Ethan was born healthy, so for new parents Eric and Leslie Ligon, life was just about perfect. The euphoria lasted two months—until June 23, 1997, when the doctor, discovering the baby’s retinas had become detached—a rare event—said, “‘I don’t think Ethan can see,'” recalls Eric, 46. Surgery failed; Ethan would be blind for life. Says Leslie, 48: “Our lives are marked by that day.”
Developing normally in other ways, Ethan was able to attend a mainstream school near his Denton, Texas, home. But learning to read was frustrating. Traditional braille children’s books often place blocks of braille characters above blocks of printed text. When Ethan stumbled, his parents had to lift his hand off the page to see the word and help him. “I’d lose my place; not good,” says Ethan, 8.
Then Eric, who teaches graphic design at the University of North Texas, had an aha moment: Why not place the printed words one line above the braille as well as in a block at the top of the page so the sighted can read along? When he presented his idea at a braille conference, he got a standing ovation.
In 2004, Ligon and Bruce Curtis, formerly of the Perkins School for the Blind, launched nonprofit BrailleInk, which has produced two redesigned braille books for kids—Guess How Much I Love You and The Dot—and sold 800 copies. “Our libraries can’t get enough,” says Ed O’Reilly, who directs a lending network for the blind and disabled for the Library of Congress. Dr. Lauren Gandhi, a Winston-Salem, N.C., dermatologist, bought both books for Drew, her 5-year-old. “He gets so excited with the books,” she says. “We’re really making a connection together.”
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For further information about Ligon’s books, log on to http://www.brailleink.org.