Future Reflections Convention 1992, Vol. 11 No. 5

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DEMYSTIFYING BRAILLE
by Joseph White

     From the Editor: The Parents of Blind Children Division sponsored a three-hour Braille Workshop on Wednesday evening of the Convention. It was a basic skills workshop aimed at sighted parents of blind children. Even though it was primarily for parents, many teachers and blind adults asked to sit in as observers so they could get some pointers on teaching the slate. The demand for the workshop was so high (it was limited to 25 persons) that some of the parents with more Braille experience gave up their seats so inexperienced parents could attend. POBC owes a special thanks to Claudell Stocker and Linda Bobo, who volunteered to teach the workshop. Their skill as instructors and their contagious love for Braille made the workshop an outstanding experience for many parents. Here is what one father, Joseph White of Maryland, has to report about his reaction to the Braille Workshop.

     One of the highlights of the 1992 National Convention for many parents of blind children was the Braille Seminar. It was an opportunity for us to get some hands-on instruction in reading and writing Braille. It was also a very powerful reminder of why sighted parents of blind children should know Braille. Without this knowledge, my wife and I had to rely on the vision teacher's word that Braille was hard to learn, difficult to use, and more often than not, simply out of reach for the multi-handicapped child. Now, we know enough about Braille to say, resoundingly, Malarkey!

     Claudelle Stocker, (who was at that time the Head of Braille Development at the National Library services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) was our instructor. Her vivacious and witty personality along with her personal approach kept us all at ease, but still attentive and eager to learn. By her very teaching style and the ease with which she presented the material, it was obvious that she was very well founded in Braille. She was assisted by Linda Bobo, who also works at the Library of Congress and is blind.

     She began by teaching us the history of Braille and the condition of the blind during the time of Louis Braille. We were then taught the reason for the Braille cell size and dot spacing. Instead of focusing on dot positions 1 through 6, she emphasized that the Braille cell has a first side and second side, and that each side has a top, middle, and bottom dot. She introduced several letters and we practiced reading printed Braille dots, proceeding from left to right. Then we read Braille words formed from the letters we had just learned. It was very rewarding and motivating to be reading words so quickly!

     Next we got out our slates and styluses. Here again, we had the advantage of a teacher of superlative skill and extensive background in the reasons for the shape of the slate and stylus and the manner of manipulation of same. Using the practical, hands-on approach, we began Brailling the letters we had just learned to sight read. We began writing right to left, but the rest was the same. The "a" was still the top dot in the first row we came to, and "g" was still the top and middle dots of the first and second rows, and so on.

     Pretty soon, not only could we read Braille letters and words, but we could write them as well. The mystery and hocus-pocus of reading forward and writing backward, and how much more difficult Braille is than print had been exposed for the fallacy that it is. Watching Claudelle Stocker and her colleague teaching and using Braille, I realized that my daughter could also use this tool to achieve anything she set her sights on in life.

     Plainly and simply, Mrs. Stocker and her colleague taught us, as parents of a blind child, how to provide our child with one of the most important tools of success. Just as a sighted child needs to learn the alphabet and then spelling and handwriting, so does our daughter. She merely uses different tools and a different shape to her alphabet. As her parents, we need to be able to help her with homework and also be able to fight, if need be, to get her the proper services and education. Lack of Braille proficiency on the teacher's part is not going to be accepted by society as a valid reason for our child's illiteracy when she is grown. It is our job as parents to assure that she is literate when she becomes an adult. If we know some Braille, we are better prepared to assure that literacy and to help her achieve her goals in life. Without Braille, we encourage underachievement and, possibly, failure throughout her life.

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