A special book becomes a part of the USO Reading Program in South Carolina

The ability to read and write is vital to a successful education, career, and quality of life in today’s world. Learning to read and write in Braille can make a dramatic difference in the life of a person who is visually impaired.

For Petty Officer First Class Matthew Swiatek, who was conducting pre-deployment training at Fort McCrady in late March, USO South Carolina and the USO Reading Program went above and beyond to support him and his family. By providing a Braille book for his 7-year-old daughter who is blind, she was able to read along as she listens to her father read one of her favorite books, “How to Catch a Mermaid,” while he is deployed.

Born with rare congenital disorders, Swiatek’s young daughter has been 100% blind from birth and cannot even see light or shadows.

When the USO South Carolina staff learned that he asked for a book written in Braille, the team immediately put their heads together and sought a way to accommodate the special request.

Luckily for the USO SC team, Tricia Miller, a USO SC Advisory Board member and volunteer had a contact who worked at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. Miller connected them with Katie Kennedy, USO South Carolina’s senior operations and program’s manager.

“Katie definitely did go the extra mile. I was astonished by her commitment,“ said Swiatek. “I was not expecting much when I asked her if it was possible, but she immediately picked up her phone, made numerous phone calls and texts, and she guaranteed that she would be able to do it for my family.”

Working together to provide a solution, the South Carolina Commission for the Blind and Kennedy came up with the idea to place a Braille sticker overlay on the text. This way someone reading the book to a young child could read along while the child uses the Braille. In essence, this mirrors how a sighted child learns to read by being read to – and if the child has some vision, they could still see the pictures in the book.

“When the call for help was issued, I instinctively said yes without hesitation. I felt it was a small task compared to the challenges our service members and their families face every day,” said Miller. “I was honored to play a small part in this Sailor’s life, and so inspired by the response to the call of action by the SC Commission for the Blind. As a USO South Carolina board member, I am especially proud that we were able to help this sailor and his family.”

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