Literacy Nightmare


Literacy Nightmare

     "Give Our Children Literacy! Give Our Children Print!" chanted the crowd.

     "This is CNN and this is the scene outside Central Elementary School. These parents are angry and dramatically sending their message to the teachers of this school and to the State Department of Education." The camera's lens shows the front of a school. A mass of people march back and forth the length of the block, waving large labeled placards.

     WOMP, WOMP, WOMP! The sound of a helicopter is heard over the audio and the view zooms up to an aerial shot. We are looking down from a significant height to a view of the school's entire property, which is surrounded by a shoulder-to-shoulder phalanx of adults. The focus sharpens to the teacher's parking lot, where police officers negotiate with parents blocking the driveway to not allow the drivers of cars penned inside to leave.

     The news anchor's face again fills the screen. "You've viewed the scene, read the placards, and heard the chants. Now walk with me into this throng and we will learn the specifics of what this is all about."

     "Miss, pardon me." The anchor thrust the microphone at a woman waving a placard labeled LITERACY NOW. "Could you tell our viewers what this demonstration is about?"

     "Literacy! An efficient method of reading and writing. Our children are being denied this right."

     Seeing the camera, marchers crowd in.

     "My daughter gets one hour of teaching per week to learn to read!"

     The man behind her shouts out, "The teacher who instructs my son to read and write is not certified."

     A man in a business suit edges in front of the mike, "They tell us that with the increasing development of technology, computers reading aloud to us is good enough. Good enough!"

     The first mother grabs the mike, "In my daughter's class they turned off the computer monitors!"

     "M'am, are you reporting the students are being denied seeing what is being displayed upon the screen?" asked the shocked anchor.

     "Not exactly." interjected another marcher. "My daughter tells me they allow it to be switched on, but it's out of focus. She comes home with a headache."

     A man's face fills the screen. "My son tells me, in his class they have the font programmed to either enlarge up to a ridiculous size, forcing you to scroll and scroll to read, or the text is so tiny you have to stick your nose up to the screen like you are smelling it." With a dramatic gesture he thrusts forward a sheath of papers. "It goes beyond the computer. Look at these hardcopy handouts." the document on top appears to be a worksheet, but is so light in contrast that its nature is questionable; the second is in very tiny print; a third is several pages stapled together and is in gigantic bold letters. "They tell us it allows our child to function in the print world. But I ask you, is this adequate in terms of being competitive?"

     Another female voice gets the anchor's attention. "Oh, and the books, too! They are either very large volumes that the average student refuses to use or they are just audio."

      "Miss, for the sake of the viewers who have just tuned in, could you clarify the major point of what your group claims is happening here?"

     "The most efficient method of reading and writing is being withheld from our children! They say print is becoming obsolete. Literacy for our children is being greatly restricted and we are not going to allow it anymore."

     The face of the anchor again fills the screen as he gives his closing. "Is the strongest method for reading and writing for these children being systematically taken away? Is literacy being threatened here in this school system? These parents think so and when you take away the student's strongest method of literacy, what do we expect will happen? This is CNN action news." And the screen faded to a last view of the angry, marching parents.

     "AAAHHH!" Marlene, a sighted teacher of blind/VI children, sat bolt upright in bed, hand to her head. "Oh my God, that was a nightmare! Where did that come from?" Yesterday's memory of running into Brad, a former VI student came to mind.

     Brad had been almost bitter when he said, "I should have learnt Braille in elementary school; it would have been more efficient for me than print. Ever think what parents of normally sighted kids would do if you didn't teach their children the most efficient method for reading and writing?" He said he was learning Braille now as a college student.

     Marlene flashed back to the scenes in her nightmare. Surely Brad was the exception? It was just a nightmare, not reality. Surely?


e-mail responses to

**1. Nightmare? No, reality. Since students with visual impairments have gone to mainstream school, the numbers of students who read and write braille are drastically reduced. Why? There are three reasons. First, parents think their kid is stigmatized when he or she learns braille. they figure that if the kid can see at all, he or she must read print, yes, read print to the point of insanity, to the point where a student spends more time in actual decoding then in comprehending what is being read. Parents and teachers think that to learn braille puts a student over the line from visually impaired to blind.

Second reason, the majority of teachers of the blind are sighted. they do not use braille every, single day, they do not write it every single day. Some do not even know it well enough to teach grade I braille.

Third reason, and this is the most telling one. Those of us who *do* read braille and *do* use it on a daily basis, cannot get jobs to teach braille because a TVI teacher must be able to do two things, two things which in the mind of the administrators are more important than any educational degree, more important than any experience, more important than anything else. The teacher of the Visually Impaired must drive and must also be able to teach mobility skills.

Because of this wrong-headed, arrogant, peny-pinching, single-minded, attitude, our blind and visually impaired students are growing up illiterate. If there's one thing I learned from watching the kids in the schools for the blind in India, it is that true literacy for the blind comes *only* from learning to read and to write braille, period, end of discussion.

Oh, and while you're at it, here's another thing to think about. The cheaper braille display isn't coming from the U.S. No, it will come from either India or china. God help the maunderers here in this country. You're going to find yourself out of the whole market when this display comes out, and no amount of whining and excuses are going to do any good at all. People are going to go to India or China and purchase a braille display that is cheap and works reliably.

Ann K. Parsons
Portal Tutoring
Web Site:

**2. This one really got me thinking. Even with all the new technology we have today it is still very important and essential for every one to learn to read. What would happen if we had a technology malfunction (which happens quite a bit) and we did not know how to read or did not have access to either print or braille material. Whether a person is sighted or blind they need to know how to read to help them become the most successfull as they can be and reach their full potential. I believe this is even more true when speaking of a person who is blind or visually impaired. I have low vision and was very fortunate to have great vi services all through school. I learned braille when i was very young. Even then i only used large print until i was half way through high school. Around that time my vision changed and braille became more efficiant than print. So when i think back and try to figure out how i would have managed with out knowing braille in high school i honestly don't know what i would have done. The bottom line is that every one should have an equal oppertunity for literacy no matter what the method is. All that matters is that the method is best for the individual and that person deserves the same chance as every one else regardless of sight or lack of.

Tiffany Taylor Livonia MI

**3. I learned braille in the first grade at the School for the Blind and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Some of my fellow students were not taught braille, but had to labor through print reading even though they were much slower at it. I remember in elementary school thinking these students were stupid or something not realizing that, in reality, they were doing the best they could with inefficient methods of reading. Braille should be offered early and given ample instruction time.


**3. In some ways I am glad I learned print first as it reinforced my ability to spell. I have often heard that learning Braille as a child often affects their ability to spell. They are taught grade two or contracted Braille and then they can't adequately spell. I know several people like this.

On the other hand, I wish I had been taught to read Braille earlier in life as it would have made my transition from print to Braille easier. My school system didn't try to teach it to me until I was in middle school and at that point I saw no sense in it. I could read large print at the time and saw Braille as pointless. I fought against it so hard they finally gave up. I wish I had known then what I know now. If I had learned earlier in life I wouldn't struggle with it as much now. I would be faster and more comfortable with it. Now since it takes me so long to read it, I see no sense as it seems archaic.


**4. There's an atmosphere of danger in your short story and I feel that is real. In today's society of powerful speech synthesis and a culture of instant gratification we're in danger of depriving people the opportunity to learn braille and all the doors that can open. I'm not at all against using computers - I rely on mine and use it almost 24/7! They bring us so many opportunities. But braille does too - it's hard work to learn and it has disadvantages, but it's unique.
For me I think it keeps my imagination and mind going strong - during the time I was unable to read braille (because of deteriorating sensation in my fingers and no awareness a braille display could help or access to one), my spelling went to pieces, my memory wasn't as good as before and I found learning and doing presentations a lot more difficult.

I wish I'd had braille when I was doing a course in computer programming as I think it would have been easier/quicker to grasp the structure of the programs.

I also wished, like the person in your story, that I'd learnt braille earlier - I spent several years at school straining with a magnifier, not knowing how easy reading could be. But I'm lucky I learnt it at all - and it seems a lot of people these days are being deprived that opportunity. Companies and organisations also fairly frequently forget about braille, or refuse to produce it, because they think it's unnecessary when audio or electronic material can be provided instead.

Catherine Turner

**5. This nightmare really seems absurd . But, Braille has been given this exact treatment for at least the past 30 years. So, blind kids are routinely expected to read print with all these barriers. The "professionals" don't know Braille, themselves. So, it's easy to tell parents that listening to a computer read is just as good.

