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Strategies and Resources for Teaching Braille to Adults

Teaching adults to read and write braille presents some of the same challenges as teaching young children, as well as some new ones. Here are a few practical strategies to add to your existing store of good ideas. Also included is a list of resources for relevant materials. Keep in mind, however, that your most powerful tools are your own enthusiasm and your ability to be flexible. Read All About Braille on VisionAware for more perspectives on learning braille as an adult.

Strategies for Motivating Students

Every braille teacher's "dream student" is the one who approaches the task of learning braille with enthusiasm and an understanding of how much they will benefit from this new skill. In reality, however, many newly blinded adults bring with them a number of myths and stereotypes about blindness in general and braille in particular. Here are some suggestions that may help put braille in a positive light and encourage a somewhat reluctant student to give braille a chance.

  • Change negative attitudes about braille, and dispel the myths and stereotypes. Explain that braille doesn't "make you blind"; nor is being seen reading or writing braille in public a symbol of weakness or lack of ability. On the contrary, knowing braille is a symbol of literacy, competence, and independence.

  • Tell students to bring their literacy skills with them. They already know how to read and write; this is just a new code, and they can learn it.

  • Explain how braille will fit into each individual student's life. Make braille immediately relevant by stressing functional uses: making lists, keeping track of phone numbers and addresses, reading to children or grandchildren, labeling personal items, and so on.

  • Point out that braille will insure privacy. Students can keep journals, write reminders to themselves, keep track of finances, and so on.

  • Increase positive impressions of blindness and people who are blind. Encouraging students to get in touch with successful blind people is a good way to do this.

  • Find other adventitiously blind volunteers to mentor newly blinded students learning braille. This way you can set up a "mentoring partnership" with a student and another adult who is blind.

Helping Your Students Learn

People have individual learning styles. Each learner will have his/her own way of mastering braille and incorporating it into daily life. Here are some suggestions from teachers with experience in teaching braille to adults. Choose the techniques you feel will work most effectively with each individual, and combine them with your own ideas.

  • Start with something simple and personal (e.g., the student's name, phone number, etc.). Building in immediate success encourages the student to continue learning.

  • Use small and familiar motivational items for practice: jokes, Bible verses, quotes, and so on.

  • Use a fabricated braille cell to provide examples. Try a muffin tin with tennis balls, an egg carton, a pegboard, or an APH Swing Cell.

  • Teach anticipation. Tell students not to get stuck on a word; skip it and use context cues and letter clues.

  • Use playing cards, Bingo sets, and other games that have been adapted with braille for motivation. Students can continue to enjoy these activities with family and friends, and practice their braille skills at the same time.

  • Motivate students. Cribbage can be motivating, especially since it is a social activity and only uses 4x6 cards. This is a good way to teach numbers.

  • Use braille magazines in areas of high interest (e.g., cooking, sports, etc).

  • Use a Braille 'n Speak and other equipment that has speech to reinforce braille skills.

  • Use flash cards. Cut off a corner for easy orientation. Cut print letters out of heavy paper or cardboard, or use Wikki-Stix™. Then glue them onto the cards. Braille letters can be made with puff paint, large or small circles made of felt or Velcro™, or with a Dymo™ labeler.

  • Use visual dots to reinforce concepts with learners who can use available vision.

  • Concentrate on the meaning of symbols by making them relevant to daily activities for people with low literacy skills.

  • Make lesson and practice schedules flexible and suited to the needs of individual students (e.g., some may be more alert in the morning, while others may find it easier to learn later in the day).

  • Contract practice time before you start the lesson so that both you and your student are clear on what is to be accomplished between classes. For some students, you may want to suggest several short practice sessions per day rather than one long one.

  • Tape the lessons to help the student remember what he/she has learned. This can also facilitate practicing between lessons.

  • Make homework practical. Assign productive activities that will be functional, as well as good for practicing braille skills. Ask students to try:

    • labeling clothes, canned goods, tapes, CDs, and so on;
    • compiling addresses and family birthdays;
    • labeling medicines and writing out medical information;
    • writing out recipes and directions;
    • making notes from instructions for using adapted equipment;
    • making shopping lists; and
    • developing organizational techniques for home and workplace (e.g., personal files, calendar, etc.).
  • Help clients by assisting in setting up an address book or recipe file using braille so they can add to it as their skills grow.

  • Encourage family members to participate in reinforcing your students who are developing braille skills by playing games with braille cards, labeling grocery cans after shopping in the grocery store, or keeping track of the weekly shopping list in braille.

  • Give your students lots of support and encouragement.

Resources

Following is a list of programs for teaching braille to adults. Contact the publishers below for detailed information and prices. An additional source of information with reviews of the major instructional programs is Rehabilitation Teaching Braille Textbook Review, by Cheryl Richesin. This book is available from AER, 4600 Duke Street, Suite 430, Alexandria, VA 22304; Telephone: 703-823-9690.

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has the following seven programs from which to choose. Contact APH at 1839 Frankfurt Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206; Telephone: 1-800-223-1839. E-mail: info@aph.org.

