Chapter Two
Attitudes: An Essential Ingredient

In every educational experience, the attitude of both the teacher and the student are critical. With regard to learning Braille reading and writing, the attitudes of several others—the parent, school personnel, and district administration and other members of the IEP team—also play a vital role in what, when, and how much a student learns.

DEVELOPING COMPETENCE AND CONFIDENCE

Adapted with permission from Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade, by Carol Castellano.

An essential ingredient for success in implementing a print and Braille approach is for the student to develop both the competence and confidence to handle the various school tasks presented. The child who develops good judgment about when to use visual skills and when to use tactual skills will be able to handle age-appropriate tasks, demonstrate when help is not needed, and earn the respect of those around him/her. Blind/VI students need to develop the ability to accomplish the normal tasks of life in the normal amount of time. Be sure the student learns the necessary skills to complete schoolwork independently in the normal timeframe, to travel in and around the school building, and to otherwise complete the tasks expected of a child his or her age and cognitive ability.  Expose him/her to the variety of tools and options that can get any particular job done.

Accommodations vs. Skills

It is common practice to provide accommodation after accommodation for partially sighted students. Most definitions of self-advocacy focus on the person’s understanding the disability, knowing his/her needs, and knowing how to request accommodations. For the blind/VI student, however, the more important focus is acquiring the skills to get the job done and effectively communicating to others how he or she will accomplish the task. Instead of arranging it so that things are done for the student or making things easier for him or her, think about the student’s learning how to accomplish the task. In other words, don’t think accommodations; think skills.

Engender in the student the expectation that he/she will make a contribution to others and will not always be on the receiving end of help. As the student gains skills and competence, he/she will internalize the idea that he/she can contribute and function on terms of equality with sighted peers. Look for opportunities in which the student can do something to help others.

Instead of “accommodations,” give the student the opportunity to gain age-appropriate skills; instead of assistance, provide the student with the tools that lead to empowerment and independence. The student will then be able to view him/herself as—and really be—a competent, equal participant in the world.

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EVIDENCE-BASED RESEARCH:
Long-Range Results of Attitudes

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from a dissertation based on research into Braille usage conducted by Dr. Fredric Schroeder (1996). The excerpt is from the Recommendations and Implications for Policy Planners and School Administrators section of the Summary and Implications. Schroeder found that partially sighted adults who had learned Braille had higher self-esteem and were more comfortable in dealing with their blindness. He stresses the importance of attitudes not only for teachers and students but for school administrators. Here are some of Dr. Schroeder’s conclusions:

The study began with an inquiry into the beliefs and attitudes of legally blind adults about the role of Braille in their lives. As the analysis showed, the print-versus-Braille question appears to be a subset of the broader issue of self-identity. The purpose of this section is to raise a number of policy issues for school administrators to consider.

The data, together with the literature, suggest that Braille is more than a tool or means of literacy for the legally blind people who use it; it may be part of their identities as competent persons with disabilities. Therefore, the policy issue for school administrators is not simply the choice between Braille and print. There are more complex issues, such as Braille as a symbol of independence and of competence and Braille as a means of self-acceptance and group identity.

In many respects, the issue of Braille versus print hinges on school administrators' acceptance of a particular paradigm of disability. The medical model, with its emphasis on deviation from the norm, casts the issue of Braille versus print in terms of the practical benefit that either medium may have for making an individual child more "normal." In contrast, the disability-rights or independent-living paradigm poses the print-Braille decision in terms of the self-esteem and overall self-identification of legally blind children as members of a minority group. The medical model, which includes the assumption that it is desirable for disabled people to perform more like nondisabled people, is the model that people without disabilities most readily understand and accept (Shapiro, 1993; Wright 1983). The disability-rights and independent-living paradigm, initiated by people with disabilities, embodies the assumption that to be different is to be no less competent or valuable.

Administrators of programs for blind students need to be watchful that their programs are not limited by professionals' reactions to the stigma of disability. As the history of education of children with disabilities in this country clearly shows, educators have had a strong desire to make these children appear normal and to help them to pass as nondisabled. Teachers of deaf students tried to mold them in the image of the hearing world, and teachers of blind students thought of and treated their students as "seeing" persons (Barraga, 1976; Shapiro, 1993).

