Can Braille Change the Future?
by Denise Staulter

Reprinted from the March, 1997, issue of Michigan Focus, a publication of the NFB of Michigan.

As an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired, I often teach my students for many years. More than four years ago I met a lovely little girl in her second year of school who had very little usable sight for reading. Before she came to me, she had the use of a CCTV and other magnifying equipment, but was not doing well in school because of her lack of sight and inefficient skills for being visually impaired. The first six months we worked together she constantly talked about quitting school as soon as she turned sixteen. She hated school so much because she couldn't do anything.

I started teaching her Braille as intensely as I thought she could handle. I knew that when she had something she could actually use in school, she would begin to enjoy academics like her classmates. After a year and a half and the acquisition of a great deal of Braille knowledge, she was able to read books like the rest of her peers. She finally began to enjoy school. She was still behind academically and struggled with school work, but insisted every time the class had a particular book that she also have it in Braille so she could "read it like them." She now delights in showing sighted peers how to read Braille in her books and write Braille words on her Braille writer. This has also become quite a self-esteem builder.

She is also a very accomplished typist for her age. Typing is a skill she needs right along with her Braille so she can produce work for her regular education teacher and turn it in along with her peers. When her regular education teacher asks her to write something, she does not hesitate to go to her computer and generate her work, knowing she can do the work as her sighted counterparts.

This student has progressed from constantly talking about quitting school to now chatting about going on to college, just because she knows she can get the material she needs and do the work like others. I often wonder how much more successful she and others like her—who did not begin Braille at a preschool age when their sighted peers learned letters at age three and four—might have been? Would she have gone through the constant feeling of "hating" school, and struggling for two to three years because of the lack of essential skills needed by a visually impaired student? We cannot look back, though, and must look forward to help other pupils.

As teachers we must constantly look into the future of our students to make sure they will have the skills they need to be successful people. Our ultimate goal is the "success of all children through appropriate educational practices, equipment, and technology."