My husband and I were asked to participate in a Braille seminar at the local agency for the blind, a couple weeks ago. The rehab teacher called us and said she had a speaker lined up for the seminar, but he cancelled, and there's no one at the agency who knows enough about Braille to answer questions. We agreed to do it; we were planning to attend, anyway. Well, as it happened, it snowed that day and our ride fell through. We called the lady coordinating the seminar and told her what happened. We offered to come on the bus, but would be quite late. She said she appreciated the offer, but the seminar was likely to be cancelled, anyway, since she didn't expect many people to show up for it. But, I was truly shocked that there is no one at the agency for the blind who knows enough about Braille to answer questions. Braille is just not valued. The same agency was given some Braille books, for their library. But, they're no longer there and no one knows what happened to them. But, there's room for large print books.

I feel very fortunate to have grown up when Braille was taught as the only way for a blind student to read. I sincerely hope we can get back to routinely teaching blind students Braille, both as kids and adults.

Cindy Handel Willow Street, PA

**6. This is reality! Blind children who are being denied Braille have reached ever increasing numbers and it is time that we do something about it. As a Braille teacher I can tell you that one of the biggest fights I ever had with a rehabilitation counselor was because the counselor wanted to close a case because the student really didn't need Braille since he still had a lot of eyesight. The student wanted me to teach him Braille but the counselor said he didn't need it. I won that battle. We need to fight for our blind children's right to literacy and for blind people literacy means Braille.
This is my passion and I will yell and scream and rant and rave and lobby and whatever else is required for Braille literacy. We need, however, to educate parents who are being brain washed by teachers into believing that their children don't need Braille.

Joyce Porter WV

**7. Aziza C (Seventeen years old, senior in High School Southern California,) This brought a smile to my lips, I couldn't help it. It is an obvious concern that blind students are not being given the opportunities they should be in the areas of reading and writing in many schools. I was fortunate to begin learning Braille in Pre K, but when I got to high school I realized I needed help, Computer Braille, math Braille, Foreign Language, I was lost. Trouble was, after my freshman year we've had TVI after TVI who was not qualified, didn't know Braille, or just had no idea what they were doing. I have taught myself foreign language Braille, probably not efficiently, but enough to make due in my Spanish 1 through 3 classes.

I have often wondered what parents of sighted students would do if their children were placed in situations that blind students face everyday in disfunctional or difficult school systems. When things got increasingly difficult for me I remember constantly thinking it wasn't fair, when my education was on the line, the rest of my life was in chaos. I often wonder if sighted students and their parents could handle what we go through. Wonder if my sighted friends could last a day in my place during which I'm scheduled for an IEP.

Another question I have is, do blind students have an advantage by being presented with these difficult situations? Sometimes I think that sighted students take for granted the ease of simply going to the book room and picking up a copy of the necessary textbook, do we have an advantage by learning to problem solve, work around, search for other ways?

Robert, this is probably one of my favorites.

**8. What a great thought provoker! I suspect that if sighted children without disabilities were being treated this way something would be done about it. This is a wonderful way to write this issue out for all to see.

Sarah L. Gales ACB-L
AdLib Center for Independent Living
Advocate/Peer Counselor

**9. The twentieth century melted into the twenty first century and man's knowledge is increasing by leaps and bounds. Man has conquered the atom, has landed a man on the moon, and has made incredible medical advances; because of the computer. However the computer has also driven away many of our Basic English skills for both sighted and blind children, and adults.

When I attended elementary school in the 1960's home computers didn't exist. Students spent many hours each day reading, learning to spell, grammar, and punctuation in short every English skill necessary to write a report.

I can remember the dreaded book report. Not only did we have to read a book, we also had to write a report using all our English skills we learned incorporated in the essay. Because of these teachers, children in my generation learned to speak and write English correctly.

Are computers and advantage or a detriment?

All a student needs to do is run the report, essay, document or whatever other word you wish to employ.

Simply run a grammar and spell check, and your paper will have every word, the grammar, and punctuation perfect. What have our children learned? Proper English or the key strokes needed to work the computer.

Don't misconstrue what I'm saying. We live in the world of computers; not understanding them won't successfully propel you into the work field, where computers rule our lives.

Blind children at the same age of a sighted child can't compete successfully unless Braille is utilized. Braille is a fundamental and essential ingredient needed for a blind man or woman to be able to compete, and to be gainfully employed.

The percentage of blind men and women who are not employed is a staggering number.

Unquestionably the blind must know how to employ the computer skills so they can be competitive in obtaining white collar jobs.

However I also believe blind children are falling through the cracks, because they are not learning the skills every child has the right to learn.

Our computers talk, a great help for the blind.

I use Jaws on a daily basis, my monitor useless to me. Blind children also listen to a voice, which hampers there English skills. A sighted child, as any sighted person see's the written word on signs, bulletin boards, in thousands of places. A blind child doesn't have this constant reinforcement, so I feel Braille is essential for every blind student to learn.

When to learn Braille? As an adult I had to learn Braille after I lost my sight. I found reading Braille was quite difficult for me.

A child's mind is so fertile that these Braille skills not only should be taught, it is essential, and they must be educated to learn this skill.

Peter Poliey III,

**10. It is so sad to me that if you replace "print" with "Braille", this happens to blind youth every day. I think this would make great testimony to how society would react if suddenly, their kids had poor or no education in using print. As with so many civil rights issues that I find the blind to be quite civil about, there would be rioting in the streets if it was a different group of people.

The way the whole things starts is that some, probably a relative few, teachers find auditory learning and large print easier to use. Next thing you know, there are a lot of teachers who adopt these methods, all of which require expensive technology and power. I would love to see your scenario on CNN! We need to educate the public about the importance of literacy for blind people. It is every bit as important for us as it is for them.

Nancy L. Coffman, CVRC
Program Specialist/Technology Services
Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired

**11. I think the statistics say it all, and we all need to take note. Although there is debate about the actual unemployment figure for blind people, the generally accepted estimate is 70%, plus or minus. Of the 30% who are employed, more than 90% are braille literate. There is nothing else that needs to be said. Braille is necessary; it must be taught. To do anything else is a miscarriage of our society's responsibility.

Ron Brooks Phoenix, AZ ACB-L

**...FROM ME, RLN- Several of the next responses are from individuals who represent a group who are not in support of Braille, nor the efforts of the NFB to promote Braille. I include them to show the larger picture as to how far to the negative view runs within the blind community.

12. For anyone other than the deaf/blind, Braille is obsolete, and should be totally eliminated from the visually-impaired community.

It is an antiquated method of communication, about as efficient as smoke signals, except that smoke signals are probably easier to learn.

With today's advanced technologies, including digital cameras, both stand-alone and built into cellphones, scanners, optical character recognition, text-to-speech and talking books, magazines, thermostats, microwave ovens, scales, clocks, watches, GPS and other navigational assistance devices and the like, what possible need is there for learning a system like Braille that, once learned, is quickly forgotten -- even faster than it took to learn it in the first place?

If any system of tactile communication should be promoted, it is Alpha Braille, consisting of a five by five grid, similar to Braille, but which produces actual alpha-numeric characters, just like the rest of society uses. For anyone who was literate while sighted, but who has later lost his/her sight, Alpha Braille requires virtually no learning, as one is already familiar with the characters represented by the dots in that 5 by 5 grid.

For example, if the five spaces in the far left column were all occupied by dots, and the five spaces along the bottom of the grid were also filled by dots, what alphabetical letter do you suppose that grid would represent?

If you said the letter "L", you'd be absolutely right. And you didn't have to be taught a thing.

But if you didn't have a clue that the above example represented anything other than a right angle, than it's an almost certainty that you are congenitally blind, and were never taught the standard alphabet in the first place.

Instead, you were isolated from the world by virtue of your very blindness, and then you were further isolated from society by being taught standard, grade 1, contracted and all sorts of variations to the antiquated Braille system, ensuring that you are held captive by such organizations as the National Federation of the Brainless.

Less than ten percent of the blind can even read Braille, yet the NFB et al insists that it be placed on ATMs, elevator buttons and other places. That means that 90% of the rest of us who are blind, and 100% of the sighted population, have no idea what those arbitrary bunches of dots even represent.

Rather than the tail wagging the dog, it's time that the majority of us who are blind speak out and insist that Alpha Braille replace the useless system of seemingly random dots that are meaningless to the rest of the world.