This may not be a healthy approach for the development of the self-esteem and self-confidence of children with disabilities, nor the best way to grapple with necessary modifications. As Wright (1983) noted, by passing or behaving as if a disability does not exist, a person does not move to a stage of self-acceptance as an individual with a disability and, hence, modifications to a particular disability are forestalled. Therefore, school administrators and teachers of children who are blind may well be advised to try to understand their personal conceptions of disability and how these conceptions may lead them to promote particular educational strategies. They should be watchful for the emergence of a hierarchy in their programs that promotes the idea that the more like "normal" a student is, the better off he or she is.

By viewing the education of children with disabilities from the minority perspective, rather than from the medical model, that is, viewing the disability as a social issue, not as a medical issue, school personnel may facilitate students' adjustment to and acceptance of their blindness. The importance of adult role models for children who are blind should not be underestimated. The literature supports the proposition that role models need to be available to help children see how adults who are blind cope with the stigma attached to disability and move beyond it to a feeling of pride and self-worth (Wright, 1983).

Perhaps exposure to successful blind adults who identify themselves as blind and who are comfortable with their blindness is a necessary component in deciding whether students—both children and adults—should be taught to read print or Braille. Exposure may be necessary to develop the awareness that alternative means of functioning exist.

Most legally blind persons have some remaining vision. However, when their vision is not sufficient to function in the activities of daily living, it would be desirable that the use of alternatives comes naturally to them. Instead, as this study showed, individuals who do not identify themselves as blind people devalue activities when they do not have sufficient sight to perform them visually, but those who may be considered more disabled because they do not have remaining vision more readily look for nonvisual ways to accomplish tasks.

The analysis indicated that identity as a blind person is crucial to whether a legally blind person will seek to learn Braille. Legally blind children who regard themselves as blind may find that Braille facilitates and intensifies group identification and thus leads to the development of self-confidence and self-esteem. As a symbol of blindness, Braille may well strengthen group identity and a sense of normalcy, despite different means of functioning. Children who do not regard themselves as blind may reject Braille because of its relationship to blindness. Because they view themselves as sighted people with visual problems, the introduction of Braille may well assault the very fabric of their identities because these children identify with the majority and disassociate themselves from the minority. Therefore, the issue of identification with the group may need to take precedence over the issue of the appropriate learning medium, at least at first.

Implications for Research

As a qualitative study, this investigation sought to uncover in-depth information about the functioning of legally blind Braille readers and non-Braille readers. Important insights were gained on the issue of self-identity and self-acceptance, but the nature of the investigation limits the generalizability of these findings. One difficulty the researcher experienced was identifying non-Braille-reading legally blind adults who were college educated and working in professional jobs and who met the other criteria of age and onset of blindness before graduation from high school, despite assistance from the state rehabilitation agency for the blind in identifying subjects.

It is generally assumed that among legally blind people there are highly literate individuals who use print and highly literate individuals who use Braille and, perhaps, some who use both. However, on the basis of the researcher's experience, the field's assumption about the number of fully functional print-reading legally blind adults should be questioned—especially in light of the findings of earlier studies that legally blind Braille readers are employed at disproportionately higher rates than the legally blind population as a whole (Kirchner, McBroom, Nelson, & Graves, 1992; NLS, 1983). Therefore, researchers may wish to conduct quantifiable studies of the degree to which legally blind print readers successfully compete in higher education as well as in professional and nonprofessional employment compared to Braille readers.

Conclusion

Educators (both teachers and school administrators) have a moral responsibility to consider the effects of their educational practices on blind children's perceptions of themselves as whole blind persons or as defective sighted persons. To view the print-versus-Braille controversy as simply a technical question that requires more precise assessment instruments is to disregard the most important role of educators. If educators do not help children define themselves as competent blind people, then inevitably they will allow society to define the value of blind children for them. The Braille literacy question is fundamental to the willingness to assert a legitimate role for blind people in society. Educators cannot allow their best practices to guide them to a condition in which blind children are well trained but incapable of conceiving a first-class role for themselves in society.

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APPROACHES TO CHANGING ATTITUDES

There are many approaches that may be used to change attitudes. The parent perspective demonstrates the exposure and experience approach. The strategies for convincing reluctant parents and school districts demonstrate a more direct teaching approach. To be successful in changing attitudes, the TBS must be willing to try many approaches.

