter not of mainstream interest.
Thank goodness for technology! Since nobody had this book, I went to the store, got the book, and read it. It was the first time in my whole life, I've ever been able to do that. The store was the iBookstore run by Apple, and the book was some kind of text file. I used my iPhone and braille display to read it. Because of Apple's commitment across the board to people with disabilities, I was able to do something I've wanted to do since I was six years old.
The book won't find itself on to my annual list of "Top Fifteen Best Reads" for the year. But it will always stand out in my mind as the first book I've ever bought to read just like anybody else. Now that I've had that experience, there is no stopping me!
Happy reading, y'all!