George Cassell RPlist

**13. Bravo, George! I have always felt the same way. But of course, alpha Braille will never gain a firm foothold as long as the NFB has its way.
They claim to be the "voice of the nation's blind", but with only 50,000 members, they actually represent less than 5% of the total number of people classified as legally blind in the U.S. With their misguided attempts to block the installation of audible traffic signals and opposition to the introduction of identifiable paper currency, they have lost much of their credibility in recent years, but still continue to insist that Braille literacy be a mandatory part of every blind rehab program. They control the rehab programs in at least three states, but fortunately have not gained a strong presence here in New York. In fact, our Governor Paterson is their worst nightmare: a successful blind person who is not Braille literate or white cane proficient. The NFB has ranted for years that only by learning Braille can a blind person hope to achieve academic and vocational success, even though the unemployment rate among the blind has remained in excess of 70% for years. They claim that most blind people who are gainfully employed are also Braille literate, but Gov. Paterson has shattered this myth, much to their dismay. Of course, the NFB led the recent celebration of Louis Braille's 200th birthday with the introduction of a commemorative silver dollar bearing his likeness. So the NFB (and to a lesser degree the ACB) are still hard at work trying to prevent Braille from going the way of the buggy whip.

Gerald Levy RPlist

**14. I agree 100% with George and Gerald. Except for the deaf/blind, where a braille display on their computers is extremely useful, I think braille should go the way of the dodo bird.

As one who taught blind and visually impaired students back in the 1970s, long before I knew that I would one day be legally blind, I did learn both grade 1 braille and contracted braille at that time. Over 2 decades later, I did a refresher course in braille for my own use, but I found that I made very little use of it even then and I do not use it at all now because of all the technology available to us.

Don Moore RPlist

**15. George and other anti-Braille folk,

Why take Braille away from those who wish to use it and find it useful?
Nobody is telling you that you HAVE to use it and the law states that along with Braille in elevators the raised numerals and letters also have to be provided, and I've seen room numbers and restroom labels in government buildings and hotels also represented in raised alphanumeric characters alongside the Braille. You are not excluded, yet you seek to exclude those who understand the power of Braille over your method.

My hubby (totally blind) learned Braille over 10 years ago, he WANTED to learn Braille, no one forced him. In fact, he learnt it in a matter of 3 or
4 months! He reads Braille books, uses the slate and stylus to mark things in his office (he is self employed). He is also an ex-computer software developer so online stuff and computer usage are part of his daily life and he uses that too - he's a gadget nut.

He is NOT a member nor a follower of the NFB. He just chose what was best for him and what he felt was right for him at that time and has never ever regretted his choice. It's a choice, not a regulation for him to learn Braille. There are plenty of other people who use Braille and plenty who don't. It's a no-brainer - use it or don't, but please don't ridicule or belittle those who have worked hard and dedicated a lot of time and energy to learn Braille.

I, as a sighted spouse, took the time and energy to learn Braille too. I learnt grade 1 and contracted Braille and don't regret it for a second. It does not make me or any Braille reader less of a person because they CHOSE to learn it.

Braille is not just there as an annoyance for you or for people losing their vision or who have lost their sight later in life. What about those who were born blind or were blind from infancy? It is sometimes hard for people to learn the alphanumeric system as the numbers or letters can be too close together to make sense when you can't see them. If it's just for a door number in hotels, numbers in elevators or denoting gender on bathroom doors, then fine, but try reading something like that in a book - or even a sentence.

If you don't want to learn it (or can't, for whatever reason) then that's great, move on, but for those people who do, did and intend to learn it, please don't be so pompously righteous about what YOU think is right for others. They are grown up enough to be able to make their own decisions.

Lisa Roggeman RPlist

**16. Hi Lisa,

I, like you, learned braille as a sighted person; I acquired that skill, both grade one and contracted braille, because I was teaching blind and visually impaired students in the 1970s when today's technology wasn't available. Years later, when my eyesight was diminishing, I spent a lot of time to re-learn braille, this time by touch, which I found much more difficult than reading braille by sight.

Sadly, I hardly used my braille skills when I re-learned it in the late 1990s and I never use it now. I am also in contact with several of my former students from the School for the Blind and they also hardly use braille now either; in fact, most of them no longer use their braille skills at all.

As I said earlier, I certainly see the benefit for deaf/blind people using braille displays on their computers, but I think it's a dying art for those who are just blind. If someone wants to learn braille, go ahead, but I really don't see the point in putting all the time and effort that I spent on a skill that has been replaced by technology for those of us who only have blindness.

Don Moore RPlist

**16. Lisa --

Braille will continue to exist, if only for the deaf/blind community, and as a curiosity for everyone else. Think of it as a type of Morse Code, another form of communication whose time has come and gone, and whose usefulness now resides on the junk heap of outdated technologies. Even the FCC has finally removed the requirement to learn Morse Code for those wishing to obtain an amateur radio licence.

Yet there are those who are fascinated by artifacts from the past, who still continue to tinker with the dots and dashes of Morse Code that, when strung together in certain configurations, can actually be used to form letters, words and even sentenses.

Nobody is suggesting that you or your husband be banned from ever using Braille. On the contrary. If you wish to continue to play with it, and you find some benefit in doing so, even if that benefit is merely for entertainment purposes only, than by all means, continue to do so and have fun!

But to require that the rest of us (the other 90% of us who are also blind), be forced to learn Braille, when there are so many newer, more efficient ways of obtaining the useful information we require, is both absurd and ludicrous.

Learning to read Braille, to obtain the miniscuel amount of information we can't readily obtain any other way, is like learning to read, write and speak Chinese, just to order egg rolls at a Chinese restaurant. It just doesn't make any sense at all.

Braille does more to isolate the blind from the rest of society, than does blindness itself. And to be forced to learn Braille, in place of Alpha Braille, is both cruel and unreasonable.

Braille is something that cannot be shared with those who are not blind, and merely demonstrates to the sighted community how out of touch the blind are from everyone else.

With Alpha Braille, however, the sighted need only glance at the letters and numbers formed by the five by five grids comprising Alpha Braille's cells, and they, too, can instantly and easily recognize what each dot-formed character represents. That means that both the blind and sighted alike can read Alpha Braille. Now, instead of being seperated from each other, the sighted are included in the communication system of the blind, without any special training whatsoever.

To hear the National Federation of the Borg talking about wanting to assimilate those who are blind, and then complaining that nobody understands the blind, shows how they just don't get it. If you want to be included in society, than you have to act like the rest of society, and not do everything in your power to be different from everyone else.

It's time we embrace technology and let go of the past. If you disagree, then by all means, send me a telegram.

George Cassle RPlist

**17. Bravo Lisa, I'm glad you're back,

I always wonder about the motive of people who, so adamantly, oppose the use of Braille, to the point of hostile. If they don't choose, and yes, it's a choice, not to use it, that's up to them, but why attack those who find it useful.

I learned uncontracted Braille several years ago. I have no intention of learning contracted, because I don't want to read an entire book, but the limited Braille I know has given me back some of the independence I lost with my vision. I label audio books, CDs, food, credit cards, and anything else I use regularly. I also use a Braille watch, and Braille calendar.

Personally, I don't like extra noise from talking devices. There is already enough white noise everywhere as it is. For example, I would prefer to discreetly check the time on my Braille watch, than have a voice announcement to attract attention to myself in public. The time announcement would be even more inappropriate during a meeting. Technology isn't always the answer.

No one can argue that Braille is isolating, but so is being blind. We have different needs from the sighted, so what's wrong with using whatever tool we have at our disposal.

Blind advocacy in the US and Canada has slowed to a snails pace.
Unfortunately, our strongest opposition comes from within. If we can't even agree on what is best for us, how can we expect the sighted world to understand. Why are we trying to take away our options? Haven't we lost enough already?

I don't know if you can answer this for me, and I hope you will excuse my ignorance, but what does using Braille have to do with the NFB? Are only members of the NFB permitted to use Braille? Of course, I'm being facetious, but if blind people can quote such stereotypes, it's no wonder why the sighted community doesn't understand blindness.

You are more of a proponent for blind advocacy than some who are blind. You at least give us enough credit to make our own decisions, though antiquated they may be, and yes, you are also giving us the option not to learn Braille, if that is our choice.

Take care for now.
hugs, Linda Weber RPlist

**18. I agree with Lisa and her husband. Like him, I began learning braille long before I needed it, because I knew that some day the RP would rob me of the ability to read inkprint, as it now has. I have always been an avid reader, and braille has enabled me to continue.

Of course I also love audio books and listen to a lot of them, but every day I do some reading in a braille book, usually fiction. I don't find that braille separates me from others at all; in fact my friends and I often read the same books. They read them in inkprint and I read them in brailleprint and we discuss them together.

I find it very hard to believe George's claim that braille is about to disappear, especially since there is so much more of it around now than there was when I started learning to read it 20-odd years ago. At least part of the reason for that is technology. Almost all books now are composed on computers, which means a digital file of each new book exists. That makes it relatively easy to hook a computer up to a braille printer and print out a copy of the book. No human transcriber is necessary anymore, although it is a good idea to have a human proofreader go over it; the computer does make the odd mistake, although that will not bother the experienced reader.

