Future Reflections         Summer 2010

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BRAILLE: UNLOCKING THE CODE

by Sheila Amato, Ed.D.

Sheila AmatoFrom the Editor: Sheila Amato is a long-time teacher of students who are blind and visually impaired, as well as a teacher of teachers. She edits a magazine for teachers of blind students called DVIQ.

The Graduate School of Education at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York, includes a program to train teachers of the blind and visually impaired. Recently a number of students in this program participated in several activities to help them develop positive attitudes about Braille and a sense of Braille advocacy. One such activity is found on the course's Blackboard Discussion Board site. The students are required to watch a video and write an honest reflection based upon their present knowledge and changing attitudes about Braille use.

The video that the students were asked to consider was "Braille: Unlocking the Code." It explores the history and importance of Braille, with commentary and insights from successful Braille readers. After watching the video, the students were asked whether or not they thought the points made were valid. Below are some of their responses.

Sarah: I found this video to be very interesting and useful. A lot of the points made are things that I have read in textbooks, but sometimes it means more when you can actually hear a voice and see the person it is coming from. The thing that I found most interesting in this video was that only 10 percent of blind and visually impaired students are learning Braille. I think this could be due to a shortage of TVIs and also to the fact that people think students don't need Braille due to current technology. I think that parts of this video could actually help convince parents to let their children begin learning Braille. It was great to hear the little girl say that reading Braille helps her keep up with her peers, and that she would strain her eyes too much if she were using large print. I was amazed at the Braille reading speed of the children shown in this video. The part discussing myths about Braille was great too. I agree that students will learn Braille faster if they have a higher quality of instruction and a sufficient amount of time daily. If Braille is used properly, the students can read just as quickly and efficiently as a student who is reading a print book.

Reanna: This video was very informative about the history and importance of Braille. I found it shocking to see the pictures of the number of students who used to know Braille ... down to the 10 percent that know Braille today. I liked the emphasis on how Braille is the only real way for a blind person to become literate. The technology that is available is great, but it is very important for our students to learn how to read for themselves. The video also explored the idea that Braille is hard to learn. Although learning Braille can be time-consuming, you can say that about learning anything new! Learning Braille can be done, especially during the school years.

Rose: I enjoyed watching the video "Braille: Unlocking The Code." I found it extremely insightful and educational. I think that everything they said in the video is true of what people think today. It helps explain why there is a lack of Braille instruction for students who are blind. I think that most people believe that if something is easier or more advanced, such as computer technology or books on tape, it is better. That is not necessarily true. Every aspect of learning to read and write is important for ALL students. The importance of teaching and learning Braille for our teachers and students should be the concern in education today.

Kathy: The video "Braille: Unlocking the Code" was excellent. As the semester progresses, the mystery behind Braille is being unveiled. Braille is literacy for those who are blind. I currently collaborate with a teacher whose class is learning the foundations of reading. The class is composed of six autistic students, two of whom are blind. Both the sighted and the blind students are beginning to learn the alphabet. Everyone is learning A for the week and things that start with the letter A. Reading Braille appears slow to a sighted person, but a blind person can read Braille with the accuracy and speed we have when we read print. It is very important for a TVI to remain proficient in Braille. Re-certifying every five years will not be easy, but it will benefit those we teach!

Kelli: It was wonderful to watch such an empowering video, and it felt even more empowering to read its impact on sighted people. I definitely need to bring this video to all the skeptics at meetings! There is one point in the video where people start talking about the NFB and not about Braille anymore. That might be confusing or distracting to people who just want to know why Braille is important and who have no idea what the NFB stands for. But I also know I have a bias there, since I've been to a lot of NFB events. I love their overall message and most of the work they do. Their promotion of Braille is honest, sincere, and full of commitment, and I admire that very much. I guess I get a little anti-group sometimes, but groups are necessary to accomplish any kind of systemic change. Just to be devil's advocate maybe, I don't think listening is totally passive. Good listening skills are essential for those who can use them, and listening brings in a lot of information about the world that people don't have access to otherwise. But I definitely agree that maximum independence has to be achieved through actual reading, not just by hearing everything. It is necessary to read and write out sentences in order to understand their construction fully. When I was a little kid learning Braille, spelling confused me at first because the contractions are not fully spelled-out words. One of my Braille teachers made a box of flash cards so Mom could practice with me at home, and I learned both the contraction and the real spelling of each word. It saddened me to learn that Braille instruction has declined so drastically that a certification test every five years is necessary. It's almost as if the present and future teachers are being punished for mistakes of the past. However, the most important people in the equation are the blind students. Taking a test is a much smaller inconvenience for a competent teacher than not reading is for a student!

