The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children
Volume 28 Number 1 Special Issue: A Celebration of Braille
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Copyright © 2009 National Federation of the Blind
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2360
www.nfb.org/nopbc • email@example.com • firstname.lastname@example.org
Volume 28 Number 1 Special Issue: A Celebration of Braille
From the Editor
The Other Side of History
by Fredric K. Schroeder
The 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar
Braille (a poem)
FUN FACTS ABOUT BRAILLE
Louis Braille: The Father of Literacy for the Blind
by Deborah Kent Stein
Braille: What It Is and What It Is Not
by Sister M. Elaine George, IHM
Double Your Pleasure—Double Your Speed
by Jerry Whittle
“The War of the Dots” A Brief History of Braille
The Information Age Braille Technology Timeline
Compiled by Clara Van Gerven and Anne Taylor
The History of the Nemeth Code: An Interview with Dr. Abraham Nemeth
by Caryn Navy
Adapting the Braille Code to Music
by C. Michael Mellor
Reading Pals Sparks Love for Braille
by Julie Durando, PhD, Barbara Cheadle, and Judith Chwalow, DrPH
Braille for My Baby
by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato
In Praise of a Teacher: Thank You, Mrs. McGee
by Zena Pearcy
Print or Braille? Megan Reads Both
by Marla Palmer
Kendra’s Kindergarten Year: As Good as it Gets…
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
St. Lucy Day School Creates a Braille-Rich Environment
Writing with a Slate and Stylus is Easy!
by Ramona Walhof
Doing Math in Braille
by Carol Castellano and Dawn Kosman
BRAILLE EVERY DAY
Braille on the Job
by Gary Wunder
Braille Every Day in Every Way
by Lauren Merryfield
Braille Slate Pals Application
by Bonnie Lucas
BRAILLE FOR THE SIGHTED
Sharing the Braille Code with Sighted Children
by Jolene C. Wallace
The Future Is Ours and Theirs NOPBC 2009 Annual Conference
by Carrie Gilmer
For thousands of parents and friends of blind children, PARENT POWER means membership in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The NOPBC is a national membership organization that provides vital support, encouragement, training, and information about blindness to members and to the broader community. As an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, the NOPBC is a bridge that connects families to blind role models and mentors. NOPBC is also a vehicle for expanding resources for parents, changing public attitudes about blindness, and creating greater opportunities for blind and visually impaired kids everywhere. Your NOPBC membership matters. NOPBC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
NOPBC Membership Application * Subscription to Future Reflections
Membership in the NOPBC includes membership-at-large in the NFB. Future Reflections is FREE and there is no requirement that you join the NOPBC to receive the magazine. If you wish to join the NOPBC and/or take advantage of the free subscription, please use the form below. (Please print)
(Please include the first and last names of both parents if appropriate)
[ ] Parent(s)/caregiver [ ] Teacher [ ] Other
City _______________________ State ___________ Zip_________ *Country ____________
E-mail ________________________________ Phone ____________________________
(Please designate if this is a home, cell, or work phone)
If you are parents, please include the following information for each blind/VI child in the family:
Name (first and last) of blind/VI child ______________________________________________
Birth date _________________ Sex: M [ ] F [ ]
Dues/donation. Enclosed is a check or money order made payable to the NOPBC:
[ ] $8 [ ] $15 [ ] $25 [ ] $50 [
] Other $_________
NOTE: One dollar per adult is counted as dues, the balance is a charitable donation.
I wish to receive Future Reflections in (check all that apply) [ ] Regular print [ ] Tape [ ] E-mail
This is a: [ ] New subscription
[ ] Change or correction:
Please print old or duplicate name and/or address as it appears on your magazine label:
[ ] I do not wish to join the NOPBC. Please send me a free subscription to Future Reflections.
Mail to NOPBC, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 U.S.A.
*International Subscribers: There is no shipping and handling fee for residents of the USA, USA territories, Canada, and Mexico. Residents of all other countries are asked to pay a fee in USA currency of $20 for a one-year subscription and $55 for a three-year subscription. Send checks or money orders made payable to the National Federation of the Blind. Enclosed: $______ shipping and handling for a (check one) [ ] One-year subscription [ ] Three-year subscription.
Putting together this special issue in celebration of Braille has been both a joy and an agony. How could one begin to choose what to print and what to set aside with so much rich and varied material from which to choose? In the end, the title--A Celebration of Braille--had to be my guide in making otherwise impossible choices. This could not be a history--though some of that is included--or a resource manual, instruction book, or a reference book. All these already exist in a number of excellent publications not to mention the rich resources of the Web. (Speaking of which, the fastest way to get good information about any aspect about Braille is to begin your search at the NFB sponsored Web site, <www.Braille.org>.) So don’t expect to find a definitive collection of information about Braille as a code, Braille programs, organizations that promote or produce Braille, Braille technology, the future prospects for Braille, or the history of Braille. What you will find are inspiring stories that celebrate the impact Braille has had in the lives of ordinary people, exciting articles that describe a few of the innovative programs that bring the beauty and versatility of Braille into the lives of both blind and sighted children, informative articles with practical tips and strategies about how to use Braille more effectively, rousing calls-to-action from Braille advocates, and some fun facts about Braille that readers can easily share with family and friends. Because of the timing of this issue, it also contains a pre-registration form and a schedule of the extensive, exciting activities planned by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children for families at the 2009 NFB Convention in Detroit, July 3-8. (Among the varied events planned by NOPBC is a Braille Carnival for the kids.) So read, enjoy, and join in the 2009 world-wide celebration of Braille.
by Fredric K. Schroeder
Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, February 10, 2009, NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder keynoted a Web conference at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., titled “Actuality of Braille in Different Socio-Economic Settings.” Ryan Strunk, who is assisting Fred in directing the NFB’s Braille Readers are Leaders campaign to raise the visibility of Braille and the recognition of its importance in this bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth, played a significant role in preparing these remarks. Here they are:
Everyone has heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20. At some time in our lives we have all said that, if we had only known what would happen, we would have made a different decision or acted differently. Often, when we look back, it is with regret or longing. “If I had only known the train would be late, I would have slept in.” “If I had only known the market would be so unstable, I would have invested differently.” It is easy for us to say what we would have done when we stand on the other side of history, and it is easy to become mired in “should haves” and “might have beens.”
But we must also remember that from the other side of history we are given a unique opportunity to change the future. Yes, we may have lost something in the past and been affected by a consequence we did not foresee, but, with the experience and wisdom we gain from history, we can arm ourselves with the knowledge and foresight to forge a new path. Sometimes we forge this new path to make our own lives easier, but sometimes we do it because we want to change the future for others.
Louis Braille was born two hundred years ago in a small village in France. No one would have guessed that the son of a humble saddle maker would one day become a symbol of hope and independence for millions of blind people around the world and throughout history. After being blinded at a young age, Braille and his family knew that, in order for him to receive a quality education, he would have to travel to Paris and attend the school for the blind there. Braille and his family recognized the diminished expectations for blind people; they knew that without an education the best Braille could hope for was a life lived on the charity of others.
At school Braille experienced what passed for literacy among the blind: oversized books with raised letters that were not only cumbersome to read, but incredibly difficult to produce. He wanted something different--not just for himself, but for all the students at his school. So at a young age Braille created the code that would later become arguably the greatest invention for the blind throughout history. He could not have known then the incredible impact his work would have on future generations; in fact, his code was neither recognized nor celebrated until years after his death. But from the other side of history we understand the real value of his gift, and we offer him profound and abiding thanks for it.
Not until the 1930s did Braille gain acceptance in the United States. Blind children in those days were sent to special schools for the blind, and there they learned to read using Braille. Whether they were totally blind or had some residual vision did not matter. If a student was blind, he learned to read Braille. In those days everyone assumed that the blind could do no more than menial work, so, even as Braille was widely taught in schools for the blind, it was never taught with the expectation that it would empower us to seek meaningful employment. Even so, it was taught. And more than a generation of blind Americans were raised with the understanding that Braille was a viable means of reading and writing, not something to be ashamed of.
In 1940 a group of pioneering blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind, ushering in a new era of advocacy and empowerment. With our positive philosophy of blindness and our belief in our own abilities, we began to leave the sheltered workshops and armchairs; we set aside our begging bowls and low expectations in favor of meaningful employment and productive lives. We learned Braille in school, and we learned advocacy from one another. With these skills we began the task of proving to the rest of the world that blindness does not equal second-class status, that it is respectable to be blind, and that, given the right training and the right opportunity, the blind can compete on terms of equality with their sighted counterparts.
Our good fortune with Braille was not to last, however, for, even as the blind grew in status, our means of literacy was slowly being eroded. In the mid-1960s schools began to operate on the conviction that print was superior to Braille and that, if a student had some remaining vision, she should learn to read large print. Beginning in the 1970s, many blindness professionals, parents, and blind people themselves began to assume that the new technologies like books on tape and synthesized speech were sensible alternatives to Braille instruction.
By the middle of the 1980s the literacy rate among blind children had decreased to approximately 10 percent. In the space of a few decades we went from a generation in which almost all children were taught Braille from an early age to a generation that was raised to believe that Braille was slow, difficult, outdated, and--worst of all--inferior. It was viewed--as it had been during the life of Louis Braille--as something that would drive a wedge between the blind and the sighted. It was viewed this way even as the literacy rate fell and the number of blind students graduating from school decreased. People who became blind later in life were falsely taught that Braille could not be learned after childhood, and blind seniors, instead of being taught that Braille could be used to manage medications and help them maintain their own independence, were sent to nursing homes and care facilities.
Led by the National Federation of the Blind, since the 1980s informed people have undertaken a number of initiatives to combat the decline in Braille literacy. These have included raising public awareness about the benefits of Braille and seeking to adopt state laws that strengthened access to Braille instruction and instructional materials for blind children. While significant progress was made in the 1990s in changing public policies related to Braille and raising awareness of the importance of Braille to the blind, the literacy statistics for the blind still show that far too few blind people have access to quality Braille instruction despite the fact that recent research demonstrates a significant relationship between knowledge of Braille and employment. That is, better than 80 percent of employed blind people use Braille in their daily lives. Contrast this statistic with the fact that only 30 percent of blind people of working age are employed.
We now understand the link between literacy and employment, between the ability to read and write and a quality education. We know that Braille, independence, confidence, success, and literacy are all tied together. It is now our responsibility as blind people to ensure that we put this knowledge to more aggressive use. We must not stand on the other side of history someday and wonder what we might have done differently. Rather we must continue in our efforts, and we must make certain that history does not repeat itself.
In 2006 the members of the National Federation of the Blind successfully urged the U.S. Congress to pass legislation authorizing the minting of a commemorative coin to honor the two hundredth anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth. The Louis Braille Bicentennial Commemorative Coin, which will be released on March 26 of this year, will mark a significant step toward insuring that literacy for the blind is once again a priority in America.
To coincide with the unveiling of the prototype of the Louis Braille coin in July of 2008, the National Federation of the Blind began its Braille Readers are Leaders initiative. This initiative is the most significant investment in literacy for blind people ever--raising eight million dollars for Braille literacy programs into the future--and an innovative network of programs that dramatically enhance opportunities and education for the blind. With this initiative we proclaim to people everywhere that the blind are not content with illiteracy; we want to read, we want to learn, and we want to work--and we are willing to support these desires with concrete action.
By 2015 we will double the number of blind children who read Braille. To help them to learn to read, we will pass legislation which requires that all teachers certified to teach blind children have to obtain and maintain the National Certification in Literary Braille. We will develop programs and strategies to make Braille more accessible to the blind, and we will teach the public that Braille is not to be dismissed but embraced as the only viable means of literacy for blind people.
As we work with the public to build support for these programs, we will also dedicate significant resources to enhance our knowledge of Braille. We will help improve Braille-related programs by filling gaps in the Braille knowledge base, designing studies to evaluate the effectiveness of currently available Braille curricula and pedagogical strategies for blind people of all ages, and disseminating accurate information about Braille-related research. We know that the people best suited to design programs for the blind are blind people themselves, and we are willing and eager to take up the challenge.
Finally, the National Federation of the Blind will establish a technology development team made up of strategic university, industry, and other partners to generate new Braille-related technologies and bring them to market at an affordable price. We understand that in the twenty-first century literacy requires integration of and accessibility to technologies that facilitate reading, writing, and access to information. We want to be at the forefront of this development, and we want to insure that the technology is designed in such a way as to make Braille accessible to as many blind people as possible.
Much work remains, but we are confident of our success. We are not simply a few individuals with dreams, but thousands of blind people united in our dedication to the cause of literacy for all. Alongside us are our friends and allies among the sighted public--steadfast individuals who believe--as do we--that the blind deserve first-class status.
The time for action is now. The opportunity for change is at hand. We stand together, united in our beliefs and determination, willing to shoulder the responsibility that our efforts demand. We will go forward with confidence and purpose, and when--generations from now--our descendants stand on the other side of history, they will stand in a world where Braille is accepted, where literacy is not a dream but a reality, and where the blind, equipped with this essential skill, will truly be independent.
Proof Dollar: Introductory Price: $37.95, Regular Price: $41.95
Uncirculated Coin: Introductory Price: $31.95, Regular Price: $33.95
How to Order
Visit www.usmint.gov or call 1-800-USA-MINT
About the Coin
The 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar commemorates the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille system, which is used by the blind to read and write. Now, for the first time in history, a United States coin features readable Braille and is available in both proof and uncirculated versions. Surcharges from sales of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar are authorized to be paid to the National Federation of the Blind to further its Braille literacy programs. For more information about the NFB’s Braille literacy programs, please visit www.Braille.org.
The world rests on my lap.
If my finger is the sky,
Then under it the fields prosper.
Row after perfect row of buds
Bid me gather all I can.
The harvest is food for thought.
--John Lee Clark
About the Author:
John Lee Clark was born deaf in Minnesota to an all-deaf family. So his first language is American Sign Language. However, he and his father and younger brother have Usher syndrome, and he gradually became blind in adolescence. While attending the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, he took classes in Braille and orientation and mobility at the nearby school for the blind.
After graduation, he studied briefly at Gallaudet University before love interrupted his schooling. He and his sighted deaf wife, Adrean from North Carolina, moved to Minnesota, where he worked at DeafBlind Services Minnesota while they started up a small publishing venture called The Tactile Mind Press. TTM Press produced a quarterly literary journal, books, DVDs of ASL literature, and a popular e-zine of social commentary focusing on the signing community.
The business could not support their expanding family--they have three sons now--so they were forced to close the business after six years of operation. All along, John wrote extensively and won recognition for his work, especially in poetry. He appeared in such publications as Ache, The Journal, and McSweeney’s, and he was the first signer, deaf or deaf-blind, to appear in the prestigious magazine Poetry.
The recipient of many fellowships as well as the Robert F. Panara Award for Poetry, he was a featured poet at the Deaf Way II International Cultural Arts Festival. He edited the anthology Clayton: A Tribute to Clayton Valli as a memorial to the man known as the father of ASL poetry. He recently published his first collection of poems, Suddenly Slow, and his anthology of poetry by deaf Americans since 1827 will be coming out this March from Gallaudet University Press. He currently works as the director of Communication Facilitator Service, which provides telecommunications accommodations to deaf-blind consumers across the nation.Suddenly Slow: Poems by John Lee Clark. 32 pages. $8. Available at <www.handtype.com> or <www.amazon.com>.
by Deborah Kent Stein
Editor’s Note: I am honored to write a note of introduction about the author of this brief biography of a great man. Blind from birth, Deborah Kent Stein had a passion for the written word from an early age; filling page after page with Braille as she wrote stories and journals. For decades, she has made a respectable living as an author of books and literature for young adults and children. Having received the benefits of the work of great blind men and women (such as Louis Braille) she has had a life-long commitment to giving back and helping other blind people realize their dreams, too. She is an officer of the NFB affiliate in Illinois, coordinator of the Braille pen-pal program (Slate Pals) for the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and a tireless mentor and advocate for blind children and youth in her state. She exemplifies in every way the very spirit of Louis Braille himself. Here is Deborah’s account of the life of Louis Braille:
Every year thousands of people from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the French village of Coupvray. Their journey’s end is a simple stone cottage where, nearly two hundred years ago, an inquisitive three-year-old named Louis Braille had an accident that changed the course of history.
Born on January 4, 1809, Louis Braille was the youngest of four children. His father, a harness-maker, ran a workshop attached to the family home. Louis loved to watch his father cutting and fastening strips of leather with an assortment of shiny tools. One day he crept into the workshop when no one was looking and tried to punch a hole in a piece of leather with his father’s awl. The tool slipped, piercing the child’s eye. In the weeks that followed an infection set in. Miraculously, in those days before antibiotics, Louis Braille survived the infection, but it left him totally blind.
The only blind people Louis’s parents had ever seen were beggars on the streets. Yet they were convinced that their bright little boy was capable of much more, if only he were given a chance to learn. When Louis was seven his parents enrolled him in the village school. Much of the study was done through recitation, and Louis proved to be an apt pupil. Without a way to read and write, however, he was at a terrible disadvantage. At last his parents learned of a school in Paris where blind boys could study and learn a trade. Painful though it was to send their son away to the big city, they decided that the school was his only hope for a productive future.
Louis Braille entered the Royal Institute for Blind Youth when he was ten years old. The school was housed in a damp, drafty old building with echoing halls and steep, winding stairways. The boys ate meager meals of porridge with slabs of doughy bread. The school had few books for the children to read. The books used a form of embossed print that had been invented years ago by the school’s founder, Valentin Haüy. Slowly and laboriously the boys traced the raised print letters with their fingers, sounding out each sentence, word by cumbersome word.
In 1821 an army captain named Charles Barbier approached the director of the school with an exciting new idea. Barbier had developed a system for reading by touch which he called “night writing.” He created the system as a means for soldiers to read messages in the dark, without alerting the enemy to their whereabouts by lighting a lantern. He suggested that his night writing might prove useful to the blind.
Eagerly the students at the Royal Institute experimented with Barbier’s system. Instead of using embossed print letters, night writing was based on raised dots and dashes. Unfortunately the system had no way to show capitalization or punctuation. Words were not even written with standard French spelling; instead, words were written as they were pronounced.
Most of the boys lost interest in Barbier’s night writing, but twelve-year-old Louis thought it had possibilities. In every spare moment he worked to improve the code, sometimes staying up late at night although the morning bell sounded at six. He abandoned Barbier’s dashes and developed a streamlined system based on six dots in two vertical rows, like the “6” on a domino. The first ten letters of the alphabet used the four upper dots. The next ten added the lower left dot to the earlier combinations. The letters u, v, x, y, and z were formed by adding both of the lower dots. The original code did not include the letter w, because w was not used in French. Louis Braille later created a symbol for w on the suggestion of an English classmate. To this day, the Braille letter w does not fit the pattern of the rest of the alphabet.
By the time he was fifteen, Louis Braille had perfected his writing system. The code which came to bear his name could be used for music and mathematics as well as straightforward text. It had symbols for capitalization and all of the punctuation marks. The students at the Royal Institute were enthusiastic about the Braille system, but some of the teachers regarded it with suspicion. Braille looked nothing like print, and the sighted teachers were reluctant to learn it. The Braille system finally became the school’s standard reading mode in 1844.
Louis Braille was a gifted musician as well as a man of inventive genius. He studied piano and organ at the Institute, and in 1825 he took a paying job as organist in a Paris church. The following year he began to tutor younger blind students, and when he was nineteen he was appointed to serve as a full-time teacher at the Institute. He worked at the school for the rest of his life, teaching geography, French grammar, music, and mathematics. He received room and board at the school in addition to a small salary.
Years of damp rooms and poor diet took their toll on Braille’s health. When he was twenty-six he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Little by little he grew weaker and more frail, but he remained devoted to his students. He was a beloved and admired teacher who often used his humble savings to help a student in need. Surrounded by loving friends, Louis Braille died at the Institute on January 6, 1852, at the age of forty-three.In the decades that followed, the Braille system was accepted as the reading method for blind people throughout the world. In 1952 Braille’s body was moved from the cemetery in Coupvray to rest in honor at the Pantheon, the Paris cemetery that holds the remains of some of the nation’s most celebrated intellectual leaders. Braille’s hands, the hands that opened the gates of literacy for millions of blind people, remain entombed in a simple urn in the churchyard in Coupvray.
by Sister M. Elaine George, IHM
I have been working for St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments for eighteen years now. People who learn of my occupation freely share their understanding of blindness with me. Here are a few treasures of common misunderstandings in regard to Braille as well as my usual instructive responses to them.