Using the system described above, the Canadian National Institute for The Blind puts out a series of what they call "quickbooks". These are bestsellers that come out in braille almost as soon as they come out in regular inkprint. They are very popular.

In 2 respects I do agree with George: I never write braille, although I once learned the basics of that skill. But it is very difficult and laborious to write and the

computer is just so much easier. Also, I agree that grade 2, contracted braille is difficult and time-consuming to learn. I read it all the time, but it took years before it was comfortable.

However, grade 1, straight alphabetic braille, is not hard to learn. Many people who cannot read grade 2 have mastered grade 1, and for them there are an increasing number of publications in grade 1.

Most of the grade 1 braille characters are a sort of abbreviation of the letters of the regular Roman alphabet. They are designed so that, with a little practice, they are much easier to feel than to see. I would like to try George's alphabraille out of curiosity, but I'm sure it would take longer to read in it than in grade 1 braille.

In any case, there is nothing like sitting at night, sliding my finger across the page, seeing the letters in my mind, feeling as if my reading finger has an eye in it, and hearing again the silent voice in my mind that used to be there when I used to read with my eyes. It is real reading. I'm aware of spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, footnotes and all those literate conventions that blind children brought up without braille must have a very hard time imagining.

Don't you dare try to take it away from me.

Will Trump
Surrey, B.C. Canada

**19. Braille will NEVER be obsolete. George, how do you expect blind children to learn to read and write? Braille is their ONLY mechanism for this. Talk to TVIs, they'll tell you the same thing. A person who "listens" to audiotapes is bnot equivalent as being "literate."

Since I fit into the "deafblind" category, as Braille is my only option right now to access material or information. But even blind only persons will need it. No matter how advanced technology will become, there is no literacy without knowing how to read and write, and for the Blind Braille will be it.

But I understand some people's stances, because they are not born blind and never learned to need Braille. Now if you become blind later in life, then the choice is theirs. Those blind in later life can still remember how to write properly, could use the latest technology and be alright, but those who are congenitally blind, Braille will be the only way to teach writing and literacy.

Darran RPlist

**20. Hi Darran,

Now, with regard to blind children learning to read and write, I have some thoughts. Since I was a teacher of blind and visually impaired students even before my RP manifested itself and since I have contact with several of my former students who are adults now, I have been able to discuss this situation with them.

One thing I have discovered is that those who learned contracted braille early in life and who continued to use it throughout their school years have very poor spelling skills, which makes it difficult for them to communicate with a regular computer keyboard. Of course, they could get a braille display and never learn proper spelling, but they actually want to be able to do what the rest of the world is doing, so they keep plugging away at it while using a spellchecker in the meantime.

I am also speaking as one who learned braille, both grade one and contracted braille, as a sighted teacher and later as a blind person.
Personally, I find it tedious, but I could use it if I had to; thankfully, for me, there is a better option these days.

I now read audio books and I also read e-text books with JAWS on my computer.

As I said in an earlier post, I think it's wonderful that braille and especially, braille displays, are available for those who are deaf/blind.

Have a nice day and be well,
Don Moore RPlist

**21. The twentieth century melted
into the twenty first century and man's knowledge is increasing by leaps and bounds. Man has conquered the atom, has landed a man on the moon, and has made incredible medical advances; because of the computer. However the computer has also driven away many of our Basic English skills for both sighted and blind children, and adults.

When I attended elementary school in the 1960's home computers didn't exist. Students spent many hours each day reading, learning to spell, grammar, and punctuation in short every English skill necessary to write a report.

I can remember the dreaded book report. Not only did we have to read a book, we also had to write a report using all our English skills we learned
incorporated in the essay. Because of these teachers, children in my generation learned to speak and write
English correctly.

Are computers and advantage or a detriment?

All a student needs to do is run the report, essay, document or whatever other word you wish to employ. Simply run a grammar and spell check, and your paper will have every word, the grammar, and punctuation perfect. What have our children learned? Proper English or the keystrokes needed to work the computer.

Don't misconstrue what I'm saying. We live in the world of computers; not understanding them won't successfully propel you into the work field, where computers rule our lives.

Blind children at the same age of a sighted child can't compete successfully unless Braille is utilized. Braille is a fundamental and essential ingredient needed for ablind man or woman to be able to compete, and to be gainfully employed.

The percentage of blind men and women who are not employed is a staggering number.

Unquestionably the blind must know how to employ the computer skills so they can be competitive in obtaining white collar jobs.

However I also believe blind children are falling through the cracks, because they are not learning the skills every child has the right to learn.

Our computers talk, a great help for the blind.

I use Jaws on a daily basis, my monitor useless to me. Blind children also listen to a voice, which hampers there English skills. A sighted child, as any sighted person see's the written word on signs, bulletin boards, in thousands of places. A blind child doesn't have this constant reinforcement, so I feel Braille > is essential for every blind student to learn.

When to learn Braille? As an adult I had to learn Braille after I lost my sight. I found reading Braille was quite difficult for me. A child's mind is so fertile that these Braille skills not only should be taught, it is essential, and they must be educated to learn this skill.

Peter Poliey III

**22. When I attended the Washington State School for the Blind over forty years ago it was believed that if a child had enough vision to read large print it would only confuse him or her to concentrate primarily on learning to read braille. I have heard recently of changes in this belief and that low-vision children are given the opportunity to learn braille at an earlier age than they were back in the day. I believe that reading multi-code (I.E. print and braille) is somewhat like learning to be multilingual. A child can learn both and switch back and forth as needed.

I am totally blind and have been so since birth so I have no experience of reading print of any kind but I believe that the learning abilities of children, and even of adults, are amazing. We need to think outside the box in helping blind and visually impaired students learn to read and write. Literacy is the goal and both print and braille are important for children who have enough vision to read print but know that they will be losing their sight at some time. If these kids learn both braille and print one hurdle in completely losing their sight will be overcome.

Chris Coulter Edmonds, Washington

**23. We march , march for our right to all materials things we want.

Schools today are to provide every service for there children. I was lucky I got a third grade teacher to help. But today you have to have a special ed teacher plus assists and assists to assists.

Where are parents to day working and etc. not helping there children. Yet they want school to provide all their special service.

the school have to provide a special classroom for six children with behavior problen with office, phone service, etc.

We each have problems that we need service for and children are no accept.

Where does this all end.

Dexter Terry

**24. As blind people, we must believe in our equality. Good reading skills exist in print and Braille. Sometimes they are identical in terms of word attach skills and word recognition skills. Accidental reading happens for those with vision; this does not happen for the blind. It must be created.
However, the drive for literacy is alive in the print and the Braille worlds.

Children require role models, practical motivation, time to practice, parental encouragement and solid teaching techniques. All children must observe others reading. Everyday experiences must involve reading. Grocery lists, menus, cards, headlines, tales, commercials and food labels need to be read. Parents, grandparents, babysitters, day care workers and school employees must read. This happens in some families, but not in all.
Computers are not a substitute for reading. We proclaim this as fact, but often we behave differently. Literacy demands work, for blind and sighted children.

Facts are often ugly, but we must live in the real world. Teachers are imperfect. If they do not know Braille, tutors must be hired. Parents and guardians accept that responsibility in the print world.(I paid a Geometry tutor for my daughter because she did not understand it. Nor did I.) I believe a strong Braille reader can be an excellent tutor, without being a certified teacher.

Practice is a necessity. It is superb hindsight to wish we had mastered Braille back in elementary school. Remember your young self. Adults tell us we should have made them learn, but they forget how they reacted to the dots. Without definite motivation, learning occurs slowly. Children dream about lunch, skating, computer games and parties. They picture themselves as computer doctors or social service workers, never realizing that reading can make the difference in employment or lack of it. Adults must explain the facts of life about literacy over and over.
That truth concerns blind and sighted children. Print users are never automatically terrific readers.

Children using print or Braille can participate in activities designed to promote reading. They can read stories to siblings; they can participate in library programs; they can read magazine articles and fairy tales to the family. Texting, talking books and television cannot replace reading. They can enhance.

Most of us believe in individuality, but forget that when it comes to reading. Without motivation or practice, we expect our children to be great at it. It does not matter if it is print or Braille. Speedreading is marvelous, but worthless if comprehension is missing. Modern print and Braille readers are absolutely in need of written and computerized language.
They must have qualified teachers and family support. There must be a special spirit surrounding reading!

