Chapter Five
Read, Read, Read—There Is No Substitute

With her arms full of Braille books, a young girl smiles for the camera.
Arms loaded with Braille books for leisure reading, this low vision elementary student is well on the way to becoming a fluent Braille reader.

The purpose of this chapter is to emphasize the need for fluency and speed in reading, in order to support comprehension and to make reading meaningful and practical for dual readers.

One of the main problems that dual readers face is gaining enough fluency and speed to make reading meaningful. Fluency is the ability to read smoothly, easily, and readily with freedom from word recognition problems. Fluency is necessary for good comprehension. For dual readers, the nature of their vision loss can prevent them from physically gaining speed in reading print. In order to make Braille reading a meaningful alternative, these students must have adequate practice reading Braille so that they can gain fluency and speed. This chapter will explore how the dual reader gains fluency and speed in Braille.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of reading and achievement test scores, as Richard Allington (2011), reading guru and former president of the International Reading Association, reported in his book What Really Matters for Struggling Readers. For example, a fifth grader who reads 40.4 minutes daily will read about 2,357,000 words a year and is likely to score in the ninetieth percentile on a reading assessment. Compare this to a fifth grader who only reads 12.9 minutes a day. This student reads only 51,000 words a year and usually scores in the tenth percent on reading tests. That's a big difference. Whether the student reads print or Braille, the same advice holds true. Parents and teachers must encourage students to read Braille every day for a certain period of time. This chapter will also explore ways to encourage students to increase the amount of Braille reading they do.


Assessing Reading Fluency

By Timothy V. Rasinski, PhD

Retrieved from Pacific Resources for Education and Learning,

Editor’s Note: Many people do not appreciate all of the elements that go into being a fluent reader. The following excerpt provides an excellent explanation of the various components of reading fluency:

Defining Reading Fluency

It may be helpful to think of reading fluency as a bridge between the two major components of reading—word decoding and comprehension. At one end of this bridge, fluency connects to accuracy and automaticity in decoding. At the other end, fluency connects to comprehension though prosody, or expressive interpretation. These components of reading fluency are reflected in two major theories or explanations.

Accuracy and Automaticity in Reading

Fluent readers decode words accurately and automatically, without (or with minimal) use of their limited attention or conscious cognitive resources. The theory that supports this aspect of fluency begins with the notion that readers have limited attentional resources. If they have to use a large portion of those resources for word decoding, those resources will not be available for use in comprehension. The theory of automaticity in reading suggests that proficient word decoding occurs when readers move beyond conscious, accurate decoding to automatic, accurate decoding (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Samuels, 2002; Stanovich, 1991). At the automatic level, readers are able to decode words with minimal attention to the activity of decoding. Most adult readers are at this level of processing. They do not have to examine closely or sound out most of the words they encounter; they simply recognize the words instantly and accurately on sight. This type of processing frees the reader’s conscious attention to comprehend or construct meaning from the text.

Prosody in Reading

While it is good for readers to have the additional cognitive capacity that comes from automaticity in word decoding, they also need to actively use that capacity to make sense of the text. Readers can employ their attention for comprehension or for other tasks. All readers have had the experience of accurately and automatically decoding words while thinking about something else and, as a result, not having comprehended the passage.

This is the point where fluency connects directly to comprehension. The prosody component of reading fluency stresses the appropriate use of phrasing and expression (Dowhower, 1987, 1991; Schreiber, 1980, 1987, 1991; Schreiber & Read, 1980). When readers embed appropriate volume, tone, emphasis, phrasing, and other elements in oral expression, they are giving evidence of actively interpreting or constructing meaning from the passage. Just as fluent musicians interpret or construct meaning from a musical score through phrasing, emphasis, and variations in tone and volume, fluent readers use cognitive resources to construct meaning through expressive interpretation of the text.

In a sense, then, reading fluency is multidimensional—one dimension stresses the importance of accuracy in word decoding, a second dimension focuses on quick and automatic recognition of words in connected text, and a third dimension stresses expressive and meaningful interpretation of text. These dimensions are related to one another—accurate and automatic reading creates the conditions for expressive reading. All three are important for effective comprehension and overall good reading. All must be taught, and all must be monitored.

