Today is Read Across America day, instituted by the NEA in honor of Doctor Seuss (Theodore Geisel) whose birthday fell on this date.
Schools, clubs, libraries and parents everywhere are encouraged to spend extra time today reading with their children, with the hope that it will spark a love of literature that will last a lifetime in them.
I love to read. It’s what helped to make me a better writer and broadcaster. The more you read, the larger your vocabulary becomes, and the better grasp you have on language and grammar.
One of the things that was frustrating to me when I was younger was the lack of books, newspapers and magazines available in Braille for me to read. This absence became even more pronounced when my sons, Eddie and Chris, were born. Like any parent, I wanted to read children’s stories to them at bed time, but couldn’t. I felt terrible having to say no to them. It broke my heart.
The solution arrived in a most unexpected way when the Good Lord inspired a wonderful woman, Jean Norris, from southern California on to help those facing my predicament.
She quickly became my hero, she still is.
In 1958, Norris – who was fully sighted -was at a parents meeting when she heard a blind parent complaining about the lack of Braille children’s books.
Moved to action, Norris took it upon herself to learn Braille, and then meticulously transcribed a book called “Fuzzy Blanket.” She cut the Braille into strips and pasted it right on to the book so that blind parents could read along with their sighted children (and vice-versa.)
The idea caught on. By 1962, Jean opened Twin Vision for the Blind in a small office, with volunteers manning Braille machines to help her add new boooks to the growing collection.
I first heard about Twin Vision in the early 1970s and signed up for the service. Within days, I had Braille books being shipped to me from California for no charge. Like any other library, I was expected to return the books when I was finished reading them.
We never met, but this humble woman from another state definitely changed my life – in a positive way – forever.
Norris passed away last year at the age of 96. Twin Vision is now part of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Thanks to them, there are over 35,000 free Braille books in circulation, in several different languages.
Thank you Mrs. Norris. You didn’t try to change the whole world at once, just to make a difference in your local community, but it wound up having global ripples. Yours is a legacy we should all strive for.