I believe that must also live in the minds of those of us who learned Braille as adults. Can you possibly come to Braille with enthusiasm and effort without a love for language? It is possible, but rare. Braille demands time and practice, whether we are thirty or sixty. Older students schedule practices, with or without companions. If reading was, and is, a valued skill, the rehab client appreciates Braille and what it can deliver to daily life.

I believe Braille is beautiful and practical. The blind must dream of a perfect world where all learn the skills of reading and writing in Braille.
We must demonstrate the desperate need for qualified teachers and successful programs. However, we must recognize flaws in all aspects of society. It cannot be denied that print users lack perfection, too. The beauty of Braille must be emphasized. The practicality of the code must be demonstrated. Over and over, in every corner of the world, Braille must be taught. Braille should never be a nightmare! We, as blind individuals, must celebrate Braille. Too many of us speak negatively of this masterpiece. "We claim it is too difficult. We proclaim our touch too impaired. The computer is so much more practical. Braille is old-fashioned. My friends make fun of it. It's too big. Contractions are too complicated.)

It is our task to change what it means to be blind, so we never give up on improving our lives. Braille is extremely important , and so we must continue to prove its value. If the blind do not endeavor to prove the value of our search for perfection in our lives, who will? If we do not strive for literacy as a part of each blind individual's life, who will?

Nightmares must end!

Patricia Harmon NJ NFB Writers' Division mailing list

**25. "Your Baby Can Read," touts a TV informercial.

The promoters of this system state that a window of opportunity is apparent in a child before the age of four. Most children do not start to learn to read until five or six when that opportunity is fading. The system works using a flash card with a written word on it simultaneously saying the word out loud. The child makes the connection neurologically between the spoken word and the written word. Even babies with pre speech can point to their foot when the teacher shows the word foot and says the word foot out loud.


But, this same window of opportunity occurs in the blind/visually impaired child, as well. Can you imagine the possibilities for the b/vi child if that same window of opportunity were captured? I believe the b/vi child could surpass the sighted child in reading and language and communication skills significantly altering that child's world view and life goals.

Pioneering new paths and using new ways and means to make things better is how we grow as a people and society. There will always be stumbling blocks. There will always be resistance. Technology is changing the way the world communicates, that is inevitable. Why be afraid of it? The good news is, we will always find ways to communicate to each other, to tell our stories. We always have and we always will. After all, we are using a computer and web site to tell this story. This would not be likely only 20 years ago. And most of us have readily accepted the computer as a communication tool. In fact, many of us wonder how we got along without it.

Virginia Sblendorio

**26. Wow! These are some of the same things that I have have had problems with at my school. I can't read anything really below 20 font type, and I completely understand how frustrated these parents and children are. Especially when trying to explain what we see to a sighted teacher. I live in a small country town and go to public school, and I'm sorry to say That I'm a senior inn high school and this is the first year that I have not had to almost fight with a teacher to get them to do what needs to be done or to understand what it means to have low vision in a classroom. This is my advice to parents and students about things like this.

Over the years I have learned some things that have made things easier. First at the end of each school year schedule a meeting with the child's next year teachers. If you are in High school HAVE YOUR SCHEDULE ALREADY PLANNED AND BOOKS ALREADY ORDERED FOR THE NEXT YEAR. This meeting gives the teachers a chance to ask questions and figure things out ahead of time instead of at the beginning of the year when things are hectic and they are stressed.

When you have a meeting have a way to show the teacher what your child sees. It helps if you show them use visuals. type something in very small print and let them try to read it to show what it is like for that child to read regular font print, or write something small in a yellow marker on a whiteboard for them to copy. Also show them what it is like to have to scroll when things are in to large a font.

Another thing is bring any tools that your child is using in the class room and teach the teacher how to use them so the teacher gets the full understanding of where the student is coming from.

At school I have learned that my teachers will go to other teachers that have taught me in the past and ask them how they did things if they realize I will be in their class. By now they all pass their knowledge along to other teachers so by now the teacher has some idea of what it will be like to have me in their class before I schedule the meeting. This is sad but true, there are some teachers that don't like appearing dumb about something and at first when you talk to them may seem rude or sound snide. It helps to not get rude or snide back. Keep in mind that this is something new for this teacher, and it is often hard for a teacher to stop being a teacher and to become a student. If there is a teacher that did well with the child then recommend that the teachers go talk to that teacher if they still have any questions. Sometimes it helps to hear it from another teacher.

I am not saying that you wont have a teacher that is lazy and just wont do what needs to be done. In this case if the student is in public school I would suggest getting the law book out. It would be to your advantage to have everything that your child needs including small things like extra time for assignments written out in detail on the students IEP also so that it can't be disputed. Personally, I just get my mom to come up to the school, and talk to the teacher. My teachers get nervous when they hear my mom is coming up there. They REALLY don't like it when my mom comes. She is a red head that comes from a very opinionated family.

In all seriousness though bear in mind that most teachers are not intentionally being mean, they just do not have a very good understanding of the child's needs and what the difference between normal vision and our vision is.

Mytchiko McKenzie

**26. How about give our children Braille and print! That would be too perfect.
But, I still think, "Yes we can."

Ermelinda Miller

**27. I learned Braille back in September 1964 when I started school. I was almost five years old. I could not imagine waiting until college to learn to read and write. I learned typing starting in seventh grade, and I did not know back then that I would have a computer, and would be typing email.

Edwin Yakubowski

**28. Wow I must say that is another THOUGHT PROVOKER hitting home Robert. I think alot of parents of either blind or sighted would react the same way if the best method is not being taught weather it be: print, braille or both.

Sean Moore NFB Writers' division Mailing List

**29. I learned Braille when I was a kid, at the same time sighted kids learn to read print. Its ingrained in my memory, I will always be able to read. I'm not the fastest reader in the world, however, and I'm an awful speller because I have always been mostly dependent on computers and audio tapes to access information. It is no accident that for the brief time I was at the Colorado Center for the Blind my Braille skills improved dramatically. I had a Braille class every day after all, and I also commandeered the refreshable Braille display as often as I could. My spelling improved too. Now that I'm in college, and dependant more on audio, that has all gone down hill.

Angela fowler NFB Writers' division Mailing List

**30. yes, when we use contractions, we shortcut the spelling practice.

this really highlights how important the direct practice of braille is to our literacy.

Robert, this is a very good thought provoker, you've done a great job of demonstrating what the current classroom is like for our blind and low vision kids!

I had low vision, so was only taught to use magnification until I happily lost my sight altogether. until then, reading was cumbersom, and certainly not so easy. I had "jewelers' loops on my glasses to give extra magnification for my one sighted eye.

so, I learned braille when in eighth grade. my wife learned it in kindergarten, so of course she's a faster braille reader than I am.
once I became blind, and used talking books, and rfb along with braille, my reading took off. I say I couldn't and wouldn't have gone to college if my low vision had persisted, preventing the acquisition of the good reading techniques.

Jim Canaday M.A. Lawrence, KS

**31. when I was in elementary school I had to spell out words using both contractions and grade one Braille. Where I work now for disney there are several blind people. Two of us use Braille writers, I use mine more extensively than the other lady. I use mine to write notes, covering pages and pages with all the guest details so I don't have to rely on my overstretched memory. I do calculations with it when it's faster to use the Braille and add up the coluns line by line. At least four other blind people use electronic Braille notetakers with Braille displays. One blind person, the one who got me the job or reccommended it to me does not know Braille. I don't know how she takes her notes. I always have a slate and stylus handy in my purse, my bag, my desk. We get lots of brochures from travel vendors at work and I label them. If I don't I toss them out because I don't want to take the time to sort through them. There is Braille on our time clock and Braille on the drawers int the kitchen at work that hold napkins and utencils. My biggest beef is they won't label the coffee maker because they dont' want cast members operating it. They operate it all the time. I push that issue with them. I'm getting ready to push the issue of access to brochures since the blind workers will start booking packages soon. it's funny I brought my Braile writer to work to label bingo cards or to help make one since our team plays booking bingo. I don't know why I didn't bring it two years ago when I gotthe the job. I thought the computer was adequate, I guess. Our training pushed the idea of writing notes. everyone else uses pen and paper now I'm using Braille ninety-five percent of the time.

Shelley J. Alongi CA

**32. Is this to say that children would find braille better quality and easier to manage than audio versions of the same material, or that the sighted community, whether this be legally or functionally; in any practical sence, should be learning braille to manage easier? I'm curious, basically, what that article really meant. Good article, I give it that, nice writing too.

Justin Louchart


This is what we need to be doing, to protect Braille from coming extinct. Vision impaired people need at least an intro to Braille, just to be able to talk to someone who cannot read or write.

