Meet Annette

Annette smiles while reading a braille book with her braille class.

Annette is currently a staff member at Cleveland Sight Center, but she first got involved 66 years ago when she was a young girl. Her time with CSC began with summers spent at camp and evolved into CSC training classes that taught her life skills in preparation for college. After college, Annette worked a part-time job here at CSC while she was in school for her master’s degree. She’s had a career with CSC ever since. Well, almost. She did retire for a few years and then decided to come back!

During her time at CSC, she’s worked as a Pathways Counselor (vocational rehab counselor), Children’s Services Case Manager, Certified Vision Rehab Therapist and Braille Instructor. As a Certified Vision Rehab Therapist, she taught life skills like how to cook and do laundry. After her brief retirement, Annette returned to CSC and resumed teaching braille classes. Why did she come back?

I not only missed teaching, but I missed the acceptance,” Annette said. “When I retired, I went back to having to prove myself again. It was like starting all over again with people accepting me, learning to accept me and learning about my blindness. It was a rude awakening.

A photo of Annette getting a slate ready to use on a piece of braille paper in her office. Now that she’s back at CSC, what’s her favorite part of her job?

Teaching!” Annette says with no hesitation. “I really enjoy working with the students and teaching.

She’s taught braille for years, but her journey to braille literacy is different than that of her current students.

As a legally blind student due to losing vision at a young age, reading print was not easy for Annette. In fourth grade, she wanted to learn braille, but her educators refused. Since she had some usable vision, they pushed her to keep trying to read print.

I'd actually have ink spots on the end of my nose from holding the book close - I was that nearsighted,” Annette recalls.

When she finally learned braille, Annette found it similar to how she read print in the past.

I never saw the whole word,” Annette said, “I only saw words by letters. So, sight reading didn't really work for me. When I learned braille, it wasn't a big deal to read one letter at a time because I had been doing that all my life!

Annette’s main challenge while learning braille was keeping her hands going straight across the page. She’d often drift to different lines while trying to read.

I'd read a word on each line, and get to the end and then go, ‘What did I just read?’" she remembers.

Annette’s braille teacher wasn't very patient with her. Without the support of a teacher, Annette decided she wouldn’t continue learning. That lasted until Annette realized she’d need to take notes in college. Annette didn't want to tape-record everything, so she got serious about learning braille.

I started out by reading 10 minutes a day, just making myself do it and figuring out how to stay on the line,” said Annette.

Annette and her four students read from a braille workbook together at a table in CSC's prep kitchen.Her goal was to learn braille by the time she went to college, and Annette’s dedication and perseverance paid off! By the time classes started, she took her own notes using a slate and stylus on heavy-weight notebook paper, so it didn't make a lot of noise when punching. Annette did all her notes by hand in college, for both her Bachelor's and master's degrees. She read them all too!

Her experience sets her apart and makes her a great braille teacher.

 “I know what to teach my students and how to encourage them because of what I went through,” Annette said.

She teaches them what she knows and is able to encourage them along the way.

According to Annette, it takes about six months to learn braille, and about three years to develop the speed of reading.

If you don't use it, you lose it. It's not one of those things like riding a bike. You might remember the alphabet, but your reading level and speed are going to go way down if you don't continue practicing.

When Annette asks her students why they want to learn braille, they say it’s because they want to read again.

“There's more to braille than just elevators, room numbers and signs on bathrooms,” she says.They can read something for themselves. They can take their own notes. They can write something down for themselves, and read it for themselves, even if it's just labeling products at home, and so forth.