[nfbmi-talk] braille used less in today's world

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Sun Jan 2 07:58:52 CST 2011

Braille used less in today’s world


By PAMELA HITCHINS - Vicksburg Post

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VICKSBURG -- The seven keys of the Perkins Braille Writer have unlocked a new world for Caleb O’Neal, an 8-year-old Beechwood Elementary second-grader.


“It’s like you get to function well,” Caleb said. “The keys are kind of like writing and seeing, and they teach you how to learn.”


Caleb is one of four visually impaired students learning Braille at the school with special education teacher Lina Jones. The Braille writer is a little

like a typewriter.


KATIE CARTER/THE VICKSBURG POST Special education teacher Lina Jones, left, helps Jamie White load paper into Braille writer during a lesson for the visually

impaired at Beechwood Elementery in Vicksburg.


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“He comes home talking about the letters he’s learning and the words he was able to put together and his numbers,” said Caleb’s mother, Nichole O’Neal.

“I really like the program. I just want Caleb to be able to learn as much as he can.”


Jones is certified in teaching children with visual disabilities and said Braille is an important skill for them to have. About 80 percent of what most

people learn comes through their sense of sight, she said, and the visually impaired have to find other ways.


“You can imagine how hard and how long we have to work in order to learn,” said Jones, 56, who was born with congenital cataracts and has limited vision.

“You have to be strong, to fight every day. We’ve had to fight to keep Braille alive. Large print isn’t always feasible.”


Fewer learning Braille


Statistics from the Braille Institute show a marked decline in the last half-century in the number of legally blind children who can read Braille, from

50 percent in 1960 to just 12 percent today.


Braille is not just for those who are completely blind. Anyone with a visual disability or who is considered legally blind -- 20/200 with best correction

-- needs Braille, Jones said.


Vicksburg Warren schools have “about eight or nine” visually impaired students, said special education director Eddie Spann. Most are at Beechwood, he said.


“In Mississippi there are not a lot of teachers certified to teach Braille,” Spann said.


“We are fortunate to have Mrs. Jones to provide that instruction. My certification also includes teaching the visually impaired, and I can read and write

Braille as well.”


Spann became SPED director in October, and his experience includes 13 years at the Mississippi School for the Blind in Jackson, the last six as director,

administrator and vocational counselor.


He also has personal experience with visual challenges, having lost his right eye at age 12 in a basketball game.

Debate over Braille


Spann said there is an ongoing debate among people in the field over the use of Braille, when students should learn it and whether it should be mandated

for the visually impaired regardless of their level in school. Some children, especially adolescents, are resistant and it becomes a battle, he said.


“If a child is born blind, of course we should teach him Braille. But if a child has usable vision, I support using that vision to the greatest extent,”

he said.


KATIE CARTER/THE VICKSBURG POST Special education teacher Lina Jones, left, helps Jamie White load paper into Braille writer during a lesson for the visually

impaired at Beechwood Elementery in Vicksburg.


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“We should not focus totally on learning Braille. We can do both -- promote Braille and develop their usable vision.”


Federal law requires instruction that’s “appropriate” for each child, Spann said, which includes Braille “if it is determined that the child needs Braille,”

he said.


The decision is made by a group of people including the parents, teachers, school officials and specialists who work together to develop the child’s individualized

education plan.


Spann said what the school district offers is Jones’ class for visually impaired children, not a “Braille program” per se.


The latter would include a staff of computer technicians, orientation and mobility instructors and other specialists.


Some of those services are provided either through agreements with the School for the Blind or contracted out with someone who visits the district “a couple

of times a month or year,” he said.


Integrating Braille


Jones works one-on-one with students who come to her room for a period each day. She integrates her lessons and activities with their regular work, such

as spelling lists and math problems.


Kindergartner Jamie White, 6, likes to use the Braille caravan, a decidedly low-tech yet fun set of yellow blocks and high-contrast black pegs that can

be used to make Braille letters and numbers.


The system works for both low-sighted children and those who need to feel the raised dots created when child places pegs in the holes.


Mixed blessing


High-tech developments have been a mixed blessing.


Besides the manual Braille writer Caleb and other students use, Jones has in her office a larger, more expensive embosser that is connected to her computer

and can print text in Braille. The computer is also equipped with a speech program, so Jones can choose to have what’s on the screen vocalized through



There’s also closed-circuit TV that’s able to greatly magnify print materials on a monitor, she said.


But when the print has to be enlarged until a child is looking at just one letter at a time, and for children who may have certain progressive diseases

that gradually limit their visual field until they are blind, Braille literacy may be the only way for a child to learn to read and write.


“The Braille writer is fun,” said Jamie, who learned to make at least eight letters and write her name in about a month of working with Jones.


Jones and her husband, Mark, owner of radio station WVBG-AM, who was born blind, are the parents of a 6-year-old first-grader, Lensi, who has excellent

vision and is a top reader at Bowmar Elementary.


Lina Jones is in her second year on staff at the school district, and before that served as a consultant to this district and as an itinerant teacher of

the visually impaired in a number of districts in Louisiana.

Braille used less in today’s world - Local - SunHerald.com




January 2, 2010


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