Apathy is the poison that is destroying America:

we let a few people take Bible Reading out of the schools.

we let a few people take prayer out of the schools.

We let 9 judges on the supreme court help America to kill 4,000 babies a day; but, let a mother die when she is pregnant, it is not only the loss of the mother, but the news also says an unborn baby was killed.

I just can't help but believe that we are in the last days, and we better get ready!!!

Joe Otts

**34. I am reminded of the famous toy company as I read this TP, and if I may, let me paraphrase: “Schools R us!” We elect governing bodies for our schools, and we should make informed decisions on whom we decide to vote for when elections roll around. We should demand curriculum that educates ALL of our children to their highest potential. Having said that, I am not a proponent of confrontational, adversarial, militaristic tactics. We have the power of the ballot at all levels of education, but most of us fail to use it and when things don't go as we like, the majority of us turn to yelling and arm waving. How many of those people in the above story went to their school and offered a solution? How many volunteers do you think came forth to give of their time as a teacher,s a reading coach? How many of those people do you think actually called the school, found out who sets the curriculum and then contacted that group in a cooperative, persuasive manner to cope with the problem? In today's society, we are too quick to condemn and too slow to take positive action.

As to the child who failed to learn Braille in grade school, I fail to understand why a parent would want to “mainstream” a visually impaired child before he is equipped to cope in a sighted world. As parents, we MUST keep our child's welfare to the forefront. We must make him feel “normal” in a sighted world by first assuring that he is capable of learning in that environment, and that would require sending him first to a specialized educational setting, whether you call it a “school for the blind”, “a school for the deaf”, or whether you provide private instruction. We cannot expect that a child will function in a “mainstream” classroom without the necessary tools.

We are all different. I know many visually impaired persons who excel in learning mostly through drive and a desire to be better than anyone else, but I think the majority would fail miserably without the basics we need in order to learn.

What we need is for our educators to spend less time on administering drugs, birth control pills and devices, prevention programs, and a hell of a lot more time educating our children in the areas necessary for them to function in a high-tech world, i.e. reading by whatever means, writing by whatever means, math and both social and physical science.

I'm not sure this addresses the TP, but I feel strongly about the role of parents in education, whether it is the education of visually impaired, deaf, or so called “normal” children. We as parents must be in control and emotional militaristic demonstration is not the way to gain such control, in my very humble opinion!

Jim Theall, Longmont, CO

**35. This is nothing new. Anything man-made can always be improved. Trouble is, the
"improvements" are often worse. Whether you're blind or sighted, deaf or hearing,
reading skills (and education in general) have gone down a slippery slope of mediocrity
and complacency.
This issue has been brought up in several other Thought Provokers, especially
concerning traditional Braille versus assistive technology. And the solution is simple:
screen reader programs are nice, but they can't be used as a substitute for reading
skills. If a child can learn Braille, he should learn Braille. After all, sighted children
can't just ignore their reading lessons and say, "I don't need this. I can just get the
book on tape." And nobody in his right mind will say, "I don't need to memorize these
math tables. I can just use a calculator."
I will readily admit that Braille is much harder to learn than print. And, when you
add to that the fact that English is the hardest language to learn (and it is), you've
got quite a challenge. But it is not impossible.
Long before I had ever gotten involved with disability issues, I had already been
working on a comprehensive English language curriculum. For as long as I had gone
to school, from Kindergarten to college, I had always heard at least one teacher, at
every grade level, complain about the lameness of the textbooks. So I decided that
a thorough study of English and other subjects would be necessary. I am convinced
that any subject can be taught with perfect, systematic logic. And, since I'd already
been working on English, I figure the same principle applies to Braille, math, history,
or any other subject.

I brought this up with one of my college professors, Doctor Harry Boyle. I said, "If
you professors don't like the textbooks, then why don't you fix the problem? You guys
are P H Ds. Why not research and write your own curriculum?" He merely grumbled,
"Naah," and dismissed the idea.
That's why you can't always rely on "professionals." If you want it done, you must
take initiative. Don't expect others to do something, if you won't do it yourself. You
must study to show yourself approved.

(One quick note: I do not object to screen readers, such as Jaws. But I have been
told that it mispronounces some words. So I'm studying computers in conjunction with
English phonics, to try and iron this out.)
While doing this, I learned some basic principles:

1) Anything worth doing will cost you a lot of time and money. But you're already
paying school taxes anyway, so what difference does it make? If you do the work, at
least you can be confident in its quality.

2) You can't be rigid about time, however. The big error of public school is that
everything is taught in increments. If you're teaching a lesson, and you can do it
all within a 50-minute time period, fine. But it doesn't always work. What if Lesson 1
takes five minutes, while Lesson 2 takes five months? It could happen. Just because
a kid sits through each and every class doesn't mean he actually grasped the concept.

3) "Testing" is a sham. In most tests, all you do is spit out answers like Trivial
Pursuit. The only way to test is by writing out essay questions. For example, if your
student can write a solid essay on the Bill of Rights, then it proves he has mastered
civics as well as Braille.

Those are just random thoughts, I admit. But the whole issue of the quality of
education has been eating away at me for years. I must do something. I recall
one of my favorite quotes, from President Dwight Eisenhower. Somebody asked him,
"Mister President, what do you hate most of all?" The President answered, "I hate
people who whine, but have no solutions."

David Lafleche

**36. I started learning Braille when I was seven years old in Switzerland. I depended on Braille and typing for all my education and I am so glad I know Braille. I enjoy reading Braille books. I also listen to books. I did learn to spell though.

Marianne Haas NFB Writers' Division Mailing List

**37. The print/braille dream in the recent email forwarded to me and others hit home.
As a partially sighted kid in a '60's mainstream program, I learned Braille at age six. I loved reading and did well in school until our family moved to another state. The new program felt partials should use only print ("Sight Saving"), so away went Braille. At age ten in fifth grade, I was learning my print abc's while trying to read regular print with a magnifying glass and large print.
Reading with a magnifier was slower than a footless turtle, the large print smudgy and headache-making.
I fell so far behind that, after a while, I was sure I had to be stupid.
Braille was a distant memory.

Years later, I relearned Braille and lost my vision shortly thereafter.
Thank God, Braille became my language and I can never imagine living without it. I learned that I am far from stupid-I read and use Braille, audio and memory. I think I was one of many changes were coming about because of technology, but without the anchor of Braille, life would still be a sailing ship lost at sea.

Valerie Moreno

**38. I am 25 years old and bienucleated.
I was once a braille whizz, having a full grasp of nihongo tenji, or the Japanese braille code.
I took notes in my classes on a page slate, and was endeavoring to learn Grade 3 braille.
I taught braille at the NFB's summer program, though I do not claim membership to such an organization, in '02.
I recognized and disapproved of braille not being offered to many students, due to the presence of a pinhole of remaining eyesight.

Since those days of being an instructor and taking notes with a page slate, I have acquired an acute tactual appraxia, or the perpetual miscommunication of hand and brain.
Though I still know the braille code and can produce braille symbols via a VoiceNote, my condition makes reading unreliable, at best.

Carly Mihalakis Berkeley, California

**39. The computers are much better than teachers. I have seen kids pay careful attention to a computer for eight hours per day but to a teacher for about twenty-five minutes per class. Our teachers are behaviorally disordered, learning disabled, psychologically challenged, and ill prepared for working with minority or special needs children. The children would be better off with classroom aides and terrific computer programs that make even world class teachers pale in comparison. Teachers cannot read, write, nor spell, and their principals are so incompetent in the English language it embarrass the kids. The kids know when a teacher is incompetent. Even five-year-old Navajo kids laugh at fat, stupid elementary teachers who use Dick and Jane when the Navajo have a superior spoken language and is extremely descriptive. Listening to Grandma Thomas for five years, then being given a reader and taught to read sentences like See Dick run makes little Navajo kids laugh. Our nation's teachers get whiter as our population gets more shaded. What minority kids need to learn is minority faces teaching them.

Braille literacy is needed by blind children. Older adults losing vision at an older age can use Jaws, Kruzweil, or other voice. Braille helps when one's friends are also blind. Many blind individuals live alone. I can read a book a day from Bookshare download and want to relax when I read not work. Braille is work. My Braille simply cannot keep up with my listening ability and my Braille skills are rather rusty. There is too much material to cover and too little time nine graduate school.

Our schools are institutions of racial oppression- not bastions of equal opportunity. Blind children should have placement in gifted programs where the "Einstein in everyone of them" can be outed. Braille learned early is dramatically quick and efficient. I lost my vision later in life and needed to urgently begin reading huge amounts of material and could not fall behind. Maybe next year...