Early Braille Education Vital in Establishing Lifelong Literacy

By Ruby Ryles

Reprinted with permission from Future Reflections, vol. 18, no. 2.

Editor’s Note: The following study demonstrates that students need Braille instruction frequently in order to achieve fluency. The study can assist the TBS in arguing for more Braille instruction and practice time.

An exhaustive study has cast aside some erroneous stereotypes while underscoring the importance of Braille education at an early age. The study has revealed that literacy rates of blind high school students who began their Braille education at an early age are consistent with those of their sighted peers. The study further disclosed that legally blind children who received infrequent or no Braille training, or who began their Braille education later in life, exhibit noticeably lower literacy rates.

The study was conducted by Ruby Ryles, PhD, who coordinates the master’s program in Orientation and Mobility at Louisiana Tech University in conjunction with the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Ryles performed the study for her University of Washington doctoral dissertation in special education, titled "Relationship of Reading Medium to Literacy Skills of High School Students Who Are Visually Impaired." Results from that and a preliminary study suggest that partially sighted children may be at greater risk of literacy deficiencies than children who are totally blind.

The study was intended to establish correlations between present literacy rates and the early reading education of high school students from 45 cities, towns, and rural communities in 11 eastern and southern states. Of 60 students in the study, 45 were legally blind from birth, had no other disabilities, spoke English as a first language, were of average intelligence, and attended public rather than residential schools. The study also included a comparative group of 15 sighted students attending the same schools as the legally blind subjects.

The 45 legally blind students were divided into three groups of 15 students each, corresponding with the initiation and consistency of their Braille instruction:

Early Braille—students who received Braille instruction four to five days per week while in the first, second, and third grades.

Infrequent Braille—students who received Braille instruction fewer than four days per week during the first three grades;

Non-Braille—legally blind students who received no instruction in reading Braille, instead using print material and optical aids.

Ryles administered comprehension, vocabulary, and other subtests of the Stanford Achievement Test and the Woodcock Johnson R (revised) assessment tests.

In comprehension tests, there was no significant difference between the mean scores of the sighted students and the group of blind students who received early frequent instruction in Braille. Nor was there a significant difference between the mean scores of the infrequent Braille group and the non-Braille group on the two comprehension tests. However, the students who received instruction in Braille fewer than four days a week during the first three grades of school (infrequent Braille group) and the non-Braille group posted mean scores on both tests significantly lower than those of the sighted and early Braille groups.

In vocabulary, early Braille readers outperformed sighted students by a five percent margin on the Stanford test and nearly matched their sighted classmates on the Woodcock Johnson R test. The infrequent Braille learners, producing a mean score of forty-five percent, registered significantly below the early Braille and sighted groups on the Stanford test. Legally blind students who received no Braille instruction posted a mean score six percentage points lower than the infrequent Braille group on the same test. The infrequent and non-Braille groups also scored significantly lower than the early Braille and sighted groups on the Woodcock Johnson R vocabulary test.

Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization scores shattered stereotypes. In the capitalization and punctuation portion of the Woodcock Johnson R test, early Braille readers produced a mean score that was seven percentage points higher than their sighted peers, twenty-five percentage points higher than the infrequent Braille group, and forty-two percentage points higher than their legally blind peers in the non-Braille group.

In the spelling portion of the Woodcock Johnson R test, early Braille learners averaged one percent point higher than fully sighted readers, thirty-two percentage points higher than infrequent Braille learning, and thirty-eight percentage points higher than the non-Braille group.

Before beginning work on the project, Ryles conducted a preliminary study in the state of Washington evaluating the correlation between adult literacy skills and employment. There, she studied 74 adults who were born legally blind and were patrons of the Library for the Blind. Ryles discovered that forty-four percent of the study participants who had learned to read in Braille were unemployed, while those who had learned to read using print had a seventy-seven percent unemployment rate. Those results prompted her to conduct an in-depth study exploring the childhood reading education of legally blind high school kids.

The two studies led Ryles to an inescapable conclusion: "Low vision kids need to be taught Braille," she asserts. "Early Braille education is crucial to literacy, and literacy is crucial to employment."


