When Kristen Steele signed up for a continuing education workshop in Comfort Touch with me, she wanted to be able to read the handouts and textbook just like everyone else. But she had a problem. Now 20 years old, she has been blind since birth. None of the printed material I had was available for her to read in Braille.
Having begun to read Braille when she was three years old, Kristen is fluent in reading and writing, and used this system throughout her education, including post-secondary college courses. She graduated from the Midwest School of Massage in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2016. Braille is a system of writing or printing, devised by L. Braille for use by the blind, in which combinations of tangible dots or points are used to represent letters and characters that are read by touch.
After she contacted me, via email and phone, I was able to adapt the handouts I used into a plain text format. This allows her to read them, via an electro-mechanical Braille reader, a device with a refreshable display of round-tipped pins raised through holes in a flat surface. Blind computer users who cannot use a computer monitor can use it to read text output. “Seeing” with her fingertips, Kristen says of her reader, “It allows me to see the spelling, punctuation, formatting, etc. that gives shape to reading, and I want to remain literate in my writing despite being blind.”
She also contacted Bookshare, which is a service that makes books available to the blind in Braille format (www.bookshare.org). Operating, as it does, under an exemption to copyright law, Bookshare was able to take my textbook Comfort Touch: Massage for the Elderly & the Ill (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010) and make it accessible via the Braille reader. They have since also translated another one of my books: Comfort Touch of the Hands & Feet: A Guide for Family Caregivers (Wild Rose, 2015).
During the workshop that Kristen attended, I was very impressed that she could search and read the textbook as least as quickly as anyone else in the class. She could also take notes on her electro-mechanical Braille reader. For her to learn the hands-on techniques I was teaching, I demonstrated on her during the class, and she was able to practice them with her fellow students.
Upon hearing of the Braille versions of the books, Roderick Parker, a blind massage therapist who practices in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote the following to me:
“Thank you for caring enough to make your books available to the blind community. Using our hands and your training to provide care for the elderly is rewarding beyond compare. I display my Comfort Touch certificate with pride!
Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
It is also notable that Massage & Bodywork articles are available online in plain text format (click here), making them all accessible for people who are blind or have low vision. They can read them, via screen reader, which translates text to voice, or via a Braille reader.
Here are links to a couple of short videos of Kristen, reading excerpts from the Comfort Touch textbook, via her Braille reader. Yes, “health is the ability to adapt to change.” Very inspiring to see the use of adaptive technologies to make life better for all.
Kristen reads in Braille: “Adaptation to Change”
Kristen Reads in Braille: “The Principles of Comfort Touch”
—Mary Kathleen Rose, LMT