Kevin C. Murphy  


Fourteen, blind since infancy, multiply handicapped, Kevin knew

about letters. Letters excited him in the way angels, UFOs,

ghosts, and monsters excite many of us -- lots of mystery, little

practical value. His favorite television programs, SESAME STREET

and THE ELECTRIC COMPANY mimicked Madison Avenue's technique of

manipulating human want. Kevin wanted to read. For this child,

reading had to mean Braille. Yet by 1981 "Braille" for Kevin, was a

mispronunciation of "fail." Preceded by dread, overshadowed by fear,

each class was cursed by confusion, each ended in depression.

Ending six years of effort, Kevin's teachers abandoned efforts to

teach Braille to him. I believed that Braille was beyond Kevin's

grasp. Yet, a distant part of me raged against that illiterate life.

Inwardly I hesitated to post full cost and cause to Kevin's account.

Kevin -- and Heather, my adopted daughter -- were multiply

handicapped and blind. No fear, nor excessive concern about

blindness gripped me. My children were who they were, I saw nothing in

need of fixing -- except, perhaps, in the society that shunned them.

I nursed a parent's terror of Braille, a thing so exotic, so

beyond my experience, that surely my ignorance of it can only damage

my child. But what harm could I do now? Kevin's legacy of Braille's

letters, alphabets, grief, effort, and failure were now discarded as

junk. I could do no harm.

Kevin could, at least, learn that symbolic languages exist,

function. He might not read a book, but he might understand how

others do that. Many who've never piloted aircraft understand their


I searched for means such that Kevin might keep what literacy he

had, perhaps to re-shape that knowledge base a bit to make life less

confusing to him. The approach: "Hey Kevin, want to work with Dad?" is

not a proven winner with fourteen-year-olds.

"Hey Kevin, want to work on Braille?" was a certain loser in

that age.

I mutilated Christmas toys, fashioned my first TACK-TILES® .

Little building blocks became Braille cells. "Hey Kevin, guess what I

did to your Lego® blocks!" was as perfect a "come on"

as any ever devised. I let his very annoyed half-wondering fingers survey the

damage thoroughly before accounting for myself -or mentioning B-----.

Then we built words and sentences on toy boards meant to

serve as front lawns. I was poorly prepared for the success of early

sessions with Kevin and TACK-TILES® . In that setting, failure meant

only that I would deny him his great pleasure of confiscating my

TACK-TILES® , forfeiting opportunity to lodge them onto his own board.

Here Braille's challenge was a benign contest of human beings, fun,

much more to his comfort and liking. Braille was lodged in a world of

his own -- less like the adult's. He allowed me to tease and fence

with him around his knowledge and ability to use this new learning

tool. He revealed secrets about his unique learning style, remained

at task until I wondered if I had an attention disorder. Kevin's

instructor -- his father -- had not the beginning of an idea how to

proceed. That helped immensely. Kevin and the TACK-TILES® took

complete charge. Success, followed success in the wake of success.

His teachers's earlier efforts finally bore fruit. Kevin was

able to read his grade one Braille papers by the end of that month.

Nearly nine years would pass before another child would learn to read

with TACK-TILES®. Five more years beyond that would pass before we

could afford to make them commercially available in February, 1995.



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