[nfbwatlk] Braille transcribers help blind students stay on same page as sighted peers, The Province, March 8 2016

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Mon Mar 14 19:51:36 UTC 2016

Vancouver, B.C.

Braille transcribers help blind students stay on same page as sighted peers
By Dana Gee, The Province
March 8, 2016

VANCOUVER — The novel To Kill a Mockingbird is available in braille, but a teacher’s lesson plan that asks students to compare the racism of Harper Lee’s Maycomb, Ala., of the 1930s and today’s world is not.

For that, teachers and blind students rely on the skills of local braille transcribers.

“A lot of the work teachers give out is supplemental to the textbooks,” said Marilyn Rushton, a Vancouver district resource teacher who works with blind students and transcribers.

“There are teacher-made materials, and for an academic braille-using student, if they don’t have that, they are going to be falling behind or disadvantaged in some way.”

Braille transcribers also play a big role outside the classroom. They work on everything from pamphlets to pushing blind kids to enjoy some healthy competition at the recent Braille Challenge.

The Vancouver School Board (VSB) employs two braille transcribers who work on materials for three braille-reading students.

And they work quickly to make sure classroom materials are transcribed in real time, to ensure blind students are literally on the same page as their sighted counterparts.

“Vancouver is very big on inclusion,” said Doug Matear, who oversees student support workers for the VSB. “This goes for all our low incident students, special needs. Finding a way they can be included in the lessons and in the classroom in regular programs instead of isolating them (is a priority).”

Ryan Chou, who goes to Killarney Secondary School in Vancouver, agrees that having the same notes and workbooks at the same time as his sighted peers is paramount for a successful school experience.

“It made school less awkward,” said Chou, 18. “If I didn’t have braille it would have been hard to do my work.”

The beginnings of braille appeared in the early 1800s as a unique system known as “night writing,” developed by Charles Barbier so Napoleon’s soldiers could communicate safely after sundown.

Louis Braille, blinded at age 3, adapted Barbier’s work in 1821, when he was just 12 years old.

And since then, a few modifications aside, the language has pretty much stood fast. Now, of course, there is technology that supports braille readers.

For instance, did you know you have a braille setting in your iPhone?

Rushton said today’s technology is good, but it should not replace the learning of actual braille.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, you know there’s listening. They can have audiotapes, etc.,’” said Rushton, who has been blind since birth. “No way. Listening is not true literacy.”

Barbara Morrison, who along with Jennifer Golden makes up the VSB transcribing department, echoes that sentiment.

“How can a person be deemed literate if they rely mainly on audio formats of books and assistive technology?” said Morrison.

“How can blind children learn how to use assistive technology if they haven’t first learned how to manually read and write?”

Morrison was inspired to learn braille when she was in high school in the 1970s with two braille-reading classmates. After graduation she signed up for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s Braille Transcription course for volunteers. These days you can learn braille through a 22-week ($500) CNIB course.

Chou, who is wrapping up his high school life this year, says the support of people like Morrison and Golden and other vision support staff have been key to his success, and something he certainly does not take for granted.

“They’re important,” said Chou. “I know in other parts of the world people are not as nearly as well off as we are here.”

dgee at postmedia.com

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