[blindkid] FW: Fewer than 10 Percent of Blind Americans Read Braille

Carol Castellano carol_castellano at verizon.net
Thu Apr 9 03:09:20 UTC 2009

Your question is a good one and actually hints at part of the 
answer.  Usually kids don't have too much power to make change in the 
adult world, but in the case of a visually impaired child who is 
struggling to read, if the child him or herself actually tells the 
IEP team "I can't read this!" they will probably listen better than 
they do to the parent!

As for what we can all do to reverse the trend--

SELL THE LOUIS BRAILE COIN!!!  A portion of the profits will go 
directly to the Federation for braille literacy programs.  This is 
very important work that we can all take part in and change the 
future for VI kids.


At 06:18 AM 4/7/2009, you wrote:
>Carol, what can kids do to see this trend reverse itself?  This is a
>blindness-related question that I hope the Blindkid parents may want to
>talk about.
>Original Message:
>From: "bkmabma at yahoo.com" <bkmabma at yahoo.com>
>To: Eric Calhoun <eric at pmpmail.com>
>Subject: Fewer than 10 Percent of Blind Americans Read Braille
>Sun, 29 Mar 2009 18:32:00 -0400
>Fewer Than 10 Percent Of Blind Americans Read Braille
>By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, March 26, 2009
>BALTIMORE (AP) -- Jordan Gilmer has a degenerative condition that
>eventually will leave him completely blind. But as a child, his teachers
>did not
>emphasize Braille, the system of reading in which a series of raised dots
>signify letters of the alphabet.
>Instead, they insisted he use what little vision he had to read print. By
>the third grade, he was falling behind in his schoolwork.
>''They gave him Braille instruction, but they didn't tell us how to get
>Braille books, and they didn't want him using it during the day,'' said
>Jordan's mother, Carrie Gilmer of Minneapolis. Teachers said Braille would
>be ''a thing he uses way off in the far distant future, and don't worry
>about it.''
>That experience is common: Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million
>legally blind people in the United States read Braille, and just 10
>percent of
>blind children are learning it, according to a report to be released
>by the National Federation of the Blind.
>By comparison, at the height of its use in the 1950s, more than half the
>nation's blind children were learning Braille. Today Braille is considered
>by many to be too difficult, too outdated, a last resort.
>Instead, teachers ask students to rely on audio texts, voice-recognition
>software or other technology. And teachers who know Braille often must
>shuttle between schools, resulting in haphazard instruction, the report
>"You can find good teachers of the blind in America, but you can't find
>good programs,'' said Marc Maurer, the group's president. "There is not a
>commitment to this population that is at all significant almost
>Using technology as a substitute for Braille leaves blind people
>the federation said, citing studies that show blind people who know
>are more likely to earn advanced degrees, find good jobs and live
>"It's really sad that so many kids are being shortchanged," said Debby
>Brackett of Stuart, Fla., who pressured schools to provide capable Braille
>teachers for her 12-year-old daughter, Winona.
>One study found that 44 percent of participants who grew up reading
>Braille were unemployed, compared with 77 percent for those who relied on
>Overall, blind adults face 70 percent unemployment.
>The federation's report pulled together existing research on Braille
>literacy, and its authors acknowledge that not enough research has been
>done. The 10 percent figure comes from federal statistics gathered by the
>American Printing House for the Blind, a company that develops products
>for the visually impaired.
>The federation also did some original research, including a survey of 500
>people that found the ability to read Braille correlated with higher
>levels of education, a higher likelihood of employment and higher income.
>The report coincides with the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the
>Frenchman who invented the Braille code as a teenager. Resistance to his
>system was
>immediate; at one point, the director of Braille's school burned the
>he and his classmates had transcribed. The school did not want its blind
>students becoming too independent; it made money by selling crafts they
>The system caught on, but began declining in the 1960s along with the
>widespread integration of blind children into public schools. It has
>continued with the advent of technology that some believe makes Braille
>"Back in about 1970 or so, I was heading to college, and somebody said
>to me, 'Now that you've got the tape recorder, everything will be all
>In the early 1980s, somebody else said, 'Now that you've got a talking
>computer, everything will be all right,' " said Marc Maurer, president of
>the federation.
>"They were both wrong. And the current technology isn't going to make
>everything all right unless I know how to put my hands on a page that has
>words on it and read them."
>Audio books are no substitute, said Carlton Walker, an attorney and the
>mother of a legally blind girl from McConnellsburg, Pa. Walker once met a
>blind teenager who had only listened to audio books; the teen was shocked
>to discover that "Once upon a time'' was four separate words.
>Walker also had to lobby teachers to provide Braille for her 8-year-old
>daughter, Anna, instead of just large-print books.
>"At 3 years old, Anna could compete with very large letters. When you
>getolder, you can't compete," Walker said. She once asked a teacher,
>"What are you going to do when she's reading Dickens?' She said, 'Well,
>just go to audio then.'
>''If that were good enough for everybody, why do we spend millions of
>dollars teaching people to read?''
>Gilmer, now an 18-year-old aspiring lawyer, worked on his Braille in a
>summer program when he was in middle school and can now read 125 words a
>minute, up from his previously rate, an excruciatingly slow 20 words a
>''Just try it,'' Carrie Gilmer said. ''Go get a paragraph, get a
>and try to read 20 words a minute. Try and read that slow and see how
>frustrating it is.''
>Fluent Braille readers can read 200 words a minute or more, the
>Carrie Gilmer is president of a parents' group within the federation for
>blind. She believes poor or haphazard instruction is largely responsible
>the decline in Braille literacy, but she says sometimes teachers push
>Braille only to meet resistance from parents.
>''They're afraid of their child looking blind, not fitting in,'' Gilmer
>The report outlines ambitious goals for reversing the trend, including
>lobbying all 50 states to require teachers of blind children to be
>in Braille instruction by 2015. But its immediate goal is to simply make
>people aware that there's no substitute for Braille. It's not just a tool
>help people function -- it can bring joy, Maurer said.
>''The concept of reading Braille for fun is a thing that lots of people
>don't know,'' Maurer said. ''And yet I do this every day. I love the
>beautiful, orderly lines of words that convey a different idea that can
>stimulate me or make me excited or sad. ... This is what we're trying to
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