I attended a meeting today regarding safety and the focus was how to make our environments safer.
As a life-long braille transcriber in the educational setting, I was often located on an elementary school campus. My office sat near the back of the school, in an outside, modular, prefabricated building commonly known as a "portable." From the residential homes looming on the hillsides above me, access to the school could be accomplished from a dirt trail that wound down the hillside. Any casual walker could come down that trail and get access to my office.
During the day, I loved preparing classroom materials and books for our print challenged students, facilitating access to the curriculum through a tactual means and promoting literacy for the educational successes of the students I served.
Two days-a-week, I made myself available in the afternoon for an after-school “braille club” to teach students the basics of writing the alphabet so they could craft notes for their blind peers. On Wednesday evenings, I taught the art of braille transcribing to sighted adults who had a desire to learn to write in the secret code of braille dots.
While discussing all the aspects of safety, and how to react when presented with different scenarios, I paused to reflect on the only danger I ever encountered in an educational setting. With apologies, I once again share my story.
As a literary braille transcriber, my days are anything but boring. My office is situated on an elementary school campus, surrounded by hillsides dressed in chaparral … where wildlife such as squirrels, rabbits, and field mice can be found frolicking outside my door, and occasionally, a lonely coyote can be spotted in the hills as the late-afternoon sun begins to settle into darkness. There is no hint of danger in my surroundings, and I am left to the solitude I so enjoy in my daily work. The following story was submitted to the staff at my school after a typical day with a not-so-typical visitor. It tells of the perils of braille transcribing.
The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent.
This is the city. Laguna Niguel, California. ... George White Elementary School, Portable 5. I work here ... I am a braille transcriber.
It was Tuesday, October 13th, 2:00 pm. It was cloudy in Laguna Niguel. The school children were preparing to go home. I was just finishing up with my braille work and preparing to go work with a student at the middle school. Marco Forster Middle School. I had disconnected the braille flash drive from my computer when the carrying case fell under my computer desk. Dropping to my knees to reach the fallen object, my eyes wandered to the left corner, where there appeared to be something curled up. What could it be? A piece of rope? It did not look like rope ... Being that the corner was dark, I thought my eyes were deceiving me ... a snake? Was I really seeing a snake? Couldn't be! After all, this is the city. This is a school. There are kids on these premises. Noise, activity, chaos .... and snakes typically do not attend school.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Indeed, I believed I was staring at a snake! But why was he here? Surely, he had not come to see me about reading braille dots. Dot-reading requires fingers ... and snakes do not possess fingers.
I grabbed for my camera ... no one would ever believe this! I needed a picture ... validation that I was not completely bonkers! You see, my days are generally spent working in the quiet ... in most situations, mine is not a social job. I am alone with the solitude that comes with this slow, methodical, nit-picky task of creating dots. So, the camera would prove that my eyes did not deceive me. I grabbed a broom and swiped at a label that had fallen to the floor near the snake: FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND AND PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED. I wanted a clear shot of this snake. The snake did not move. I snapped a picture. FLASH! Still the snake did not move. Was he real? Was he alive? What was he doing here? How long had he been there?
I quickly telephoned Marcia in the front office and calmly said, "Marcia, this is Jana. There is a snake in my office." Marcia exclaimed, "A snake?!"
"Yes, a snake" I replied. "He doesn't look excessively big, but he is curled up under my computer desk. Can someone come remove him?"
Marcia responded that she would notify Mike, our principal, since the custodian had already left for the day, and that she would send him out to me.
Enter ... Animal Control.
A minute or so later, Marcia telephoned me. "Jana, I have Animal Control on the way. Don't leave, and don't disturb him."
This gave me time to reflect ... what to do? There is a snake in my portable! Why is he IN here? Ah ha ... the mice population! Yes, I have encountered mice in this portable ... usually after they have died and have left a foul-smelling odor behind. Perhaps the snake came in looking for food ... particularly mice! Yes, that MUST be why he is in here! Of course! It has nothing to do with my braille skills ... or his dot-reading ...
I glanced at the clock ... 2:10 PM. I need to be in place at the middle school by 2:30 or my braille student would be left to his own devices without me 6th period. I quickly called Marco Forster Middle School and asked them to deliver a message to the teacher, stating I would be arriving late to work with the student, and to please hold him in class until I got there. I told her I would come directly to her room to get him.
The attendance clerk, Sandy, agreed to send a message, then asked if there was a problem. I calmly but quickly replied there was no problem ... but that there was a snake under my computer desk. How is that for an excuse? Sandy chuckled and I reassured her it was the honest truth. Sandy shrieked! "A snake?! Oh my!"
"Yes, a snake" I calmly replied. "But he is small .... not very big."
I walked up to the office to show Marcia the picture I had so cleverly snapped. She was not amused. About that time, the Animal Control Officer arrived. I exited the office and went to greet her in the parking lot. I thought this whole snake business was sort of humorous. The Animal Control Officer, a woman, retrieved a long stick device about four-foot long with a metal hook-like noose on the end. I explained to her that the snake was small, and I was feeling foolish over having to call animal control to come remove this little snake. I told her, "I have a picture ... see? He is small ..." as I opened my camera to show her the picture.
"That is a rattlesnake!" the officer told me. "We need to get him out of there quickly. He is extremely dangerous!"
We both hurried out to the portable ... and I excitedly exclaimed to Kim (a co-worker who comes to P-5 on Tuesday afternoons) "That snake is a rattlesnake!"
As the officer poked into the corner where the snake was peacefully resting, he suddenly came to life and was not pleased at having been disturbed. With the noose securely surrounding the snake the officer began to pull the snake from the corner, revealing an incredibly angry creature between 16"-18" in length. The snake opened its jaw and tried unsuccessfully to strike at anything it could.
As the YMCA children prepared for an art project at the tables outside, the officer announced that she was going to have to euthanize the snake for the safety of everyone. It was small enough around that it was slipping from the rod and noose that was holding it at bay. It would not be safe to try to relocate the animal especially with young children outside.
"Within seconds, on a plastic dustpan, that rattlesnake suffered from separation of mind and body. I felt a little sadness ... that the snake could not be spared ..., it had spent the entire day with me inches from my foot, and it never once (to my knowledge) felt threatened. And I never once felt threatened … until I learned that it was a rattlesnake … an extremely dangerous baby rattlesnake ... and then I felt like I was the luckiest person alive!
As a nationally recognized braille transcriber & trainer, Jana Hertz shares her experiences, insights and upcoming events with you here.