It is good to see a community action at any time Blind people need organizational skills. The NFB and the ACB are not the vehicle for the blind. Each blind American is the best vehicle. Fight. Organize. Protest. Kick butt. Fire off press releases. Send letters to the legislature. Pulverize the opposition. I fear for the blind. As they load up the cattle cars for blind folks, most blind will get on board smiling to be given that attention. Wake up blind America. Take back these national organizations and organize your own little fighting action. Israel is getting crowded with French Jews, forced out of Paris by Moslems. The second holocaust has began...and this time they will come for the blind too...

Dr. Scott Bray
National Board Certified Teacher


Following is a letter I sent our Superintendent of Public Instruction nearly
14 years ago.
The names have changed, but otherwise the situation is the same.

Carl Jarvis

June 30, 1995

Judith Billings, Superintendent of Public Instruction
PO Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200

Dear Ms. Billings,

A retired Washington State employee, Don Crawford, sent you a letter from Salt Lake City dated April 26, 1995, in which he congratulated SPI on preventing the passage of the Braille Bill. A copy of this letter has just come to my attention. I am also a retired state employee. I too, am blind. Unlike Mr.
Crawford, I am a strong advocate of Braille instruction for blind and severely visually impaired children, and newly blinded adults. I do not believe Braille has outlived its usefulness, but, on the other hand, I'm not a fanatic worshiping at the feet of some Braille Idol.
Braille is a communications tool, nothing more-nothing less. Like print, Braille has its limitations. Both are extremely bulky and cumbersome compared to the storage and recovery capabilities of today's technology; both are limited in adapting to the fast changing communications needs of the modern world.
Nonetheless both continue to be necessary tools. So long as sighted children are taught to read and write, blind children need a comparable skill. Perhaps a day will come when all children are handed some wonderful little box into which they speak their commands and the little box answers them in like manner. Until then, a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil are the most convenient and cheapest means of storing information, unless you are blind. Then, the slate, stylus and a piece of Braille paper are your most inexpensive option.

The "Doom-and-Gloom" folks have been predicting the death of Braille for many years. When I became blind in 1965, I was told--by my Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor--not to worry about learning Braille. The modern tape recorder would soon make it a lost art. I chose to learn Braille, not an easy task at the age of thirty. It turned out to be a wise choice, the tape recorder did not replace Braille, nor will the computer. Certainly not in the lifetime of blind children entering school this Fall.

Here, in my office, I sit at a keyboard. My computer is speech adapted, and beside it is my Braille 'N' Speak. At the back of my desk is a Braille Writer and in the top drawer are a collection of slates and stylus' and note cards. What would I do without Braille? How would I label my computer disks and tapes? Just in case one of my marvelous gadgets crash, I keep backup files, such as telephone numbers and address', in Braille file boxes.

Imagine, Ms. Billings, you enter your office one morning and find you cannot read print. All pens, pencils and paper are gone. "Don't worry," someone tells you, "you don't need print any longer. Here, take this computer. It talks to you". You're handed a stack of computer disks and a bundle of audio tapes containing everything you've been working on this past year. How will you quickly identify them?

As a person who has retired from state employment but not from the world of work, I use every tool available to me. I need Braille as surely as I need the fax machine--which does not replace the Post Office--or the telephone or the computer or my wife's visual assistance. I wish I could afford a scanner and some of the newer, more sophisticated equipment, but I can't.
What does surprise me is that just because Mr. Crawford can afford such equipment and enjoys spending his days strolling to and from the Public Library, he now proclaims Braille to be a useless, archaic form of communication. It's certainly his right to declare this true for himself, but not for me--not for all the children who want the opportunity to earn the kind of life that Mr. Crawford earned for himself. But the playing field is not level for blind children. In order to achieve success. they need every tool available--especially one as basic as Braille.

I am a strong supporter of public education. It is one of the basic building blocks that has made us such a strong, free nation. When I was a child, we were committed to ending illiteracy in the United States. Is this still a goal of ours? How can SPI support penmanship and reading for sighted children, while denying such a fundamental skill for blind children? Is it the cost?

The price for not educating blind children to be competitive adults is far greater than the dollars required to provide proper training. During my years with the Department of Services for the Blind, I worked with scores of adults, blind since childhood, whose basic education had been neglected.
Ms. Billings, it is so very hard, trying to put dreams and hopes and self-belief back into someone who had all traces of them smothered

We educate our children by word and deed. Please explain to me the message SPI is sending to blind children by denying them the same education expected for sighted children.


Carl Jarvis, Director
Peninsula Rehabilitation Services

**41. WOW, Robert, I love this one! Go get'm!

Jane Lansaw, TX

**42. When I was a small girl being mainstreamed, I taught my friends to create braille with a sharp pencil, pin or whatever was at hand if I didn't have a spare slate to lend. We passed notes that were a mystery to the sighted teachers undetected. I read books after lights out and never got caught because I didn't need a flashlight. Sometimes I read to my unfortunate light dependent siblings. I tell even senior citizens it is worth learning basic survival braille so they can use elevators, find room numbers, keep an appointment book or important addresses, make shopping lists, write reminders and memos etc. How about playing cards, scrabble, labeling boxes cans and packages? It just makes independence so much simpler. Sure there are some technical workarounds for many tasks, but all of it costs a great deal more than a slate and stylus, needs electricity, requires repairs and maintenance or has a steep learning curve. Sometimes simple tools can work best.

Dianna quietwater MO

**43. I am a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the blind in California.

When I went to school in the early sixties, I was not given the opportunity to learn Braille, and I was discouraged from speaking Spanish, my first language. As I grew, I did not use Spanish, and I struggled with printed materials. I was expected to read the blackboard, take notes in pencil, and to read books that were either normal sized print or books that were large print like the dictionary or encyclopedia. I held the books four to six inches from my face. I tried not to read in class, but the teacher would skip me anyway.

Although my reading was slow and difficult, I was able to listen to talking books and textbooks. In my junior year they introduced the talking book player, which became a big hit. I was happy to read Lord of the Flies. I would read very small books like The Lone Ranger and Dragnet, but the print on those books was larger than my textbook print. My eyes got tired and I did not read for long periods at a time.

I began college and was introduced to low vision aids such as magnifiers and reading glasses. I was told not to use magnifiers because I could become monocular from only using one eye.

When I tried to read my notes for presentations, I could not see the print well enough or track the lines well enough, so my presentations were not smooth, and my grades suffered. I tried to memorize, but that wasn't always possible for me.

Now that I am working with blind and visually impaired students and adults, I stress the need for at least grade I Braille skills. It appalls me that young people do not want to learn Braille, yet cannot take simple notes in my office or do not bother jotting down a person's name or phone number in Braille. They depend on a sighted companion or a tape recorder. It is not always practical to retrieve information from the tape recorder in a timely or professional manner.

Whether a person is in school or has employment, Braille is helpful and sometimes down right necessary. Let's not use Braille the way I was forced to drop Spanish in elementary school. Today, though I understand Spanish, I cannot speak it well, and thus, I have been denied the ability to be trilingual in Braille, Spanish and English. I have 20/200 vision, and wish I would have been allowed to both learn Braille and keep my Spanish language skills.

I attended a school for the blind at age five with no kindergarten. Today, it is ingrained in me to make the bed, get fully dressed, tie my shoes and polish them, get dressed as soon as I get up, and present for inspection. Today, I basically do all of these things, and as I was also taught not to speak Spanish and that Braille was not necessary, as the white cane was not necessary, I have been denied tools necessary to my greater capabilities. It amazes me that other countries such as India are helping their blind population stay proficient in Braille. Please, let's not do away with Braille.

Christy Crespin CA

**44. It is indeed frightening, that many of our children are being denied the right and the privilege of learning to read braille.

I went to Perkins in the 50's and 60's and we all learned braille from elementary school through high school. I never used a talking book machine or owned one until I was seventeen. Yes I occasionally read one in school but my primary mode of literary communication was reading and writing braille. I felt fortunate to be able to mentally visualize words in braille and write in this mode.

During my adult years braille was useful, in college, and later in writing appointments, recipes etc.

Yet braille began to be abandoned in the eighties and earlier, people thought children could learn to write, spell and read through computers and other technology. We as a country fell behind and braille ceased to be very important in public schools.

We are reaping the harvest, with children grown in to adult hood not being able to communicate to spell and perhaps not able to get jobs. In order to communicate to spell you have to be able to visualize the words and braille is a way to do this. You can read in private, without having to listen to a tape. You can have the pleasure of holding a magazine or book in your hands, and as any sighted person would do read it.

