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Father learns braille with daughter after tragedy strikes

Fri, Aug 16th 2019 03:10 pm

By Benjamin Joe

Tribune Editor

When a daughter is afflicted by illness, the most a parent can do is to be right there with her. Perhaps no one knows this better than Michael Gold, an attorney in Niagara Falls who deals with Elder Law and who is learning braille.

Six years ago Michael Gold’s daughter, Marissa lost her sight and part of her hearing due to an illness related to her Type 1 diabetes and a virus brought on by Hurricane Sandy, according to what Gold was told by her doctors. Gold described his daughter as being healthy until that time. She lives and works in New Jersey as a high school counselor and was 33 before the tragedy hit.

“I was with my daughter when she lost her eyesight,” Gold said. “As a parent you have premonitions and I didn’t like the way she sounded on the phone… I was in Niagara Falls and she was in New Jersey… I got in the car, she did not want me to come and I said, ‘I’m coming anyway…’ I spent the night at her apartment and the next morning she said, ‘I have to go to the hospital.’ She couldn’t even get out of bed and as I was driving her to the hospital she said, ‘Oh my god, I’ve lost vision!’ ”

For the next three days Marissa struggled with absolutely no vision in one eye and on the third day she lost vision in the second one. Gold described it as everything going “black” and that for a while she saw “shadows” but she never regained her sight again.

For a year, she learned new skill sets for her condition at the Helen Keller Institute in Long Island. During that time, Marissa started learning braille, a form of written language for blind people in which characters are represented by patterns of raised dots that are felt with the fingertips. Gold decided he would learn it with her.

“My admiration goes out to people who have visual disabilities and who are blind because what they’ve had to learn in terms of technology is absolutely amazing,” Gold said. “They have to memorize so much.”

Gold is learning braille through a non-profit called Hadley (www.hadley.edu) who recently honored Gold with the designation of “Family Learner of the Year.” In a press release announcing the title by Hadley, Gold said, “I knew she was studying braille, but I wanted her to do advanced studies and noticed how complicated contracted braille was. I thought if I can do it, perhaps she will follow, or we can do it together.”

“There are two kinds of braille,” Gold explained in an interview. “The first course I took is uncontracted braille and what that is, is literally, letter by letter. Braille takes up six cells, every letter or every object in braille takes up to six cells and through variations you can have a very complex type of language that they read with their fingers. I couldn’t do that to save my life, but I’m able to briefly look at the dots and translate them and spent a year studying uncontracted braille.”

Gold said it was fortunate Marissa had a job when she lost her sight. He said beyond the hardships of having to relearn fairly common tasks such as picking something off the floor or matching outfits to dress, the visually impaired are often faced with discrimination.

“We know that laws exist to protect people from discrimination but, nevertheless, it is very easy to pick one individual over another without appearing to discriminate when, in fact, the people are,” Gold said. “She’s applied, not just for other jobs, but to do certain things. We know she wanted to be a foster parent in the state of New Jersey… people questioned everything she can do, whether she had the ability to raise a child and she’s never been approved.”

Still, a parent will always be behind their child.

“I am very proud of what she has accomplished and she did not let her blindness define her,” Gold said.

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