Future Reflections Winter 1987, Vol. 6 No. 1

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READERS: WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW DO BLIND PEOPLE USE THEM?

by Joyce Scanlon

(Editor's Note: Joyce Scanlon is a blind former schoolteacher. She also serves on the National Board of the NFB and is the president of the very active Minnesota affiliate.)

Blind people in the National Federation of the Blind are ofben heard to say that proper training and opportunity make it possible for us to compete on equal terms with people who are sighted. Of course, we all agree that opportunity means the chance to participate with others in normal, everyday activity, such as jobs, school, recreation and all manner of social and community interaction. We say that the training consists of learning to use alternative techniques to do those tasks which others use eyesight to accomplish. The use of Braille for reading and writing and long white canes and dog guides for getting around independently are alternative techniques most commonly mentioned. However, there is another technique which can be very useful, too. That is the use of "readers."

Exactly what is a reader and what role can a reader play in the life of a blind parson who wants to achieve self-sufficiency and independence? A reader is a person who reads aloud either directly to a blind person who is present or on to a cassette tape to which a blind person will later listen. Let me emphasize from the outset that it is absolutely essential that every blind person be competent in the use of braille so that he/she has a means of reading and writing independently, organizing materials and having first-hand access to written information.

A reader cannot replace a through knowledge of and competency in the use of Braille; a reader can, however, be a valuable supplementary technique for gaining access to informatin which is not available in Braille--in other words, material which is in print. A reader may work either for pay or as a volunteer. While volunteer readers may save on the pocketbook, there are some important advantages to paying readers. Hiring and employing readers is like running a business. The blind person is the manager of the business. He/she knows what the job entails and wants qualified people to do the job. Being in control of the hiring, screening, interviewing and final selection is very important. Since most of us use readers throughout our lives, the earlier we begin working with them the better. As high school students, blind people should have experience selecting the readers they wish to use, rather than having a teacher or counselor make the decision. Thus, by the time they reach college and have volumes of print material to go through, blind students will be ready to handle working with readers and all that involves, obtaining funding for recruiting, screening, hiring, managing, etc.

Here are some methods for locating readers in high school, college, or as an employed person: family and friends are, of course most available. But very often it's easier to have a buisnesstype relationship with someone other than those we know welL Announcements for readers may be placed on bulletin boards in college employment offices, in dormitories or in classroom buildings. Also, ads may be placed in newspapers or with the job service on campus. Another technique for finding readers which many have found productive is to announce in each class the fact that readers are being sought. In this way, someone who is taking the same course or must study the same material can be hired, thus benefiting the reader and the blind person.

Remember, a reader is hired for the ability to read. The reader cannot be expected to do math, write the term paper or learn the material for the blind person. I have found that in working with readers to do research in the library, I must have thorough knowledge of the library and how to find materials; I cannot, and should not, count on my reader to know this or to take responsibility far it. It is my responsibility. I must be able to direct the reader as to what must be read, how I want material read--speedily, slowly, skimmed, first sentence of each paragraph read, the first, middle, and last paragraphs on a page read. I have developed through experience the techniques which work best for me as I use readers.

Parents can begin early to give their children who are blind experience in working with readers by asking question as they read aloud to them. "Which story would you like to read?" "Am I reading at a speed which is okay for you?" In this way, the young child will begin to think about the kind of material he/she prefers and the manner in which he/she likes to read.

As the blind person gains more experience with readers and determines not only what material must be read, but also the specific details of his/her Ifiarning/working style, it becomes very productive to use readers to obtain information from printed material. When a reader is available, scanning material, doing research and reviewing complex charts and graphs can be done much more efficiently. That is, of course, when materials are not readily available in Braille.

As I do my work today, preparing for a speech or a presentation to a legislative congressional committee, or proofreading final copy of an article for publication, I use readers. I look for individuals who can read competently, be punctual, follow instructions and deal with my necessarily irregular work schedule. I want someone who can be available when needed and who can adapt to various types of materials to be read; sometimes we may scan a lengthy report; sometimes I need details; sometimes I take notes; I may have it taped. I am ultimately responsible for getting the work done and must take charge of supervising the reader who works with me.

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