Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

DOTS for Braille Literacy, (Development of Teacher Support), Volume 10, Number 3, Summer 2005

In this issue. . .

From the Editor

More than ten years ago, the DOTS newsletter began as part of a federal grant called "Braille Literacy Mentors in Training." The purpose was to create a way of sharing resources, strategies, and our stories about teaching braille reading and writing. After 30 issues of DOTS, I am stepping down as editor and leaving AFB. I will be returning to the classroom, and starting this fall I will be a teacher of students with visual impairments again. While I will miss AFB, I am very excited about teaching again and expect to learn a great deal.

Over the years, many DOTS readers have sent in articles, suggestions, and teaching ideas, as well as their observations about what was happening in schools and agencies around the country. I feel as though I've gotten to know many of you and I thank you all for your contributions.

I want to also acknowledge and thank the many people who helped with DOTS over the years: Susan Spungin, Diane Wormsley, Marlo Scoggins, Barbara Gallman, Norma Schecter, Terry Allen, Mary Nelle McLennan, Alan Koenig, Anna Swenson, Cay Holbrook, and the many others who wrote letters and e-mails with comments and corrections. Special thanks are in order to my husband Stephen who volunteered his time and talent in laying out every issue of this newsletter since it started in 1995.

AFB is evaluating the future of this newsletter, and will be conducting a survey of DOTS readers this fall. We welcome comments about what you like about DOTS and what you'd like to see changed. Also feel free to send your comments via e-mail to, or by writing to the National Literacy Center, 100 Peachtree St., Suite 620, Atlanta, GA 30303. Thank you all for your support of braille literacy!

—Frances Mary D'Andrea, Editor, DOTS

Get a Feel for Summer Reading!

This year, our Braille Bug® traveled the world, following in the footsteps of Helen Keller. As the school year ends, so do the Bug's travels, and it's time to head home. There're still two great books to read over the vacation as part of the Braille Bug Reading Club.

The first featured selection is A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. Each summer Joey and his little sister Mary Alice take a train from their home in Chicago to visit their eccentric grandmother in a small town in southern Illinois. Each chapter depicts a hilarious and unforgettable visit with the irrepressible Grandma Dowdel. The book takes place during the Great Depression, but, despite the circumstances, Grandma can take care of herself—and those she loves. This book was both a National Book Award finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. Visit the Braille Bug Reading Club,, to find out how to locate the book in print or braille and to find games and related activities.

The second featured selection is truly cause for celebration! In honor of Helen Keller's 125 birthday on June 27, you can read her own famous words in The Story of My Life, which she wrote when she was a young woman. In this book Keller talks about her childhood up to the time she goes to college—the first deaf-blind person to do so in the United States. She also talks about her beloved "Teacher," Anne Sullivan. The entire book is available for all to read on the web site of the American Foundation for the Blind, Visit the Braille Bug Reading Club for other sources of this famous book, written in 1902 yet still fascinating and enjoyable today.

Check the Braille Bug Reading Club later this summer to see what the featured selections will be for the upcoming school year. In the meantime, curl up with a good book—with the Braille Bug®!

Congratulations to Exemplary Educators!

Two first-time-ever awards were presented May 14 at the Canadian Vision Teacher Conference (CVTC) 2005. "Time and Tides: Delivering the Expanded Core Curriculum" was the theme of the conference, which was hosted by APSEA in Halifax, Nova Scotia, from May 13-15. 2005. A packed house of over 200 professionals in the field of the education of students who are blind or visually impaired witnessed the recognition of two outstanding educators. The two new awards are the Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes an individual engaged in direct service and who has shown innovation and dedication, and the Distinguished Service Award, which honors an individual indirectly involved in activities that substantially contribute to the education of students who are blind or visually impaired.

This year's winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award is Debbie Sitar, consultant for Visually Impaired Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth. Debbie Sitar has been a teacher of students with visual impairments for over twenty years. Her commitment to children who are blind or visually impaired is long-standing. She has consistently shown this commitment through her direct service to children and families as well as her professional activities outside the classroom. Debbie has always been a leader among the Vision Teachers in Manitoba. She has often mentored new teachers coming into the field and continues to be someone to approach for advice and help. In addition to her teaching role, Debbie has also been closely involved with The Canadian Braille Authority (CBA), has accepted leadership roles in the Teaching and Learning Committee, and is now CBA President. She is also involved in the ABC Project, an international research project on contracted and uncontracted braille instruction.

The recipient of the Distinguished Service Award is Dr. Ann MacCuspie, director, Program and Services for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, Halifax, Nova Scotia. For over thirty years, Ann has dedicated her professional career to improving the educational programs for children who are blind or visually impaired. She passionately believes in improving standards and access to all aspects of learning for children not only in Atlantic Canada, but also in the entire nation. Her research on the socialization of children who are blind or visually impaired has changed practice in both Canada and the United States. She continues to be involved in research and writing in the areas of social skills and literacy. She has been extensively published in the most respected textbooks and publications in the field.