“Braille…Oh I know what Braille is … it’s those dots next to the numbers on the elevator.”
“Right. And do you know what those dots mean?”
To which I sometimes get the response, “Well I don’t know because I can’t read Braille.”
Truly, for some it is a revelation that the Braille dots next to the number one mean “one.” Once we have cracked the code I encourage them to study those dots on the elevator to learn some Braille numbers. Their enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment puts smiles on their faces. And I have won another small victory on the way to Braille literacy.
“Braille is a code of communication that only those who are blind are able to read.”
Actually, anyone can learn how to read and write Braille with proper interest and adequate instruction. From my experience in giving Braille workshops to sighted children, their immediate feedback is always, “This is fun!”
“All blind people know how to read Braille.”
Not true. It is not something you are born with or automatically acquire once blindness has set in. It is a skill that is learned. Braille literacy requires Braille instructors, Braille books, and instruments that produce Braille such as: slate and stylus, Braille writers, Braille software, and Braille embossers (computer printers).
“Isn’t it wonderful that blind people all over the world can communicate with each other using the Braille code.”
Many are surprised when I explain that Braille is language specific. Those who speak Spanish write Spanish words in Braille. As a matter of fact, the same Braille dot configuration can be used to mean different things even in the same language. Our students learn literary Braille code for reading and Nemeth Braille code for math. There is also computer Braille code which uses eight dots per cell.
“Oh my--it must be so difficult to learn how to read Braille.”
It is true that learning how to read is one of the most challenging intellectual acrobatics the human brain has to grapple with. But learning how to read and write Braille takes about the same amount of time as learning how to read and write print. The key factor here is daily instruction and daily use equal to the amount of time a sighted student is given to learn how to read and write print.
“Blind people are specially blessed with extra-sensitive touch to be able to read Braille. It is nature’s way of making up for the loss of one sense.”
Sensitive touch is more directly related to having or not having calloused hands as well as the health of your nervous and circulatory systems. It matters little whether you are blind or not blind. In short, if you are a construction worker who has neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease, your sense of touch may be significantly impaired, and that will affect your capacity to learn Braille.
In fairness to all those who don’t know much about Braille, I admit that I was one of you eighteen years ago. That is why I am patient with the uninformed, and why I take the time to spread the good news about Braille.
by Jerry Whittle
Reprinted from the March 2009, issue of the NFB’s monthly publication, the Braille Monitor.
Editor’s Note: There is a lot of noise, fuss, misunderstanding, and confusion about what makes a good Braille reader, and just how fast people can learn to read Braille. Jerry Whittle, the Braille instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (an NFB-run rehabilitation program) weighs in on the topic and shares his expertise and wisdom. This is what he says:
The two-handed technique of reading Braille is far superior to any other method. After twenty-three years of teaching Braille, I am convinced that the two-handed method--starting the line with the left hand and completing it with the right while the left hand tracks down to the line below--is the way to approach Braille literacy.
Over the years I have timed well over sixty Braille readers who could read three hundred words a minute or more; all of them used this two-handed method. All of them used more than one finger on each hand--some a total of five fingers, some with eight fingers. Therefore it pays to put the flesh on the Braille line.
Here is another interesting fact: in 70 percent of the Braille readers, the left hand is more sensitive; thus people who learn to read with only the right hand while the left hand only finds each succeeding line never discover that the left hand probably reads better. Many of my students have doubled or tripled their speed over a six-to-nine-month training period by working on the two-handed method and strengthening the left hand. This takes work and dedication and hundreds of pages, but those sedulous students who have maintained rigid daily page goals have reaped the benefits of enhanced Braille literacy.
Only once in twenty-three years of teaching has a student exceeded two hundred and fifty words per minute using only the right hand. She read with the index, middle, and ring fingers on her right hand, and she increased her speed to this level by reading well over three thousand pages; but she could never attain the three-hundred-word plateau. She came to the center reading about one hundred eighty words a minute. She had CP and could use only her right hand. She had been reading Braille from the first grade like the two-handed readers who surpassed three hundred words a minute. By the way, about ten of these read over four hundred words a minute, and three surpassed five hundred words.
If you want to increase your speed, use the two-handed method. Read ten hours or more a week, and use the best hand, probably the left, to read most of the line. Finally, let as many fingers as possible glide with the index fingers. If you want to improve the left hand, find a high interest, low vocabulary book and read with only the left hand for as many pages as needed to discover just how well it can distinguish Braille patterns; then begin incorporating it with the right hand. If you maintain your daily reading goals, you will probably increase your reading rate by about ten words a minute every two weeks. Read books that stimulate your interest and keep you motivated, and try to read when you are fresh and alert. I am a morning person, and I go a little groggy around nine p.m., so I read early in the morning and in the afternoon on weekends, but others like the wee hours of the morning. If it works for you, it is right.
Amy Weaver’s Diary
Editor’s Note: Amy Weaver did not know Braille before enrolling in the Louisiana Center for the Blind in late January of 2009. Although diabetic with possible sensitivity loss in her hands, she has approached her Braille class with a positive and dedicated enthusiasm. Hailing from Mobile, Alabama, and having earned a degree from a local university, this hard-working young woman wants Braille literacy enough to pay the price of many hours of dedicated effort. Here is the first and second entry in her weekly diary:
January 31, 2009
Here I am at thirty-five years of age, and I’m singing the alphabet song again. With the help of my instructor and some caring students in the apartments, I have already learned to write my alphabet on the slate--with occasional errors. I also completed a to g in the manual. I hope my mind can retain the code. I am also hoping that I can someday reach the level of some of my classmates. It seems so far away, but I like the class a lot. I know this will be a challenge. I am learning to read with both hands, and it is hard because I want to use my left hand most of the time, but my instructor scolds me and reassures me that I can read with both hands. Fingers, don’t fail me now.
February 7, 2009
I finally completed a to j, the capital sign, and the period in the manual. I have trouble distinguishing when a Braille letter stops and another one starts, but my instructor assures me that this problem area will improve with more reading experience. My slate writing is far superior to my reading. I just pray that I do not have any neuropathy. My instructor stays positive and tells me that my reading will catch up with my writing in time. He says that, after I complete the numbers page in my manual, I will find it easier to read letters like k, l, and m, because they are spread out more. He stresses using context as I read, and this makes sense to me. Come on, k, l, and m, and save my hide!
Reprinted from Braille Is Beautiful Teacher’s Guide, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind.
Early attempts to find a usable system of reading and writing for blind children included a system of tying knots on a rope, writing on wax tablets, and the use of carved wooden Roman letters.
1786 Valentin Haüy noticed that letters printed on wet paper were tactually legible on the reverse sides of paper. He devised a system of writing slightly modified letters in reverse on the back of heavy paper, using a metal pen with a rounded tip.
1829 Louis Braille devised and published a code based on a series of embossed dots. The code was based on a raised dot code invented in 1821 by Charles Barbier, an Army artillery officer, who created it because he needed a way to read by touch during night maneuvers. Other systems were simultaneously being developed, and this became known as “The War of the Dots,” which lasted in the United States of America and Great Britain for almost 80 years.
1853 Samuel Howe developed Boston Line Type, an embossed angular modification of Roman letters. Books at the Perkins School used this system for 50 years. Howe remained opposed to the Braille code all his life.
1860 William Wait, Principal of the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, tried to get schools in Boston and Philadelphia to join him in accepting Braille’s code. They refused, so he developed his own system--New York Point, which resembles Braille characters turned on their side.
1871 New York Point was endorsed and recommended by an association of teachers of the blind, mostly sighted people, for use in the education of blind children.
1900 By this time Boston Line Type started to fade as American schools were using either New York Point or Braille’s code. Joel Smith developed yet another method, known as American Braille.
1909 Helen Keller advocated for the adoption of Braille, distraught by the fact that she had to learn four different embossed codes to have access to printed material, since there was no uniformity in its production.
1932 Standard English Braille was adopted by the United States of America and Great Britain as the uniform method of reproducing printed material--a century after Louis Braille presented his code.
Compiled by Clara Van Gerven, Access Technology Content Specialist, NFB, and Anne Taylor, Director of Access Technology, NFB
Editor’s Note: The history of the early development of technology for writing Braille and for publishing Braille is available from several sources--including my favorite resource book, Braille Into the Next Millennium, a 2000 publication of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals In North America. However, information about the notable advances in Braille production over the last three decades since the advent of the personal computer and the rapid development of communication technology is scattered and not easily available. Clara and Anne spent a good deal of time researching and checking the facts for this timeline, and they state that it will become an important resource on our NFB Web site. We think it provides valuable historical perspective. It also demonstrates that technology, far from being the death knell for Braille that its detractors proclaim, has in fact made Braille more viable, relevant, and accessible than ever before in history. For those less familiar with access technology, we added a short glossary to the timeline describing the most important Braille technology. Here it is:
Braille translation software: The fastest Braille embosser available cannot produce even one dot of material unless a Braille translation program is installed on the computer. Three titles are most prevalent today, the Duxbury Braille Translator, Braille 2000, and MegaDots.
Embossers: A Braille embosser, also referred to as a Braille printer, is a piece of very specialized computer hardware. The embosser allows Braille files that have been created on the personal computer (PC) to be produced in hard-copy Braille.
Notetakers: First introduced by Blazie Engineering in the mid-1980’s these easy-to-use personal organizers allow a person knowledgeable in Braille to create documents, read text, keep addresses and appointments, access a list of special utilities, and do so almost a decade before the sighted found similar convenience in the Palm Pilot and Pocket PC.
Refreshable Braille displays: Called refreshable Braille displays, these devices allow the user to interact with his or her computer using Braille. They are called refreshable because the unit is made up of a line of pins that move up and down to display the Braille dots. Braille displays also have navigation keys that allow the user to move around the computer screen without taking his or her hands from the display to perform tasks.
1971: Triformation Systems, which would later become Enabling Technologies, releases their first embosser, the BD 3. In the late seventies they came out with their popular LED 120 embosser.
1975: Papenmeier Reha undertook a development program with Dr. Werner Boldt of Dortmund University, Germany, and in 1975 produces the BRAILLEX, an electronic device with a refreshable Braille display.
1976: The first installation of the Duxbury Translator takes place at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Toronto, Canada, in July 1976. Duxbury was the first commercial Braille translation package to be released.
1980: The original version of nfbtrans, a Braille translation package, is released. For a time it was sold for $350 but in the early 1990’s Dr. Jernigan felt it would better serve the needs of blind users by releasing it to public domain.
1982: The VersaBraille, by Telesensory, is the first refreshable Braille display available in the United States.
1987: The Braille 'n Speak, the first portable notetaking device with a Braille keyboard, is launched at the NFB Convention. The success of this device opened the door to similar popular notetakers in use today.
1990: Dr. Kenneth Jernigan opens the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) at the NFB headquarters, a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive evaluation and demonstration facility. Today it contains 2.5 million dollars’ worth of nonvisual access technology, making the IBTC the largest evaluation center of its kind in the world.
1991: The U.S. Patent for cursor routing is issued to Arend Arends and Jaap Breider, the president of Dutch Braille display manufacturer Alva B.V.; the original Dutch patent was filed in 1987. Cursor routing quickly became an expected feature of refreshable Braille devices.
1995: The first release of Duxbury for Windows brings Braille translation to the new operating system.
2000: PulseData International and HumanWare release the BrailleNote line of notetakers with Braille and QWERTY keyboards and synthesized speech and a refreshable Braille display. In 2005 HumanWare released the second generation in the BrailleNote line, the mPower series.
2001: Papenmeier releases its Elba notetaker, the first Linux-based notetaker, with Braille and QWERTY keyboard and a refreshable Braille display.
2001: ViewPlus Technologies announces the Tiger Advantage, the first of its Braille-capable tactile graphics printers.
2003: Freedom Scientific starts shipping its Windows-based PAC Mate notetaker. The unit was available with a Braille keyboard and a QWERTY keyboard (without refreshable Braille display). Versions of this unit with 20- and 40-cell Braille displays were released at the end of 2003. The PAC Mate Omni, the second generation of PAC Mate notetakers, was released in 2007.
2003: The Alva Mobile Phone Organizer comes out on the market, the first and only cell phone and notetaker hybrid. It is a cellular phone and personal organizer that offered a 20-cell Braille display, a Braille keyboard, and a speech synthesizer.
2004: At the NFB Convention, HumanWare releases the BrailleNote PK, the smallest notetaker available in the United States with an 18-cell refreshable Braille display and speech synthesizer.
2004: HumanWare, formerly PulseData, launches the Brailliant 20 and 40, the first refreshable Braille displays with Bluetooth.
2006: G.W. Micro announces its first notetaker, the Braille Sense, which has refreshable Braille, synthesized speech output, and a Braille keyboard. The BrailleSense comes with an LCD window, an MP3 player, a DAISY player and external monitor support. In 2008, G.W. Micro enhanced the Braille Sense to become the Braille Sense +. The Voice Sense was also added to the line of notetakers.
Special thanks for assistance in compiling this timeline go to NFB members and leading access technologists Michael Barber and Richard Ring. Resources consulted include David Pilischer, Enabling Technologies, Freedom Scientific, and HumanWare.
by Caryn Navy
Reprinted with permission of the author from issue 93 of the Raised Dot Computing Newsletter, <http://personalpages.tds.net/~ti51/new93.htm>.
Editor’s Note: At the age of 90, Dr. Nemeth is still active physically and mentally; he works on Braille codes, travels, speaks (and tells terrible--and terribly funny--jokes), and is truly an inspiration and role model for blind youth everywhere. Here is the 1991 interview in which he explains to Caryn Navy (who is currently with Duxbury Systems) how he came to invent his math code:
Nemeth Code is the code for mathematics and scientific notation in North America. During my years of studying and teaching mathematics, I developed a great respect for Dr. Abraham Nemeth, who had developed this Braille code. He has had a very active academic career in mathematics and computer science, and he remains very active in his retirement. I was delighted that he agreed to talk with us about the background of the Nemeth Code and about himself.
Q. How did you get involved with developing the Nemeth Code?
A. I began working on my Braille math code in 1946 or 1947. At that time I had a day job at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and I was taking night classes in math at Brooklyn College. Boys were returning home from World War II and going back to school. Many of them had passed Calculus I before the war and were now taking Calculus II. After that long interruption they needed some extra help. There was a room with a large blackboard where volunteers helped them with their math problems. Each student stationed himself at one panel of the blackboard and wrote out the problem he wanted help with. I was one of the volunteers. I asked the student to read me the problem, and then I worked out the solution on the blackboard. I didn’t find it difficult to write on the blackboard. Apparently the chairman of the math department happened to observe me and was impressed. One day I received a telegram from him asking if I could replace a member of the math faculty who was ill. The telegram asked if I could start next Monday. I said yes.
When I wanted to take notes, I needed a way to write things down. At the time people used the Taylor Code from England for writing mathematics in Braille. I thought that the Taylor Code used too many grouping symbols. I had already come up with rules to tell my readers how to read mathematics aloud to me. I began working on a Braille code which simulated my rules for speech. For example, when you say “x to the n power,” the phrase “to the” means “begin a superscript,” and the word “power” means “return to the baseline.” So in my Braille code I created symbols that mean “begin superscript” and “return to the baseline.” My personal code for Braille mathematics began to evolve. I used it for my work in calculus and statistics.
Q. Before you tell us how you came to share your private Braille math code with the rest of us, I’d like to know how you started taking evening math classes at Brooklyn College.
A. I was always interested in math. I went to the New York City public schools, and I spent a lot of after-school time at the Jewish Guild for the Blind. I had a good buddy there who was younger, and I showed him a lot of math. When he got to high school, he took a math placement test. The result was no surprise to me. It showed he knew a lot of algebra and could skip the first algebra class. That was the first case of advanced placement I ever heard of.
Anyway, I always liked math. But various counselors told me that I couldn’t have a career in math because I was blind. I heard this from so many counselors that I believed it. After all, there’s a saying, “If three people tell you that you’re drunk, you’d better lay down.” So I majored in psychology. I got a B.A. in psychology from Brooklyn College and an M.A. in psychology from Columbia University. But it wasn’t so easy to get a job as a psychologist either. I got a job at the AFB but not as a psychologist. My first wife, Florence, who died in 1970, knew how much I loved math. She asked, “Wouldn’t you rather be an unemployed mathematician than an unemployed psychologist?” So I started taking math classes at night at Brooklyn College and then got the teaching position there. I worked toward a Ph.D. in mathematics at Columbia University. I got a mathematics teaching job at the University of Detroit and finished my Ph.D. at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Q. How did your Braille math code become an official code?
A. Another blind employee at AFB was Dr. Clifford Witcher, a physicist from Columbia University. One day he asked me if I had a table of integrals in Braille. I said that I had one, but it was in my own private Braille code. So he asked me to teach him my code. When I showed him the code, he really liked it. Dr. Witcher happened to be a member of the Mathematics Subcommittee of the Joint Uniform Type Committee. This committee, an ancestor of BANA, was responsible for Braille codes in the U.S. and England (the word “Joint” referred to the U.S.A. and England).
[Editor’s Note: A table of integrals is a long list of formulas for performing a calculus operation called integration. A table of integrals is part of the holy liturgy for calculus students, engineers, physicists, and many others.]
Q. This really brings back memories for me. When I was a freshman in college, my new friend, David Holladay, asked me if I had a table of integrals in Braille. I told him that my Braille calculus textbook had a table of integrals at the end. He said that he had a much better one in print and wanted to Braille it for me over Christmas vacation. He asked me how the Braille math code worked and spent half an hour taking one page of notes on Nemeth Code. He took my Perkins Braille writer home over the vacation and did a really good job of Brailling his favorite table of integrals.
Anyway, what happened after Dr. Witcher became a fan of your private Braille math code?
A. Dr. Witcher asked me for a document proposing my Braille math code to the Joint Uniform Type Committee. Various members of the Mathematics Subcommittee were supposed to write different parts of the official code. But they ended up using my proposal, with minor editorial changes, as the official code book. That was the Nemeth Code, 1952 edition. It was published by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). In 1956 they reorganized the code book. They made a separate section at the back of the book with all the rules not needed until after tenth grade. They soon realized what a mistake that was. The whole math curriculum changed when the U.S. wanted to catch up with the Russians after the Sputnik launch in 1957. Set theory was moved into the elementary school curriculum, but the set theory symbols were at the back of the Nemeth Code rule book.
Q. If Nemeth Code was proposed to the Joint Uniform Type Committee for the U.S. and England, why don’t they use Nemeth Code in England?
A. I don’t know. At some point the Braille Authority, with only three members, became responsible for Braille codes in just the U.S. Later they added Canada, and it became BANA (the Braille Authority of North America). I think they should add New Zealand and Australia to make it BANANA.
Q. What were the other revisions to the Nemeth Code?
A. APH published two newer editions of the official code book in 1965 and 1972.
Q. Were there any major changes in these revisions of the code book?
A. In 1965 we got rid of a rule about using two spaces to switch between text and mathematics. We also made parentheses more consistent. In 1972 the changes were noticed by transcribers but probably not by anybody else. Since 1972 there have been two addendums, for key caps (symbols for keys on a keyboard) and for ancient numeration systems.
