Inspiring deaf blind Enfield woman learns braille

By Priya Kingsley-Adam in Local People

AN inspirational deaf blind 51-year-old woman from Palmers Green has triumphed over her disabilities by learning braille.

Rajeswari Gopalakrishnan, was born deaf with a hereditary disease called Usher syndrome which can cause further hearing and vision loss.

Until the age of 35 she had tunnel vision resulting in blind spots which has since deteriorated and made it virtually impossible to interact through British Sign Language.

Rajeswari learnt hands-on signing which involves placing her hands over someone else’s as they sign to establish which words they are spelling out.

Weekly braille sessions were provided with help from a £5,000 Santander Discovery Grant which was awarded to Enfield Disability Action’s Deaf Project in partnership with Enfield Vision.

The grant supports innovative projects to help overcome social challenges.

Rajeswari started learning braille from January to May for an hour each week with tutor Diane de Jersey, chair of Enfield Vision, who is also blind.

Rajeswari required help from her daughter, Chandrika, 20, and brother-in-law, Steve Holding, 47, who acted as interpreters to communicate instructions from Diane, through hands-on signing.

Mary White, Deaf Project manager and Simone Rickard both from Enfield Disability Action also helped to interpret through hands-on signing.

“It was a challenge,” explained Diane. “But Rajeswari was able to pick up things very quickly and we worked together,” added the 70-year-old from Ponders End.

Diane first tested whether Rajeswari had enough sensitivity in her fingertips to feel the raised dots on the braille.

After this was established Diane started by teaching her to read the alphabet from A-J on blocks containing each letter in braille.

Diane would give a verbal instruction to Rajeswari’s daughter or brother-in-law on the letter she would feel which would then be communicated to her through hands-on signing.

Rajeswari would then touch a block containing a letter and the process was repeated.

Diane also used a Perkins Brailler machine which is similar to a type writer but each key produces a letter in braille onto embossed paper.

Rajeswari can now read the full alphabet as well as numbers and has learnt general words using braille blocks which can be rearranged to form different words.

Rajeswari was tested on the words and replied by making a noise through her mouth which Diane understood, or by relaying the answer through hands-on sign with her family.

In just five months she has learnt stage 1 in braille which is remarkable and has given her some independence so she can label food at home, colour co-ordinate clothes and label the recycling bin.

The next step will be for Rajeswari to learn how to use the Perkins Brailler so she can form her own words and sentences, and eventually learn to read books in braille.

“Hopefully the skies the limit,” added her brother-in-law, Steve.

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