Future Reflections  Fall 2006

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Braille for Sighted Students

The Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind teaches sighted students lessons about Braille and blindness

 

Kirk Adams reads a book in Braille to a group of elementary students who are participating in the Braille Is Beautiful program.About four years ago Kirk Adams, Director of Public Relations and Resource Development at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, was searching for a disability awareness program that would offer a positive perspective on blindness. Kirk Adams knew that if he could approach young children--who are generally more open-minded and accepting than adults--about the capabilities of the blind, he would be able to gradually change public attitudes about the blind.

Enter the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of the blind.

Shortly before Mr. Adams began pondering how to go about educating local school children on the subject of blindness, the NFB had developed such a program called Braille Is Beautiful. Coincidentally, the purpose of the NFB’s program (geared to sighted students) was very similar to the program Mr. Adams had in mind. When Mr. Adams read about the unique program in the Braille Monitor, the NFB’s monthly publication, he knew it was a match waiting to happen.

That was four years ago.

Currently, Mr. Adams invites eighteen fifth-grade classes per academic year to the Seattle Lighthouse for a discussion, a tour, and a snack. “I’ve learned that you have to have the snack. It isn’t the most important element, but it is a necessity.” Through a generous grant from Alaskan Copper & Brass (a local company) he is able to purchase Braille Is Beautiful program kits and distribute them in advance to each of the fifth-grade classes. The kit comes complete with a curriculum instructional guide for teachers, workbooks for the students, slates and styli, Braille alphabet cards, Braille paper, Kernel Books (a collection of stories depicting the lives of ordinary blind people), and much more. The class, under the instruction of their regular classroom teacher, begins the Braille Is Beautiful program in their classroom. Then, the class takes a field trip for a tour of the Lighthouse. A blind member of the Seattle Lighthouse staff gives the students a presentation on Braille and assistive technology for the blind. Misconceptions and misunderstandings about blindness are addressed in a final question and answer segment.

Teachers, parent volunteers, and students complete the program by writing reactions to the visit (students write their responses in Braille). The following is a response from a fifth-grade teacher and a student participant of the program. Their comments demonstrate the value of the program:

“The trip was well planned and organized. The students enjoyed the variety of speakers… The students love writing in Braille. Some are trying to do assignments in Braille… We would have liked to see more information regarding laws and legislation for the blind because we could have easily tied it into our social studies lesson.” -- Fifth-grade teacher

“Hello. Thanks for giving me a great time. I enjoyed sharing stuff about blind people… Thanks for writing my name in Braille. My favorite part was when Kirk [Mr. Adams] read the Harry Potter story in Braille.” --Fifth-grade student

Mr. Adams’ approach to the Braille Is Beautiful program is a model for success. Classes receive the kit before their scheduled visit and continue to educate themselves about Braille and blindness once the program is completed. Mr. Adams has worked diligently to fund the program so that the school incurs zero cost (making it all the more appealing for teachers who may be limited by tight budgets). Mr. Adams realizes the positive possibilities of the Braille Is Beautiful program. He states:

“We plan on doing this for a long time to come. Our goal is, looking ahead twenty years, to have one of our participants own his or her own business or work in a personnel office that will be visited by a blind applicant looking for employment. We would love for our applicant to look back on this experience and realize that he or she learned that the blind are capable. The end result would be an employment opportunity for a blind person that may not have come about without experiences like the one we offer.” -- Kirk Adams

For more information about the Braille Is Beautiful program, please contact:

Parent Outreach, NFB Jernigan Institute; 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314, extension 2360; email: parentoutreach@nfb.org.

For more information about the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind programs, contact Kirk Adams at (206) 436-2110 or email him at KAdams@seattlelh.org.

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