Achieving Fluency in Braille through Immersion

By Jackie Anderson

I have three daughters. One of them, Aunya, is visually impaired. She has the same eye condition that I have. I had to learn Braille as an adult and struggled to gain speed and fluency. I am determined to give my daughter a better experience and a real choice to use both Braille and print.

Children begin to acquire literacy skills long before they ever reach the schoolhouse door. Sighted children are surrounded by print signs, labels, and toys with print letters. If low vision adults are to be able to choose between print and Braille to carry out tasks and to maintain literacy, they must be immersed in Braille as children.

Braille immersion means surrounding the child with Braille. Parents must saturate the environment with Braille. Objects throughout the home should be labeled in Braille. If there are magnets on the refrigerator with print letters, put up a Braille letter next to the print letter. Put Braille labels next to pictures. Parents should read Twin Vision® books (books that contain both Braille and print text) to their children, allowing the child to touch the Braille. Getting used to following along in Braille is a good beginning even if the child does not know the letters. The association with reading and Braille is the important connection. The child will follow the lead of his parent. If the parent presents reading Braille as fun, the child will adopt the same attitude. I did all of these things with my daughter and it really worked.

Reading fluency is the ability to read accurately, quickly, effortlessly, and with appropriate expression and meaning. Reading programs in the early grades emphasize fluency. Many low vision students who learn Braille never achieve fluency because they do not get enough practice in reading. Children gain fluency in reading print by continuous exposure to familiar text. Fluency in Braille will be achieved by the same exposure. The low vision student should be immersed in Braille in the classroom. I try to get my daughter’s general education classroom teachers to be my allies. I want them to encourage her in reading Braille. It is just as important for these teachers to also have a positive attitude about Braille themselves. This can be difficult to achieve because these teachers have no prior knowledge of blindness or Braille. I try to promote Braille by taking the mystery out of it.

My daughter is currently in the first grade. She works with the TBS on blindness skills, but is in general education for the rest of the day. I insisted that my daughter use Braille for her class in reading and language arts. She has an assistant during this period to make sure that she is on the correct page and so forth, but the classroom teacher is responsible for her reading instruction just as she is for the rest of the students.

My daughter knows all of the Braille alphabet and many contractions. She can read a first grade reader in Braille at 38 words per minute. She is definitely progressing at the same rate as her sighted peers.

Aunya can also read print. She picked it up through incidental learning from her environment. Immersion in Braille did not cause her to lose ground in print. She knows how to read; she knows her print letters just as she knows her Braille letters. Whether or how much she can read in print will be based on the extent of her vision, not on any lack of knowledge about reading.

Aunya is developing a positive attitude about Braille. One of the most helpful experiences for her in developing this positive attitude was attending the Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning (BELL) summer program. She was lucky enough to attend this program twice. Aunya enjoyed meeting other low vision children who were using Braille. She also benefited from interacting with low vision adults who also use Braille.

I believe that low vision students should be using Braille in their Reading and Language Arts programs to achieve fluency. Low vision students will never have a real choice for using print and Braille until they achieve sufficient skill in Braille reading and writing. The most effective way to achieve Braille reading fluency is through immersion.


Food for Thought: In their landmark Delphi study, Koenig and Holbrook stressed the importance of early Braille literacy instruction for infants and preschoolers. “The consistency of the instruction should increase as the student progresses through toddlerhood. As the student enters the pre-Braille phase of instruction, a qualified teacher should work with the student for 30 minutes to one hour each day.” (2000, p.685)




In kindergarten, Mark’s vision was 20/200. He had achromatopsia. Mark was an English as a second language (ESL) student who knew just a little English when he started school. He had extreme light sensitivity and kept his eyes only slightly opened. Glasses that darken as he entered more lighted areas did not eliminate his sensitivity to light.

When using enlarged print Mark needed to take breaks after fifteen minutes because of headaches and eye fatigue. He frequently placed his head on the desk and stopped working. He fell behind his classmates due to all the headaches and the need to take constant breaks.

In order to use large print, Mark needed a 72-point font. Scanning a page was very slow for him because of his restricted field of vision. He could not use even his preferred font size fast enough or without fatigue in order to keep up with peers. His comprehension was also very poor when he used large print. The answer for Mark was Braille.

The TBS began instruction in Braille reading and writing. Two years later Mark was reading Braille around 40 wpm.


