If you watched season three of Fox TV’s reality cooking show “MasterChef,” you remember the big smile that lit up Christine Ha’s face every time she impressed the judges with her bold flavors—and especially when her three-course meal of Vietnamese comfort food won Ha the “MasterChef” title.
What casual viewers may not have realized right away is that the amateur cook from Houston, Texas, is blind. In 2003, Ha was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a rare neurological condition that deteriorates the optic nerves and spinal cord. By 2007, Ha had lost most of her vision. But she had regained her love of reading, with help from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).
“[NLS] reignited my love for literature. It was what kept me sane when I went through my first bouts of NMO,” says Ha, who also authors the blog theblindcook.com. “When I went through some of my worst health issues in 2003—complete paralysis from my neck down due to spinal inflammation, and complete blindness—all I could do was lie in bed and listen to NLS audiobooks.”
NLS, part of the Library of Congress, oversees a free reading program for U.S. residents and citizens living abroad who are blind, have low vision, or cannot hold a book because of a physical disability. NLS patrons may choose from tens of thousands of books and dozens of magazines in audio and braille—including dozens of cookbooks, such as “O, the Oprah Magazine Cookbook” and titles by Julia Child, James Beard, and other famous foodies. NLS also loans the portable playback equipment needed to read its audiobooks. Computer-savvy patrons may access books online through the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service.
Ha, who is pursuing a master of fine arts degree at the University of Houston, always has a book checked out from NLS. Recently she was reading Gail Caldwell’s “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” in braille. And she currently is working on her “MasterChef” cookbook, which is set for a spring 2013 release.