Background on Braille Literacy Legislation

An effort has been underway in the United States to establish rights, procedures, and standards relating to Braille instruction for elementary and secondary students who are blind. The centerpiece of this effort is a national Braille literacy campaign which was launched by the National Federation of the Blind on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary. Public ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary were held at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 16, 1990.

The announcement of the Braille literacy campaign was coupled with the opening of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. The Center includes operational models of all known computerized or computer-driven devices designed to produce Braille. The very existence of the center, with equipment that is currently valued at more than $900,000, symbolizes the commitment of the Federation to literacy in Braille as a right for all blind people.

Enactment of state Braille literacy laws was announced as a principal objective of the campaign. Toward that end the Federation has prepared a model state statute entitled "The Blind Person's Literacy Rights and Education Act." The following major provisions are included:

(1) The term "Blind student" means an individual who is blind (using the generally accepted legal definition of blindness) and is eligible for special education services. A student who is not blind but has a prognosis of legal blindness may also be considered as "blind" for purposes of being served under this Act.

(2) There is a stated "presumption" that "proficiency in Braille reading and writing is essential" for each blind student "to achieve satisfactory educational progress."

(3) Each blind student is required to receive an assessment, which must include a "Braille skills inventory" and a statement of strengths/deficits resulting therefrom.

(4) Braille instruction must be included in the student's educational program unless "all" members of the planning team (which includes the student or his or her parents, as appropriate) agree that reading and writing performance is commensurate with ability and is not affected by the visual impairment.

(5) Use of Braille in the instructional program of a student may be combined with the use of other media if appropriate for the student, and the use of other media does not preclude the use of Braille.

(6) Use of Braille and Braille instruction may not be denied to a blind student and may not be excluded from the IEP solely on the basis that the student has enough residual vision to read some materials in print.

(7) The stated proficiency standard for Braille instruction is: "to enable each blind student to communicate effectively and efficiently with the same level of proficiency expected of the student's peers of comparable ability and grade level."

(8) The individualized education program (IEP) for each blind student must specify:

(a) the results obtained from the Braille skills assessment;
(b) how Braille will be implemented as the primary mode of instruction, integrated with other classroom activities;
(c) the beginning date for Braille instruction;
(d) the frequency and duration of each Braille instructional session, and the length of the period of instruction in Braille;
(e) the level of reading and writing competency to be achieved as a result of the instruction and the assessment measures to be used; and
(f) a statement to explain and justify any decision that Braille is not required as part of the student's IEP.

(9) Textbook publishers are required to provide computer diskettes of "literary subjects" and, when appropriate Braille translation software is available, diskettes of "non-literary subjects" (science and mathematics texts) must also be provided.