A PARENT’S PERSPECTIVE:
Why Megan Is Learning Braille

By Marla Palmer

Reprinted with permission from Future Reflections, Special Issue: Low Vision and Blindness, vol. 24, no. 3.

Two girls—one blind, cane in hand, and one sighted—browse through stacks of Braille books.
A pre-teen Megan Palmer picks out leisure-reading books at a Braille Book Fair.

A few days ago I peeked in on a Braille party that my daughter was attending. The students were putting on a puppet show that was entitled, “Why I am learning Braille.” I heard the innocent but profound answers, “I am learning Braille because I am blind.” Another response was, “…so I can read.” When the spotlight hit my daughter she said, “I am learning Braille so I don’t have to learn it when I am big.” I couldn’t help but chuckle. I am sure there have been numerous times when Megan has overheard her blind adult mentors, including her mom’s cousin, exclaim how they wished they had learned Braille when they were younger!

When Megan was born and we received the news that she was “visually impaired,” “legally blind,” “partially sighted”—we weren’t sure what to expect for her future. Doctors and educators were positive that she would have a “normal” life with few adaptations. I vividly remember when Megan’s eye doctor exclaimed, “Megan will be just fine, and she won’t need many services like Braille.”

With that in mind I couldn’t understand why my cousin, Kris Cox, repeatedly called me to share her personal experiences with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). She kept asking that annoying question, “So Marla, are you going to have Megan learn Braille?” I thought I was doing a good job at explaining why I didn’t feel it was necessary, but for some reason (which I now understand) Kris would politely disagree. Kris grew up as a child with low vision and was not given the opportunity to learn Braille. She expressed how much easier it would have been to learn Braille then (instead of now, as an adult) and gave examples of how Braille can be an effective literacy tool.

Kris invited us to our first national convention of the NFB when it was held in Dallas, Texas. Frankly we weren’t sure why we were attending a convention for “the blind” when our child was “visually impaired,” “legally blind,” “partially sighted.” The convention and those we met there created some defining moments for us. My husband and I discovered that Megan has been blind all along (smile) and most importantly that it’s okay to be blind. Our daughter could become a successful, contributing member to society if she could get the proper training and tools. And one of those tools was Braille. At that time, Megan was only eighteen-months-old. It’s hard to believe that five years later she is six-years-old and approaching first grade. Here’s part of our story from that time to now:

Early Intervention

Some parents that have children with partial vision oftentimes don’t take advantage of the early intervention programs that are available to them. Megan has received services since she was an infant. It was a great networking tool with professionals in the field and with other parents. Because it was a zero-to-three program, there were written individual and family goals. From day one, we had pre-Braille goals written into our plans.

This was actually suggested by our Parent Infant Program advisor. She said it serves several purposes:

  1. It’s never too early to start pre-Braille skills.
  2. When it came time to write your child’s first IEP, there should be no question from the team that you, as parents, want your low vision child to learn Braille. It had been documented from day one.

Preschool

Upon the transition from Early Intervention to Preschool we were given three educational options for Megan: enroll her in the Utah School for the Blind, choose the Davis County District Preschool, or select a private preschool of our choice. After careful consideration, we opted to mainstream Megan in the district preschool program. I would not consider Megan’s first year of preschool a huge success when it came to Braille services. The preschool teacher had wonderful talents and skills, but was very uncomfortable with having a low vision child in her class. She would often forget how to make simple adaptations and seemed overwhelmed when given advice. Megan received consultant services from a teacher of the visually impaired two times a month (it would have been once a month if we had chosen a private preschool). However, the consultant had to spend all of her time concentrating on the preschool teacher rather than working on the IEP goals with Megan.

The next year we searched high and low in our district and found a wonderful teacher who truly understood the power of inclusion, was comfortable with working with children that needed adaptations, and was willing to be an integral part of the IEP team. We had overcome a huge hurdle. Now, the consultant for the visually impaired could come in and work one-on-one with Megan to help her achieve her Braille goals.