Cathleen: I enjoyed watching this video and gaining an insight into the world of Braille and the decisions as to who teaches Braille, when it is taught, and how often it should be taught. To me, Braille is literacy. In a typical school, students have a literacy block of at least forty-five minutes. Many schools have an hour and a half. During this time, students read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding. This approach should be exactly the same for a visually impaired student. The student should be taught to read Braille, use a variety of methods to write Braille, listen to stories read by others along with their peers, and speak with their classmates. A TVI has the ability to come into the classroom during these blocks and serve as a resource for the visually impaired child. If this starts at an early age, children will have the tools needed for success. Since there is such a shortage of TVIs, I also think it would be a wise idea to teach peers in the classroom some basic Braille. It might spark their interest and maybe create some future TVIs!

Andrea: I truly enjoyed watching this video. My husband actually watched it with me and we both found it very educational! I think it made some extremely valid points. Once a blind student understands the letters, just like a sighted student understands print, reading becomes easier. As for Braille becoming obsolete, I don't see that happening. We need to provide blind students with an opportunity to read, and Braille is the way. We would not remove print from a classroom for sighted students! We definitely need to push to make others understand the importance of Braille and the value of constant exposure. I am not thrilled with the idea of having to take a test every five years, just because I don't like tests. I think as TVIs we have a responsibility to our students to stay up-to-date. Braille is like anything else, use it or lose it!

Alisha: I believe all the points they made in the video were valid. Is Braille hard to learn? Not if you put in the time and practice that are necessary to become literate in the Braille code. I came into this program with zero experience with Braille, and I am sure the same is true for many others. I thought that learning Braille was going to be hard. However, after the first week, my beliefs changed. Of course certain aspects are more difficult than others, but if you keep at it and practice, you will succeed. I have no doubt about that. I liked the way the video stated that listening is not reading. If we just give blind students audiobooks they will not learn spelling, punctuation, or grammar as a sighted child does. As for the myth about Braille being slow, I wonder if the people who think this have ever seen a blind person read Braille out loud. I would hope that their theories would change right away.

Susannah: I found this video to be very interesting. Because Braille is such an important invention for people who are blind, why is it not being taught more? Why is the percentage of those using Braille so low? I have to agree that Braille being difficult to learn is one of the biggest myths associated with Braille. I hate to admit this, but until this class I always believed that Braille was hard. I never thought this was a class where I could succeed. To be honest though, the basics are quite easy to learn. This statement does not include my current learning of contractions! But in time it will become easier.

Austin: I really enjoyed watching that video. I was amazed to see that only 10 percent of blind people are actually able to read Braille. Then I remembered what a shortage of TVIs we have. They stated that not all of the teachers certified to teach Braille can read and write Braille effectively. I agree that it is necessary to have teachers take a test every five years to make sure they are up to par with Braille. In my schooling I keep hearing the same myths, that Braille is hard, slow, and obsolete. I think that for sighted people the thought of learning Braille is frightening. But I have to say, it is not that scary. In fact, it is fun and exciting. Don't get me wrong, it is hard at first. There is a great deal to memorize, but it all comes in time. As far as reading Braille tactually, I have to say that I think it would be difficult for a sighted person to do. I have tried and have failed, but I will keep trying.

Dianne: I think that they make some really great points in this video. They demonstrate how Braille is useful by showing that successful blind people use Braille in the workplace to read lecture notes, documents, financial reports, etc. The speaker stated that 80 percent of professionals who are blind know and use Braille in the workplace. Only 10 percent of students are currently learning Braille. I liked when the speaker said, "Braille allows you to travel to different countries, meet pirates, etc." Braille allows a young child an imagination. I remember fondly reading my books under the covers late into the night with a flashlight, going on fun adventures with Pippi Longstocking. I don't understand why we are depriving blind children of similar experiences in literacy. Yes, Braille is a bit difficult, but no more difficult than regular print or keyboarding. The younger the child is, the more he/she will soak it up. When a child is five or six, that is the perfect time to start teaching Braille.

Denise: Oh, the possibilities! What an infectious message this video delivers! Braille is beautiful! As I watched the video I was encouraged by the reiteration of what I have heard and read as well as what I have come to believe about Braille and its empowering qualities. It is hard to take in that it took so long for Braille to be adopted, especially in the United States. To echo the sentiments of those shared in the video, hopefully without being redundant: Braille is essential to success and keeping up with one's sighted peers. Braille is liberating and allows a blind or visually impaired individual the opportunity to explore the world. Literacy is attainable. Believe.

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