I am glad to see that braille is being reemphasized, and that I hope it is not to late for our children.

sincerely yours Karen Crowder

**45. I just read through the Midpoint posts on this most recent "Thought Provoker." I am glad to have read all of them: both those in support of and those opposed to Braille. As a person who has been legally blind since birth, I learned to read Braille as a 38 year-old adult. To this day, 20 years later, I am still reading regular print and writing this on a computer with no adaptive technology. However, until I learned to read Braille well enough to read books in contracted Braille, I was always under-employed, or unemployed. Is learning Braille worth it? Too difficult? Cumbersome? Too expensive? I suggest asking some of those blind people who are unemployed and NOT Braille readers, what it would be worth to have a real job that paid not just life sustaining, but life enriching wages.

In spite of the fact that I have access to a Victor Stream Reader, and enjoy listening to books on it, I continue to read mainly on my Amazon Kindle because nothing stimulates the mind like reading the written word. I am sure my husband, who is a Braille reader and an instructor of Braille at our rehabilitation center and in the Teacher Education Program at our local university, would agree that there is nothing like actually reading the Brailled word. In fact, he tells me that as he reads, and as he thinks, words pass in front of his mind's eye in grade III Braille. Would that all blind children could have the same learning opportunities that he has had so that they could know the joy of reading.

Janis Stanger

**46. An increasing number of blind children today have multiple health and learning issues. About 10 percent use braille and less than half graduate from high school. Most people become legally blind after childhood. 80% of the legally blind people that have some remaining usable vision. There are at least 10 times the number of legally blind that are visually impaired. Literacy is defined as the ability to read, write, learn and communicate. Today, there is a blind literacy problem. 99.8% of the general population cannot read braille.

As blind and visually impaired consumers, we should embrace learning, reading, writing, and communication in a variety of forms, including, but not limited to braille. The worst example and definition of blindness, is the inability to see or perceive any other ways.

CNN newsflash 10 years later. Unemployment among the blind reaches 90%. CNN reporter interviews a blind vocational rehabilitation counselor. "It is because these adults new to blindness refuse to learn braille. I have been blind all my life, and not having any vision is no big deal.""

Interested in helping, the CNN Reporter asks "Can you teach me braille?" The counselor says, "Sure" as he reaches in his pocket for a blindfold. "First, you are going to abandon all of the vision you have. I will teach that you do not need vision to be independent. For the next 9 months you must leave your home and wear sleep shades. You will be punished if you peak. You must learn not to depend on others for anything. There is only one way to read, and write, and it is braille. Braille is beautiful".

The reporter says "No Thanks!" He turns and looks directly at camera and says "Now I understand why people do not want to learn braille, and why unemployment is high for those that become blind as adults".

Mark in Omaha, NE

**47. When I was in rehab trying to get sober, only the counselors that were also alcoholics were accepted by the patients. I felt the same way. One speaker they invited to talk to us was a Catholic priest, most of us patients were Catholic, but he wasn't an alcoholic and no one wanted to hear a word he had to say. I can't help but think it's the same in the blind community. And I can understand it. A person with vision can't possibly have the life experience of a blind person, and can't really understand their needs.
But on the other hand, visually impaired people are treated pretty much the same way by society as the totally blind are treated, so they, too, have their needs. There's power in numbers, so to separate into different groups wouldn't benefit either group. It's a problem, but you must believe there are enough caring people to make it work. I've been saying since I first got involved with the blind, you folks need some good public relations. With all the money the government is doling out, perhaps a grant to study the problem and have experts involved could happen. Let me know if letter writing is involved and I'll get my mailing list involved. Many are blind, and the rest are supportive.

All the best

Bill Heaney PA

**48. I found some of the comments, in opposition to Braille quite interesting.

It's pretty sad that, just because some have chosen not to use Braille in their everyday lives, they have concluded that it's obsolete. Additionally, since the NFB is a proponent of Braille, some have equated the use of Braille to those radical people in the NFB. Well, I know, for certain, that plenty of people in the ACB are great proponents of Braille.

Yes, you can use spell check and a grammar and punctuation check in your word processor. But, these things aren't perfect and can skip over a word, which might be spelled correctly, but isn't the correct word for the context. So, the word processor's spelling, grammar and punctuation check feature is an aide, but is not perfect. It's still up to the author of the document to determine the correct spelling, placement of punctuation, and grammar.

If the argument is going to be made the Braille does not look like print and further sets us apart from our sighted neighbors, I believe we also need to consider that Alpha Braille, which was discussed is most certainly (from the
description) larger than Braille. Therefore, if books or documents were put into Alpha Braille, it would be larger and more cumbersome than the Braille we have, now. How would larger volumes of tactile print letters serve to integrate us into society more than the ability to efficiently read Braille?
Most sighted people I encounter takek Braille for granted. I've often heard them react, with surprise, when they learn that not all blind people know or use Braille.

No, I don't use Braille as much as I once did. But, it is still a tool which is available to which I prefer not to do without.

Finally, I have a neighbor who lost his sight in his mid to late 60s. He chose to learn Braille through a Hadley class and has never regretted it.

In summary, I'm glad I'm not handicapped by not knowing Braille.

Cindy Handel PA

**49. I believe that all children should be taught to read in the efficient ways possible. If the person reads large print best, then, by all means, he/she should read large print; likewise with braille, regular print, and audio media. However, I would suggest audio materials as the last format on the list because there are going to be situations when using audio material will not be feasible. Such situations may be when glancing at notes for your speech when you're giving a speech or when you want to read stories to your children to be interactive with your children. Of course, for a blind person, finding the most efficient way to read entails learning different formats of media and then trying each of them out until the right one works best; similar to trying out different shoes to see which style fits best. I understand that we like to appear as normal as possible, but I've met too many blind people who can read large print or regular print through a magnifying glass, but their reading speed is much slower than if they were reading braille or were reading with a textbook scanner.

Linda MN

**50. To George and others wanting to keep blind individuals in the Medieval Ages
I have heard this arguement against Braille ever since I lost my vision. I have one question? What the ???? do blind people do when technology fails? I am a student and my lap-top does not always like to cooperate during class, but no worries for me because I pull out my slate and stylus and write as quickly, if not faster, than my sighted counterparts. My experience is that those against Braille and alternative techniques are against them out of fear and they are in denial.
Think on this too, not everyone can afford current technology and for some learning to use the computer or other means of technology are not exactly a piece of cake. The 90% of Blind people who do not know Braille often are not taught because there is no one to teach it or educators do not feel it is important. You make it sound as though all of these 90% are against learning Braille and agree with your assessment.

I would also like to address Governor Patterson from New York. Success is not necessarily measured in salaries and positions. Patterson may be a governor, but if he refuses to embrrace any laternative techniques then he is a failure. If he is not utilizing Braille or other techniques then that means he is dependent on sighted assistance or using tools and methods that are probably not as efficient. I am totally blind and I travel around a city using the public bus all on my own. I read and write on my own without needing a scribe or reader. I find classrooms and order off of menus on my own because I use Braille. I cook at home on my own because I can label food and equippment with Braille. Governor Patterson is a joke, for multiple reasons, one being his lack of blind skills.
Using Braille and other blind skills does not put a distinction between blind people and sighted people. It allows blind people to be efficient and independent, causing us to live and work along side the sighted in an equal manner. When we relly on sighted assistance all of a sudden we become different and are not able to perform in the same way as the sighted. Unfortunately we live in a sight oriented world and there are times when sight is convient or needed. Technology is making more and more possible for the blind to do without help, but we can not not learn and keep the basics. We don't ask the sighted to not learn and maintain print.
Technology is great and useful, but it does not replace the written word. Braille has been and will continue to be the number one means for the blind to access and utilize information. Get on board or shut up.

Bridgit Pollpeter Nebraska

**51. I immensely enjoyed your Thought Provoker on Braille literacy and the responses that follow. I find it extremely unfortunate that some readers focus on the NFB as the issue as opposed to whether or not literacy is a necessary skill in today's world. I would strongly suggest that it is, indeed necessary and vital to an informed, educated life. Dwelling in ignorance is certainly the right of everyone, but would we cheer on such behavior?

One may argue that literacy is not necessary, but to claim that audio intake of information is equivalent to Braille intake is simply messing with the definition of literacy and seems to me to be disingenuous. I hope that your readers will be able to get beyond their virulent hatred of the NFB and are able to focus on the true quality of life issues being discussed.

Thank you for an excellent and most enjoyable Thought Provoker. For your readers who are interested I have begun a petition requesting Braille display manufacturers to make their drivers function on all PCs regardless of which screen reader is used. I believe electronic Braille is a prefered method of accessing the code and such a move by the manufacturers would allow one greater accessibility. The petition can be found at

George McDermith