South East Wales

Nansi Selwood learns Braille at age of 90

A woman from the Cynon Valley who started losing her sight 10 years ago has learnt Braille at the age of 90.

Nansi Selwood can now see almost nothing apart from some shapes and the difference between light and dark.

But Mrs Selwood, from Penderyn, said learning Braille had "filled a big gap in her life".

Her teacher said learning the system took a lot of practice and determination, and was a remarkable achievement at such an age.

Mrs Selwood said that when her sight began to fail it was a difficult time.

"It was very gradual but very persistent," she said.

"It was a terrible blow because you lose your independence.

"Knowing that it was getting worse was the difficult part. If you know you've got it and there's a plateau, you can adapt to that, but there was no plateau. It was always downhill.

"You could see less this week than you could see last week. Or you could see less clearly and that was a terrible burden."

It was particularly tough because books had always played such a big part in the life of the former teacher, author and historian.

"All my life I've been a bookworm. I'd read anything - I found the written word fascinating," she said.

"When I was a child, it sounds pretentious really, but one of the books that really got me reading was the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and that was because it was the only book in the house.

"It had been given to my father who only spoke Welsh. He couldn't read it but he was very proud of it.

"He was most amazed that I should read it. And it was the histories and the tragedies that I liked."

Determined to succeed

As she began to lose her sight, Mrs Selwood was determined to be able to continue to read.

She asked the sensory team at Rhondda Cynon Taf council for help.

Initially, there was no teacher, but when one was able to visit her at the farmhouse she has called home since 1939, she was determined to succeed.

"It was hard, but a challenge and I did enjoy parts of it," she said.

"When I had to learn the alphabet, I had to visualise it. I really thought that within a year I'd be able to read.

"But it took me four years before I was able to read. And that was slow, very slow."

She has gone on to improve her Braille reading skills and can now use a faster, more advanced form of the system.

Her achievement is all the greater considering fewer than 1% of the 2m visually impaired people in the UK are users of Braille.

Throughout the period Mrs Selwood has been learning, her instructor Lynda Dixon has been impressed with her progress.

"I've never worked with anyone who has started learning Braille in their 80s. It's quite a remarkable achievement," she said.

"It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of practice and determination. It's difficult as you get older because it is learning a new language.

"And it's difficult because you need to have good sensitivity in your fingers. There's a lot of barriers against it but if you can persevere, it's very worthwhile and I think very rewarding."

'Lovely surprises'

In order to help Mrs Selwood stay in her home, many of her household gadgets have been adapted, such as a microwave oven which speaks its settings, and a device to ensure she does not overfill a tea cup.

However, it is the ability to keep reading even though she has lost her sight that makes her life most pleasurable.

"It's made a tremendous difference because one of the things about growing old is that time can be very long," she said.

"It's filled so much time and it's provided some lovely surprises with books that I would never have read otherwise.

"Learning Braille has filled a big gap in my life."

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