Q. When will the Nemeth Code be finished?A. When will mathematical notation be finished? The purpose of changes is improvement, not changes. Mathematicians are intrinsically lazy creatures. They spend years trying to find an easier way to do things.
by C. Michael Mellor
Originally published under the chapter heading “Music” (pages 79-81) in the book Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius by C. Michael Mellor. Reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher, the National Braille Press Inc, Boston, Massachusetts. <www.nbp.org>
Editor’s Note: The beauty, logic, and simplicity of the Braille tactile dot code was early on adapted for musical notation by Louis Braille himself. The following account of when, why, and how Louis Braille devised this system for the blind comes from Mellor’s fascinating and beautiful biography, Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius. Published in several formats by the National Braille Press, this biography is truly an extraordinary achievement and a must-read for anyone interested in the life of this remarkable inventor. Here is Mellor’s account of that little-known aspect of Braille’s accomplishment--the development of the music code:
Braille excelled in music from the start of his studies at the Institute [the Institut Royales des Jeunes Aveugles], winning the top prize for solo cello in his fifth year. By then, Braille’s reputation as a musician was firmly established. An excellent organist, he played in several parishes in Paris, including Notre-Dame-des-Champs and Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, which had a fine ancient instrument. During summer vacations, he earned pocket change tuning pianos around Coupvray. In 1839, when one of his very capable students was about to leave the Institute with no means of making a living, Louis offered him his own position at Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs.
A Good Ear
The Institute was noted for the high caliber of its music programs, dating back to the time of Guillié. Nonetheless, blind musicians such as Louis were seriously hampered by the lack of a system of musical notation that could be read with the fingers--the same fingers that were needed to play the instrument! Haüy had introduced music to students at the school from the beginning, but his methods shared the same weakness as his raised-print efforts: He simply enlarged and embossed print staves and notes, which proved impossible to read by touch. That left most blind musicians with only two options: either improvise or memorize the piece. “While a good ear is important and improvisation is an excellent talent, a printed score is crucial if a musician, blind or sighted, wishes to adhere strictly to what a composer has written.”
It is indeed a challenge to present written music efficiently to the fingers. To use computer terminology, the sense of touch processes information serially (one bit of information after another), but the eye uses parallel processing. At a glance, the eye conveys to the brain a wide variety of musical information arrayed spatially in print: clefs, staves, time and key signatures, fingering, chords, accidentals, and so forth. With one look, the eye can also detect how notes are to be played: staccato, legato, bowed, plucked, muted, softer, louder, faster, slower, and so on. Louis Braille overcame this challenge with his elegant music code that gave the world’s blind musicians not only better access to a source of profound pleasure but also opened up precious employment opportunities.
Braille’s own students had urged him to find a way to adapt his user-friendly raised-dot system to music. His earliest music code was based on a method devised by 18th century composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), which had been adopted by the Institute to replace Haüy’s system. Yet Rousseau’s music had two very serious defects: It relied on embossed print, and it could not depict the values of musical notes.
Braille first improved upon Rousseau’s method by replacing Rousseau’s hard-to-read embossed print with his own six-dot Braille code. Remarkably, Braille’s simple cell handled all aspects of music without ambiguity.
In 1829, the school published Louis’s Method of Writing Words, Music and Plain Chant by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them, which depicted the musical notes to be sung in Braille dots, while the words appeared in embossed print. This innovation, which applied to singing only, was imperfect, and Braille spent five years reworking it. He revamped the music code entirely and based it on the seven notes that form a musical scale in the Solfège system (in French, ut, re, mi…, in English, do, re, mi…, or notes CDEFGAB). In this way, the seven notes in a scale have the same tactile profile in every octave.
Ingeniously, Louis recycled the Braille letters d through j to represent eighth notes in the musical scale. To make them quarter notes, Braille added a dot 6. To make them half notes, he added a dot 3. To get either whole or sixteenth notes, he added both dots 3 and 6. These dots always identify the note itself; other dots tell the musician in which octave the notes are to be played (or sung), and other relevant aspects of musical notation.
It seems at first confusing that notes on the fourth line can be either whole notes or 16th notes. In fact, the blind musician looks at the values of the other notes in the same measure to determine the value of such a note. To indicate chords, only the fundamental note is written; all other members of the chord are indicated by their intervals from the written note. Octaves are shown “simply by having the notes preceded by a symbol assigned to each octave.” Braille’s music code is perfectly logical--perhaps more logical than print music, where notes assume many different shapes and have a different appearance depending on the octave in which they appear. This means that a sighted musician has many more notes to learn than a blind musician does.
By 1834, he had developed the basic music code from which has evolved the intricate system now used by blind musicians. Unlike Braille’s literary code, which took decades to gain acceptance, his system for musical notation was so superior that it was adopted almost at once. In 1866, a music teacher at the Missouri Institution for the Education of the Blind asserted of Braille’s code, “…for music it is impossible to speak of too high praise in regard to it.”
by Julie Durando, PhD, University of Northern Colorado
Barbara Cheadle, Director of Parent Outreach, NFB Jernigan Institute
Judith Chwalow, DrPH, Director of Research, NFB Jernigan Institute
For the last four years, parents of blind children from all over the country started their November by snuggling up with their child, a brand new Braille book, and their child’s new Braille Reading Pal (a stuffed animal Beanie Baby) as they kicked off the first day in a program to read with their children each day. All of these parents may have started the Braille Reading Pals Program (BRPP) with a shared goal of spending a pleasant fifteen minutes a day reading with their children, but results from surveys answered by parents who participated in the 2007 BRPP revealed that each journey was as unique as each child. Parents reported that the experiences were overwhelmingly positive; however, there were some who faced challenges along the way. Especially in the beginning of the program, just finding fifteen minutes in the day was a challenge for many families. One parent shared this:
“It was hard for me to discipline myself to read every night … I had been doing books on tape and I had recorded stories and things before, but I had never just made myself sit down with the Braille books and go over [read] with them…so it started a year long, well even longer now, habit that every day we read Braille.”
As it turned out, not every child naturally snuggled up with mom or dad with hands eager to explore the Braille as they read. Prior to starting the program one parent reported that the challenge in reading was, “trying to get [her child] to sit still or having something to do with her hands.” But, after the program, she reported that her child participated actively in reading for over twenty minutes at a time. Some of the most touching stories in our study were shared by the parents who experienced challenges. Some of these children had additional disabilities and had once been deemed by professionals as incapable of learning to read. Fortunately, their parents ignored the suggestion and introduced their children to reading Braille at home. We are excited to share that the results of the study found that the BRPP was enjoyable for many, and life changing for some.
Reading storybooks to young child may not be a new idea, but one study on the home literacy environments of children who are blind found that the children in this study who did not have sufficient vision to read print had fewer literacy experiences in their homes when compared to the children in his study who were functionally blind but had enough vision to read print (Craig 1996). This is especially alarming for children who have additional disabilities since they have been found to require an even greater number of literacy experiences due to the additive effect of multiple disabilities on development (Hatton, Bailey, Burchinal, and Ferrell 1997; McCall and McLinden 2007). Reading storybooks to infants as young as eight months old has been found to have a significant effect on development (Karrass and Braungart-Rieker 2005). It is important to note that the child’s actual involvement in the reading activities determines how much the activity will benefit his or her reading development (Justice 2002; Levy, Gong, Hessels, Evans, and Jared 2006).
The Braille Reading Pals Program (BRPP) is a free program sponsored by The National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute in collaboration with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children to promote Braille storybook reading. BRPP targets young children who are not yet reading and includes children who have additional disabilities. The program lasts for two months and participants receive literature with tips about how to engage the child while reading Braille books together, a resource list for print-Braille books, a reading journal, a print-Braille picture storybook, and a reading pal (the Beanie Baby).
The successes and challenges shared by parents during the first two years of BRPP inspired us to conduct a formal evaluation by surveying participants before and after the program. This evaluation focused on the benefits of the program, suggestions for improving the program, and the overall home literacy environments of the children. Finally, the study also aimed to assess if parents of children with additional disabilities needed any extra materials to those already provided with the BRPP, and if there were any differences between the reading experiences of their children and those without additional disabilities.
Teacher and Braille reader Annee Hartzel suggested that the use of a Braille Reading Pal would help make the activity fun and social. The Beanie Baby stuffed animals sent to each child in the program, thanks to Ty Incorporated’s generous donation, turned out to contribute much more to the experience. The BRPP suggested that reading pals should sit with the child only when reading Braille. Therefore, in addition to making reading more fun, it also cued the child that it was time to read Braille. As one parent explains,
“I think [the Braille Reading Pals Program] helped a little in that it introduced a reading buddy animal…so every time we brought that out he knew we were going to read. And sometimes it sparked a ‘no, I don’t want to’ or it would be like, ‘oh okay, I am ready for that, ‘cause his sister could use it or I could use it. It is the one thing that anyone could pull out; he knew it [reading Braille] was coming.”
Three of the parents interviewed were surprised that their children responded so well to the Pal because the child didn’t typically like any toys that were plush, stuffed, or didn’t play music. For some children, the reading pal became an important part of the reading activity. One mother shared the routine that followed her announcement that it was time to read, “[Name of her child] would automatically ask me, ‘Mommy where’s [name of her reading pal]?’ And we’d pick him up and sit in the chair and read together.”
Just as important as the reading pal is the Braille book each child is given with the program materials. Although lending libraries are an invaluable resource, research has found a positive relationship between a child’s ownership of books and reading performance level (Leffert and Jackson 1998). This point was illustrated by a child who had participated in the BRPP for two years. Her mother explained that her daughter’s pre-school did not expect her to learn to read because of her additional disabilities. Believing her daughter deserved the opportunity, she participated in the BRPP and utilized a lending library to provide a literacy-rich home environment. Three years later the child spends most of her school day in the general education classroom and eagerly awaits new arrivals from the lending library, but the books she cherishes the most are the ones she received when participating in the BRPP. Her mother explains that she keeps these books under her pillow, “So at night she gets bored, she gets up, and sits in there in the dark and reads her Pal Braille books, those two. The others [from the lending library] stay on the shelf.”
Responses to an open-ended question asking parents to describe any changes they noticed in their child since beginning BRPP revealed that many children’s interest in reading increased by the end of the program. Some parents noted that their children had shown little or no interest in reading prior to the program. For example, one parent proclaimed, “From the first time he was introduced to the program, he has blossomed and truly enjoys reading and writing.”
The love of reading did not strike every child this quickly. One parent reported that throughout the entire program her child showed no interest in the books she was reading. But, once the program was over and she stopped reading to him, he began asking her to read a book.
Interest in reading was not the only improvement noted. One mother reported her child began to understand the concept of Braille during the program. She explained what he now does when he encounters a book, “First thing he checks is if there is any Braille; like where are the words? So he does notice when something is [Braille]. He doesn’t understand print, but he understands Braille and no Braille.”
Two parents mentioned that their children became more willing to explore the Braille on the page. For children who initially resist exploring books or their environment in general, this is a huge first step in learning to read. Nine parents reported improvement in their child’s reading skills, literacy concepts, and attention span during storybook reading. One parent shared, “He became much more familiar with books and the process of turning pages.”
Overall, 61 percent of the thirty-five parents responding to the question indicated that by the end of the program, they observed an improvement in at least one of the following: reading enjoyment, interest in reading, literacy concepts, or literacy skills. One parent summed up her experience, “Our experience with the program was great… it really clicked with my son and I am so grateful for that!”
The results from this study are being used to improve the BRPP even more. For instance, in response to the suggestion of several participants, BRPP is now a biannual event. So, it won’t be long before the next two-month program starts up again! If you would like more information about the program and some tips on reading Braille with your child, please visit the BRPP <www.nfb.org/nfb/Braille_Reading_Pals_-_Early_Literacy_Program.asp>.
Finally, we would like to thank all of the parents who shared their time and experiences with us during the surveys and interviews; it has been wonderful to be a part of your child’s journey to Braille literacy.
Craig, C. J. 1996. Family support of the emergent literacy of children with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness 90, no 3: 194-200.
Hatton, D. D., D. B. Bailey, M. R. Burchinal, and K. A Ferrell 1997. Developmental growth curves of preschool children and visual impairments. Child Development 68 (October 1997), no. 5: 788-806.
Justice, L. M. 2002. What does the literature say about emergent literacy and children with disabilities? Teaching Exceptional Children 34, no. 4: 9.
Karrass, J., and J. M. Braungart-Rieker 2005. Effects of shared parent-infant book reading on early language acquisition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 26, no. 2: 133-148.
Leffert, S. W., and R. M. Jackson 1998. The effect of the home environment on the reading achievement of children with low vision. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness 92, no. 5: 293-301.
Levy, B. A., Z. Gong, S. Hessels, M. A. Evans, and D. Jared 2006. Understanding print: Early reading development and the contributions of home literacy experiences. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 93, no. 1: 63-93.
McCall, S., and M. McLinden 2007. Teachers’ perspectives on the use of the Moon Code to develop literacy in children with visual impairments and additional disabilities. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness 101, no. 10: 601-612.
by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato
I remember the scene like it was just this morning: my six-month-old daughter sitting in my lap, “reading” Touch and Feel Wild Animal Babies. It was our first board book and my first time reading to my first-born child. I hadn’t yet heard of books for infants with Braille in them so it was just a regular touch-and-feel type book I had picked up in the bookstore the day before.
We got to the smooth dolphin skin and she started moving about excitedly, as if she had made a great discovery. She moved her face to the book to smell the surface she was touching. I just sat there and let her explore the book however she wanted. When I turned the page to the bumpy lizard skin, I thought she was going to fall off the chair with excitement.
It was at that moment that I committed myself to reading to her every night, even though she was blind. It seems so silly to me now that I had that thought back then--what did I mean, “even though she was blind?” What was I thinking? But that’s how it was. I’m not sure I had gained my perspective yet after enduring nearly five months in the NICU, five surgeries, and having her home just a few months after her severely premature birth (and eighteen-ounce birth weight).
Three months later at my request, my Blind Babies Foundation counselor arranged a lunch for me with a woman who had a blind daughter attending Stanford University, just across the Bay from my home. We met at a café in Berkeley so I could ask my ton of questions to a mom who had already raised a blind daughter. I remember Meb walking in with an armful of books, catalogs, and magazines--everything I needed to start bringing books in Braille into my home. It was that day that I signed up with Seedlings Braille Books for Children and ordered my daughter’s first dozen Braille board books (including her favorite Touch and Feel Wild Animal Babies). We were off. We had (thankfully) entered the world of early Braille skills development for my infant, an effort that has paid dividends as she begins to establish more advanced literacy skills at the age of seven.
“She has excellent tracking skills,” I hear at IEP meetings.
“We usually have to work really hard to get little ones to track well but she just does it so naturally,” is another favorite comment I love to hear.
How did we get here? How did we get baby Milagro ready to learn Braille, to track lines of Braille well, and to enjoy writing Braille and reading her own stories?
Here are the things we did at home long before she started formal Braille lessons at the age of three:
Acquired a dozen touch-and-feel and scratch-and-sniff books. Very early on, we committed to the joy of reading with our young child, a joy we didn’t want to miss out on just because she didn’t see the pictures. She very much learned and appreciated the concepts associated with books, page turning, and just enjoying the reading experience. Some of our favorites are published by DK (Dorling Kindersley). They’re available in major book stores and through <www.dk.com>.
Learned the Braille code ourselves. We got some little wooden tiles of the Braille alphabet from a lovely man in Florida. We used them to quiz each other on the code, like a weird form of Scrabble for mom and dad. We attended a one-day Braille workshop for families at the California School for the Blind. We signed up for the free online courses through the Hadley School for the Blind, see <www.hadley-school.org/>. We got the Just Enough to Know Better: a Braille Primer book from The National Braille Press. It contains a large pull-out Braille sheet of the Braille alphabet and Braille contractions. We taped it to the back of the bathroom door. Seeing the Braille code five-minutes at a time is a great way to start. Having an entire book dedicated to teaching Braille to families is a must-have resource. It’s available at <www.nbp.org> or by calling toll-free (800) 548-7323.
We got a Perkins Brailler so we could produce little labels to put around the house when she learned to walk. Our teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) at the local preschool, Sue Douglass, provided this to us and showed us how to load paper, un-jam the machine, etc. Labels we created first were: light, table, high chair, bathtub, door, diaper changing table, drum, doll (taped on forehead), sink, rocking horse, potty, crib, and window.
We simply Brailled them on card stock paper, cut them out, and taped them to the corresponding objects around the house. Some of those labels are still there. I remember Sue telling me, “It’s important that she not only touch the Braille around the house, but that she begins to associate the bumps with meaning.” As she went to the sink to wash her hands, we took a moment to show her the Braille label, run her fingers over the word, and say, “sink.” Eventually, she started echoing the word back to us. After that she would approach the tag herself to ‘read’ it. This was a very important thing that we did for her and I highly recommend it. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to ask a TVI [or a Braille-proficient blind adult from the Federation] to create the labels for you. They can usually do this on special adhesive labels that stay up longer than our paper versions.
One tip: get Dr. Penny Rosenblum’s color-coded sheet and use it to code the keys on the Brailler. It makes writing so much faster for us sighted parents. Additionally, it’s a terrific way for siblings and friends to be able to easily type their names, notes for the blind child, and so forth. We’ve used this since 2007 and wish we’d had it earlier. It’s available by e-mailing Dr. Rosenblum at <email@example.com> and asking for her “Beginning Braille Competencies” handout (from the CTEVH conference) containing the Braille Alphabet sheet for color coding.
If you can’t get a Perkins Brailler, there is always the trusty low-tech slate and stylus. It fits easily in your purse and lets you make quick shopping lists with your toddler. This way, she can enjoy shopping with you and touch Braille with a purpose. (This gets even more fun when kids get older and can read the shopping list to you.) We got ours at the NFB store when we visited NFB headquarters in Baltimore. You can buy them online at the NFB Independence Market at <www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp>. If you want to start writing with the slate and stylus immediately, get the one-page reference sheet designed specifically for this purpose. It’s inside The Braille Trail: An Activity Book by Anna Swenson and Frances Mary D’Andrea at AFB Press: <www.afb.org/store/product.asp>. I still keep copies of this reference sheet with my slate and stylus in my purse because it’s so portable.
We got the Braille Book Bag from National Braille Press that contains Braille magnet letters, books, a booklet, and many other items. Our Blind Babies Foundation counselor arranged this for us and it’s been a great Braille toy set and resource for our family. Of course siblings and visiting children also inquire about the Braille on the magnetic letters so it’s quite the conversation piece. See <www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/readbooks/index.html> for more information.
We introduced our child to Perkins Panda and his books and music. Our Blind Babies Foundation counselor brought the complete Perkins Panda collection produced by the Perkins School for the Blind into our home when Milagro was about eighteen-months old. It included books, tapes (narration and music), and a large stuffed toy bear named Perkins Panda. It was a great way to reinforce body parts with a stuffed toy bear that has many different textures on his body, that are all matched within the Perkins book called Belly Button. Today at the age of seven, she can read many of the words in these books herself. She says “I love you Perkins Panda” and sleeps with him. See <www.perkins.org> for details.
Started bringing Braille board books into our home. Seedlings Braille Books for Children and the Braille Institute in Los Angeles have been our primary resources. Both give away Braille books for free on a regular basis in addition to maintaining catalogs from which we order. Seedlings has their Anna’s Angels program: <www.seedlings.org>; Braille Institute has their Dots for Tots program, see <www.brailleinstitute.org> or call toll-free (800) 272-4553 for details. There are others as well. Most of the Dorling Kindersley Touch-and-feel books mentioned earlier are available with Braille labels from Seedlings too. The important thing to us is that we committed to reading with our child every night. We have three children now and made the same commitment to each of them.
All of this effort paid off for us on the last day of kindergarten as the class showed off their newly acquired reading skills. On that day, in her general education classroom, Milagro stood up and read “The Bumblebee,” a favorite poem, in front of her entire class of peers and their parents. The cheers from the audience when she finished and the smile on her face are priceless memories for me. Not only was it fun to watch, but it was validation that all those early actions we took at home were indeed valuable to get her started down the path of literacy.Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, MIM, is a mother of three, a global technology marketing professional, a published writer and speaker, a military veteran, and an advocate for her daughter Milagro. Together with her husband, she created the DVD called Letting Your Child’s Wild Side Out: Raising the Wild and Confident Blind Baby, Toddler and Preschooler. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached through the Web at <www.babymilagro.org/dvd>.
by Zena Pearcy
Editor’s Note: Zena and her husband, Jeff, are both blind and also the parents of a twenty-three year old blind son, Wayne, who is a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. They have been active members and leaders in the Federation since the late 70’s. Currently, they live in Louisiana where Zena works for the Louisiana Center for the Blind, a rehabilitation program run by the NFB. Here is Zena’s Braille story:
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-opthalmia. 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 60s and 70s. 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 “A-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 Brailling 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.
by Marla Palmer
Published under the original title “Print, Braille, or Both? Exploring the many options for literacy in children with albinism,” in the Spring 2007, issue of Albinism InSight. Reprinted with permission of the publisher and the author.
