Think for a moment, if you will, about all of the print material you come across in a day. There’s emails from work. Posts from friends on Instagram. News and magazine articles. Books. Lease agreements for the apartment you just rented. Print receipts. Labels on jars and spices. Street signs, menus, and information on doors of the stores you shop at. Bumper stickers. Sayings on t-shirts. Labels on digital folders stored on computers. Subtitles during an episode of your favorite TV show. A handwritten note from a loved one telling you they were going for a run which is hanging on the refrigerator next to a report card, or invitation to a party. The text you sent to your best friend. The math problem sets that your child brought home for homework. We are beings that are constantly surrounded by print communication. It’s how we engage, plan, learn, and connect.
Today is World Braille Day, and I celebrate today as a reminder of how important braille is as a form of communication and expression, not just for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, but for those who are in connection with them. I am reminded of when I first started teaching. One of my students came to school bursting with excitement because she learned earlier in the morning that the Tooth Fairy knew braille and congratulated her on losing her first tooth– Santa also knew braille, it turns out, and so did his elves– and my student kept a note from her parent at her desk for most of the year that she would read in stolen moments during the school day. The United Nations shares, “braille is essential in the context of education, freedom of expression and opinion, as well as social inclusion…” So often our focus as teachers is on the 6 hours that our students are in the classroom. We forget that there are 18 other hours in the day that our students still need to learn how to gain information, share their thoughts and feelings, and connect with others. We forget that we are teaching to the adults that our students will become. I think we also forget that we do not have to teach this in isolation. We are a part of a team, a team that includes caregivers and others who can help to reinforce the exciting parts that come from learning to read and write in braille.
So how can we do this? First, we need to understand all that is held within the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). The ECC provides guidance to different areas of unique development for students who are blind or visually impaired. And while the focus has often been that the ECC allows for access to core curriculum within the school day, teachers of students with visual impairments (TSVIs) can help to bridge the gap in support between school and home. This can be done through:
- Training of caregivers
- Providing resources for further support
- Creating accessible educational or recreational games
- Encouraging exploration of the environment
- Early instruction in access technology
My student was motivated to learn braille because she wanted to connect with others. We turned everything into a game. I created Braille Contraction Go Fish that allowed for my student to play with sighted members of her family. It provided reinforcement for braille concepts and spelling, social interaction, and a recreation activity. I followed up by connecting my students with other braille users in order to become pen pals… and if I couldn’t find another braille user, I became their pen pal. This is a great option for when you know your student needs work on specific contractions or reversals. My student loved the short story “What to Wear to a Cat Party,” because it was written just for her and full of practice with the wh and ar contractions. My student helped to plan Braille for the Sighted activities where she taught her classmates about the braille cell, dot numbers, and shared that knowing braille came with many perks, one of which was that she could read her favorite book in the dark while her parents thought she was asleep.
Here are a few ideas of how to incorporate braille reading and writing outside of the school day:
- Quick grocery lists (child creates and reads while at the store)
- Create labels for media (movies, music, games)
- Joke Scavenger Hunt (braille jokes with punchlines, mix & match)
- Braille Art (with braille directions)
Braille is communication. For braille readers, it provides access to learning, connection, and self expression. In the environment, it is inclusion. From the Tooth Fairy, family, or companion, it is love.
What are ideas that you have in order to encourage the development of braille literacy outside of the school day? How would you suggest engaging caregivers, teachers, family, and friends, in learning braille? What are ways we could support functional braille literacy for students with multiple disabilities?