Teaching Children who are Blind to Understand Reading Concepts

by Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

A few weeks ago I was honored to be a presenter and a vendor at TAER’s conference in Dallas, Texas. Before I signed up to be a trainer, I asked myself what I would want to hear as a participant and thought about what I was most passionate about along with my friends who are vision teachers. One thought kept pounding into my brain- “Teaching a child who is blind to truly understand concepts during reading.”

My mother, who is a vision teacher as well as a reading specialist, has pretended to be a seesaw when Tim and Pam rode on one in the Patterns series, played hide and seek and role-played many other scenes that were being portrayed in a book. I learned once again from my mother about how important understanding is before you can ever ask a child to read with fluency and understanding Braille.

During my training on this topic, I quoted the best: Dr. Phil Hatlen, Dr. Virginia Bishop and Myrna Olson on Braille reading. Amazingly each had similar views on teaching concepts for Braille comprehension. For example, each believed in the benefits of a story box for younger children, that Braille should begin in infancy and that reading skills should be relevant. Another great point that Dr. Phil Hatlen makes in his incredible book, “The Opportunity to be Equal- The Right to be Different”, is that children learn through different types of styles such as: Basal Reading (when the skills are taught beforehand such as vocabulary, character analysis and background building), phonetics, whole language, and language experience where the child writes about his experiences and begins to understand that the dots represent real words in a real world.

Other great tips by these amazing professionals: Teach through real objects until the concept is understood then graduate to two-dimensional tactual objects, Braille is King and will never become obsolete like some professionals believe. The age of technology will not take the place of Braille and should be used as an incredible resource, make reading fun and exciting, literacy is the right of all children, documents in print should also be provided in Braille and that less than an hour a week of Braille instruction creates an illiterate reader.

I added a few tips of my own: Look for a child’s likes and dislikes and surround him or her with favorite objects. Bond with a student before you expect them to hand over power to you, and keep a routine when working with children who have a visual impairment as this will give more security and a safety zone for learning.

I recently wrote three novels in a series of The Adventures of Abby Diamond where I demonstrate that Abby is a girl detective who happens to be blind. The emphasis behind Abby is that she is just like everyone else- she just cannot see. I have also put Abby Diamond on audio (homemade) CD’s and electronic copies for embossing with no PDF formatting. My intent is for a Braillist to Braille on the correct level of contractions for each student.

When I wrote and am still writing the stories for Abby Diamond I also tried to create a high interest story with vocabulary and mysteries that would keep a child interested. Teachers can teach any testing objective through the electronic copies of Abby Diamond. Please see my website for ordering: http://www.dotsdottie.com.

People who are blind deserve the same opportunities as others who can see just like Dr. Phil Hatlen said, “The Opportunity to be Equal – The Right to be Different.”


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