Editor’s Note: Marla Palmer is the president of the NFB’s parents’ division in Utah. She helped organize and get the division off the ground about a decade ago when her daughter was just a baby. The division is now one of the most active in the country, and is known and respected throughout the state as the premier authority and voice of parents of blind children. Readers may recognize Marla’s name from past articles she’s contributed to Future Reflections. Two years ago Marla sent a letter to the national office of NOAH, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation. To her surprise and delight, she was told that she could submit the letter as an opinion piece for publication in Albinism InSight. She did, and it was published in the Spring 2007 issue. When considering the article for this special issue, I asked Marla if she could give me an update to publish with her original letter. Specifically, how was her daughter doing with her Braille? Did NOAH make any changes in response to her letter? Here’s what Marla says about print or Braille for her daughter:
It has been ten years since I learned that our oldest daughter, Megan, was diagnosed with ocular albinism. Our second child, Adam, followed several years later and he too was born with albinism. NOAH has been a great resource, especially in their early years, and I make it a routine to visit <www.albinism.org> to keep up on current issues that may be related to my children.
Both children are mainstreamed into a public charter school so I was recently reviewing the “Students with Albinism” section of the Web site. I came upon the question that perked my interest: Does My Student Need Braille? The response on the Web site reads, “Probably not. Most students with albinism have sufficient vision to use standard text, even if they need to use large print text or low vision aides. If your student with albinism is having difficulty reading print or tires of it easily, look into books on tape as an alternative.”
I have to admit I was surprised at the belief and attitude NOAH’s leadership has taken toward Braille. I feel that it’s one thing to take a position or give an opinion that most children with albinism will not need Braille (which I don’t agree with), but the statement on your Web site could easily mislead parents about educational requirements.
The law clearly states that any visually impaired children not receiving Braille legally need to have an evaluation on file demonstrating why it is not needed now or in the future. This was addressed in the IDEA reauthorization of 2004: Section 614 (d)(3)(B)(iii) (B) Consideration of Special Factors.
These educational laws were not created based on the myths that Braille is “on its way out,” bulky, too hard to learn, outdated, or not readily available. These bills have been mandated because Braille has proved to be a valuable alternative and appropriate reading medium for many individuals with low vision.
It is common knowledge that large print and assistive devices can help a child with low vision read with more ease. Unfortunately, when enlarged print becomes more of a hindrance than help, it is often brushed aside with excuses or justification due to misconceptions, stigmas, or negative attitudes toward Braille and/or blindness.
If large or magnified print is too slow and laborious to read, look at an alternative. If it takes your child two or three times longer to complete an assignment compared to their sighted peers, look at an alternative. If reading print becomes more of a chore and is not enjoyable, look at an alternative. If your child goes to the public library to find a book he wants to read and ends up empty-handed, look at an alternative. If eyestrain, headaches, neck pain, and poor posture become an issue, look at an alternative. If your child has to stay up late to memorize a speech that was intended to be read or comes home with an ink stained nose from his paper, look at an alternative.
Audio resources, as suggested on the Web site, are an alternative, but plain and simple, it is not literacy. Listening to a book on tape is enjoyable for some no doubt, but there is nothing like the freedom and ability to read. Braille is a viable, available, and alternative choice.
Both of my children have sufficient vision to read standard print, use large print text in class, are trained in using assistive devices, listen to books on tape, and read Braille. We have never felt that because they do one, they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do the other. Print has been easier for my children to read from preschool through second grade because the print has typically been larger in these grades.
We have already seen the positive affect Braille has had on our oldest child who is now in fourth grade. When it was communicated that her history book was backordered in large print and would not be available until two months into the school year, Megan opted to receive a Braille copy that was readily available.
Megan has given presentations where she has been able to sit upright and give eye contact because she was reading Braille. There have been many times that Megan has gone to the library to locate a specific book she was interested in, only to go away frustrated that the print was too small. Her reading material was being limited to what was available in large print. Her choices have increased significantly because she now has the ability to download books into her electronic Braille notetaker and read at her leisure.
I admit having my children learn Braille as an alternative means to reading print has not been smooth sailing. It’s taken extra time and effort, communication and collaboration with our IEP teams, and a lot of patience and creativity. With that said, I don’t regret our decision. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, “look outside of the box,” and provide opportunities and skills that can ultimately have a positive impact on your child’s education, confidence, and independence.
UPDATE--Marla Palmer, March 16, 2009
It’s been almost two years since the article was published in the Spring 2007 Edition of Albinism Insight. Although NOAH continues to be a great resource and support for parents with children with albinism, after recently searching their Web site, I was surprised to see that their site continues to publicize insufficient information. Under the Teachers of Students with Albinism section is still a link to the question: Does my student need Braille? The answer on the Web site continues to read, “Probably Not. Most students with albinism have sufficient vision to use standard text, even if they need to use large print text or low vision aides. If your student with albinism is having difficulty reading print or tires of it easily, look into books on tape as an alternative.” (See <www.albinism.org/faq/students.html#Anchor-Does-37516>.)
The position NOAH takes toward Braille is beyond disappointing. I am aware of many families who have children with albinism who are battling to have Braille written into their child’s IEP. Having a national organization support the opinion that students only need large print, low vision aides, and audio, does not help their case. I would urge the adults, parents, and doctors on NOAH’s board to take a closer look at the underlying negative attitudes towards Braille and be a support rather than a hindrance on this important literacy option.
Megan is now a sixth grader and continues to be a dual reader. She uses print regularly and receives Braille instruction. Megan hit a plateau during fourth and fifth grade, consistently reading Braille between 40 and 45 words per minute on a cold read. After some encouragement (and parent bribery), Megan set a personal goal this year to read a minimum of thirty minutes of Braille every day. During the months of September to December Megan missed a total of three days and her fluency and speed jumped to 70 words per minute. From December to February, she jumped to 90 words per minute. Megan recently participated in Utah’s Braille Challenge and took first place overall in her division. She is bound and determined to reach her personal goal of 125 words per minute.
President, Utah Parents of Blind Children (UPBC)
North Salt Lake, Utah 84054
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
Editor’s Note: Readers may recognize Stephanie’s name; she has contributed several excellent articles to Future Reflections. As the article below demonstrates, she is a passionate advocate for her daughter and for Braille literacy; but she doesn’t stop there. As the founding president of the Georgia Parents of Blind Children (GA/POBC), and as a member of the national board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, both affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind, Stephanie is a tireless advocate for all blind children. Here is her description of what can happen when everyone on an education team gets excited about Braille and buys into the Federation philosophy about high expectations for blind students:
When visitors walk through the doors of my daughter Kendra’s school, one of their first impressions must be that they have just entered a Braille-rich environment. A quick glance around the school reveals the Braille numbers on the doors, the class list in Braille outside the classroom, the enlarged print version of the Braille alphabet on the kindergarten classroom walls, the large collection of Braille books in the library, the selection of Braille books alongside the print books in the classroom, the Perkins Brailler readily accessible in the classroom, the tactile school map outside the teacher of the visually impaired’s (TVI’s) door, the Braille numbers added to the side of the school bus, and the Braille on the cafeteria keypad that the children use to pay for their lunches. If the visitors were to spend some time in Kendra’s kindergarten classroom, they might also observe that both the general education teacher and special education teacher have learned enough Braille this year to be able to interline some of Kendra’s work and that, with the help of a chart, they produce short passages in Braille for her. [Interline refers to writing the print equivalent below or above the Braille text.] They would see that the classroom para-professional has been trained to use the Brailler. They might notice how it seems to be second nature for both the adults and other children to identify themselves by name when they speak to Kendra, or how the children take turns verbally describing the pictures in a story that is being read to the class. The overall impression upon leaving the school would most likely be that they had just observed an example of what mainstreaming or inclusion was meant to be.
We all want to find a school environment where our children will feel welcomed and fully included. We know how wonderful and capable our children are, so why is that sometimes not immediately apparent to the school? It can be scary for administrators to hear that a blind child wants to enroll in their school, particularly if they have never had a blind student. Through this article, I hope to provide some concrete examples of what worked for Kendra so that these ideas can be implemented in other classroom settings as well.
When Kendra was three years old, we enrolled her in a private Montessori school. Although she had a wonderful TVI and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor, we grew to feel that this particular classroom environment was not best for her. After two years in the private school, we placed her in a public pre-kindergarten program. This current school has preschool, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten classes in which typically developing students and students with disabilities work together in integrated skill level settings. They also offer more structured settings in self-contained classes. Luckily, Kendra has been able to continue to work with the same TVI and O&M instructor for the past four years. I think the familiarity helped tremendously when the transition was made from one school to another. Both women have been staunch advocates for Kendra, often going beyond what might be expected of them. Kendra’s TVI, Dr. Laurel J. Hudson, has done an incredible job of educating the teachers and other students about blindness and about ways to make the inclusion model work efficiently and effectively. Much of the training Dr. Hudson has done is based on her book, Classroom Collaboration.1
The remainder of this article will highlight specific things that were done to make Kendra’s kindergarten experience such a successful one.
Toward the end of Kendra’s pre-kindergarten year, her TVI expressed her reservations to me about the Promethean Activboards which were being installed in all the kindergarten classrooms. These are interactive whiteboards which are not particularly blind-friendly. To get around this limitation, Kendra’s teachers add sound effects and screen reading as often as possible so that she can participate in lessons taught on the Activboard. They worked out a system so she can use the stylus to mark items on the board, just like the other students. Kendra loves the Activboard and often tells us about the stories she has heard on it during the day.
As in many kindergarten classes, one wall of the room is decorated with the print alphabet and pictures of objects or animals starting with each letter. What’s different about Kendra’s classroom is that the enlarged simulated Braille version of each letter is also included. One of Kendra’s teachers told me that if she forgets how to form a Braille letter, she just glances over at the wall.
Standard tactile Braille can be found throughout the classroom. The cubbies have the children’s names in Braille above them and the “word of the day” that the children read from an index card as they exit the room is in both print and Braille. The Perkins Brailler is accessible to Kendra at all times in the classroom. Even when Kendra has been out sick, her TVI has often gone to the classroom to let the other children write on the Brailler. The children are so accustomed to hearing the Perkins that during a listening game, when presented with the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter, one of the boys raised his hand and identified it as a Brailler. The children are also accustomed to the soft “punch” sound of the slate and stylus. When Kendra’s TVI is in the classroom, she will often write down for Kendra what’s on the board using the slate and stylus. Key words from various subjects that are written on the Activboard are Brailled for Kendra for each subject chapter.
The bookcase of leisure reading materials in the classroom contains both print and Braille books. The Braille selections are Twin Vision® books which contain print and Braille on the same page. Kendra’s classmates enjoy looking at them and have even checked Twin Vision® books out from the school library. The school librarian did an incredible job of acquiring Braille books over the past two years. She applied for and received grants to purchase a sizeable collection of titles.
Students and teachers outside of Kendra’s class are exposed to Braille as well. Last year, for Louis Braille’s birthday, Kendra’s TVI created a large exhibit about Braille which stood in the school lobby for the first week of January. She also added Braille to many teachers’ ID cards that week, and wrote Braille on the daily teacher’s sign-in sheet. During a unit on the sensory systems, the TVI consults with all the kindergarten classes, lending her kit of extracts for the students to smell, Brailling the names of all the students in the rooms, showing them a Brailler, some Braille books, and other Braille products.
In order to structure the flow of materials, Kendra’s classroom teachers organized a series of bins, including work for the TVI to Braille/adapt, work which the TVI has adapted/Brailled and is now ready for Kendra to use, and work Kendra has completed that is ready to be interlined. Kendra uses an array of different materials and adapted Braille text for each section of the instructional day. Kendra’s general-education teacher turned a divided shelf unit into each section of the school day to keep Kendra’s materials organized and easily accessible. For example, Kendra’s Picture Maker and other math manipulatives are in the math section. Brailled text and raised diagrams for science lessons are in the science section. There is also a filing system above the bookshelf where classroom teachers leave Brailled material written by Kendra for the TVI to interline, and for the TVI to return to teachers to grade once interlined.
Extracurricular Activities and Field Trips
For the past two years, Kendra has participated in a tap/ballet class at her school one afternoon a week. Very few adaptations have been needed. I did ask her O&M instructor to observe one week to see if she had any suggestions for keeping Kendra in one place during some of the routines. Apparently Kendra believes that one’s feet should be moving constantly during a dance class. The dance class provides a way for Kendra to meet children outside of her own kindergarten class. It’s also a good opportunity for the other children to see that a blind child can do the same things they do.
As a kindergarten student, Kendra became eligible to join her school’s Daisy Girl Scout troop this year. Even before the first meeting ever took place, the Daisy leader contacted Kendra’s TVI for suggestions on how to best include Kendra in the troop activities. The leader and TVI check in with each other every few weeks. When the other girls took home their Girl Scout pledge to learn, Kendra took home her copy in Braille. Instead of having a piece of paper to color at the start of the meetings, Kendra uses Picture Maker. The Daisy troop leader, like Kendra’s classroom teachers, makes a point of adding sound to anything they do on the Promethean board. Kendra enjoyed planting spring bulbs with her troop outside the school and, although she wasn’t thrilled about participating, she went caroling at a nursing home with the other girls at the holidays.
Kendra’s kindergarten class has participated in two field trips this year. Prior to each trip, Kendra’s TVI contacted the venue to discuss ways to make the trip more meaningful for Kendra. The first trip was to see a puppet show. At the school’s request, Kendra was allowed to go onstage before the show to explore the puppets and was told about the loud noises that would occur during the show. Kendra still has some fear of loud or unexpected noises so the warning was helpful to her. She also sat next to a teacher during the show so she could hear a verbal description of what was happening onstage. The second trip was to an art museum. Again, the school contacted the museum in advance, to be sure that it was accessible to Kendra. All of the students wore headsets so they could hear a commentary as they toured the exhibits, and in addition, Kendra was given miniature models of the pieces in the exhibit so she could explore them tactually while the other children were visually looking at them. Kendra’s TVI sent the museum the NCAM Web site, so they could know how to verbally describe the event. She also Brailled the printed brochure which was handed out to all the students, including many of the tactile-graphics.
Kendra’s TVI, general education teacher, and special education teacher went on a “field trip” of their own this year. They decided to attend the Dialog in the Dark exhibit together. Blind or visually impaired guides lead the guests through a series of darkened rooms which are meant to simulate everyday experiences. The teachers felt it would give them a greater appreciation of the way Kendra experiences things.
Members of our family automatically state their names when approaching Kendra. It has become such a habit in our house that Kendra’s two-year-old brother introduces himself to everyone and everything (“Hello cat, this is R.J.”). I’ve observed the same courtesy from Kendra’s classmates and from teachers passing Kendra in the halls at school. This didn’t come naturally to the children (or to the adults, for that matter) but Kendra’s teachers were so consistent in doing it that the children gradually learned by example. The other children have also learned appropriate ways of assisting Kendra, when needed. For example, recently, when Kendra wasn’t sure where a particular table was, a classmate tapped against it to provide an auditory cue for her.
At the beginning of the year, Kendra’s teachers provided a great deal of social information. For example, at lunch they might tell Kendra who is seated on either side and across from her, or what various children were having for lunch. As the year has progressed, this type of information has been filled in more and more by the other children. The older they get, the more Kendra will ask for information and the better the other children will get at providing it. Information about what the other children are doing has been particularly helpful on the playground. Left on her own, Kendra is much more likely to either choose a solitary activity or to choose an activity with one other child, such as playing on the tire swing. However, if someone tells her that three of her girlfriends are playing a game, she is more likely to join in.
The teachers make a point not to single out any child in the class when providing corrections. Kendra occasionally sits with her head down towards her chest. If the teachers notice this, they make a general comment to the class about how all the children should be sitting up straight.
When Kendra was a baby, one of my biggest concerns was whether she would make friends. We have always tried to encourage play dates (with blind and sighted friends) and we have a tradition of inviting every classmate to Kendra’s birthday parties. Kendra’s birthday is towards the beginning of the school year so inviting all her classmates, plus their parents, gives us a chance to meet and get acquainted. I was very touched at her last birthday party with the thought that went into choosing the gifts and cards. She received Braille books, Braille card games, and Braille birthday cards from her friends. Her best friend also decorated a box and included several items she thought Kendra would enjoy feeling or hearing (sea shells, cotton balls, a small music box, etc).
Kendra’s TVI collaborates with the teachers to provide multisensory approaches to instruction. For example, a flashlight and blow dryer were used to represent the sun in a science lesson on how the earth’s rotation causes day and night.
Art projects are adapted in a meaningful way for Kendra, such as using pipe cleaners and star stickers to create a constellation. The school’s art teacher always provides art materials, such as tissue paper or foam stickers, to make each art project meaningful for Kendra. The art projects are designed for process rather than product. Kendra enjoys her art classes so much that she will often ask to do a project at home. It’s not unusual for her to request an odd assortment of items from me for some project she’s planned.
All classes at Kendra’s school receive weekly sessions with a speech therapist. The speech therapist sends materials to the TVI to be adapted on a weekly basis. The class often follows a recipe with the speech therapist and Kendra’s copy is always available to her in Braille. Kendra’s TVI will often pre-teach a lesson to Kendra after meeting with the teachers/therapist to find out what they will be covering. The advance planning also gives the TVI an opportunity to provide any adapted materials that may be needed.
We firmly believe the key to Kendra’s successful inclusion in school has been the ongoing communication between her general-education teachers, her O&M instructor, her TVI, and her parents. Kendra’s TVI and teachers are in contact with each other every day. My husband and I have been made to feel very much a part of Kendra’s “team” at school and any suggestions we’ve made have been listened to and respected.
As Kendra’s parents, we made clear our expectations. The following language was included, at our request, in Kendra’s most recent IEP:
Kendra’s parents wish to emphasize that they expect their daughter to develop in an age-appropriate manner. Their goal for their daughter is full inclusion in her school, her community, and her extracurricular activities. They request that Kendra be challenged academically and that those who work with her understand their expectations should not be lowered because Kendra is blind. Her parents would like to offer themselves as resources to the teachers and school staff and request that communication be open and ongoing.
Next year, Kendra will be transitioning to a new elementary school for first grade. The school has a partnership with her current school and shares many of the same characteristics we’ve liked, such as the co-taught inclusion classrooms. We have already started having conversations with teachers and administrators there, Braille books are being ordered, and Kendra has one O&M lesson a week at the new school to familiarize herself with it before school begins in the fall. We are hopeful that we will have a smooth transition and a successful year.
1 Laurel J. Hudson. Classroom Collaboration (1997). Perkins School for the Blind: Watertown, MA.
Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway would like to thank and acknowledge the members of “Team Kendra,” in alphabetical order: Ms. Peggy Echt (special education teacher), Ms. Elizabeth Hall (O&M instructor), Dr. Laurel J. Hudson (TVI), Ms. Tania Meek (para-professional), and Ms. Mary Kaye Moore (general education teacher).
Editor’s Note: After I read the delightfully informative piece from Sister Elaine about “Braille: What It Is and What It Is Not,” I had the inspiration to ask her to include a bulleted list of how St. Lucy supports Braille for its students. Established in 1955, St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments is a Roman Catholic school for blind children in Philadelphia. The list below, I’m told, is just a sampling of the many ways that Braille is embedded throughout the school’s programs. It might be instructive for you--our readers--to use this list and conduct your own ‘compare and contrast’ analysis of how your state school for the blind and visually impaired ranks in supporting Braille literacy. Here’s how St. Lucy supports Braille:
From Sister Elaine: St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments supports Braille literacy on every level ranging from theoretical to practical, academic to recreational, and required to inspirational.
