SHOULD A CHILD WITH LOW VISION BE TAUGHT BRAILLE?
Maria T Garcia
I would like to speak briefly about partially sighted children and literacy. My personal experience as the parent of a legally blind child involves the question of braille vs large print.
From my daughter Elora’s earliest experience in formal education a great emphasis was placed on visual learning. Even her IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) goals stressed the importance of visual learning. Throughout her early education I was told by well meaning professionals that she would not need braille. I was told repeatedly that she could be a successful large print reader. This was wonderful news to me. It meant my daughter was not “really” blind. This was easy for me to accept because Elora had always been very good at “looking” sighted. Children learn quite early what pleases those around them and they learn to fake it to make us happy.
Her visual acuity was placed between 20/400 and 20/600. These numbers never had a concrete meaning to me. It was all in the abstract. The professionals said my daughter could see well enough to read large print and that was good enough for me.
In the summer of 2002 I met Carl Jacobson the president of the National Federation of the Blind of NYS. Carl was the first blind adult I had met since my daughter was born. He invited me to attend a parent workshop at the
state convention where I met numerous other blind adults. Through the NFB, my education in blindness and what my daughter
would need to be a successful independent woman began.
What Elora needs to be successful and independent is the same as what any other child needs. She needs to be literate. She needs to learn to READ!! Not just a few words at a time but to truly read.
I learned that those abstract numbers that qualify her as legally blind really mean that she has at least a 90% vision loss. My wonderful little girl had been struggling to learn to read and write with 10% of what I can see.
Through my interaction with blind adults I learned that she must learn braille. Her visual acuity means that without braille she will never be a proficient reader. Without braille she will be denied higher education. In fact as the reading load increases in the higher elementary school grades she will be unable to excel. If she doesn’t learn braille she will never enjoy reading. She will be denied reading for simple pleasure, an absolutely incalculable loss.
I learned that large print may serve Elora in certain parts of her life. She may be able to write checks to pay her bills. Enlarging technology may enable her to read large print in very specific circumstances. But it will not provide her the skills to succeed in life.
Let me share with you the statistics that I find most disturbing from my own research into braille and the education of blind children. In 1968 44% of the blind in the
braille literate. In 1993 less than 9% of the blind in the USA were
braille literate and 40% could read neither print nor braille. In what other
community would a 40% illiteracy rate go essentially unnoticed? America
This suggests a significant shift in philosophy at a fundamental level, I believe in education. The trend of thinking in the educational community has been that visual learning is superior to non-visual learning. Many educators of blind children have been taught that if a child has some sight that sight should be developed as the primary learning medium.
I have as my daughter’s advocate had to fight to have braille added to her IEP. This has been a battle on a number of fronts. The most significant has been was convincing educators that they can’t “teach” my daughter to see, but they can teach her to read.
The other statistic I would like you to consider is this. Of the adult blind population in
today 70% are unemployed. Of the remaining 30% that are employed 90% know
These are staggering numbers.
I have learned as the parent of a blind child, the most valuable resource I can tap into is that of blind adults. The most frequent piece of advice I receive from the blind adults I have met is to fight for braille for my daughter now. Not to relegate her to an inferior education where she will be forced to learn braille as an adult and spend precious years playing catch up.
I encourage you to reach out to the organized blind community and learn from their experience. If any part of your own personal or educational experience has taught you that visual learning is superior to non-visual learning I challenge you to question the basis of that belief. Further I beseech you to buck the system and fight for your child’s right to an appropriate education. The
is here to help you in any way that we can.