Food for Thought: Mark was a good candidate for Braille immersion. Although he made progress in the two years reported on, he was not yet reading on grade level and would need intensive reading practice.


In September of his third grade year Jake was sent to the TBS for evaluation. He had 20/50 vision, and high nystagmus with no null point.

The evaluation measured his reading as follows: Story one took 224 minutes to read with 14 errors; Story two took 242 minutes with 15 errors; Story three took 253 minutes with 18 errors. He had a median reading speed of 50 wpm, with a median of 15 errors and comprehension at fifty-plus percent.

At the start of the school year, a third grader should be reading 77 wpm. Jake was already reading behind his peers by 27 wpm.

In January, the TBS evaluated Jake again and found that he was not progressing. He took 8 minutes to read 546 words, with 32 errors and sixty percent comprehension. At that point Jake was reading 68 wpm while his peers were up to 92 wpm. Jake was behind by 24 wpm.

Jake was showed signs of fatigue while reading, but his peers did not. He was not enjoying reading for pleasure. By the end of the year third graders should be reading 110 wpm. Jake also should have been reading above ninety percent comprehension. The TBS recommended Braille because of his lack of reading progress and increased fatigue.


Food for Thought: Recommending Braille for Jake was a good decision. It is unfortunate that Jake did not begin to learn Braille at an earlier age such as when he started kindergarten. Reading speed is an important indicator in determining whether a student should be a dual reader. Students with visual impairments should be reading at the same speed as their sighted peers. IEP goals should be included to achieve this objective. Parents and teachers may also wish to refer to state standards for Braille reading and writing to ensure that the student is learning at the appropriate pace. If your state does not have standards for Braille reading and writing, you can find the Braille reading standards for California on the California Department of Education website (



According to reading experts, Jerry L. Johns and Roberta L. Berglund, “Reading fluency is the ability to read with comprehension, accuracy, speed, and expression. Of these four elements, the easiest to measure is reading speed.” (2006, p. 3). The following charts from Johns’ 2008 publication, Basic Reading Inventory, 10th Edition (p. 43), provide research-based reading speed targets for average students throughout their school years.

Figure 1.
Mean Words per Minute “Targets”* for average students in grades one through eight










Fall Target


Winter Target


Spring Target

























































*Targets are reported in round numbers

Figure 2.
Silent reading rates for students in various grades who understand the material











































Food for Thought: Whether a student reads print, Braille, or both, these targets are achievable and essential for reading fluency.


Tips for Increasing Braille Reading Speed

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. 128-129.

Increasing Reading Speed

For blind students, no less than the sighted, age and experience should bring increased reading speed which is comparable with that of other students.

The following are suggestions about speed:

  1. Students above first grade should not move the lips, or they will not learn to read faster than speech.
  2. Explain that silent reading speed should vary according to the task; many sighted and blind students do not realize this. Practice reading very quickly to get the general drift; more slowly for typical study speed; and very slowly for something extremely difficult or detailed.
  3. As soon as your student can comfortably read passages of some length, encourage him to have the right hand finish a line while the left begins the next line, then bring the right hand down to meet the left hand, etc. (Ask a fluent Braille reader to demonstrate.) As the student gains experience, let him develop his own “style.” Note that it is not unusual for a right-handed person to prefer reading Braille with the left hand dominant—another reason to insist that students use both hands from the start.
  4. Provide guided practice in reading two completely separate things with the two hands—reading a question on one page and its answer choices on the next page, comparing two versions of a sentence, etc.
  5. When a child reads orally, do not always interrupt to correct errors. Emphasize fluency. Sometimes work on difficult words individually, before or after connected reading.
  6. Recreational reading, at a relatively easy level, is extremely important in building real fluency.
  7. Convince the student (and his parents and teachers) that Braille readers can compete effectively, and can read as fast as anyone else, if they use good techniques and have good attitudes. Introduce the student to adults who read Braille well.
  8. Teach the child to turn pages very quickly. If he is not near the correct page, insist that he estimate instead of looking at every individual page number.
  9. Insist the child mark the place when he is interrupted, rather than wasting time hunting for the place when he resumes reading. Many Braille books have built in ribbon bookmarks. A line may be marked with a pin, paper clip, magnet, etc.
  10. Be sure there are more rewards for quick reading than for slow reading. Avoid situations where the child gets much more attention if he reads slowly.
  11. Look for things which the child would enjoy if he finishes on time or early. For example, many primary grade classrooms have “interest centers” where children may do extra activities when their work is done. Too often, individualized Braille lessons simply continue until the time is up, with no consequences for slow reading vs. fast reading.
  12. Determine what you believe the student can reasonably accomplish, and insist that he do it. If he is working with a group and doesn’t finish with the rest, they should not wait for him; rather, he should finish alone at a less convenient time. If the lesson is individualized, keep comparing your time with the typical time for a group.
  13. Sometimes set a timer to go off when a given passage should be finished.
  14. Enter contests such as “Braille Readers Are Leaders,” sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind. Create local contests.
  15. Sometimes have the student record oral reading. Strive for fluency.
  16. Sometimes count the number of successive lines which the student reads without staying on any word for three seconds or more, and without going back to look at any words. Try to set a new record each week.
  17. Avoid expecting uniform progress in all aspects of reading at once. It may be necessary to tolerate minimal comprehension while pushing for speed. As the student learns to move faster, speed and comprehension can be combined.
  18. The following procedure encourages major progress in speed. Over a period of several days, guide the student gradually through the following steps:



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 improve Braille reading fluency.


Goal: The student will improve Braille reading speed.



Blind Mentors—A Hidden Resource

By Barbara Loos

Editor’s Note: This article contains useful tips about how a blind mentor can help parents and the TBS to encourage the student to practice Braille reading.

A blind teen and a blind adult sit at a table reading a Braille passage together.
Barbara Loos encourages a student as they read Braille together.

I don’t have an endorsement in teaching the blind, nor do I have a blind child. But I am a parent with a bachelor’s degree in education and I love being where fun and learning converge. One place I’ve found this enticing convergence is in healthy mentor-mentee relationships with blind children and youth. My qualification for this place of privilege is neither my being a parent (I’m not that given youth’s parent) nor my educational background (I’m not that student’s teacher). What gives me authenticity is our shared characteristic of blindness and the ways it impacts upon us.

The painter Vincent van Gogh, in his book of letters to his brother, Dear Theo, wrote, “I want to go through the joys and sorrow of domestic life in order to paint it from my own experience.” While no one I know would deliberately choose to be blind, if it’s either part of who you are to begin with or comes to you later on, it is most credibly shared through your own experience.

Many of my favorite times mentoring have involved Braille. While sighted youngsters see people using print everywhere, blind children and youth almost never get enough exposure to others efficiently modeling Braille, whether in school or at play. I had one student tell me that, after spending considerable time with his hands on mine while I took my turns reading from behind his chair, so he could feel smooth Braille reading in motion, he noticed one day that his hands were reading as if mine were under them, but they weren’t. From then on, he was a committed two-handed reader and his reading speed increased exponentially.

A teacher recently mentioned to me that a student with whom I had read a couple of times asked her one day, when reading, “Is this how Barbara does it?” While this student was already using both hands, one of them was doing very little actual reading and she wanted to get faster at it. The teacher had both talked about what she could do and shown her the method, but experiencing it with another blind person who actually read like that brought it to life for her.

How likely is it that either a parent or a teacher will have the opportunity to play a just-for-fun game of Scrabble tactilely using Braille with a willing student who struggles with spelling? My experience is that both time constraints and parent/teacher/student dynamics often sabotage this possibility. I, as a mentor, have several times enjoyed this and other games with blind youth. Audio and crossword puzzles, computer games, and Braille art have all either helped to break the ice for or accompanied already-established relationships. Again, since what I bring isn’t tied to doing a chore or completing an assignment, tangents are okay and often involve interaction about blindness.

It sometimes happens that assignments do get done during a time of mentoring. A mentee once asked me to co-write a duet poem with her and recite it both in her classroom and during a poetry sharing at another school. Entitled PROUD, it gave voice to her emerging realization that it is okay to be blind. The presence of refreshments at the latter event gave us an opportunity to discuss ways of using a cane while carrying juice and cookies.