This is not an exhaustive list of our support for Braille literacy, but I think it demonstrates on which side of the issue we stand.
by Ramona Walhof
Editor’s Note: Ramona Walhof’s credentials and experiences as a leader, a teacher, a mentor, a mother, and Braille expert are legion. A long-time national and state leader in the Federation, Walhof has a special passion for Braille. When she sent me the following article, she expressed some concern that readers who knew little to nothing about the Braille system would not have the necessary background to follow her argument. However, I think there is enough information included in this issue about Braille--including a simulated print Braille alphabet on page 10--that I don’t think that will be a problem. Here is what Ramona says about writing with a slate and stylus:
Backwards means awkward and wrong. A backward somersault is harder than a forward one. Wearing clothes backwards is wrong. Only someone who is incompetent wears clothes backwards. Walking backwards is difficult, for the sighted because they cannot see where they are going, and for the blind because it is hard to use the cane or dog. If you are traveling south, you do not say that north is backwards. North is opposite from south, but not backwards.
If something is correct, it is not backwards. You can spell a word backwards, but it is wrong. You can count backwards, but that is not the normal way. A car can move backwards, but you do not drive it backwards. You put it in reverse and back it up.
For all these reasons, I submit that you do not write Braille backwards with the slate and stylus. When you write with the slate, you start at the right side of the line and move across the page to the left. You still spell the words the same. You still form the letters the same. Dots 1, 2, and 3 are on the first side of the cell as you write it, and dots 4, 5, and 6 are on the second side of the cell. To read that line, you turn the paper over and begin reading from left to right. The words are still spelled the same when you read it as when you wrote it. Dots 1, 2, and 3 are on the first side of the cell as you read it, and dots 4, 5, and 6 are on the second side. Anyone with this information and knowledge of Braille can readily understand how to write with the slate and stylus if they have not been confused by someone saying it is backwards. Yes, you push the dots down onto the paper with the stylus and, yes, the dots point up when you turn the paper over to read it. That is normal and obvious. Nobody says you write upside down, and you don’t.
The next question is: Does it really matter? And I submit that the answer is yes. It matters a great deal. In the Federation, we use the word “alternative” to describe the set of special techniques used by the blind. Independent travel with a white cane or dog guide is an alternative technique; using the computer with Braille or voice output is an alternative technique; and Braille itself is an alternative technique. We object to calling these techniques “substitute,” because that connotes inferiority or an abnormal approach. Granted, the techniques are not always perfect. Computer access for the blind lags behind access for the sighted. There isn’t enough material available in Braille. You cannot read signs with a white cane or dog guide. Yet they are excellent techniques. Using them, blind people can truly compete on a basis of equality with the sighted. I submit that using the term “backwards” is far worse. Not only does it smack of inferiority, but also of difficulty and confusion.
How many times have you heard a teacher say to a Braille student that he or she must write backwards with the slate and stylus? How many times have you heard teachers and students say writing with the slate and stylus is difficult? Could there be some correlation?
How many times have you heard sighted people say how difficult it is to write with a pen or pencil? No. They complain about poor penmanship. They choose to use computers to write lengthy documents. But they don’t complain that writing with a pen or pencil is hard because it isn’t.
I submit that learning to write with a slate and stylus is easy.
If you are sighted and have a slate and stylus handy, try a simple test. Find a copy of the Braille alphabet* (in real Braille dots, not simulated print dots) or have someone write one out for you on an index card. Turn it over so that the dots face down. Begin at the right-hand side of the card, and write the print letters below the Braille ones. (You can see the impression of the dots from the back of the page just as well as from the front.)
You now have yourself a guide you can use to write a Braille note with a slate and stylus to a Braille reader. Just remember to start at the right-hand side of the paper and move progressively to the left as you write. You have to develop some dexterity with the stylus and some new muscles in your wrist and arm. This comes with practice. I recommend that young children start with a board slate instead of a pocket slate. (For some children, the hardest part is gaining skill in moving the pocket slate down the paper.)
Today most people do not need to write out long items with the slate and stylus. This is a fact. Nevertheless, the skill can be invaluable. It is the only Braille-writing device that has the same portability, flexibility, and affordability as a pen and pencil. When away from home, all of us need to jot down a note from time to time. Just as the pen and pencil are not likely ever to become obsolete, the blind person who can use the slate and stylus is more flexible and often more competent than the one who cannot.
The teacher who feels that teaching the slate and stylus is difficult or not worthwhile conveys this attitude to his or her students, whether the students are children or adults. Let’s put this attitude behind us. A first step can be to stop describing writing with the slate and stylus as writing Braille backwards. This terminology is neither accurate nor helpful.
So if writing Braille with a slate and stylus is not backwards, is it difficult? For many children and adults, it is not. I taught myself to write with the slate and stylus in one day when I was seven-years-old. I understood the process, and it just wasn’t hard. I had been reading Braille for a year and wanted to write it. My older brother (who is also blind) had a slate and stylus, so I took it and used it. Often sighted children begin writing in very much this way. When they are coloring or scribbling, they attempt to make letters, and some of their letters are recognizable. At age seven, my letters were largely correct. This would also be true of most sighted children printing their letters at age seven.
Most blind children do not have the opportunity to pick up a slate and stylus and play with it or practice writing when they feel like it. Why not? The tools are not expensive. You can buy a plastic slate and stylus from the NFB Independence Market for just $6.00 (plus shipping and handling costs, of course).
There are lots of ways to discourage people from learning and using Braille. We know Braille has been underrated ever since it was invented. Could it be that the slate and stylus has not yet reached full acceptance, even among many who think they have dropped all prejudice towards Braille?
FREE Slate and Stylus
In honor of the bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), a division of the NFB, is offering a FREE plastic slate and stylus to the first twenty-five parents of blind children who respond to this notice. Send your request by e-mail to Nadine Jacobson, president NAPUB: <firstname.lastname@example.org> or call her at: (952) 927-0259.
Order a Slate and Stylus:
Plastic and aluminum pocket slates, board slates, and a variety of other specialty slate and styli are available to order from the NFB Independence Market. You can order online, by phone or fax (with a credit card--VISA, MasterCard, or Discover), or you can request a catalog. The Independence Market is available to take calls at (410) 659-9314 extension 2216 during regular business hours, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. The fax number is (410) 685-2340 and the Web site link is <www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp>.
*FREE Braille Alphabet Card:
Individual copies are available from the NFB Independence. See contact information above.
by Carol Castellano and Dawn Kosman
Editor’s Note: The following article is a partial reprint of the math chapter from the book, The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child by Carol Castellano and Dawn Kosman. It has been one of the hottest selling books at the NFB Independence Market since it was originally published by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) in 1997. At $12 plus shipping and handling, it is also a bargain. The book may be ordered online at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp> or by calling the Independence Market at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216. (When you call, be sure to also ask about Castellano’s most recent book, Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School.) We have indicated in the text below where we have omitted graphics, illustrations, and the examples of simulated Braille and print math problems. We also omitted the Nemeth Code cheat sheet which is in the book. Here’s how Carol and Dawn explain the fundamentals of doing math in Braille:
Nemeth Code is the system of writing math in Braille. It was developed by a blind professor of mathematics, Dr. Abraham Nemeth, to make it possible to write any kind of mathematical notation, even the most complex, in Braille. Nemeth Code contains Braille symbols for every possible kind of mathematical and scientific notation. All math in Braille math books is written in Nemeth Code.
Nemeth Code numbers are shaped just like their literary counterparts, which blind children generally learn first, so the Nemeth numbers are easy to recognize and read. The Nemeth numbers, however, are formed using the lower part of the Braille cell, dots 2, 3, 5, and 6.
The Nemeth Code Cheat Sheet at the end of this chapter explains how to write the math signs your child is likely to encounter in elementary school. [Note: This sheet has been omitted from this reprint. It is, of course, available in the original book.]
Getting Started with Numbers
Children will be introduced to literary numbers first, but they need to be familiar with reading and writing both literary and Nemeth Code numbers by the end of Kindergarten, so that when they begin addition and subtraction (which will be written in Nemeth Code in their math books and worksheets), they will be ready.
Children can begin learning to recognize numbers as preschoolers. If you feel your child is ready to learn numbers, you can make flashcards for him/her. Here’s how: Mark the top of each card with a line of Braille g’s so the child will know which way to hold the card. Then Braille both the literary and Nemeth number on the card. Use the number sign (dots 3, 4, 5, 6) before the numbers; there is no space between the number sign and the number. Write the number in print above the Braille.
A number line taped to the child’s desk in school can also be useful. A number line for literary numbers can be made with a Braille labeler (Braille labelers can only form literary numbers, not Nemeth numbers). To write Nemeth numbers, you can use the labeling tape attachment for the Braillewriter or a slate with slots for labeling tape. You can also Braille the numbers onto regular Braille paper or a self-stick plastic sheet, such as a laminating sheet, rolled into the Braillewriter. Cut off the strip of numbers and attach it to the child’s desk.
Just as there are many skills that lead up to reading, there are also readiness skills that lead up to a child’s being able to add, subtract, and perform more complex math operations. Learning to recognize the numbers and to count are important readiness skills, but in addition, your child will need lots of experience with other concepts:
Give your child lots of practice. For example, make up number games. Count out the forks for dinner together--”One for Mommy, one for Daddy, one for you, one for Brother;” or when you’re cooking together, say, “Give me one potato and two carrots;” or as you are playing, say “I’ll put two blocks in the container; you put three in.”
Count many things around the house--how many barrettes are in the container, how many cups are on the table, how many toy cars are in the basket, etc. You can also work with Unifix Cubes, a wonderful math teaching aid available at educational toy stores that can be used to introduce or practice many math concepts. These interlocking cubes will stay put when the child stacks them. They are color coded and can easily be tactually coded, too, with small pieces of self-stick felt, cork, plastic, foam, Velcro, and Wikki Stix.
Beginning Addition and Subtraction
After your child has learned to read and write the numbers, he/she will begin adding and subtracting. At this point, the Braille teacher and the classroom teacher will be in very close contact. (Many teachers schedule a regular weekly meeting time in which to exchange information.) The classroom teacher will alert the Braille teacher to the new concepts and skills that will be coming up, so that the Braille teacher can teach the new Braille signs--such as plus, minus, and equals--to the blind student before the lesson is introduced in class. In this way, when the classroom teacher teaches that lesson, the child will be familiar with the new signs and will be able to read them.
Braille users usually learn how to set up both horizontal and vertical math problems on their own papers as soon as this kind of problem is introduced in school (usually first grade). (Print users at this point are usually only writing in the answers on their workbook pages and do not begin writing out problems on their papers until a good deal later.) The Braille teacher will teach your child an efficient method to follow in setting up math problems and a reliable method for keeping the fingers in the correct column when adding numbers with two or more digits.
As your child becomes used to setting up and working problems using the methods taught, he/she will begin to work faster and faster. The steps involved will become automatic. Soon your child will have a quick, efficient method that produces accurate, correctly spaced, neat work. Early work of this kind also prepares your Braille user for setting up problems in higher math--algebra, geometry, calculus, etc.--later in life.
Other Beginning Math Concepts
When your child is learning to tell time, he/she can use a tactile learning clock and raised-line clock faces on paper, which are available from the American Printing House for the Blind. You can also purchase a teaching clock from an educational supplies store and adapt it for tactile use. Braille the numbers 1 to 12 using a Braille labeler; use self-stick Velcro to mark the five-minute (hour) lines; use small snips of Wikki Stix for the other minute lines.
Blind children have no particular difficulty learning geometric and fraction concepts. These concepts, however, may be difficult for a beginner to grasp using only the raised-line drawings that appear in Brailled math books. It is better if the child can hold and examine geometric shapes and fraction pieces.
Sets of geometric shapes and various kinds of fraction kits are available from the American Printing House for the Blind and in educational supplies stores and catalogues. The fraction pieces can usually be adapted with Braille labels. If possible, supply your child with several kinds of fraction kits--fraction pies, fraction bars, etc.--so that he/she can experience fractions expressed in various ways, just as sighted children do.
What Do Math Examples Look Like in Braille?
As you look at your child’s math work, you will see that math examples in Braille look very much like their print counterparts and are easily recognizable.
Some of the skills your child will learn as he/she begins to do math on paper will be specific to Braille:
The layout and the actual figuring of the math is EXACTLY THE SAME AS IN PRINT!
[The subsections in this chapter on Writing Horizontal Problems, Writing Vertical Problems, and Long Division have been omitted. For specific instructions along with simulated Braille and print examples, see the book Bridge to Braille, pages 101 -105.]
Must My Child Write Out All That Math?
As mentioned earlier, print users in the early grades generally write their answers right onto their workbook pages. They do not begin to write out the examples on their own papers until whatever year their math book series switches to hardcover books. In contrast, Braille users are usually taught to write out the examples on their own papers starting in first grade.
Writing Answers onto the Workbook Page
There are several reasons why Braille teachers recommend that blind students learn how to set up the examples on their own paper right away, instead of Brailling the answers onto the Braille worksheet. If a page is removed from the Braille workbook, it needs to be trimmed evenly before it will go into the Braillewriter smoothly. Squashed Braille can also be a problem. Although it is possible to roll the Braille math page into the Braillewriter, there is usually not enough space between rows of examples for the child to Braille in the answers. The answer for one problem often ends up looking like a number to be added into the problem below! Also, it can be difficult, especially for a beginner, to align the embossing head of the Braillewriter in exactly the right position under the example to be worked. For all these reasons, Braille teachers usually recommend that the child learn how to write out the examples.
This means that the first grade Braille user will be doing work that is a little more advanced than his/her print-using classmates, but by third or fourth grade, when the print users are also writing out their examples, the blind child will be comfortable with the skill and able to do it quickly.
If the child is going to write in the answers on the workbook page, someone will probably have to prepare the pages for the Braillewriter by evenly trimming the left edge. For an older student who can handle a binder, someone could trim the pages, punch holes on the left, and place the pages in order in a three-ring binder for the child to use independently.
Using an Answer Sheet
Another way to handle math is to use an answer sheet. However, using an answer sheet also requires more advanced skills than the average first or second grader is expected to have. Using an answer sheet might work well for older students, but it has two main disadvantages for young children. First, it is difficult for a young beginner to keep track of which example he/she is on in the book, especially if only the rows, and not every example, are numbered. To work successfully with an answer sheet, the child must be taught an efficient method for keeping the place. This could be done with a small piece of Wikki Stix (the child places the piece of Wikki Stix under the example being worked) or with the Stokes place holder (a metal board is inserted behind the page the child is working on; the child places a small magnet just below the example being worked).
The second disadvantage to using an answer sheet in the early grades is even more important. In first and second grade, children are learning about the ones column, the tens column, and the hundreds column. They are just learning that the columns in the example have a relationship to the columns in the answer. Seeing these relationships is especially important when two-digit adding and subtracting is introduced and when the class learns to do addition and subtraction with “regrouping” (your child’s school might call this “trading,” “renaming,” “carrying,” “borrowing,” or some other name). Using an answer sheet does not allow the child to see these relationships. If the child is unable to see the problem as a whole because the example is on one sheet and the answer on another, it might interfere with his/her understanding of the concepts. Although writing out the whole problem might take longer at first, it does ensure that the child sees the problem as a whole.
While the young Braille student is still learning how to set up math examples on paper, the Braille teacher may suggest that he/she set up only three or four examples and then read the rest and dictate the answers to the teacher.
Using the Abacus
Another method for handling math work is to use the abacus. Sometimes the abacus is introduced as a fast way to compute without writing the whole problem out. However, since modern math teachers emphasize the process by which students derive an answer and not just the answer itself, they often want to see the students’ work written out. (For a full discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the abacus, as well as for instruction in “The Paper-Compatible Abacus,” see Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students.)
The Bottom Line
Whatever method is decided upon, it is essential that your Braille user get the same experience with doing math that his/her sighted classmates get. It is also extremely important that he/she learn efficient, reliable systems for doing the math. As the child gets older and becomes more proficient at doing all kinds of schoolwork, he/she will decide which way to do the work, sometimes choosing to write out the problems, sometimes using an answer sheet, sometimes writing in the answers on the workbook page, sometimes using an abacus, and usually using a great deal of mental math. Flexibility is important. Evaluate and reevaluate the situation frequently and teach the child to do that, too. Give the child the tools to do the work in various ways and eventually he or she will decide which method is best for the task at hand.
Should the Workload Be Cut Down?
Sometimes Braille teachers suggest cutting down the number of examples the blind child will be responsible for. They say this based on the idea that it takes much longer to do math work in Braille. You might hear such statements as, “We generally suggest the work be cut in half for Braille students,” or “Assign just the even numbers or every other row.” Sometimes teachers say, “If she has demonstrated that she understands the concept, she shouldn’t have to do every example.” Unfortunately, this point of view often translates into lowered expectations for the blind student.
Many students can demonstrate an understanding of the work long before they finish every example. But this is true for sighted children as well as blind children. Blind students need and deserve as much exposure to the work as sighted students get. If the rest of the class is expected to complete the entire assignment, the blind child should do it, too. The goal is for the blind child to participate fully and equally in class.
Braille users are just as capable as print users at getting the job done! It may at times take a Braille user longer to complete certain assignments, but in general, the Braille user can handle the normal volume of work, especially if he/she has been taught efficient methods for doing the various tasks. Think about the future--in order to hold a good job, your child will need to be able to complete the work assigned!
If a child is taking an excessive amount of time to complete assignments, of course his/her general well-being must be taken into account--time for play and relaxation is important, too. You might find that it would make sense to shorten certain assignments for a time. Look at the whole situation. Try to make a good decision. And work at getting your child up to speed!
by Gary Wunder
Editor’s Note: Gary Wunder is a long-time national and state leader in the Federation. He is the secretary of the national board of the National Federation of the Blind, and the president of the Missouri state affiliate. Here’s what he has to say about the critical role Braille plays in his Information Age career:
All of us who love and promote Braille have heard more times than we can count how Braille is no longer as important as it once was because of technology. This always strikes me as unfortunately uninformed given how technology has created for me a job where Braille is particularly useful and necessary.
I work for the University of Missouri Health System writing programs for the computer and documents for the people who use them. In whatever I do, spelling and syntax is critically important. If my documentation is poorly written, a comma out of place or a period where I should have used a semicolon, people have a harder time understanding my meaning. And if I make a syntactical error and try to feed it to the computer, occasionally the outcome is misunderstanding and results which differ from what I expect, but more often what I send is simply rejected with a cryptic error message which, in essence, says “No way--try again.”
So how does Braille differ from speech when it comes to finding errors in syntax? Consider the following lines--how they sound, and how much easier they are to dissect and analyze using print or Braille versus speech:
@array = ““;
@array = split (/|*/,$record);
$ar.ctr = “-” . $ar_ctr . “/2”;
Forget one semicolon and everything else in your program following it is ignored. In the example above where you see two quotation marks together, a null string is inserted. Put one or more spaces between those quotation marks and the field is no longer a null string but contains data - spaces. When later you check that field, what you wrote above will determine whether the computer thinks this is a field which can be ignored or which requires more processing. Leave out something as simple as a left or right brace and the logic you have built to say “Thank you for your prompt payment,” can easily turn into “This is your fourth notice. Please remit your payment immediately or we will be forced to send your statement to an agency for collection.” That brace can cost you a customer, and too much of that kind of mistake will cost you a job.
Here’s another scenario where Braille really shines but which is harder to explain. Let’s say that you know there is an error somewhere in the program you have written, but nothing comes to your mind that you can enter on the keyboard to find it. Not all errors are conveniently marked with the words “***** Error: Please correct the following line ***** .” Instead, one has to read through pages of information looking for anything that seems wrong--this is the situation we find ourselves in when we say “I don’t remember his name but I’ll know it when I hear it,” or “I can’t define offensive behavior, but I’ll know it when I see it.”
What I will find may be a space before a closing parenthesis, a comma not followed by a space, or a left bracket where a left parenthesis was required. It isn’t that a speech synthesizer can’t be made to say every punctuation mark and every space, but it takes far longer to listen to this detailed information than it does to read through it in Braille or print. And where working for money is concerned, one must not only be able to do the job, but do it efficiently enough that he can compete with others.
