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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Learning Braille is Easier than You Think

Learning Braille is Easier than You Think
By: Kathryn Aqua

As the campers flocked to mail call, Holly heard her name and headed toward the sound of the voice. “Here you go, Holly! Put your hand out!” She stretched her hand forward and felt the soft, smooth paper envelope touch her skin.  

With a big grin, Holly tore open the envelope and pulled out a letter. After a week of camp, she had been feeling a little homesick and looking forward to a letter from home. She could not wait to know what her mom had to say.  

Sliding her fingertips across the paper, Holly’s face fell. The letter was print. She had known it would be print. Her parents did not know Braille. Even so, she hoped sometimes that maybe her mom would surprise her by learning. Now she would have to wait until someone could read the letter to her. Holly sighed. How she hated having to wait! She hated having a reader too. Sometimes her mom wrote private things in her letters and Holly felt embarrassed for another person to read them.  

She counted the pages. Three. It was a long one! She folded the paper and slipped it into her pocket, wondering how long it would be before she found a sighted person who had time to read the news from home to her.  

“Did you get a letter?” Holly’s friend, Ruthie, bumped her left arm.  

“Yeah, but I have to find a reader.”  

“Oh, Too bad,” Ruthie consoled her. “I got one too! My mom says my grandpa is going to come for a visit right after camp is over. I’m so excited! He’s going to take us fishing!”  

“You are so lucky that your mom knows Braille. I wish my mom would learn it. It’s not hard; she just says she doesn’t have time.”  

That night, Ruthie tucked her Braille letter from home under her pillow. As she lay in the dark, her fingers traced the words, “Grandpa is coming” over and over until she fell asleep. Holly put her letter in the pocket of the shorts she would wear the next day. She still did not know what her letter said. Maybe tomorrow someone would have time to read to her.  

Holly was right; learning Braille is not hard. Ruthie’s mother learned Braille right alongside her daughter, with the help of a cheat sheet. Parents can learn Braille by sight. Since we already know the print alphabet, Braille is easy for us to learn.  

Parents sometimes think learning Braille is hard, says Carrie Gilmer, the president of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children, and a parent of a blind son who is now a university student. “Braille is not something you have to ‘stop and learn,’ you can take a few minutes out of each day to learn a little Braille. There are different levels of knowing Braille. You don’t have to be an expert. It’s okay to use the cheat sheet.”  

The important thing to a blind child is that mom and dad demonstrate that Braille is important, and that their blind child is important enough for them to learn Braille.  

Carrie says she has never heard a blind person say that they did not care whether or not their parents learned Braille. “Either they say, ‘I’m glad my parents learned it,’ or ‘I wish my parents knew it.’” She says children who grow up with parents who never learn Braille tend to feel a sense of isolation from their family. “They feel like Braille is such an important part of their lives, but their parents were not interested enough to learn.”  

When a parent learns Braille, it communicates to the child that their needs and interests are important and valued. It also show’s that the parent values Braille, which can motivate the child to be more accepting of learning it as well.  

Where can a parent go to learn Braille?  

A list of additional resources is listed below, but all you really need is the cheat sheet and you are in business. With the cheat sheet in hand, all you have to do is sit down at the brailler and start. If you make a mistake, flatten the dots with your fingernail, hit the backspace bar and try again.  

The best way to learn Braille is simply to use it. When my daughter does her homework, I sit down with her and pull out my Braille cheat sheet. This is my time to review my Braille. I am available if she needs help with her homework. “Mom, I can’t remember how to spell should.” I remind her. She says, “What is the contraction for that? I remember there is a contraction for should, but I can’t remember it. Is it sh and d?” I check to be sure. Yes, Annmarie, that is correct! She is able to finish her homework with confidence.  

The benefits of learning Braille have been many. Not only can I write little love notes to my daughter and help her with her homework, I can also review her school work. When Annmarie was in public school, her classroom teacher did not know Braille. Sometimes Annmarie’s answer would be marked wrong when it was actually correct. The person who transcribed her work from Braille to print had made a mistake. By checking her work I was able to be sure that Annmarie got the credit she deserved.  

What is stopping you from learning Braille? It’s easy! Go ahead and give it a try! Surprise your child with a Braille love note when he or she gets home from school.  

Resources for Parents to Learn Braille

  1. Talk to your child’s teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). Some vision departments have resources available for teaching parents Braille. Many TVI’s are willing to spend a little time introducing you to the brailler and the alphabet to get you started.
  2. The Hadley School for the Blind offers a free Braille correspondence course for parents of blind children. Visit their website at http://www.hadley.edu for more information and a list of available courses.
  3. Just Enough to Know Better from National Braille Press is a great book resource for learning Braille. This guide will give you the Braille basics, along with some flash cards you can put on the refrigerator and a cheat sheet with all of the Braille contractions. To order, just call NBP at 800-548-7323 or visit their website at http://www.nbp.org.
  4. The Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind offer a website called Dots for Families: Ongoing Literacy for Families of Children with Visual Impairments at http://uacoe.arizona.edu/viliteracy/default.htm. This website has a series of free lessons to teach parents basic Braille, along with a free cheat sheet you can print out. There are a lot of additional tips for using Braille, including instructions for making designs using Braille, and methods for adapting print books for your blind child.
  5. http://www.Dotlessbraille.org has free Braille lessons. Another website with free Braille lessons is Braille through Remote Learning at http://www.brl.org.
  6. If you are very ambitious, you might be interested in the free Braille transcriber’s course available through the National Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/nls/bds.html.
  7. Because Books Matter: Reading Braille Books with Young Blind Children is a free book for parents available through the KSB Library and Family Support Center. To request your copy, contact Heather Davis, KSB Librarian at heather.davis@ksb.kyschools.us or 502-897-1583 ext. 254 or Mitch Dahmke, Family Support Specialist at mitch.dahmke@ksb.kyschools.us or 502-897-1583 ext.221.

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