I had high expectations of the consultant that was visiting my child a whopping two times a month. I quickly learned that in order for Megan to effectively have a head start in Braille, we had to have daily Braille activities at home. I became good friends with Megan’s Braille consultant and we agreed to work together. The two concepts we concentrated on were having a good understanding of the Braille cell, and familiarity with the Braillewriter. After Megan was introduced to these concepts we were able to work on them approximately fifteen minutes per day at home. We concentrated on using the Braillewriter to build finger strength, to type the Braille letters she also knew how to write in print, and to pretend to write stories. (In other words, she “scribbled” pretend stories with the Braillewriter just as sighted children scribble stories with a pencil.) Megan is a visual learner and she liked to see the shape of the Braille letter as well as feel it. She memorized the Braille alphabet by sight and by touch. Megan had no problem wearing her “blinders” as she understood at a young age the importance of learning Braille tactually. I think it helped that everyone—her teacher of the visually impaired, her regular teacher, and her family—had a positive attitude about using the sleepshade (blindfold).

We were able to find some wooden Braille tiles (about one-and-a-half inches wide, two-and-a-half inches high, and one-half inch thick) that had large Braille knobs on one side and large print on the other (Note: Mr. Arnold Dunn in Florida makes these and donates them to families or institutions). One afternoon we found a small box and Megan decorated it the way she wanted. We cut two holes in the side where her hands could fit in. After practicing learning several letters, we would mix the tiles up and put them in the box. Megan would slide her hands through the holes, feel for the different tiles, and tell me which letters they were. This is still a favorite game.

By the end of her third year in preschool Megan could read and type her name in Braille. She had memorized all the letters in Braille (tactually and visually) and could also tell which dot sequence formed which letter. During the summer before her kindergarten year, her preschool consultant for the visually impaired checked out a copy of The Mangold Developmental Program of Tactile Perception and Braille Letter Recognition (Exceptional Teaching Aids, California) for us to use at home with Megan. I feel Mangold was one of the best teaching tools available to us. The workbook was very easy for a parent with little Braille background to use and to follow.

Kindergarten

When Megan entered kindergarten she was seventy percent finished with the Mangold curriculum. We felt that it was necessary to have Braille instruction every day for forty-five minutes, and the IEP team agreed. We had a great rapport with Megan’s itinerant Braille teacher with whom we communicated on a daily basis. Megan had a Braille homework folder in which the teacher recorded what Megan practiced that day and what she—the teacher—wanted Megan to practice for homework. Megan was responsible for helping me record her homework and report back to the teacher each day. The teacher had a reward system for homework turned in on time, for good work, etc. This was a great motivator for Megan.

Megan finished Mangold during her kindergarten school year and was introduced to the Patterns Braille Reading Series from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), which we are continuing with this summer. This series has helped her transition from uncontracted to contracted Braille. She is a dual-reader, learning and becoming efficient in both print and Braille literacy skills. Megan’s latest progress report states that she is on the same reading level in Braille as she is in print. I don’t know what her future holds for her visually, but I do know this: she will be prepared for it. She will never have to struggle to learn Braille as an adult like my cousin Kris.

In summary, never settle for less than your child needs. Have the attitude that each transition in a child’s life is important. Early intervention and preschool CAN and SHOULD be used to concentrate on pre-literacy skills and Braille. Of course, each child is different. Be flexible and be aware of how they learn and use that to their advantage. Be involved and work with your child at home. Be part of the working team, not just a cheerleader. If you have high expectations for your child’s teacher, have high expectations for yourself, too, and be willing to do the necessary work at home. And, yes, a child with partial vision can be successful at learning both print and Braille.

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Food for Thought: How did Mrs. Palmer develop a positive attitude about her daughter reading Braille? Since not every visually impaired or low vision student will have a blind relative, it is important for the TBS to introduce the family to competent successful blind adults or to literature about blindness. Learning Braille early was very significant for Megan.

Convincing the Reluctant Parent

Parents of partially sighted children can have many concerns about their child’s learning Braille. They might fear blindness and not want anything to do with the tools that blind people use. They might be afraid to allow their partially sighted child to do certain tasks; teaching the child Braille might underscore just “how blind” the child is. Following are suggestions from the 2009 Teacher Consortium for combating a negative attitude toward the use of Braille with a partially sighted student.

The Reluctant School District

School districts, too, can resist the teaching of Braille to a partially sighted student. Here are a few strategies to use compiled by the 2009 Teacher Consortium:

SHAPING STUDENT ATTITUDES

The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School, by Carol Castellano, pp 8-9.

