Because it's National Braille Week, I wanted to invite my mum to write a blog post, as she has been reading braille for over 50 years and is even more Dotty About Braille than I am!
So let's hand over to my mum, Bridget...
I was born one of 13 children, five boys and eight girls. All five of the boys, myself, my sister, and my mum all had a rare eye condition that would later be diagnosed as Wagner's Syndrome.
All of us had very poor sight, and all but two of us would eventually become blind due to detached retina's or glaucoma.
When I was younger, I could see some thing up close but I couldn't really read text and I struggled once it was dark, however when I was 31, I had a detached retina in my left eye which was unsuccessful and then I developed glaucoma which resulted in my left eye being removed.
I did have a glass eye for many years but my eye socket became infected about three years ago, and rejected the eye. I did feel self conscious to begin with, just having an empty eye socket and I did wear patches for a time but I am coming to terms with it now and I don't feel as self conscious anymore.
Two of my four children also inherited the condition but they are lucky in that the knowledge of this condition improved and they had successful retinal detachment surgeries which means both have a very good level of vision, compared to me anyway!
When I was four, I was sent to a boarding school for blind and visually impaired children in Liverpool, my elder brothers were there when I started but I was absolutely terrified the day my mum left me there for the first time.
I remember my first full day at school, my teacher was called Miss Wears and although very strict, I will always be deeply indebted to her because she introduced me to braille.
There were seven of us in her class and we'd take turns standing at her desk, I had to stand on a stool because I was so small.
Braille is made up of six dots but it's quite a complicated system because there are lots of contractions and abbreviations to learn, as well as the 26 letters of the alphabet.
We had different coloured cards and as we progressed from the alphabet to using words, the colour of the card would change. I was one of the lucky ones at the time because I did have some sight, so I could see the colours of the cards.
To begin with, we used to write braille using a Stainsby, a flat metal object with a carriage going across, you would have to fit the sheet of braille paper into the grooves and each time you finished a line, you would have to move the carriage down to the next line. It was a bit of faff I must say, especially because it was quite heavy for a four year old!
Then we moved on to a Perkins brailler and that was much easier to use, a Perkins Brailler is like a typewriter with 6 keys, a space bar, a back space and a return key. They are still made and used all around the world today.
Developing a passion for braille
Although all my five brothers were taught to read braille, only one of them developed a passion for reading like I did. I absolutely love braille, I couldn't imagine my life without it. I spend a lot of my time reading braille books and anybody who sees me reading braille can't believe how fast I can read it, but I have been reading braille for a very long time!
I've always been a member of the RNIB library and although it's not a service without it's faults, I am very grateful for having access to free braille books. My children grew up surrounded by those big sacks the braille books used to come in, and would often pile them high to build forts and dens.
Braille takes up a lot of space, so a 125 page book might be in four or five braille volumes, and as an avid reader, you can imagine how many of those sacks I had in the house at any one time!
For example, right now I'm reading River God by Wilbur Smith and that book is 675 pages and comes in 32 volumes in braille!
I need letters from the doctors, hospital, utility companies etc in braille and it's one of my biggest frustrations that this doesn't happen as easily as it should. I still don't get hospital or GP letters in braille despite asking multiple times and as far as I know, this is actually a legal requirement.
Sometimes it can be difficult getting new books from the RNIB, since they implemented the new print on demand service, things haven't run as smoothly and they don't keep records of what books they've sent you, so you can end up with the same book multiple times, which is quite wasteful.
And in summary
I love braille, and I'm so glad Hayley has started this business, not only is she offering a great service, but she's helping to raise awareness of braille and trying to make braille greetings cards as widely available as possible.
Big thanks to my mum for writing this blog post, if you have any questions for Bridget, please do pop them in the comments below.