In my job, not only must I write and test programs, but I must also be able to show “the powers that be” how my programs work, answer questions, and incorporate suggestions into the final product. This means making presentations before programmers, project managers, and eventually doctors and hospital administrators who are the people--in my job, anyway--that I must ultimately satisfy in the first place. Braille provides my outline. Braille is the thing which lets me listen to the question with my ears while simultaneously searching for the answer with my fingers. I have two ears but I can’t really listen to two streams of speech. Luckily I can take in information from my ears and my fingers without one interfering with the other.
For me the existence of the Braille code is a very important tool in my arsenal. Could I survive without it? I’m a resourceful fellow and I probably could find a way, but one must understand that where reading and writing are concerned, Braille is to the fingers what print is to the eyes. Spelling, syntax, subordination through indentation, and the critical placement of material are all intuitive with Braille and print. The Frenchman who developed this code never saw or probably even conceived of the computing machines we have today, but his work puts food on my table, makes me a part of a team seeking to provide timely and affordable health care, and lets me answer the most frequently asked question a man between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four encounters: “What do you do for a living?”
Thank you, Mr. Braille, and thank you to those who transcribe books into Braille, those who invent the technology to reproduce it, and finally a thank you to all the passionate advocates who work so very hard to communicate the absolute imperative that blind people have a way to read and write in the Information Age.
by Lauren Merryfield
Editor’s Note: Lauren lives in Marysville, Washington, with her three cats: Gabrielle, Maryah, and Meriwether Lewis (Lewie). She is a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, and the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. Lauren is vice-president of the Sno-King chapter of the NFB/WA.
When Louis Braille devised his reading/writing system as a teenager, he undoubtedly meant for all blind persons to use it in everyday life. Because Braille was different from print (and many people fear anything that is different), it did not catch on during his lifetime.
Still today, there is often a problem with Braille catching on and its worth being recognized. Many children and adults who could be reading and writing it are not doing so and they are missing out on its usefulness and fun.
I wasn’t quite five years old when I began to learn Braille in kindergarten. I remember hammering away on a black Hall Braille writer: A, E, A, E, etc. I was too young for it to occur to me to be ashamed of Braille; instead, I was excited to learn to write and I looked forward to learning to read.
Back in the 1950s, when I was just learning to read, there was a shortage of Braille textbooks. My second-grade teacher had me and another student write down all of the short-form words and contractions; thus I learned the entire English Braille Literary Code by age seven. That was one smart teacher. She accomplished two things at once: teaching us the system and having two copies of the Braille chart available for other students to use.
Later on, I learned Braille music (which Louis Braille also invented); however, I did not practice enough to make good use of it. I learned music quickly by ear so that has remained my preference.
Though I was not at all gifted in math, I did learn the Nemeth Code for Mathematics. I can’t imagine how lost I would be trying to do math problems using only computer speech.
When I was older, I was exposed to British Braille, Spanish Braille and computer Braille. Though each code had some differences, much of it was basically similar. I had hours and hours of Spanish instruction in both high school and college. Eventually I was able to read Spanish poetry, with a dictionary handy. I have not kept up with Spanish and would now be reading the dictionary more than the poetry at this late date. Therefore, I know what it is like not to put some aspects of Braille into everyday practice.
Although I have not learned Grade Three Braille, I devised some of my own short cuts. Probably no one else would be able to read my class or meeting notes, but they work for me.
I believe the reason Braille has been so fun and useful to me, and many other blind persons, is that we practice it every day of our lives. Just as it is important to practice learning and continual use of print, the same is true for Braille.
I am reminded of a quotation regarding the television: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.” (Edward R. Murrow, Speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, 1958.)
The same goes for Braille; it is only as useful as we allow it to be. If you who are reading this article are not up to snuff in your use of Braille, all you really need to do is find as many ways to practice as you can until it comes naturally to you.
I have refreshable Braille on my computer because synthetic speech and spellcheckers do not pick up everything when it comes to proofreading. Unless the speech program mispronounces a word, I probably am not going to stop to read each character to see how a given word or name is spelled. An example I came across the other day proved to be enlightening. In the subject line of an e-mail the name sounded to me like Allison T. Carr. Imagine my surprise when I read my Braille display and discovered that the woman’s name was actually Alysson TeCarr.
Another example came into my inbox sounding like “doll larger auctions.” Again, I was surprised to read, in Braille, “dollar girl auctions.”
Imagine trying to read poetry by someone such as E. E. Cummings using only speech. Much of his poetic style was in odd placement of words, among other interesting characteristics.
It is much easier to read back phone numbers, addresses, and other information to others using refreshable Braille (the Braille dots move up and down electronically so that one reads a line at a time). By using refreshable Braille, I am able to retain the good spelling skills that I acquired as a youngster while learning to read Braille.
We all know, however, that computers can crash, so I have a Braille rolladex of phone numbers and other important information on my desk. I carry a Braille notetaker with me but I have discovered that it is important to keep some vital information in hard-copy Braille since the technology can become problematic.
Since I am a published writer, I have used Braille for writing stories and poetry. I am writing this article using a combination of computer speech and Braille. I could come fairly close to a perfect copy using speech; however, I would not be as certain as I am when I read with my fingertips, as Louis Braille intended us to do.
No one asks anyone to list all the uses for print, though there are many. The same is true for Braille. I know that if I interviewed many blind persons, I could gather an unending list of uses. Instructors need to know it well enough to make it useful in everyday settings for their students. Both the fear and stigma surrounding Braille need to be dealt with head-on if it is to endure.It is fascinating to think how a six-dot cell with sixty-three combinations could be so important, useful and fun for blind persons everywhere. As we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth, it has seemed appropriate to honor him by reflecting on just how important Braille can be every day of our lives. I hope that those of you who are reading this will honor Louis, and yourselves, by elevating Braille to its rightful place in your own lives and the lives of those you love. Perhaps you could take this phrase with you: “Braille every day in every way!”
“I have a student who is transitioning from print to Braille. If he could exchange letters with another Braille reader I think that would greatly motivate him to learn.”
“My 12-year-old daughter is the only blind child in her school. She would very much like to correspond with another blind girl her age who may share some of her concerns about fitting in.”
“Ever since my son read about Louis Braille he has been fascinated with the Braille system. He wants to find a blind boy his age (ten) so they can write Braille letters back and forth. Can you help us?”
These are only a few examples of the Slate Pal requests we receive throughout the year. Slate Pals is a program for children in grades K-12 that matches students who want Braille pen pals. The program is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and is available, free of charge, to children around the world.
Slate Pals enables children who are blind to correspond with one another in Braille. It also finds blind pen pals for sighted children who are interested in learning the Braille code.
Slate Pal requests have come to us from all fifty states and most of the Canadian provinces. We have also received requests for Slate Pals from many nations overseas, including Taiwan, South Africa, Denmark, Hungary, Uganda, El Salvador, Germany, Australia, and Great Britain. In matching Slate Pals the primary considerations are age range, gender, and interests. We also try to match each prospective Slate Pal with someone who lives in a distinctly different geographic locale.
If you have a child or student who would like one or more Slate Pals, please complete the enclosed form. Send the form in print or Braille or via e-mail to:
Debbie Kent Stein
5817 North Nina Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60631
Phone: 773-631-1093 * Fax: 773-792-8245 * E-mail: email@example.com
BRAILLE SLATE PALS
A Pen Pal Program for Braille Readers and Students Who Want to Learn Braille
Name:______________________________________________ Age:________ Grade: ____
Male Female (Circle one)
State______ Zip __________ If not the USA, Country ____________________________
E-mail: ________________________________________ Phone: ______________________
Parent(s) name and address if other than above:________________________________
I would like (fill in number) _____Slate Pals.
I would like my Slate Pals to be (fill in age range) ______________
I would like my Slate Pals to be (circle one): male female both no preference
Check one of the following:
[ ] I am blind/visually impaired. I use Braille regularly at school and at home.
[ ] I am blind/visually impaired. I read some print but am shifting to Braille.
[ ] I am sighted and would like to exchange letters in Braille with a blind Slate Pal.
(Please Print) Name of the person filling out this application, signature, and relationship to the child/student:______________________________________________
Debbie Kent Stein
5817 North Nina Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60631
Phone: 773-631-1093 * Fax: 773-792-8245 * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bonnie Lucas
In the spring of 1967, I was ten years old and finishing the sixth grade at the California School for the Blind in Berkeley. It was the last day of school, the talent show was over, and everyone anxiously awaited the final dismissal words from the principal, Mr. Tuttle. I was barely listening when I vaguely heard him say something about giving a Braille writer to the best intermediate student in the school. When I heard the word “intermediate,” I tuned him out because to my friends and me, intermediate referred to the students who were about junior high age but were not on grade level. Then I did a double take. Why, he was saying my name, “Bonnie Owens.” I jumped up, screaming with jubilation, and dashed from my seat on the front row up onto the stage.
Mr. Tuttle had announced that someone named Miss Heloise from the Perkins School for the Blind was giving the Braille writer to the most outstanding student in the school. The words, “Sent with love--Heloise,” were inscribed on the top of the Braille writer inside the depression where the handle lies when it’s not being carried. Though I do not remember exactly who this great woman was, I do remember the joy that was in my heart that day. I knew students whose families had purchased Braille writers for them, but for my family, making such a purchase was out of the question. I am sure there was not even one Braille writer in my hometown of Blythe, a rural farming town in the hot desert of California, located on the Colorado River. How excited I was to think that now, during the long summer days while hanging out at my dad’s insurance office, I could write lengthy, drawn-out letters to my girlfriends using a Braille writer instead of a slate and stylus. For me, summers were pretty boring; they consisted of spending day after day at my parents’ insurance office with my brother and sister. Though I loved reading books (which I did much of the time) and watching television, having a Braille writer meant I could write as well as read.
Over the years this Braille writer proved to be a tough machine. Each year when I left for school, I had to leave it behind (my mother would not let me take it with me). So, every summer when I returned home, I would happily wipe off layers of dust and shake out the Cheerios and small toys contributed by my little sister and the myriad of kids that my mother babysat. It always worked as well as ever, and I would quickly get busy writing important letters and “documents.” One summer I used it to make a record of the high temperature each day (Blythe is famous for having very high temperatures in the summer).
When I started ninth grade, I was able to live at home as a mainstreamed student in my local school. My Braille writer took on the important role of taking notes as my mother read chapter after chapter of books that were not available to me either on tape or in Braille. Occasionally, I took it to school to use in my algebra class. I also continued to write lengthy letters to my friends in the California School for the Blind that I had left behind.
When I graduated from high school, my trusty Braille writer came with me to Utah where I attended college at Brigham Young University. I began keeping a journal and consequently have a number of binders full of journal entries from my college days. In one class, I wrote a 60-page autobiography. Whatever I wrote in Braille that needed to be handed in for my classes, I would read line by line and then type it into print with my manual Underwood portable typewriter, a machine my mother purchased for me with her lovingly collected Blue Chip Stamps.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I looked for over a year for a job without success. So, I took some classes to become a medical transcriber. In the eventual job that resulted, I used both my Braille writer and my slate and stylus to write endless numbers of medical terminology cards for the huge Rolodex that contained spellings and definitions of the countless words I needed to have available to perform my typing job.
Not feeling content with being a medical transcriber forever, I applied to graduate school and was accepted into the Master of Social Work program at the University of Kansas. Again, my trusted Braille writer came along. This time, it was employed as the best rough-draft writer known to man. Oh, the papers I wrote with it! The process went something like this: Once I had selected my topic, I would meet a reader (a live person that I employed to read to me) at the library. We would begin by finding research articles which the reader recorded on tape. Then, using you know what, I would take notes on the taped material. Next, I would Braille the rough draft. After I had my Braille draft copy, my next step was to personally record the entire paper, speaking as clearly and concisely as possible, including all the punctuation, and spelling out difficult words. Finally, using a transcribing machine, I was ready to type my paper from my recording. (While working as a transcriber, I had purchased an IBM Selectric correcting typewriter. Man, I really thought I had joined the world of technology with that baby!) The very last step in the process was to hire a proofreader who was good at putting the paper back in the typewriter and aligning it to fix any mistakes I had inadvertently made.
All of this happened over twenty-five years ago. During the years as full-time wife and mother, my Braille writer has served our family well. It is the appointment scheduler, phone directory creator, “to-do” and grocery list maker, the recipe writer, the Tupperware party list compiler, entertainment for my children, and much, much more. My four children are nearly raised and yet this Braille writer still resides in my home. It is not stuck in a closet gathering dust either. Lately, its time is spent on the desk of Aubrie, my twelve-year-old who is also blind. Though its life is rather leisurely at this point (mostly helping Aubrie with her math) it is always available in the event of a modern technology crash. Who says heirlooms have to be jewelry or furniture? Hmm, I wonder if it is time to give it a name--any suggestions?
About the Author:
Editor’s Note: Bonnie is active in the NFB parents’ division, but that’s about all I knew about her before she submitted the whimsical piece above. After reading her article, I was intrigued and wanted to know more: did she ever use her degree and work outside the home? How did she get involved in the NFB? So I asked her. Here’s what she said:
My parents had no experience with blindness or blind people as far as I know. They waited to send me to the blind school until I was six because it was hard for them to send me away. At the blind school, I was paid $8 each month for making beds for the younger children. Unfortunately, that was the last time I worked until after graduating from college. My parents did not encourage me to do much outside of my home, but I did plenty of things at the blind school.
After completing my MSW, I spent another fourteen months looking for work. During those months, I met my future husband (at church), and by the time I found a full-time job, we were engaged. I quit that job the day my first child was born.
I went back to work part time when my first two children were very young. My mother-in-law managed an agency which provided home health care and nursing home support. At that time, nursing homes did not have to hire fully qualified social workers but their social work designees did have to be supervised by certified social workers. So, I worked for my mother-in-law as a supervising social worker. I often took my children with me, and Grandma (my mother-in-law) took them around to visit and entertain the residents while I did my work. That job worked well for me until the state changed the regulations.
I did not join the NFB until I was nearly fifty. I thought I didn’t need it; in fact, after leaving the blind school, I had very few blind friends. I began to reconsider that decision after my youngest daughter, Aubrie, was born blind. Then we moved to Utah and I met Norm Gardner. He challenged my opinions about the NFB and encouraged me to do my own research about the organization. I did, and realized that much of what I believed about blindness was the same as the NFB philosophy. Although I’m not a failure, I would have done many things in my life differently had I been involved in the NFB. I decided I wanted Aubrie to have the opportunities and ingrained philosophies that the NFB could give her. I believe she is well on her way to making the NFB a part of her life’s plan.
Today, three of my children are grown and out of the house. Aubrie is my last child at home, and I am in the process of determining what I should do in the next phase of my life. I am leaning toward either teaching blind children or becoming a rehab teacher to work with the ever increasing population of adults losing their vision.When I think about the NFB, I am so grateful for the Utah members who encouraged me and became my role models. I am proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
by Jolene C. Wallace
Editor’s Note: The following article is adapted from a research paper that Jolene Wallace, a 25-year-plus veteran teacher from Montana, wrote a couple of years ago for a class at Stephen F. Austin State University where she was pursuing a master’s degree as a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). For the research project, she used the NFB’s Braille Is Beautiful curriculum. I talked to Ms. Wallace when she called the NFB office to order the materials. Intrigued by her research proposal (and excited that she wanted to use Braille Is Beautiful), I asked her if she would share her results with us, and she did. Her paper is very timely for this issue, and also because we are launching a new look for the Braille Is Beautiful program with updated resources and better-than-ever pricing for diverse budgets. A description of the program with information about prices and how to order it follows this article on page xx. Here, now, is what Ms. Wallace has to say about the value of teaching the Braille code to sighted students:
Sharing the Braille Code with Sighted Children:
Key to Dispelling Misconceptions about the Blind in Elementary Classrooms
Many elementary classroom teachers after reading stories about blind people such as Helen Keller and Louis Braille in their reading books, have students simulate what it is like to be blind by wearing a blindfold while attempting to walk or eat. This kind of activity results in pity or sympathy for a blind or visually impaired classmate and only reinforces the many misconceptions about the ability of the blind and visually impaired to live and learn. Additionally, it instills fear about losing vision. The purpose of this study was to identify misconceptions and knowledge about the blind in third, fourth, and fifth graders before and after a series of five lessons on the Braille code. The students were shown a video from the National Federation of the Blind’s curriculum Braille Is Beautiful, given instruction on the Braille code, and the use of a slate and stylus. They also read excerpts from two books about real blind people. Following the five sessions all classrooms showed a positive attitude change about what blind people can do, and an overwhelming interest to continue learning and practicing the Braille code.
As a result of IDEA and changing philosophies about how best to educate children with special needs and challenges, public schools have an increasingly varied population of students. Students with different cultures, socioeconomics, abilities, and challenges are all present in most classrooms. Even the publishers have started putting stories about people with disabilities and people who have overcome challenges and difficulties into their reading curriculums. The blind have not been left out. After all, there are some amazing historical people to write about; Helen Keller and Louis Braille are inspiring and familiar examples.
In the Macmillan McGraw Hill Reading 2005 series used in the school where I teach, the fourth grade basal reader has a story called “Mom’s Best Friend,” by Sally Hobart Alexander about the loss of her guide dog. The fifth grade reading curriculum has a supplementary book about Helen Keller to go along with the story about Wilma Rudolph, an Olympic runner. Both stories are well done, inspiring, and illustrate that vision loss does not prevent a person from being a productive and fully functioning member of our society. However, the teacher-designed activities following each of those stories are not always as positive and inspiring.
In one common and popular activity, teachers have students simulate what it is like to be blind with a blindfold. Some teachers call the activity a ‘trust walk.’ Wearing blindfolds, the newly blind student is paired with a ‘sighted’ peer on the playground and encouraged to explore the halls and playground without the tools and training given to successful blind and visually impaired people. The artificially-blind student is told to trust that their newly appointed sighted guide will not walk them into a door (or worse). This not only enforces the common misconception that blind children and adults need the sighted to navigate their way through the world, but puts the students in an unsafe situation.
One teacher, with a blind student in her fourth grade class, displayed pictures that her class painted while under a blindfold and had them write essays about what they would miss if they were blind. The paintings looked sad and the essays painted a dark and even sadder picture of loss and loneliness as the students contemplated a life without vision. Had these essays been shared with the blind student in that classroom, and did she share the feelings of loss and loneliness? Did the paintings have any meaning to the blind student? For the sighted students it only confirmed the misconception that loss of sight could result in loss of creative expression.
All of these teachers are experienced and kind-hearted. These activities were designed and conducted with the best of intentions: to experience blindness and develop empathy or understanding. Unfortunately, activities like these do not allow students to truthfully experience blindness. The positive message presented in the literature the students read is forgotten as the teacher-designed activities confirm the misconception that a world without vision is as confusing and dismal as the paintings and essays displayed outside that fourth grade classroom. David Kappan (1994) writes “It is reasonable to presume that teachers who have been involved in these activities may frequently have a tendency to expect less of their blind students.” Teacher expectations and attitudes regarding the blind are unavoidably and inevitably passed on to their students, resulting in fear, pity, and a distorted image of the blind and their varied abilities.
Misconceptions and Expectations
In numerous education studies--those done not only with the general education population but also with learning disabled students, disadvantaged students, and minority students--the number one predictor of success is high teacher expectations. That is just as true for blind and visually impaired students.(Madrigal, Spring 2005) Misconceptions held about vision impairments by even the most well-intentioned teachers and administrators can severely limit expectations, opportunities, and experiences for blind students. Misconceptions and low expectations affect every aspect of their education from deciding if they should attend a residential versus neighborhood school, if they should learn Braille or not, need the help of a paraprofessional, should use a cane, be excused for recess early, or even have an escort to the bathroom. The educational decisions that are considered for sighted students, such as enrichment classes and screening for inclusion in gifted and talented programs, are rarely discussed with parents of blind and visually impaired students. There is no right or simple answer for many of the educational debates over the education of our visually impaired students. “What blind children lack is not access to services, but access to high expectations.” (Schroeder, 2004)
Unfortunately, low expectations and misconceptions are passed on to the blind student’s peers as well. Blind or low vision students are not included in a classmate’s birthday adventure or sleepover, for fear it might be dangerous or uncomfortable. Visually impaired students may be excluded from art, library, or movie presentations because it has been decided that, without vision, they wouldn’t benefit from the lesson. They miss out on the gossip with friends because a para is assigned to keep them safe. Classmates may have been told to be careful around the ‘blind kid’ in the hall, lunchroom, and playground, thus resulting in isolation. Blind students who rely on Braille don’t have a shared literacy with their peers. They may have a different or older version of a textbook, recreational reading is limited to what can be found in Braille or in audio versions, they miss the opportunity to write notes that are passed under desks out of sight of the teacher. The result is the continuance of low expectations from not only teachers, but now the child’s peers as well. The misconceptions that may have lead to the low expectations are now passed on to a new generation.
