Release Date: 
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Tracy Soforenko
President, Potomac Chapter
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia
(703) 635-2085

National Federation of the Blind of Virginia Gives the Gift of Independence to Blind Children through Local Braille Training Program

Arlington, Virginia (August 3, 2010): Local members of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) are sponsoring a two-week Braille training program for blind children.  The Braille Enrichment through Literacy and Learning (BELL) program is designed to provide blind children and children with low vision ages four through twelve with two weeks of intense Braille instruction via hands-on learning and fun.
The BELL program, which started on July 26 and is continuing through August 6, is being held at the Lyon Village Community House in Arlington, Virginia.  During the program, children will become acquainted with how useful Braille can be as an alternative to reading print. Students will be immersed in activities that will center on Braille literacy.  For example, children will learn about the Braille code and will also learn several other alternative nonvisual techniques for being organized. This will be accomplished through a combination of arts and crafts, games, outdoor activities, and field trips. 
“We are raising a generation of functionally-illiterate blind children who are unable to read or write as well as their peers because they don’t have the correct tools or training,” said Dr. Fred Schroeder, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration.  “Today, fewer than half of all legally blind high school students will graduate.  Knowing and using Braille can make the difference between a lifetime of dependence or getting a job.” 
Adults know the powerful connection between knowing Braille and employment.  With 70 percent of blind Americans unemployed, it is no accident that 90 percent of the employed blind know Braille.  
In spite of the bleak employment statistics for the blind, only 10 percent of blind children are currently learning Braille.  To combat the lack of Braille training for our youth, the BELL program is led by a certified teacher of the blind and a teacher of the blind in Virginia who are serving as the core instruction team from the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, along with the participation of positive blind role models and local volunteers.  
Theresa Willis from Virginia Beach, a blind parent of a blind student said: "I have retinitis pigmentosa and have never read a book in my life.  I have read a chapter but have given up after that because it was too hard with eye strain and headaches.  I don't want that for my child and this program has given her what our school district will not.  My daughter also has RP and if she learns Braille, she won't come home from school crying at the end of the day because her eyes are tired and she has headaches.  I want her to be able to read books that I have never been able to."
Michael Fish, a teacher of blind students in Arlington said: “Many people believe that students with any usable vision should not learn Braille. The BELL program provides Braille instruction paired with a demonstration that blind and low vision students can accomplish anything through the use of alternative techniques.  The program has given parents networking opportunities, support from blind role models, and a positive image of the possibilities their children can achieve.”
The program concludes on Friday, August 6, with an award ceremony honoring the achievement of the students.