Feature Writer John Christie – Senators Make Braille a Priority

In a letter addressed to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a quarter of the U.S. Senate is calling for the increase and improvement of teaching Braille. Currently, according to some estimates, only 10 percent of the blind are learning braille. Some of the reasons for the low number include not enough teachers, some teachers just don’t have the training, and some educators feel that braille isn’t even necessary.

However, Senator Patty Murray disagrees. The Democrat from Washington said in a letter sent to Duncan in the beginning of May, “Students with blindness or a visual impairment who are inappropriately denied or delayed Braille instruction find themselves struggling in middle and high school, falling further behind their sighted peers.” The letter is supported by many of the blindness agencies including the American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, American Printing House for the Blind, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Helen Keller National Center, National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, and the National Federation of the Blind

According to Murray’s office, the 26 senators are encouraging Duncan to consult stakeholders. In addition, he is urged to write regulations for education plans for students who are blind or visually impaired. He is also urged to give guidance to school districts on teaching braille and reading and writing.

The senators are also asking the education department to provide guidance to school districts on when braille would be beneficial to a student. School departments have been getting away with teaching assistive technology, using this as an excuse for not teaching braille.

“Instruction in Braille closely parallels instruction in print reading. Beginning in kindergarten, instruction focuses on fundamentals such as phonemic awareness, and in later grades continues into higher order skills such as comprehension. For students with blindness entering kindergarten, Braille instruction is begun immediately. However, as you know, many students with a visual impairment have a degenerative condition resulting in low vision or blindness during later childhood or adolescence,” the senators wrote.

“For many of these students, Braille instruction is begun much later, once the student’s visual acuity significantly decreases,” they continued. “Often, the result is that the student is unable to access the grade-level curriculum because he or she lacks proficiency in Braille.”

It’s great to see that the democratic senators are getting involved with the issue of Braille and placing it at the forefront of their agenda. Once the Secretary of Education gets involved with Braille, hopefully more blind students will have the opportunity to strengthen their Braille skills and be more prepared to go on to higher education and obtain employment.

Source: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/speced/2012/05/senators_advocates_call_for_be.html

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