Blindness is a low incidence disability. Consequently, many people don’t know anyone who is blind or has a vision impairment. Most of us have not been in class with a blind student nor had a blind coworker. Misconceptions about the blind are present in movies, books, stories, and gossip. They are based on ignorance or presumption and are often generalized to include the entire blind and visually impaired population. It is important to identify common misconceptions, dispute or correct those if possible, and brainstorm ‘what if.’ Some misconceptions may seem silly or obvious when stated; others require more thought, research, or experience. Activities seemingly dependent on vision--skiing, mountain climbing, and hunting--have all been proven possible. Following are some commonly reported misconceptions and statements compiled from writings of blind children, blind adults, and from parents of blind children. Some may seem silly and others may challenge your own ideas about blindness. Consider these statements:
If you can see colors or light or anything, then you are not blind.
Blind people have better hearing than sighted people.
Blind people will feel bad if you use words such as look and see.
Blind people cannot live alone, unless they have a dog to help.
All blind children need special schools, special classrooms, special buses, paras, etc.
It is too costly to educate blind children in the public schools.
Braille should not be taught if there is any useable vision.
Blind people need to accept their limitations.
Blind people get depressed easily.
Blindness is: a punishment, a blessing, a lesson that must be learned…
If they can read, they don’t need that white cane.
Teaching Braille to Sighted Students
Elementary age students, with hope, imagination, and the high expectations of the young are often the first to explore ways to overcome the challenges faced by vision impaired students. The fascination with Braille that is almost universal (especially with children) can be a beginning step in establishing respect and allowing a way to share literacy. Teaching sighted students Braille in the classroom is one way to establish the foundation that vision impaired children and adults can share the same interests and participate in the same activities as their sighted peers. It provides a way to identify and address misconceptions that the students may have about vision impairments. For the vision impaired student in the class, it can offer a chance to take a leadership role, practice social skills, and answer questions that classmates may have about him or her in a safe and comfortable environment. With the support of the child’s parent or TVI, it is an easy, nonjudgmental way to educate the classroom teacher as well.
Consider my dream of the ideal elementary classroom for a blind student. I imagine two Braillers on the counter along with a box of slates and styli not just for my blind student to use, but for the class to use as well. I see a large wall chart on the wall for sighted children to use to ‘decode’ the Braille code. I can imagine the teacher reminding students who wish to study their spelling for the week during free time that they can use Braille to practice the words if they wish. I see a note in Braille being passed hand to hand to my blind student telling her to meet her friends at the swing. When it is one of the VI student’s turn to be ‘student of the week’ the teacher tells the students they will need to write a short sentence in Braille telling my student what they like about her. When it is math time, and my blind student is whispering with her friends, the boy next to her quietly turns her Braille book to the correct page, because he can read the page number in Braille. This is how I imagine that with a little effort and instruction, Braille could be more than a novelty, but a shared mode of literacy. The sighted students would know just enough to allow the Braille reading student a way to share literacy with them.
The Braille Is Beautiful Curriculum
The Braille Is Beautiful curriculum, is a project of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). It is designed as an introduction to Braille for sighted fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classrooms. The authors of the curriculum have allowed for a great deal of flexibility in using the curriculum. Full use of the curriculum is estimated to take anywhere from six hours and forty minutes to nine hours and twenty minutes. It could be done in two weeks or extended over the school year.
[NOTE: A current description of the Braille Is Beautiful program and a list of the materials that come in it follows this article on page xx.]
I used portions of the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum to teach a series of five lessons on the Braille code, while at the same time introducing information about blindness, famous blind people, and compensatory tools and skills used by blind and low vision people.
Nine classes from a Missoula, Montana, elementary school in grades three, four, and five participated in a series of five lessons on the Braille code. There were a total of 205 participants of which 110 were boys and 95 were girls. Only one of the participants, a fourth grade girl, was visually impaired and had any Braille training.
Each of the nine participating classes was given five lessons on the Braille code over a period of four weeks. Some classes had three lessons in one week while others two lessons in one week. The lessons took place in the class’s homeroom with the classroom teacher present for the majority of the lesson. Each lesson lasted about forty-five minutes and started with a story and discussion lasting about ten to fifteen minutes and was followed by a brief lesson and demonstration about the Braille code. The last fifteen to twenty minutes were spent decoding Braille words and phrases and producing Braille using a slate and stylus.
The class was given a pre-test from the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum that asked them to answer true or false questions about blindness. After the pre-test was collected, the class was asked to brainstorm what they thought about being blind. Their answers were recorded on large chart paper. The class was then shown the movie Jake and the Secret Code from the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum. Following the movie we reviewed and talked about what we had recorded on the chart paper. I passed around some Braille books, including a program from the Rose Parade in Braille, some slates and styli, and explained that I would be back to teach them the Braille code in a couple of days.
Upon arriving I gave each student a folder in which to keep the information on Braille that they would be getting during the next four lessons. I also passed out a word printed in SimBraille on the computer (Appendix 1) and asked the class if they could read it or if a blind person could read it. We talked about SimBraille versus embossed Braille. The class was asked if Braille was a code or a language. Following a brief discussion on codes versus languages, the NFB Braille alphabet cards were passed out to each student. They were told to use the card as the ‘decoder’ or key to decode the word that they had been given. If they decoded it correctly they discovered it said, Braille. In their folders was an information sheet about Louis Braille from the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum to follow along with as I told the story of Louis Braille. After the story, I shared some basic rules and language about the code, beginning with how the Braille cell could be described. Looking at a Braille cell I explained that the dots could be numbered to describe which dots in the cell needed to be raised to form a letter. The first side has 1, 2, and 3 and the second side had 4, 5, and 6. So the letter ‘b’ could be described as ‘dots 1 and 2.’
I also talked about describing the cell as first side: top, middle, bottom, and second side: top, middle, bottom. Using that method, describing the cell for letter ‘b’ would be ‘first side: top and middle.’ I also explained that all letters are formed with embossed dots in position 1 or 4 (or both), so when looking at the symbol for the letter c, they knew it would have to be made with dots 1 and 4, not dots 2 and 5. I also introduced the number sign and explained that numbers could be made with the letter symbols a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, and j, but they needed to have the number symbol in front of it.
Before leaving, I gave three assignments. The first was to paste the SimBraille word on the cover of their folder. Second they were to use the sheet with the large empty Braille cells to color the dots to form the Braille shapes that would spell out their name and glue that to the front of the folder. And finally to construct their own Braille ‘decoder’ for all the alphabet letters and the numbers using the worksheet from Braille Is Beautiful. They were told that it was important that they think about how Braille letter shapes are constructed. Think about what dots were on the first side, what dots were on the second side, and the position (top, middle, bottom), rather than trying to tie it visually to the printed letter or thinking about it as opposite to another shape. This would help when we began to use a slate and stylus in lesson three.
By my third visit all of the students were anxious to start producing their own Braille. I began again with a SimBraille sheet for them to decode. This sheet had the names Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller on it. Handing out the information sheets on Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, I told them about Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller, and a little bit about the history of Braille in America and about BANA--the Braille Authority of North America. I demonstrated the Perkins Brailler and demonstrated the slate and stylus, reminding them that they needed to really think about how the Braille shape was made using the ‘first side, second side, top, middle, bottom’ language. Slates, styli, and Braille paper were passed out and they were given free rein to play and practice. After fifteen to twenty minutes of practice, the slates and styli were collected and The Get the Idea Student Instruction Book from the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum was distributed along with a packet of worksheets from the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum for them to decode until I returned for the next lesson.
I began lesson 4 by reading a beautifully illustrated book called Looking out for Sarah.(Lang, 2001) Based on a real Sarah--Sarah Gregory Smith--who along with her guide dog, Perry, walked from Boston to New York. Following the story we discussed what a guide dog did and how to tell if the dog was working. We also talked about how even though Sarah was blind, she still kept her job as a musician, dancer, and volunteer cook and was able to participate in other activities such as sports. Continuing on with the Braille lesson, I introduced how individual letter shapes in the Braille code can stand for certain words, such as k for knowledge and b for be. I also introduced some punctuation and the capital letter sign. The slates, styli, and paper were passed out and the students were again given the opportunity to practice what they had learned and to work on another packet of SimBrailled words and phrases from the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum.
Our final lesson began with the book, Do You Remember the Color Blue. (Alexander, 2000). The fourth graders had read a story in the basal reader called Mom’s Best Friend, by the same author, Sally Hobart Alexander, so both the fourth and fifth graders were interested in seeing this book. I showed all groups the pages with pictures of ‘helpful tools’ (p. 20 Alexander, 2000) and we discussed how the Braille watch and other tools worked. We also brainstormed what other new kinds of technology could be adapted for blind and low vision users. I allowed each class to pick a chapter from her book to learn more about. Chapters include topics such as: How did you meet your husband when you couldn’t see him? Is it hard to be a blind parent? How do you read and write? and, Do you remember the color blue? A discussion followed about what visually impaired people could do, what tools and adaptations would they need, and the role of the white cane. For the Braille code lesson, I talked more about contractions (short ways to write words) and why it was necessary. I gave each student a copy of a sheet with common contractions on it to keep as a reference and a workbook from the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum. The students were allowed to use the slate and stylus, take turns on the Perkins Brailler, or decode the Braille books I brought with me. I left two post-tests with each teacher to be given later and returned to me.
Measuring Attitudes and Misconceptions before and after Instruction
Before showing the video or beginning instruction, I measured attitudes and misconceptions in two ways. The first was a simple true or false pre-test of attitudes and knowledge about blindness included in the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum. The test had twenty-four questions on it that measured knowledge about Braille, knowledge about blindness, and misconceptions and attitudes about blind people. I read each question and asked them to mark true or false.
After collecting each test, I then put up a sheet of chart paper and asked the students to tell me what they thought blindness was and how it would affect the way they lived. I recorded the responses on the chart paper. Many of the same responses were given in each of the classes.
Using the responses during this first discussion, I wrote my own short post test based on the responses I had recorded. My test consisted of ten true or false questions and four short answer questions.
After the fifth lesson, I asked the classroom teachers to give the Braille Is Beautiful post test to the class and return it to me. (I asked the teachers to give the test so that they would have the chance to read and think about each statement.)
Looking at the Braille Is Beautiful pre-test and post test, when all grades are combined, the overall change in knowledge and attitudes about Braille and blindness following the lessons on Braille was 23 percent. Students in both the third and fourth grades scored a difference of 18 percent. Fifth graders had the greatest percentage of change in attitude and knowledge at 32 percent. The curriculum was written for fourth through sixth grades, so that might account for the fifth grade scores being higher. They had a longer attention span and better language skills.
My post test was based on misconceptions that the students themselves had revealed in our opening discussion. Again, the fifth grade scored more answers in the correct range. The percentages for third and fourth graders were higher than on the first test, but my test was shorter and I had attempted to use simpler language than on the Braille Is Beautiful test.
On both tests and in discussions with the students it was apparent that they had increased their knowledge about Braille and blindness, but it was also just as apparent that some attitudes about blind people can’t be easily changed, even in children. Many of the students in our time together expressed that although some blind people might be able to live by themselves or participate in sports such as skiing, they didn’t think it was a good idea for most blind people.
This study was simple and elementary in design and achieved predictable results. What needs to be investigated further is will the students retain the knowledge and score the same in six months or a year? What will they do with the knowledge when meeting a visually impaired classmate? If the Braille lessons had been given throughout the semester or entire year, what would the results have been? And most importantly for the blind student, would this type of curriculum result in more natural social experiences for the blind student? After Braille exposure, instruction, and free access to Braille reading and writing materials, would the kind of shared literacy I imagined in my ideal classroom start to emerge?
The Immeasurable Results
Both post test measures showed positive changes in knowledge about blindness and in attitudes towards blind and visually impaired people. I was surprised and a little disappointed that the percentages weren’t higher. However, the overwhelming excitement and enthusiasm that I experienced from almost all of the students that participated was unexpected and heart warming.
During the month that I spent going into the participating classrooms, my resource room was filled with students coming in to practice Braille, asking to borrow a slate and stylus, or to try and read the Braille books. During our parent/teacher conferences, I set up a table with the Perkins Brailler, slate and stylus, Braille books, and other materials that we had been using. Many of the students dragged parents down to show them what they were learning and as a result I had to start taking orders from students and parents who wanted to buy slates and styli for home. Students dropped off notes for me that they had written in Braille and asked me to read them. I have one on my desk that says, “I love Braille, thanks for teaching it to me.”
During one of the last lessons in a third grade class, a little girl politely raised her hand and asked me, “Why would we want to learn Braille?” I stopped for a moment trying to think how to reply. I hadn’t told any of the students that I was doing this for a paper as part of my training as a TVI. During the first lesson, I had introduced myself as the resource room teacher (which many of them already knew). I talked a little about how people learn in different ways and that it was my job to make sure kids at our school got special help or a special place to go to learn if they needed it. I shared that I was learning how to teach kids that had vision problems and wanted to share Braille with them. I had somehow missed giving them a reason about why they would want to know Braille.
Her classmates viewed her question as somewhat rude and rushed to my defense before I could give my answer. They had some typical answers, like “What if you go blind?” or “What if your mom or grandma is blind?” There were some dramatic scenarios, like using Braille on the wall to find your way out of a burning building. But there were some very thoughtful answers as well.
One girl said, “I think I would like to teach Braille to kids, and if you hadn’t taught me, I’d never know about Braille.” Another said it would help her make friends with blind people if she knew Braille. One boy said he would like to invent a slate and stylus you didn’t have to go backwards on to make it easier. Another boy said that maybe it could still be used for ‘night writing’ in the war, remembering the movie and our talk about Louis Braille. I finally got to give my answer. I simply said I think it is important to know a little bit about a lot of things in our world so that we can make it a better world for all of us.
I hope and believe that the little bit of Braille these sighted students learned will help them as they think about the careers they choose, the people they meet, and will make our world a little bit better as a result.
Alexander, S. H. 2000. Do you remember the color blue? New York, New York: Viking Penquin Group.
D’Andrea, F.M. 1996. Materials for learning Braille by sight. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness 90, no. 3: 263-265.
http://www.ldonline.org/article/6150 2000. A cross-national study of teachers attributional patterns. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6150.
Kappan, D. 1994. On simulating blindness. Viewpoints.
Lang, G. 2001. Looking out for Sarah. Watertown, MA: Talewinds.
Lewis, S. 2002. Some thoughts on inclusion, alienation, and meeting the needs of children with visual impairments. Re:view 34, no. 3: 99-101.
Leyser, Y., and T. Heinze 2001. Perspectives of parents of children who are visually impaired: Implications for the field. Re:view 33, no.1: 37-57.
Lyons, M. M. (n.d.). Some common misconceptions about blindness. Retrieved February 16, 2007, from Associated Content Web site: http://www.associatedcontent.com.
Madrigal, B. Spring 2005. Want to help blind children succeed? Get high! Retrieved February 16, 2007, from Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Web site: http://www.tsbvi.edu/Outreach/seehear/spring05
Misconceptions and myths about blindness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2007, from The Iris Network Web site: http://www.theiris.org/myths
National Federation of the Blind 2002. Braille Is Beautiful. Baltimore: NFB Independence Market.
Schroeder, F. 2004. Expectations: The critical factor in the education of blind children. Future Reflections, Special Issue.
Spungin, S.J. 1996. Braille and beyond: Braille literacy in a larger context. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness 90, no. 3: 271-274.
Swenson, Anna M. 1999. Beginning With Braille. New York, NY: AFB Press.
Frieman, B., and S. Maneki 1995, Spring. Teaching Children with Sight About Braille. Childhood Education.
Thahane, L.N., C. P. Myburgh, and M. Poggenpoel 2005, Spring. The life-world of visually impaired adolescents: An educational guidance perspective. Education 125, no. 3: 393-404.Wall, R. 2002, fall. Teachers’ exposure to people with visual impairments and the effect on attitudes toward inclusion. Re:view 34, no. 3: 111-121.
Braille Is Beautiful is a diversity awareness program that uses the beauty of Braille to build a bridge of understanding between sighted and blind children. As sighted children discover how much fun it is to write and read Braille “bumps,” they come to respect and appreciate the way blind children learn, and ultimately accept them as friends and equals in the classroom.
Developed and distributed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Jernigan Institute, the program targets sighted children in grades four through six, but can be adapted for younger or older youth. Braille Is Beautiful can be used in the classroom or with youth clubs and service organizations. The program provides all the audio, print, and Braille materials needed for an exceptional learning experience. No previous experience with Braille or blindness is required for the successful implementation of the program. Braille Is Beautiful comes in three different kits to fit different budgets and instructional needs. Portions of the program are also FREE on the NFB Web site, www.Braille.org.
Teacher’s Guide Economy Kit: $35 plus s/h
• Braille Is Beautiful Teacher’s Guide* in a loose-leaf binder
• 100 Braille alphabet cards
• 1 slate and stylus for writing (embossing) Braille dots
• 25 copies of the paperback booklet, The World Under My Finger: Personal Reflections on Braille, Second Edition
• 1 master copy of a student instruction book and a workbook
* The 100-page Teacher’s Guide is structured in five units with a variety of learning formats such as interactive games, word puzzles, quizzes, applied projects, discussion questions, etc.
Parts of the program can be used together or alone.
Audiovisual Kit: $25 plus s/h
• Jake and the Secret Code (running time: 15 minutes) 1 DVD, 1 video cassette. Jake, a sighted 4th grader, visits the National Center for the Blind with his mom and learns about a wonderful “secret code” which allows the blind to read with their fingers.
Audience: children ages 8 and up.
• That the Blind May Read (running time: 17 minutes) 1 video cassette. A documentary about the Braille literacy crisis featuring interviews with Braille illiterate blind adults. Audience: older students and adults.
• Audiovisual Discussion Guide
• Braille Writing Demonstration Guide
• 1 slate and stylus
• 1 Braille alphabet card
Curriculum Program Kit: $250 plus s/h
• Braille Is Beautiful Teacher’s Guide in a loose-leaf binder
• Audiovisual Kit
• The Slate Book (a teacher’s manual for the slate and stylus)
• Service Guide (ideas and instructions on how to complete a Braille service project)
• 100 Braille alphabet cards
• 25 slates and styli for writing (embossing) Braille dots
• 25 sets of the student instruction book and workbook
• A ream of Braille paper
• Plastic adhesive Braille labeling sheets (for a service project)
• 50 paperback books with stories by and about real blind people
• 25 copies of the paperback booklet, The World Under My Finger: Personal Reflections on Braille, Second Edition
Note: Contents are subject to revision and may change without notice.
Braille Is Beautiful
is available from the
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314
Fax: (410) 685-2340
by Carrie Gilmer
Editor’s Note: Carrie Gilmer is the new, extremely energetic and dedicated president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). She has prepared the following information to give families of blind kids a glimpse into what is in store for them at this summer’s NFB convention when the NOPBC gets together. This is what she says:
The future belongs to those who can anticipate it and take it in hand. This takes a certain level of power, foresight, commitment, confidence, and often just plain hard work. When my husband and I first learned our son Jordan was blind, we had the feeling his future had been snatched away. We had no experience with blindness. We had lost the feeling that his future was ours, and ultimately his, to mold. Something beyond us, blindness, now seemed to limit what he could do, no matter how good we were as parents, no matter how bright and cheery or good he was himself.
