Braille Monitor                                                                                                            January 2005

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Focusing on Literacy

by Nancy Burns

Nancy Burns
Nancy Burns

From the Editor: Nancy Burns is president of the National Federation of the Blind of California. She reports here on an exciting new Braille literacy project in California and the materials now available to help other affiliates spread the word and the skills. This is what she says:

The right to literacy has been called a civil right. The NFB of California's ambitious legislative program has been devoted to bringing this civil right to all blind and visually impaired students. We have made progress, but we still have much work to do.

We realize that because of the all-too-prevalent de-emphasis on Braille instruction for the past several decades, it will take time to meet the obvious need for Braille literacy instruction. In addition to pursuing our legislative successes, our affiliate also recognized the importance of working with parents of blind children. The NFB of California applied for and received two grants that provided funding for Beginning Braille for Parents workshops.

The Braille Is Beautiful program was designed by the NFB to teach sighted students in public schools about Braille and blindness. The California affiliate has now restructured this concept to work with parents of blind children.

The purpose of these workshops is to introduce the Braille alphabet and use of the slate and stylus to parents. A child who knows Braille but has no one at home to reinforce the system is at a definite disadvantage. As sighted children are learning to read and write, they see print words everywhere, creating reinforcement opportunities. Blind children do not have these same opportunities unless their parents or other family members can read and write Braille.

These Beginning Braille for Parents workshops are usually intensive, one-day programs. By the end of the day participants are familiar enough with the Braille alphabet to write phone numbers and short notes to their children with a slate and stylus. This feat is accomplished with the assistance of a qualified teacher through a creative and substantive curriculum. During the workshop the group discusses the importance of Braille and how to advocate for a blind child. The NFB of California has presented seven such workshops. One was even offered in Spanish.

Most foundations request that the expertise they fund be widely disseminated. For this reason the NFB of California committed to writing an instruction manual for these workshops. This manual is a teacher's guide to the curriculum and much more. The manual discusses budgeting, arranging the venue, materials needed, and many other details necessary for a successful workshop presentation. It is now available from the NFB of California office in both print and Braille. The cost is $35 (print or Braille). To order this workshop manual, contact this office at (818) 558-6524 or <nfbcal@sbcglobal.net>.

Dr. Fred Schroeder
Dr. Fred Schroeder

Keeping the focus on Braille literacy has been a high priority for the NFB of California. This thinking resulted in the development of a Braille symposium, which was held at the Burbank Airport Hilton on October 1, 2004.

Our target audience was broad-based. We wanted to appeal to parents, educators, Braille users, transcribers, and others in the blindness field. We assembled a list of dynamic and knowledgeable speakers. The keynote speaker, Dr. Fredric Schroeder, delivered his usual upbeat and thought-provoking speech. The audience listened intently as Dr. Ruby Ryles outlined her research, which demonstrated the connection between literacy and the success of a blind or visually impaired (VI) student. We also discussed Braille instruction for adults, and Braille music. The Department of Rehabilitation and the coordinators for the VI programs spoke on the importance of Braille literacy. Technology, Braille transcription, and the perspectives of parents of blind children were also presented.

Dr. Ruby Ryles
Dr. Ruby Ryles

The tone for this intensive, day-long symposium was set by comments from Burbank Mayor Marsha Ramos, who has supported many functions of this organization. We conducted a social mixer the evening before this event, allowing time for some casual mixing and mingling. The comments received from the symposium were very positive and encouraged us to present a second symposium here in Southern California next year. A similar symposium is already being planned for Northern California in the spring of 2005. Braille is alive and well in California. We invite and encourage other affiliates to develop similar workshops and symposia.

 

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