Does it take courage to live as a blind/VI person? Many sighted people think it does. Perhaps they feel that they would be very frightened if they had to go through life without eyesight and therefore they assume it takes courage to live life in that way. Heading toward an open stairway, going down an escalator, or crossing a busy street without eyesight might seem frightening or even unimaginable to a sighted person, and therefore anyone who attempts such feats must be courageous. But for blind/VI children, being blind/VI is natural. From the start they are learning skills and using tools that enable them to live life normally—to go down steps, use escalators, and cross streets safely. There is nothing strange or frightening about life for blind/VI children, and therefore it does not take courage for them to live.

Is blindness a tragedy, a terrible loss? Most blind/VI children have not experienced a loss of sight. Again, being blind/VI is natural for them. They are not constantly making comparisons to sight. Blind/VI children are not thinking in terms of loss. (Think about this when you hear blindness/visual impairment referred to as “vision loss.”) They are not walking around all day wishing they were sighted or expending their energy lamenting a sense they do not have. They are too busy living and learning! While there is indeed a psychological adjustment that people must make if they become blind/VI, even children who lose their sight seem to adjust quickly. One blind scientist reports that after going from partial vision to total blindness at age 3, “my world was not black and hopeless. It sparkled as it did before, but now with sounds, odors, shapes, and textures” (Vermeij, 1997, p. 14).

Blind/VI children are simply doing what all children do—living and learning and developing and growing. Life is a positive process to them, not a negative one. We adults can certainly make a blind/VI child feel lacking and inferior and inadequate. We can also choose to make the child feel whole, equal, and competent. It is our attitudes that will shape so much of the blind/VI child’s experience. Therefore it is up to the adults in the child’s life to learn and express positive attitudes about blindness/visual impairment and the abilities of blind/VI people.

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FROM THE DESK OF A TBS:
The TBS: A Leader in Developing Positive Attitudes

The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students, by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Duffy, pp. 65-66.

Too often, an adult asks a youngster, “Can you see that?” and he answers “Yes”—but neither of them realizes that he only sees a vague shape. He may say, “Yes, I can see the chalkboard,” innocently taking the question literally and having no idea that anything is written on the board.

Accompanied by his itinerant teacher, Dustin was touring the Middle School where he would enter fifth grade.

“How much can you see?” asked the math teacher. “For instance, can you see those boys?” Dustin glanced in the direction indicated, and answered “yes”.

However, the itinerant teacher gently helped him explain that he saw them only vaguely. “I expect you can see that there’s someone there, Dustin,” she said. “And perhaps you can see the colors of their shirts. But to tell exactly who they are, you’d want to talk to them, or get a lot closer—right?” Dustin agreed, and the itinerant teacher resolved to help him understand and explain his vision. She also resolved to discourage the Middle School teachers from overdoing this subject. Whenever Dustin was introduced to a teacher, the very first question tended to be the same: “How much can you see?” Normal get acquainted remarks should receive normal emphasis: “Who is your fourth grade teacher?” “You’ll like our new gym!” “Where do you live?” etc.

When a youngster says, “Yes, I can see that,” it is also quite possible that he really cannot see it at all, but is just trying to please.

Public pressure toward reliance on vision is tremendous, and children are so eager to please that they often will say what they think is expected.

It is much better to avoid asking, “Can you see (a certain object)?” Instead, if an inquiry is really necessary, ask the student to read or describe the object. Be extremely wary of assuming he can really see something accurately when he may be relying on non-visual cues—e.g., recognizing people by their footsteps. This is not necessarily a matter of conscious deception; often the child genuinely believes that he “can see it.”

A Constructive Approach

The most important approach to dealing with partial sight is to recognize that often it should not be relied upon. With the proper attitude, we will observe a youngster and objectively learn what he can and cannot see. Rather than merely asking, “Can you see this workbook?” we will ask the child to read sample passages, and watch for errors and signs of discomfort.

We will also avoid praising a child for seeing something. If we are seeking information, we will thank him for giving it: “Thank you for trying out these samples so that I know what works best.” When he completes a task, we will praise the achievement instead of the vision—e.g., “I’m so glad that you can read so well,” rather than, “I’m so glad you can see that.”

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Two students wearing blindfolds play Twister on a modified tactile game board.
Blindfolded students develop their skills and positive attitudes about blindness through play.