Something I think often causes major difficulties for us human beings is what is referred to as comparing apples to oranges. This is compounded when those doing the comparing prefer either the apple or the orange and, therefore, proclaim that piece of fruit superior to the other. The genius of Louis Braille is that he thought outside that box. Recognizing that, as his diary puts it, an alphabet and numerals “developed for the eye” (we’ll call this the apple), didn’t work for the blind, he concluded, “The solution then rests with a device that has nothing to do with the eyes.” Thus, the tactile system he created (let’s say the orange), is an alternative to, not a substitute for, print. In other words, he showed that it is possible to have two equal, though not identical, systems, one visual, one tactile, for reading, writing, and even doodling.

Just as apples and oranges may be eaten either by themselves or mixed together in a delicious salad, print and Braille may serve as stand-alone methods or combined in fascinating ways. Louis Braille, understanding that blind and sighted people need to communicate with one another, created raphigraphy, a way of making print out of Braille dots, so his students could write to their families. Although I have no experience with his system, I have encouraged blind youth to experiment with using Braille to make raised print letters and have created greeting cards and bookmarks including it.

Since U-turns, T-intersections and figure 8’s, to mention just a few, are part of the fabric of our culture, and since signatures are required often, it is crucial that blind people know how print letters and numbers are shaped as well as written. Children generally learn various representations of linguistic expression easily, so teaching both Braille and print simultaneously can be as natural to them as learning multiple languages is for those fortunate enough to have that opportunity. And Braille doesn’t require that a child learn different grammar or pronunciation. Marsha (my sighted daughter) and I often left messages for each other in Braille and she and some friends used its patterns in visual ink dots for writing notes to one another.

Tactile expression abounds in our world. We need only seek it out. Marsha once said, when we were at an art show that included both visual and tactile art, that touching a piece was a different experience from looking at it. She enjoyed both.

Just as sighted children are taught visual etiquette, blind children need instruction in appropriate tactile observation. Some blind people have been so conditioned to keep their hands off of things that they miss out on much of their environment. Others reach indiscriminately for anything within their grasp. My blind older sister, noticing that I often broke things, showed me how to both locate and handle things more gracefully, techniques I have been glad to pass on to others.

All kinds of things have both visual and tactile components. It can be a lot of fun to make a game of finding them. I have met blind children and youth who are so determined to use their remaining sight, often because that is what is expected of them, that they attempt to do things visually that efficient people, sighted or blind, do using other senses. The comparative approach that says “She can use print, but he has to use Braille,” not only makes print the good guy and Braille the bad guy, but also it eliminates the option, very useful for many, of using both effectively.

Blind children with some remaining vision are too often either not exposed to Braille and other tactile experiences at all or they are introduced to them only as a last resort when print and visual expression are no longer viable. This is sad not only because by then everyone involved is most likely frustrated, but also because the two can work so well in tandem. Those I know who use both Braille and print like having the option of deciding which to use when, based on the situation.

Being in a healthy mentor-mentee relationship with a competent blind adult can give young people a chance to get perspective and take the guesswork out of how to do things. This can help their families to relax about things as well. A young blind mentee once said to me, “Instead of wondering what a successful blind person did to become successful, I can actually ask! I can ask and get an answer instead of asking a sighted person who would have to guess.”

I feel both grateful and privileged for my own mentoring relationships. On the other hand, I feel both sad and sorry that, for many blind people, this resource is mostly hidden. Mother Teresa once said, “Few of us can do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love.” Blind mentors and mentees can do those small things and share that great love every day. We need to spread the news to parents and educators and get this resource out of hiding.



Students need Braille instruction frequently in order to achieve fluency; students who receive Braille instruction infrequently or only two or three times a week, will not achieve fluency.
The student must have immersion in Braille as early as possible.
As the student enters the pre-Braille phase of instruction, a qualified teacher should work with the student for 30 minutes to one hour each day.
The TBS must expect the low vision students to read on grade level and at the same speed as his sighted peers. If the student is not achieving this standard then reading strategies should be reexamined.
Students should be expected to read Braille every day.
Adult blind mentors are a good resource to enable students to practice Braille reading.
Developing a pen-pal system for the students on the case load of the TBS is another good way to develop practice in Braille reading and writing.

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