Future Reflections Winter 1996, Vol. 15 No. 1



Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from a document written by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and staffers from the Maryland Department of Education, which is titled "Selection of Reading and Writing Media for Students with Visual impairments: Braille, Print, or Both?"

Decision-Making Process The decision to teach Braille, print, or both will take into consideration all of the information gathered during the assessment. The assessment information will help the team select from among the following options. Students may be taught to use:

1. Braille
2. Print
3. Braille, complemented with print
4. Print, complemented with Braille

The remainder of this section provides examples of the kinds of assessment data that will assist a team in choosing one of the four options. Of course, assessment descriptions provided below are somewhat generic, i.e., not all parts of the descriptions will apply to each student. Since students are individuals, not everyone will fit neatly into one of the four categories. In reviewing these descriptions, team members should ask which factors best describe the individual student.

It is also important to remember that, when the selected option includes both Braille and print, the amount of use of one or the other will vary with each student. Student input should be obtained so that the team decision is sensitive to student preference and concerns. Additionally, as a student's vision or visual demands change over time, the use of one medium over another may change.

However, even though a student may use one medium more than another at a given time, it is critical that the student develop proficient use of both. For the preschool student this will mean that opportunities for visual and tactual activities are provided equally. Later, the amount of time teaching or practicing with a certain medium will depend on all assessment data and the current needs of the student. The team must continually focus on the ultimate outcome so that the student will be able to choose and use the medium of preference or the medium most functional for a given situation.

Which Students Should Learn Braille?
Medical Factors: Student is totally blind, nearly so, or expected to experience rapid loss of vision.

Physical Factors: An additional disability does not interfere with the ability to learn Braille.

Environmental Factors: Adjustments in natural and artificial lighting do not enhance student ability to read print.

Print Reading Factors: If the student can read print at all, reading is extremely slow and laborious, even when all print factors have been adjusted for maximum efficiency.

Handwriting Factors: Student cannot read own handwriting to carry out functional handwriting demands.

Low Vision Technological Factors: Student cannot read print at any comfort level, even using a CCTV or other non-portable devices.

Which Students Should Learn Print?
Medical Factors: Student has a stable eye condition or has a prognosis of continued improvement.

Physical Factors: Student experiences no fatigue or discomfort from reading. The nature of an additional disability prohibits tactual reading. Student, when systematically assessed, exhibits inability to process tactual information with any accuracy and facility.

Environmental Factors: Student does not require extensive modifications in natural or artificial lighting in order to read comfortably for extended periods of time.

Print Reading Factors: Student reads regular print comfortably and efficiently in most settings and circumstances. Reading rate accuracy is commensurate with student's expected grade level. Performance level is commensurate with overall ability. Student can use print easily for all academic, nonacademic, and vocational needs.

Handwriting Factors: Student has legible handwriting and can easily read own and others' notes at a comfortable distance, even after some time has elapsed.

Low Vision Technological Factors: Student reads regular print without low vision devices and comfortably uses pocket-size magnification for reading fine print, such as the telephone book, medicine labels, dictionary, and encyclopedia.

Which Students Should Learn Braille Complemented with Print?
Medical Factors: Student has diagnosis or prognosis of severe visual impairment, has a degenerative eye condition, or has severely restricted visual fields.

Physical Factors: Student holds book close to face, can read only large print, or regularly suffers from headaches, fatigue, or visual discomfort after reading. Student exhibits strong preference for tactual exploration and learning. Student can read using an electronic low vision aid, but only with effort; cannot read with hand-held magnifiers with any reasonable speed or comprehension. Student is unable to complete assigned school work in a timely manner consistently and independently.

Environmental factors: Glare and/or lighting variations make reading difficult or impossible in many settings.

Print Reading Factors: Student's print reading speed is far below that of other students of the same developmental level. Student consistently demonstrates inaccuracy when reading. Student has difficulty in reading a variety of print styles or print on colored background.

Handwriting Factors: Student can only read notes when written with a broad tip pen one to two inches high and may have difficulty accurately reading what was written or can only read notes using a CCTV or other non-portable device.

Which Students Should Learn Print Complemented with Braille?
Medical Factors: Student has a currently stable eye condition but is at risk of eventual deterioration, has a slowly progressive eye condition, has restricted visual field, or has fluctuating vision.

Physical Factors: Student's posture during reading results in back and neck strain or headaches. Student complains of watering eyes, blurring, or other visual discomfort after extensive reading or writing tasks. Student cannot complete assignments without relying on other individuals or technology for reading and/or note taking.

Environmental Factors: Glare and/or lighting variations make reading difficult or impossible in some settings.

Print Reading Factors: Student cannot read regular print easily and accurately for an appropriate length of time in order to complete tasks throughout the day. Student may read material in both regular and large print formats. Student reads primarily in large print format combined with optical or electronic low-vision devices. Student is unable to maintain a reading rate commensurate with grade level work demands. Student depends on extraordinarily large print for accessing practical information such as oral report notes, grocery lists, names and addresses, etc. In preschool observations should include how a student approaches learning, i.e., a visual versus tactual approach.

Handwriting Factors: Student has difficulty producing and reading own or others' handwriting.

Low Vision Technological Factors: Student may use CCTV or other non-portable devices for visual materials such as maps and diagrams.