Future Reflections July 1982, Vol. 1 No. 4
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By Doris M. Willoughby
If a blind or visually impaired child is to learn in school, he or she must have textbooks and papers in an accessible form -- in Braille, large print, or recorded form, or read aloud "live." Each item should be appropriate for both the student and the subject -- e.g. oral reading is usually not appropriate for arithmetic problems.
We hope that you and your child's teacher are fortunate enough to have a centralized textbook service for your state. Much duplication of effort is saved if book requests from around the state can be sent to a single location where the staff will:
-- Maintain a library of textbooks already produced.
-- Send orders to other agencies around the country.
-- Produce books as needed.
-- Maintain a library of books and periodicals which may not be called "textbooks" but which are important for the total educational process.
-- Assist in locating materials for research, term papers, etc.
-- Provide or locate specialized materials such as Braille music.
It is important that all modes (Braille, large type, and recordings) be available -- again, preferably all from the same source -- with a relatively simple, organized system for placing orders.
When the texbook service provides "large print," it is of a size approximately the same as that used in regular first-grade textbooks -- that is, between 16 and 18 point type. A materials center for the blind should not be expected to provide print which is larger than this, for a combination of economic and educational reasons. Economically, it becomes inefficient to enlarge materials much more than this -- the size of type, number of pages, required, etc., would make a book very large indeed. Even more important is the educational consideration: if a person really cannot read 14-18 point type, he will read only very slowly and laboriously in a type that is larger, and therefore would read far more efficiently by using Braille and recorded modes.
You as a parent can help a great deal in seeing that your child has good textbook service. If service is poor, join with other parents and the National Federation of the Blind in urging the school, the state education department, other relevant agencies, and your legislators to provide adequate funding and staffing. Since time lags are inevitable, encourage ordering well ahead of time, as by selecting courses several months ahead of the new semester. Help your youngster to realize that often a book can be appropriately provided in either of two modes (such as a social studies text in either Braille or recorded form) and help him/her to be flexible. Encourage your older youngster to help assemble the book order, both to help the busy teacher and to prepare the youngster for independence after high school.
More than one young adult has told me that when he attended public school, his large print or Braille books were often a different edition from that used by all the other students. This caused confusion, inconvenience, and embarrassment. With modern methods and resources, your child should not need to face this problem. Speak up firmly against this if necessary. At the same time, realize that there are situations when more than one edition, or even more than one title, may be equally appropriate. Examples of such situations include: where all students have a choice (as in book reports for literature class); where the student is being tutored individually anyway; or where the difference between editions is so slight as to be truly negligible.
Even the best textbook service will have a considerable time lag in filling orders. Also, many teacher produced materials are very short. Therefore, it is usually necessary for someone to supplement the textbook service -- sometimes several people. A teacher aide, secretary, student, or volunteer might be available to copy tests and handouts into large type or Braille. Someone should also be available to read material aloud "live."
For the young blind child just learning to read, it is important that most classroom worksheets be transcribed into Braille. However, for the older child it is often more efficient to have such papers read aloud; and it is very important for the student to become flexible enough to use this method some of the time. If an older student relies on having every item in Braille (or large print), he will have a rude awakening in college or on the job, where he will not have a transcriber available for his every need.
In a future issue of this newsletter we will include a detailed article about the use of readers. Also, the general subject of textooks and materials (including reader service) is discussed in detail in my book, Your School Includes a Blind Student, see Literature and Book review in this issue.
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