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Braille and Language: What Educators Need to Know

Despite the fact that most children who are visually impaired attend regular public schools rather than specialized schools for the blind, few teachers are trained to “understand differences between tactile and visual languages,” as noted in an article in the publication Education Week. Understanding different language modes can be vital in fostering literacy skills in students who are visually impaired, according to researchers speaking at a recent conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. M. Cay Holbrook, a special education professor at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues found that only 26 teacher education programs in North America offer training in braille “and its connection to print and oral literacy.” As a result, many school districts, particularly in less-populated, rural areas, have very limited if any professional development resources for working with readers with vision loss. Holbrook also pointed out that teachers who only learn how to read braille visually, rather than tactilely, often incorrectly consider the tactile language just a “’code’” for print. Since words are not broken up the same way in braille and print, reading is achieved differently in tactile compared with visual learning, which “can lead to misunderstandings for visually impaired students taught by sighted teachers.” To address these issues, Robert Englebrotson, associate professor of linguistics at Rice University, stated that “’…if teachers intentionally conceptualize braille as a writing system that represents spoken language parallel to, equal to, and not dependent on print, then they may better enable students to achieve reading fluency.’” Advances in technology, such as braille translation software, keyboards, and portable electronic braille displays, as well as audio books and read-along software, can be helpful to students with vision loss in a general education classroom. Englebrotson and Holbrook also suggested that teacher training programs encompass different modes of language, not only to better serve blind students, but also to improve knowledge about how all readers acquire understanding of language. Read more here about “Braille and Language Development: What Teachers Should Know.”