TIPS FOR WINNING OVER THE RELUCTANT OR RESISTANT STUDENT

The following tips were compiled by the 2009 Teacher Consortium.

SITUATIONS TO PONDER: Bill, Evan, and Michelle

Bill

Bill was a preschooler who was placed in an Early Childhood Special Education classroom for children with severe and profound disabilities. Bill had many illnesses as well as physical difficulties that included very limited mobility in his left hand. He spoke very slowly and often needed extra time to organize his thoughts and provide answers to questions. The TBS was told that in addition to his legal blindness, he had a severe cognitive delay.

This little guy, however, was more tuned in than people gave him credit for. In the first two weeks of his Braille instruction, Bill was introduced to the term cell, and the letters a, b, and c. Following this, Bill did not receive any instruction for over a month due to winter break, illness, and a family move. When Bill returned to class, he surprised his teachers by remembering everything he had been taught. 

One year later, Bill had mastered the Braille alphabet and literary numbers. He was able to write the alphabet, numbers, his full name, and short words on a Perkins Unibrailler (a device for individuals who only have the use of one hand). The Perkins Unibrailler is a more difficult machine than a regular Perkins Brailler because of the special requirement of splitting the cell in order to create each Braille sign, but Bill was successful with it. Though in kindergarten Bill struggled to write his first name in print, he was successful in writing his name and other words on the Perkins UniBrailler.

Bill was transferred into a regular kindergarten classroom and was able to remain in the mainstream. Braille became an essential tool for him, especially as the print got smaller through the years. The last time the TBS saw this student, he was spending his day fully included, taking his exams along with his classmates, and making excellent grades.

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Food for Thought: This case study illustrates how the TBS is a leader in shaping attitudes. The teacher kept an open mind about Bill, which enabled him to demonstrate his full potential. Braille opened the possibility of literacy for Bill and became his vehicle to academic success. It gave him the ability to express himself in writing without frustration or fatigue and enabled him to demonstrate that he had a much higher cognitive ability than many had originally assumed. Students like Bill who have physical limitations may find print writing frustrating and therefore their academic growth may be impeded. For these students, the ease of creating Braille can enhance academic growth.

Evan

Evan was in ninth grade. Due to Ushers Syndrome, Evan had hearing loss, 20/70 central vision, and no peripheral vision at all. He strongly expressed his opinion that he did not want to learn Braille and had always refused it in the past. Previous teachers of the blind and his family dropped the subject, because Evan’s response to it was anger.

Evan was behind his classmates and struggling to keep up. Therefore, with the parents’ support, the TBS renewed the suggestion that he learn Braille. Evan’s mother was very afraid that he would lose the rest of his sight and that combined with hearing loss, Evan would have no way to communicate with the world or be able to learn. With great patience the TBS introduced Evan to Braille. He learned the Braille code in a year and a half, but still was reluctant to use it.

In an effort to change Evan’s attitude toward Braille, the TBS asked him to become a mentor. Evan began teaching a little seven-year-old boy who also had Ushers, for his senior project. Evan’s attitude toward Braille underwent a complete change. He realized that Braille would have made it much easier for him as he advanced through school and he stated that he wished he had started Braille at a younger age like the little boy he was teaching.

Evan learned to talk about what was happening with his sight. He explained this to the little boy he was working with through the use of tactile signing. Every week, he created Braille lessons for his young student. Both the boys gained avenues of communication with the world that would last their lifetimes.

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Food for Thought: The TBS was patient and persistent in the effort to change Evan’s attitude toward learning Braille. Through his mentoring experience, Evan recognized the importance of Braille and was motivated to learn more so that he could continue to help his little friend.

Michelle

Michelle has rod-cone dystrophy, a condition known to be degenerative. In kindergarten she had a visual acuity of 20/200 and could see 14-point font but only at a working distance of two inches. Michelle needed to expend significant effort beyond her peers just to see the print, but she preferred print because that was what everyone else was using.

The TBS understood that print would not be sustainable for Michelle’s future educational needs due to the known risk of eyesight degeneration and so began Braille immediately. She prepared all of Michelle’s primary materials in Braille and also began computer lessons with talking software. In a year, Michelle was reading along with the rest of the class using her Braille and typing all her lessons on the computer.

As Michelle’s sight decreased over the years, she used large print less and less and her preference changed to using Braille the majority of the time. She used her vision mainly for pictures and graphs.

