Edinburgh woman Sue Marshall retires as volunteer teacher of braille with RNIB Scotland

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An Edinburgh woman who went blind at the age of just 17 is retiring from a volunteer role which has seen her touch the lives of many with vision loss.

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Sue Marshall lost her sight after years of suffering with Keritecious – a condition which causes the corneas of the eye to become opaque.

And after years of struggling to read due to her diminishing sight, Sue discovered braille and a new-found love for books.

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Sue Marshall, right, with one of many braille learners she has taught over the years.Sue Marshall, right, with one of many braille learners she has taught over the years.
Sue Marshall, right, with one of many braille learners she has taught over the years.

"I was partially sighted until the age of 17 then I became totally blind,” said the 77-year-old.

"I came from a very academic family who were always reading, but I got no pleasure from reading when I had partial sight because I was so slow.

“Then I learnt braille. I had two lessons a week. I made loads of mistakes but I persevered. Braille saved me from being dependent. I couldn’t do without it.”

It was the love for braille – a writing system invented in the 1800s by Louis Braille who was blind since birth – that made Sue want to teach others and give them the freedom she had craved.

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"I will always remember the first book I ever read in Braille,” she said.

"It was ‘A Town Like Alice’ by Neville Shute and I kept reading until I finished it at 5am. I’ve never stopped reading since.

"That’s why I’ve always been so keen to teach other people. It’s second nature to me now.”

The pensioner has volunteered with the Edinburgh-based sight loss charity RNIB Scotland for many years and helped countless others learn how to read braille.

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“I teach it to adults of all ages, from 19 up to 84," she said.

“Some people decide to learn braille because they know their sight is deteriorating. Some want to read books; others just read the label on tins.

“We’ve also had foreign students who want to learn braille in English.”

Learning the system, which sees people read by touching embossed dots which represent letters of the alphabet, is no easy task and, according to Sue, can take a long time to master.

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"It firstly depends on how sensitive your fingertips are, and then how much hard graft you’re willing to put into it,” she said.

"If you do a lesson a week you’ll learn braille in a year. But if you haven’t got at least one fingertip that is sensitive enough to feel the braille dots you can’t do it no matter how much you want to.”

She added that patience and a good sense of humour will help any budding braille-reader on their way.

"You’ve got to realise that everybody is different,” she said. “That’s why I’ve always taught my students individually, because people learn at different speeds.”

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The RNIB library has more than 22,000 titles available for loan - the largest collection in Europe.

It includes historical braille books such as the Book of Common Prayer, Pilgrim’s Progress and The Queen’s Journal as well as poems by Tennyson and Browning.

It also houses 14,000 braille music scores and 32 different magazines.

“Once you’ve done it, you’ll never want to do without it,” she said.

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“And you're never too old to learn. I use it everyday for something. I could not live without my dots.”

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