  • ABC's of Braille, by Bernard Krebs. In one volume; includes teacher's manual; a basic curriculum for adult learners in Grades 1 and 2 braille.

  • Braille: A Different Approach (also referred to as Arkansas Materials), by Johnette B. Weiss, Jeff Weiss, and Bernard M. Krebs. In one volume; for adult learners in Grades 1 and 2 braille.

  • Braille in Brief, by Bernard M. Krebs. In one volume; includes teacher's manual; for the advanced adult learner in Grades 1 and 2 braille.

  • Braille Series 1992 (Illinois Series), by Illinois Braille Committee. In three volumes; for adult learners In Grades 1 and 2 braille.

  • Getting in Touch with Reading, by Margaret M. Smith. In three volumes; includes teacher's manual; for adult learners in Grades 1 and 2 braille.

  • Modern Methods of Teaching Braille (also referred to as Kansas Materials), by Claudelle S. Stocker. In two volumes; each sold separately; each includes teacher's manual; for adult learners in Grades 1 and 2 braille.

  • Read Again, by Hilda Caton, Eleanor Pestor, and Eddy Jo Bradley. In nine "packets"; levels A through I; level A focuses on tactual discrimination; includes teacher's manual; for adventitiously blinded adult learners.

The Hadley School for the Blind offers a wide variety of self-study correspondence courses for independent adult learners at no cost to the student. Braille courses range from pre-braille to Grade 3 braille. Nemeth, music, and other codes are also available for more advanced learners. The following four curricula are intended for beginning braille students. For detailed descriptions and enrollment information, contact the Hadley School for the Blind at P.O. Box 299, Winnetka, IL 60093-0299; Telephone: 1-800-323-4238.

  • Using Raised Markers is the first in a series of three courses designed by Sally Mangold. It focuses on the development of pre-braille skills.

  • Braille Literacy 1: Tactile Readiness for Braille, the second in the series, allows students to practice the hand and arm movements that are characteristic of good braille readers.

  • Braille Literacy 2: Learning the Braille Alphabet is the third and final course in the series. Students incorporate the skills mastered in the previous course with learning letters and words in braille.

  • Step by Step Braille, by Bernard M. Krebs. In four volumes; includes braille exercises and taped instructions; Grades 1 and 2 braille.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) offers two programs for adults. Contact NFB at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; Telephone: 410-659-9314.

  • Beginning Braille for Adults, by Mabel Nading and Romona Walhof. A self-study program in one volume; includes taped instructions; in Grades 1 and 2 braille.

  • McDuffy Reader, by Sharon L. M. Duffy. In one volume; includes print manual; braille manual sold separately; Grades 1 and 2 braille.

The Mary Lou Archer Communications Center publishes English Braille in 40 Lessons, by Mary Lou Archer. This is a braille textbook for adults in Grades 1 and 2 braille. Write or phone the Mary Lou Archer Communications Center at 2200 University Avenue West, Suite 240, St. Paul, MN 55114-1840; Telephone: 612-642-0500, or toll-free in Minnesota: 1-800-652-9000.

Napier Publications publishes Teaching Braille Reading to Adventitiously Blinded Individuals, by Grace D. Napier. Intended for teaching Grades 1 and 2 braille to former print readers, this textbook comes in one volume. Contact Napier Publications at 2323 7th Ave. B, Greeley, CO 80631-7071; Telephone: 970-352-6946.

Multiple Services Media Technology (MSMT) offers a program for adult learners. Reading with Feeling (also referred to as Oregon Materials), by Anne V. Strauss comes in four volumes of Grades 1 and 2 braille. Write or call MSMT at 11 West Barham Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95407; Telephone: 707-579-1115.

Special Curricula

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind/Deaf-Blind Services offers a program especially designed for deaf-blind adults. The ABLK Method of Teaching Braille, by Bernice G. Robins, focuses on Grade 1 braille only and includes a print teacher's manual. The braille manual is sold separately. For more information and prices (in Canadian funds), contact the Canadian National Institute for the Blind/Deaf-Blind Services at 1929 Bayview Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4G 3E8; Telephone: 416-480-7580.

The Beach City Braille Guild publishes a book in jumbo braille especially designed for adults with poor tactile sensitivity. The World at My Fingertips, by Norma L. Schecter comes in one volume of Grade 1 braille and is available free of charge for up to five copies. Contact the Beach City Braille Guild at P.O. Box 712, Huntington Beach, CA 92648; Telephone: 714-969-7992.

The Lehigh Valley Braille Guild offers the Manual for Spanish Braille, by Dorothea Goodlin. This book is available in 1 volume of Grade 1 braille and contains the English translation in print. For more information, contact the Lehigh Valley Braille Guild at 614 N. 13th Street, Allentown, PA 18102; Telephone: 610-264-2141.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) offers a self-study program in Grades 1 and 2 British braille for independent adults. Beginning Braille, by Michael Tobin consists of a braille text, a print manual, and taped instructions. Write to RNIB at 224 Great Portland Street, London, England W1N 6AA.

For AFB Press titles of related interest, see the AFB Store.

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