While we hoped a normal future was possible, at first we could not imagine how to lay a foundation for it. We lacked knowledge about blindness skills and therefore felt powerless to help him; his future seemed suspended until we could get some answers. We sought someone with accurate knowledge who would tell us what to do. We had the commitment, we had the love and were ready to work hard, but we did not know how to get that future back again.
Though they wanted very much to help, the doctors could not tell us what to do. Our families, friends, and neighbors did not know what to do, but they tried to offer something because they loved us. Much of the advice and questions from these well-meaning family and friends demonstrated as much ignorance as we felt. They asked, “Aren’t there eye transplants?” They advised, “Make him eat lots of carrots.” We concluded that we needed professional help, someone who was an expert on blindness. We looked to the schools. We just assumed that someone who was specially trained and who had been working with the blind for decades would be an expert with accurate knowledge. Soon, though, the suggestions and actions of our school experts seemed to make no more sense than those suggestions we had received from the totally inexperienced. Meanwhile Jordan struggled and was falling behind in school. We were getting more concerned about his future rather than less.
Then we discovered the National Federation of the Blind. We met a wide variety of blind people who had taken their futures into their own hands. What an array of normal futures! We also met professionals who recognized the blind as the true experts and worked with them as colleagues. These professionals also recognized parents as experts and colleagues. We met other parents who had become experts and were willing to share their knowledge and support so it would be less difficult for us than it had been for them. The blind, parents, and professionals were working side by side. We always knew it was our responsibility as parents to chart the course of Jordan’s early life, but our power to navigate had been temporarily lost. The blind people, parents, and professionals in the NFB gave us the right navigational tools. We became empowered to be the navigators while he was young and to teach him how to navigate for himself more and more as he grew.
It takes a village to raise a child, any child. And we all know that the future is dependent upon the power, capabilities, and imagination of the next generation. Young children do not already possess the power, experience, knowledge, or skill to navigate their own futures. The whole purpose of raising them is to teach them how to do it--to be ready as adults able to navigate in the real world. It is after all, in the end, their futures we are talking about. The independent futures of our children, futures that truly belong to them, cannot be shaped only by professionals, or only by the blind, or only by parents of the blind--we need each other, and our children need all of us to believe in them and to work on their behalf.
Nowhere other than at an NFB convention can parents, professionals, and blind people find each other in the same numbers and with the same resources acting out the definition of team, moving the futures of blind children toward real freedom and normal possibility. For nearly twenty-five years Barbara Cheadle, president emerita of the NOPBC, planned and oversaw NOPBC annual conferences that empowered thousands of families to shape the futures of their blind children. Traditions were created and have come to be loved. A standard of excellence was set, a tone established. This is my first conference as the new NOPBC president. It is harder to invent something than to maintain it; my already deep admiration for Barbara has expanded exponentially as the logistics have multiplied. I have given my best efforts to maintaining what Barbara began. The traditional “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has always been an idea I embrace. But “What else can we do?” is another concept I use. It is safe to promise that we will have some old things as well as new things, but all up to our standards and tone.
This year, in recognition of the crucial need for a collegial effort to empower blind children to take control of their own futures, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children will begin with a joint conference among parents, blind professionals, and rehabilitation professionals whose teaching is based on NFB philosophy. On the morning of July 3, for the first time ever, the NOPBC will kick off jointly with NFB rehabilitation professionals in a large group presentation. We will then break into sessions designed to meet specific topics of interest--some for parents, some for professionals, and some that hold common interest. We recognize that we have a need to teach each other and to get to know each other. We will also have opportunities to network and socialize between the two groups.
Every year the following information seems to confuse a few people, so please read carefully. The National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) annual convention is the whole thing, the entire convention. It has its own registration, fees, and schedule. The NOPBC parent division conference is a distinct set of activities, including its own meetings, workshops, registration, and fees. It takes place during the NFB annual convention. NFB Camp is not run by the NOPBC; it is separate childcare provided by the NFB, run by Carla McQuillan, who is appointed by President Maurer, for all children, blind and sighted, ages six weeks to ten years, whose parents are attending convention. NFB Camp has its own registration and fees. The Teen Youth Track is hosted by the NFB’s Jernigan Institute. The Youth Track has no separate fees from those of the NOPBC registration fees.
Please take note of the following:
The NFB convention agenda and registration are separate, and the convention has its own fees and deadlines. They are the whole week and include many activities for everyone, main general sessions, exhibit halls, and the banquet; they qualify you for the low hotel rates. (See the April Braille Monitor for details: <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm09/bm0904/bm0904tc.htm>.)
NFB Camp is also a separate activity with its own registration form and fees. (See the April Braille Monitor.)
NOPBC Preregistration ends June 1 and will then be closed. Save $5 by preregistering. It will cost $5 more a person in Detroit. Some workshops may have reached seating capacity by late registration and may be closed to new registrants. Don’t risk it, preregister now.
Day 1: Friday, July 3
7:45 a.m.–8:30 a.m. Late NOPBC Registration: Rehabilitation professionals do not need to register for both NOPBC and rehab events. Those who have preregistered should check in and pick up name tags and materials. Everyone must register to attend any part of the NOPBC conference. Save money and headaches, register early.
8:30 a.m.: NFB Camp opens (ages six weeks – 10 years): must preregister, check the NFB Camp article for information about activities and fees and to preregister.
NOPBC Members, Rehabilitation and Education Professionals, Children 5–18, and Interested Others
Welcome: The Future Is Ours and Theirs
Dr. Edward Bell, Louisiana Tech University, and Carrie Gilmer, NOPBC president
8:50 a.m.–9:30 a.m.
Welcome and Kid Talk with Dr. Marc Maurer, NFB president
9:30 a.m.–10:15 a.m.
“What I Really Need from You Is…” Teen/Young Adult Panel
Children and Youth
Children and Teens (ages 5–18) will be dismissed with escorts to attend the Braille Carnival. Laura Weber, coordinator
Youth Track All about Me (option for ages 13 and over). See Youth Track information in “Convention Attractions” in the April Braille Monitor.
Parents, Professionals, and the Organized Blind
10:20 a.m.–11:00 a.m.
Bridging the Gap: Parents, Professionals, and the Organized Blind
Keynote: Dr. Fredric Schroeder
11:00 a.m.–11:45 a.m.
IEPs and IPEs: What’s the Difference? Carrie Gilmer and Dr. Edward Bell
11:50 a.m.–1:45 p.m.
NOPBC lunch on your own; pick up your children.
July 3 Afternoon Break-outs:
NOPBC Parents, Interested Blindness Professionals, NFB Members, and Others (Must either be registered with NOPBC or be rehabilitation professionals). Look for simultaneous, informative rehabilitation breakouts for July 3 in the rehabilitation professionals listing in “Convention Attractions” in the April Braille Monitor and in the rehabilitation conference agenda available at conference registration on July 3.
2:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Five separate, three-hour, concurrent workshops. Choose one.
1. Show Me the Technology: Middle/High School
Matt Maurer, professor of instructional technology, Butler University, and Al Lovati, technology instructor, Indiana School for the Blind, join with some homework survivors to teach you what you need to know.
2. Braille Music for Dummies
Enough Braille music to know better and help your student. Kyle Conley, Jennifer Dunnam, and Michigan’s own Braille Beats
3. One-Two, Buckle My Shoe; Three-Four, out the Door
Teachers of blind students and experienced parents cover proactive intervention towards typical preschool child development timelines: Preliteracy, play, technology, and IDEA rights for preschool.
Debbi Head, Heather Field, and Annee Hartzell.
4. Five-Six, Pick up Sticks; Seven-Eight, Lay Them Straight
Teachers of blind students and experienced parents cover proactive intervention towards typical elementary school timelines: Literacy, technology, social skills, extracurricular, and IEPs. School and home.
Denise Mackenstadt, Emily Gibbs, Carol Castellano
5. Penrickton Center
Special off-site option for parents of children with moderate to severe multiple disabilities: This center uses Lillie Nielson’s philosophies and techniques.
2:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Children and Youth K–12
1. Not So Mad Scientists: Chemistry Experiments, Hands-On
Dr. Andrew Greenberg, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Cary Supalo, Penn State; Marilyn Winograd, teacher of blind students; and Dr. Lillian Rankel, science department, Hopewell Valley High Central, returned by popular demand. Thought chemistry or science was boring or inaccessible to the blind? Think again.
2. Show Me the Pictures: Ann Cunningham, author, artist, and teacher at the Colorado Center for the Blind, will make pictures and drawing fun while sneaking in instruction on interpreting, making, and using tactile drawings and representations. Debbie Kent Stein, another author, assisting
Rotating by K–grade 5 (1. and 2.) and grades 6–12 (2. and 1.), 90 minutes each session.
Youth Ages 13 and Over Option: (See Youth Track for details)
2:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
"Back and Biceps, Chest and Triceps"; 3:30–5:00 p.m. "Me and YouTube"
5:00 p.m.–6:30 p.m.
Dinner on your own. Parents are encouraged to mingle and network with professionals in education and rehabilitation by joining their Mix and Mingle Reception during this time.
6:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
NOPBC Hospitality: All are welcome.
Brief Program: 7:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m. Barbara Mathews, emcee
Growing Up Blind
Rookies: Tips and Tidbits for Convention Survival
Sharing Parent Power
Day 2: Saturday, July 4
NFB Registration (pick up your packets), exhibit hall opens, Independence Market opens. Wear your name tags all week. No NFB Camp today.
Families, Chaperones, Teachers, and Kids:
Cane Walk: Can Run, Rock, or Roll
9:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Session I: Talk and Travel
Session II: Talk and Travel
All ages and family members welcome, children require a chaperone or parent. Done under sleepshades. Carol Castellano and NOPBC in partnership with Jeff Altman of Nebraska Commission for the Blind, Dr. Edward Bell of Louisiana Tech University, Louisiana Center for the Blind, BLIND, Inc., Colorado Center for the Blind, individual NOMC-certified instructors, and NFB members.
Cane Crawl/Toddle/Walk: Ages 0–3
Instructed playtime and independent movement; active class (no siblings).
Dr. Denise Robinson, Debbie Head, Merry-Noel Chamberlain, Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, Heather Fields
Noon–1:45 p.m. Lunch on your own.
July 4: Afternoon
Childcare for ages six weeks – 4 years not available for the afternoon sessions.
Limited assistance in finding individual babysitters will be offered; quiet or sleeping young children are welcome to attend with parents.
2:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m. Choose one:
1. Spaghetti, Meatballs, and Birthday Parties: Manners, Cafeterias, Games, Playgrounds, and Friends (pre-K and elementary). Debbi Head, Emily Gibbs, Merry-Noel Chamberlain
2. Bring Me to the Mall; Text Me Later: Manners, Food Courts, Friends (middle and high school). Eric Guillory and Deja Powell
3. Back to School: Getting ready now for fall IEPs, new schools, the next grade, new teachers, other professionals in your child’s life, and friends. (any age). Carol Castellano
4. Speed Bumps: Improving Braille Reading Speed and Fluency (any age). Dr. Ruby Ryles and some speed readers
3:30 p.m.–5:00 p.m. Choose one:
5. Getting Ready to Bring Home and Manage the Bacon: Summer Jobs, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Volunteering (middle and high school).
Jan Bailey, vocational rehabilitation counselor for three decades
6. Book Making: No, not gambling; making Braille books at home (pre-K and elementary). Krystal Guillory and Carlton Anne Cook Walker
7. Cooking and No Looking/Chores without Bores: Two blind sisters, Melissa Riccobono and Jennifer Wenzel, who grew up with the expectation of cooking and doing chores and are now moms themselves, share nonvisual techniques and tips (any age).
8. Pro to Pro to Parent to Para: What if: the teacher of blind students says, “It’s not my job,” and the OT says, “Not my job,” and the ST says, “I don’t know how,” and the parent says, “I don’t know how,” and the O and M says, “It definitely is not my job,” and they all say, “Let the para do it, because we don’t have time.” Whose job is what? How can everyone be helped to know, empowered to do--decisively working as a team? (any age). Dr. Denise Robinson, Gail Wagner, Annee Hartzell
Children and Youth:
2:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
1. Braille Beats--Kids get into Braille music in a fun way. Kyle Conley
2. You Want to Move it, Move it: Lisamaria Martinez, judo expert, and friends get the kids moving it. Stacy Cervenka assisting. Rotating: K–grades 5 (1. then 2.) and grades 6–12 (2. then 1.), 90 minutes each session.
5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m. Dinner on your own.
(Recommend moms dine out. See next item.)
7:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
Dads’ Night Out:
Sighted dads of blind kids, blind dads of sighted kids, blind dads of blind kids, or, if you are a man and were once a kid with a father and have some advice for dads―all are welcome.
Day 3: Sunday, July 5
NOPBC has nothing scheduled. (Get your NFB registration packets and Independence March items if you have not already done so.)
NFB Camp opens (must have preregistered for camp).
11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Casual NOPBC board gathering for lunch.
12:45 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Middle School Big Adventure: Okay guys and gals, this is your day to hang out with blind mentors, explore the area, make friends, influence people, check out the exhibit hall without your parents. It is your free time to hang out together as a group and have fun (ages 9–14 only, same-age siblings welcome). Led by Michael Freholm and Garrick Scott.
NFB Camp, (ages 5–10) afternoon field trip to Bouncin’ Kids (Must be preregistered and paid with NFB Camp).
Parents and interested others:
1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Annual NOPBC Division Meeting: Making Their Future Dreams Come True
Can a Blind Kid Dream of Being a Fireman?: Parnell Diggs, president, NFB of South Carolina
Making My Own Dream Come True: Surprise Guest
Independence the Old Fashioned Way: Surprise Guest
What I Want to Be: Kid Panel
Here’s How to Do It: Most Excellent Teachers
Are Love and Marriage in the Dream? Sighted and Blind Spouses Panel
NOPBC Presidential Report
Brief Business Meeting and Elections
6:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Braille Book Flea Market (all welcome):
Happy birthday, Louis Braille! Louis makes an appearance, cake served.
Program, recognitions, books, books, and more books
Day 4: Monday, July 6
March for Independence
NFB General Sessions begin. See convention agenda online after June 1.
Parents, Rehabilitation Professionals, and Interested Others
6:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m. Choose one:
1. Braille for Dummies: (very basic) Why Braille, the myths and the facts, print or Braille or dual, where a parent can learn it, what the law says, getting books easily in hard copy or by the Internet using the technology available. Dr. Denise Robinson
2. The Science of Getting in on Science: Adapting with high- and low-tech tools for equal participation and understanding in science. Cary Supalo, Marilyn Winograd, and Dr. Lillian Rankel
3. Mental Mapping: How do you become skilled at mental mapping and independent mobility? How do you use sounds and cues in the environment? How do you get back from whence you came? Daniel Kish
8:00 p.m.–9:30 p.m. Choose one:
4. Show Them the Pictures: Tactile pictures and maps. How can you help your child get access to pictures, and why are they important? Ann Cunningham
5. It Adds up or Multiplies When You Can; Subtracts or Divides When You Can’t: Taking the headaches out of adapting--high- and low-tech in math. We want them to like math, know they can do it, and get the access to actually do it. Eric and Krystal Guillory
6. Research and Eval Testing: What Kind of Data Is That? Dr. Ruby Ryles and Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas
Children and Youth: Ages 5–14
6:30 p.m. –9:30 p.m. A universally fun time: Noreen Grice and volunteer coordinator Michael Freholm
Youth Track Option:
Monday, July 6: 7:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.
"Me and the Gossip Girls": Teen Talk Session, teenage girls (ages 14–18)
"Me and the Guys": Teen talk for teenage boys (ages 14–18)
Day 5: Tuesday, July 7
Parents and Interested Others:
6:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Mock IEP. Come laugh and learn. Those who wish to attend the Mock IEP but are not NOPBC registered may join in the hilarity by donating $5 at the door. Watch out: between the laughs you might really learn some advocacy and what is proper in an IEP. First come, first seated. When the seats are filled, there are no more.
Children and Youth: Ages 5–14
6:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
We will not let convention acquaintances be forgot. Led by Michael Freholm.
Youth Track Option
6:00 p.m.–10 p.m. (ages 13–18)
"It Wasn't Me": Murder Mystery at the Club
Day 6: Wednesday, July 8
8:00 a.m.–9:00 a.m. NOPBC Annual Board Meeting
Last Day General Sessions. Great banquet in the evening.
NOPBC 2009 CONFERENCE PREREGISTRATION
Postmarked by June 1
Preregistrations postmarked after June 1 will be returned.
Carrie Gilmer, NOPBC President
1152 106th Lane NE
Minneapolis, MN 55434
Fees: (Fees for the 2009 NOPBC Conference cover workshop materials, informational packets, extra AV equipment, hospitality refreshments, children’s workshop materials, and other expenses not covered by the NFB or donated by presenters. Registration includes at-large NOPBC membership dues.) $25 for each adult for preregistration by June 1, $30 per adult for late; $5 per child ages 5–12 for preregistration by June 1, $10 for late; $15 per youth ages 13–18 preregistered by June 1, $20 for late registrations. Preregistration closes June 1. After that you must register in Detroit.
(NOTE: NFB Camp and NFB convention registration are separate.)
# of adults attending:______(x) $25=____Early, (x) $30 Late_______
# of children (age 5–12):____(x) $5=_____Early, (x) $10 Late_______
# of teens (age 13–18):______(x) $15=____Early, (x) $20 Late_______
Enclose check payable to NOPBC. Registrations without payment will not be considered valid.
Preregistration is strongly urged. Seating capacity for all NOPBC workshops and activities is limited. First come, first registered.
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other___________________
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other____________________
List additional adults below.
State:____________ Zip:______________ Phone:_____________________
E-mail:____________________________ Alt. phone:__________________
Children’s names and ages:__________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________
Want to receive Future Reflections? _______ Local NFB/POBC member?____
Is this your first NFB convention?_________ If not, how many?______________
Postmarked by June 1
Adults: Friday, July 3, Afternoon workshops, 2 p.m.–5 p.m. Choose one:
1. Technology [ ] 2. Braille Music [ ] 3. Preschool [ ] 4. Elementary [ ]
5. Penrickton: Moderate/Severe Multiply Disabled Child [ ] (off-site)
Children and Youth: (ages 5–18)
Register for all NOPBC sessions unless choosing Youth Track option. (You may choose the Youth Track options for one or all sessions.)
Braille Carnival [ ] # children____ Ages_______ Names________________
Rotating by 90 minutes each session: children K-grade 5 go to science then art; grades 6-12 art then science.
Science [ ] # children___ Ages_______ Names_______________________
Tactile Art/Pictures [ ] # children___ Ages ______ Names______________
Youth Track: (option for kids 13 and over)
“All About Me” # teens _____ Names______________________________
Concurrent with Braille Carnival
Youth Track: (13–18) Fitness # teens___________ You Tube # teens_______
Saturday, July 4, 9:00 a.m.–noon
Session I: 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. [ ] # adults________ # children________
Session II: 10:30 a.m.-noon [ ] # adults________ # children________
Cane Crawl/Toddle (ages 0–3) [ ] # adults_______ # children________
Adult afternoon workshops, July 4:
2:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m. Choose one for each adult:
1. Manners/Social (pre-K and elementary) [ ] 3. Back to School [ ]
2. Manners/Social (middle/high school) [ ] 4. Reading Speed [ ]
3:30 p.m.–5:00 p.m. Choose one for each adult:
5. Job Readiness [ ] 7. Cooking/Chores [ ]
6. Book Making [ ] 8. The Four Ps [ ]
Children and Youth (ages 5–18):
Music [ ] # children____ Ages_______ Names____________________
Move It [ ] # children____ Ages_______ Names___________________
Sunday, July 5: Middle School Big Adventure (ages 9–14) [ ] #_____
Middle School Student
Monday, July 6, 6:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Children’s Activity # children___________
Adult (check one for each adult attending if different or more than one):
6:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m. Braille [ ] Science [ ] Mental Map [ ]
8:00 p.m.–9:30 p.m. Pictures [ ]Math [ ] Research and Testing [ ]
Tuesday, July 7, 6:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.:
Children’s Activity # children__________