A crisis of literacy for blind children

by Jeffrey Stark

February 11th, 2012

Today, I was reading a friend’s profile and had a little moment of reflection.
It reminded me of just how important braille is for younger kids.

The note in the profile read:

So, get off your butt and above all else LEARN BRAILLE!!! If you can’t read then you are missing skills such as sentance structure, proper spelling, and other things that can only be passed to you through feeling the page layout not by listening to it on speech. Why do I say this, because I hated Braille as a child and I’m paying for it now as I try to build up my skills as fast as I can. Trust me on this or you will pay for it too. Okay, end of that lecture.” — Robert Dittman

Robert, I couldn’t agree more.

I know 3 kids in the area who are blind or at the lower end of low vision. In all cases attempts were made to teach them print. Even though the large print they needed was the equivalent of 72+ pt print. The provinces do not provide support for braille learning outside of the school system and the school system itself fights to do as little as possible. Of those 3 kids, only 1 has started learning Braille. This only happened when the parents pushed (and kept pushing) the school board for it. Even though the school board accepted it, every attempt is made to focus less on the Braille. In this particular case, the child is likely to lose their vision at some point in their life, so Braille is going to get more and more important as they progress through the school system and are required to write more and read more. The argument that audio and speech will replace the need for the teaching of braille to young kids is absurd. I’ve even heard teachers argue that large print at a 72pt level is a reasonable approach and somehow does not create a situation where the child is being set up to fail or be slower (not because of potential or skill but by the very unwieldiness of material at that print size). My own experience of working with material at that print size and seeing 100s of low vision users in my work has cemented my view that this is setting them up to be slower than sighted peers.

As identified by the National Federation of the Blind and other organizations at Braille.org, in the US they are facing a crisis of lack of literacy for blind children This is despite having large organized bodies of blind people. In Canada, this crisis has progressed significantly further because the blind community in Canada is far less organized.
What can we do to stop this crisis? What can we do to turn back the tide of illiterate unemployable blind people that the school systems are currently generating? What can we do to promote Braille, lower the cost of Braille and Braille related technologies? (an average cost for a Braille display is $5,000).

Literacy is the key to success.

If we do not equip our children with the tools to succeed we are setting them up for failure.

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