By fifth grade, Michelle was easily completing all of her work at the same pace as her peers, by using Braille and technology. In middle school she was near the top of her class.

In ninth grade Michelle moved to another state, where the TBS changed her media from Braille and talking software to large print and low vision devices. The family accepted this change.

By the time Michelle was in twelfth grade and ready to graduate, she had become a slow reader and was no longer able to keep up with peers. Many accommodations had been made for her, such as having assignments cut in half or receiving extra time to complete them. She wanted to go to college, but was no longer prepared to complete the same work at the same time as her sighted peers.

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Food for Thought: Attitudes played a role in decision-making at many points during Michelle’s education. Michelle’s initial attitude was that she preferred to use print; as her eyesight deteriorated and she became proficient in Braille, her attitude toward Braille changed. Unfortunately, Michelle did not have the self-advocacy skills to avoid the problems she encountered in high school in a new state. The new TBS seems to have been guided more by a negative attitude toward the use of Braille for a partially sighted student than by concerns about future need due to deteriorating vision or by Michelle’s own track record.

IEP GOALS AND OBJECTIVES FOR THE DUAL READER:
ATTITUDES

These sample IEP goals and objectives are guidelines that you can tailor to the needs of the student and to the requirements of your local school system.

Goal: The student will develop and demonstrate confidence in his skills and judgment.

Objectives:

The student will play an active part in deciding his role in group projects or labs.
The student will develop appropriate assertiveness in class and group participation.
The student will answer questions in a confident voice with appropriate volume.
The student will express his needs appropriately.
The student will express a polite but firm “no, thank you” when offered unneeded help.
The student will identify situations in which he can assist others.

Goal: The student will demonstrate his capabilities to peers and teachers.

Objectives:

The student will share his Braille skills by reading a poem, short story or speech to the class.
The student will be paired with a sighted peer to share his Braille skills by reading, interacting, and discussing a class assignment.
The student will provide assistance to others in appropriate situations.
The student will compile an “All About Me” book or letter of introduction about his needs and capabilities for each teacher each semester.

OBSERVATIONS FROM LIFE EXPERIENCE:
In Praise of a Teacher: Thank You, Mrs. McGee

By Zena Pearcy

Reprinted with permission from Future Reflections, Special Issue: A Celebration of Braille, vol. 28, no. 1.

My experiences as a person with low vision are a good bit different than those of others who grew up at the same time I did. I was born with an eye condition called micro-ophthalmia. Simply put, this just means that my eyes never fully developed. My best vision as a child was probably about 20/400. I went to public school and read large print books, but I had to hold them about three inches from my face. No one ever talked to me about learning Braille and, as far as I know no one ever approached my parents about the possibility.

My father was in the Air Force, and the summer before I turned eight he exited from the military and we moved from Albany, Georgia, to Waco, Texas. In Georgia, I had a very close friend named Jeannie, who was totally blind. Jeannie only read Braille and I only read print. When I entered school in Texas I was placed in a self-contained classroom for blind children. I begged my teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), Mrs. McGee, to teach me Braille so I could communicate with my friend in Georgia. After some time, Mrs. McGee told me that she would indeed teach me Braille on two conditions. The first condition was that I had to take the lessons seriously and really study. Secondly, I had to start in the “baby books” that kindergarteners use and work my way through all of the readers until I got to grade level. I was so excited. I loved my Braille lessons. I read and read, and before the school year was over, I was reading in the fourth grade reader and was caught up to grade level.

I signed up to get Braille books from my regional library for the blind, and I was an insatiable reader. I read in the car; I read at night under the covers; I read at those awful Little League games where I felt so left out while my brothers played; I read in the closet while hiding from pesky little cousins. Well, okay, I know that wasn’t very nice, but it’s the truth!

I loved Braille, but no one encouraged me to read Braille at school. I was still reading with the print book inches from my face. This was in the sixties and seventies. I am not sure what large print books are like nowadays, but when I was growing up they were simply blown-up small print books. The pictures were horrid and very difficult to decipher. The hardback books were so tall and wide, that I had to stretch my neck and contort myself to get into a position where I could see the top or the bottom of the page. But even though I was uncomfortable and very slow in using large print, it never occurred to anyone (including me) that I should switch to Braille textbooks.

