Future Reflections        Summer 2013

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Integrating Print and Braille: A Recipe for Literacy

Edited by Sharon Maneki
Reviewed by Lynda Zwinger

Integrating Print and Braille: A Recipe for Literacy
National Federation of the Blind, n.d. 
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From the Editor: Lynda Zwinger serves as president of the Parents of Blind Children of Arizona.  She describes herself as "mother to Isaac the Incredible."

In this collection of well-chosen and well-integrated essays, Sharon Maneki has put together an invaluable resource for parents, teachers, and school administrators. That very un-useful dichotomy of Braille versus print is, I hope, finally laid to rest by the research, personal testimony, and thoughtful challenges presented by some of our most passionate advocates for and teachers of blind and visually impaired children.

This book--this treasure trove--has its roots in a 2009 consortium sponsored by the NFB "to improve the literacy skills of students with limited vision." The group decided to develop a new assessment tool to determine more effectively which students should learn to read Braille, print, or both Braille and print. The group also decided to produce a publication to help parents and teachers ensure that the dual reader has adequate skill in Braille reading and writing to enable him/her to leave the school system with strong literacy skills.

The teachers in the consortium provided case studies and teaching strategies to strengthen the teaching of Braille reading and writing to students who are dual readers. The group also offered ideas on how the student can obtain enough instruction and practice to achieve speed and fluency in Braille reading. (See Foreword.)

Grounded in the familiar pragmatism of the Federation--blindness is an inconvenience, not a tragedy--this collection basically rolls up its sleeves and offers the frazzled parent (and teacher!) a set of good, straightforward, plain old practical guidelines for helping our children achieve literacy. The book is divided into five chapters:

1. Literacy and the Decision to Integrate Print and Braille
2. Attitudes: An Essential Ingredient
3. Enhancing Vision through Touch
4. Creating the Dual Media Integration Plan
5. Read, Read, Read--There Is No Substitute

The book closes with a list of very useful references and of sources for acquiring Braille books.

Within each of the five chapters, the reader will find a wealth of empirical, practical, and personal information presented with the warmth of an afternoon coffee klatch but packed with the accumulated wisdom and experience of our best teachers and researchers, of "been there done that" parents, and, perhaps most powerful of all, the irreplaceable wisdom and testimony of that group of informants the NFB always turns to first: blind people themselves. The most important lesson this book has to offer all of us, it seems to me, is that there is not a single, one-size-fits-all approach to literacy for blind and visually impaired people. Where one person prefers to use print with the necessary accommodation tools at work and Braille at home, another person might choose to approach his or her lifelong literacy with the reverse approach.

The overall metaphor the collection employs is that of the "recipe": full literacy might be thought of as the celebratory cake; what goes into the mix is the question this book helps us answer. It includes the pertinent research data, relevant pedagogical approaches to particular issues, and calm and practical advice for how to advocate and what to advocate for. Perhaps most important for the parent new to the world of fighting for literacy for his or her child, it contains concrete tips on how to translate the goal of full literacy into the lingua franca of the IEP.

Inspiring, compelling, useful, energizing, and educational, Integrating Print and Braille is a must-read for all of us, and yet another of many occasions for us to feel gratitude and joy in this wonderful family to which we are privileged to belong.

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