In the ninth grade I took a history class and my large print text did not show up on time. I guess this was the “Ah-ha!” moment. I borrowed another student’s Braille textbook, and life and history lessons went on. In the tenth grade a couple of us blind/visually impaired kids took Accelerated English which meant that we had to read about ten or twelve classic novels. Several of the books were not available in Braille, so our TVI, Mrs. Wade, worked countless hours either Brailing or dictating these texts to us, so that we could help Braille them. (I believe she thought that getting the books on cassette tape would be cheating.) In this particular situation, no one even asked me if I was going to read the print. I guess everyone knew it didn’t make any sense for me to spend hours and hours reading small print books when the Braille was available. Besides, my Braille was good enough to help transcribe those books, so I guess we all thought I had the right to read them in Braille, too.

My vision began to decline in my second year of college. I read my last small print book for pleasure that year. When I realized it had taken me all summer, I understood that I would never read an entire book with my eyes again. Because I was already a proficient Braille reader, I did not have to stop my life to learn a new skill. I also discovered that I could not read my print notes from class anymore. I had been shown how to use a slate and stylus to write Braille when I was a kid, but I had never used one seriously. Now I got myself a slate and started to take notes. At first I had to tape-record my classes as back-up while I struggled to pick up speed and accuracy with the slate. But I quickly learned a lot of little tricks in both note-taking and in using a slate, and was soon able to keep up and quit using the tape recorder.

No one knew when I was a child that my eye disorder would deteriorate the way it did. I was so fortunate to know Braille. While I was in college the first closed circuit television (CCTV) reading systems came onto the market. I got one and used it, and was grateful for it. I still use a CCTV to identify print materials that I want to review further with a live reader, or that I want to scan and read with a voice synthesizer or convert into hard-copy Braille. But I am so glad I did not have to rely only on the CCTV; I am so glad I had Braille, too. Braille is another tool in my toolbox. Braille is a skill that gives me greater versatility. If you can only see under certain lighting conditions, you need Braille. If you have to hold your speech up to your face to give a class presentation, you need Braille. If you have trouble reading your own handwriting or can’t see when you’ve written on top of something else, you need Braille.

Another major reason I am thankful for learning Braille is because I married a blind person. We have no communication problems like some couples do where one person knows Braille and the other does not. When our son was born, he was totally blind. Imagine how thankful I was—again—that I knew Braille.

After Wayne was born I called my elementary TVI teacher, Mrs. McGee, to tell her about our new baby. And I told her how thankful I was that she had taught me Braille. It was not until then that I learned that she had had to fight the principal of our school in order to get permission to teach me Braille. What a wonderful person and teacher she was. I am so glad I didn’t let her down, that I accepted her two conditions, took my classes seriously, and became a proficient and avid Braille reader.

Braille is a part of the blindness set of alternative skills. It allowed me to keep in contact with a blind friend. It allowed me to be an equal with my husband and a parent who could always help my son with his homework. I knew when Wayne’s Braille transcriber had made errors that could cost him points on his assignments and tests. I labeled things for him, and helped him cram for tests by reading to him from his Braille notes and textbooks while he ate breakfast. I understand when he says how neat a certain word looks in Braille, and I was the first one to get the joke when he said his name, Wayne, had six letters. (He was counting the capital dot.)

So, here’s my advice: If you are the parent of a child who reads Braille, please learn to read it yourself. If you are a parent of a kid with low vision, please advocate for Braille instruction for your child. Learning Braille can open up so many opportunities; it did for me.

KEEPSAKES

The student needs to develop the competence and confidence to accomplish school tasks on a par with peers.
Everyone from the administrator to the classroom teacher, the TBS, and auxiliary personnel should think about the message they may be sending to students and staff because of their own attitudes and fears.
The parent’s attitude is crucial in helping a student to become a dual reader.
The TBS should be careful about what he or she is really communicating to the student.
Every student should have an attitude goal in his IEP or 504 plan.
The TBS must expect the unexpected with regard to a student’s capabilities, must be persistent in helping the student and the family to develop a positive attitude about blindness, and must make decisions based on evidence.
The TBS should teach students how to describe their vision and how to advocate for their own needs.
Encouraging the student to be a mentor and finding mentors for the student are excellent ways to improve attitudes and self-esteem.

[Chapter One]  [Contents]  [Chapter Three]