Ann has also been integral to ensuring that children who are blind or visually impaired have the opportunity to learn from trained teachers of the visually impaired. She started the training programs at Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent universities in Halifax and is on the faculty, teaching courses at the University of British Columbia. Ann was also the chair of the National Coalition on Vision Health studying the teacher training standards in Canada. More importantly, Ann has been a mentor and teacher to countless numbers of educators of the blind or visually impaired, instilling a love and dedication to this field in each and every one.

Ann has been active in AER, CEC, and is a member of the CBA Braille Teaching and Learning Committee. She has recently produced a "Technology Handbook for Teachers of Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired" and written a discussion paper on braille literacy for the CNIB entitled, "Access to Literacy Instruction for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired." Ann has shaped and guided practice in Atlantic Canada for many years. Her innovative planning and guidance have resulted in the development of a model of service delivery that is studied and emulated by other jurisdictions across North America.

Congratulations to both Ann and Debbie—two inspiring educators!

Harry's Coming to NBP

The sixth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, will be released this summer! In celebration, National Braille Press is offering readers the chance to pre-order the braille book at a big discount: only $17.99—the same price as the pre-ordered print version on (NBP will charge your credit card when the order is placed.) NBP will ship the braille books as soon as they're ready, probably some time in late August. On July 16th, the date the print book goes on sale, the price will jump back up to the print price of $29.99 so order now and save!

For more information, contact National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115; web site:

First Ever National Family Conference

"Families Connecting with Families!"

The American Printing House for the Blind announces the first ever National Family Conference. The theme for the National Family Conference (NFC) is "Families Connecting with Families!" The NFC will provide families the opportunity to meet other families of children with visual impairments, and share with and learn from each other. This ground-breaking conference will be held August 12-14, 2005, at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.

A great deal of hard work and planning has gone into the preparation for this conference to meet the needs of families with children who are blind or visually impaired. The following agencies have joined together to plan the conference: American Printing House for the Blind, Delta Gamma Center for the Visually Impaired (St. Louis), Hadley School for the Blind, Indiana School for the Blind, Kentucky School for the Blind, National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, University of Louisville, and Visually Impaired Preschool Services (Louisville).

Many of the leaders in the blindness field will be presenting at this conference, including keynote presentations by Kevin O'Connor and Dr. Deborah Hatton. Topics to be covered include braille, literacy, social skills, orientation and mobility, assistive technology, advocacy, and much more.

The fee for a family to attend the entire conference is only $100, which includes a reception on Friday night, lunch on Saturday, family activities on Saturday night, and a brunch on Sunday morning. The redecorated suites at the Galt House are $85 a night and the regular rooms are $77 a night.

Childcare will be provided at the times indicated on the program. Activities are being planned for young people based on their ages. The registration form asks for additional information so conference planners can best meet the needs of young people. The families' activity night is an ice cream social that will provide opportunities for families to relax, share, and have fun. Two special guests will entertain with beautiful music: Georgette Seay is a music teacher at the Tennessee School for the Blind, and Wayne Siligo is a music teacher at the California School for the Blind. Both are visually impaired, very talented musicians, excellent teachers, and wonderful role models.

If you would like to participate in, exhibit at, and/or support this unique opportunity for families, you may contact Burt Boyer directly at: or 1-800-223-1839, ext. 264. Full information, including an agenda and additional hotel information, is available at:

The National Family Conference is sponsored by the American Printing House for the Blind, the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, and the Hadley School for the Blind.

New From Hadley

The Hadley School for the Blind announces "Blindness Basics," an interactive, tuition-free web course that allows a person to apply knowledge of the blindness field to real-life situations. The course is open to students in Hadley's Professional Education Program and acts as an orientation for anyone working within a blindness organization.

This accessible e-learning course presents important information about blindness in various formats. Lesson 1 addresses many misconceptions about blindness in addition to successful techniques for interacting with visually impaired people. Computer simulations give students the opportunity to decide what words or actions are appropriate in various situations. Lesson 2 uses radio interviews to present the history, relevant laws, and attributes of the service delivery and educational systems of the blindness field. Magazine articles in Lesson 3 explain the stages of adjustment and common causes of visual impairment, as well as the characteristics of deaf-blindness. Finally in Lesson 4, journal articles present how a person who is visually impaired can become self-sufficient and regain newfound hope for the road ahead.

The course is aimed at staff who work in a school, agency, or other organization involved with people who are visually impaired. For example, a new paraprofessional who will be assigned this fall to a classroom that includes a blind student may benefit from this introductory course.

For more information about this course or any Hadley offerings, contact: Student Services, The Hadley School for the Blind; phone: 800-526-9909; e-mail:; web site:

NIMAS-Related Sections within IDEA 2004

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004

On November 17, 2004, a bipartisan House-Senate conference committee approved a final special education reform bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and set in motion important reforms that will help teachers, parents, and schools ensure that every student with disabilities receives a quality education. The President signed IDEA 2004 into law on December 3, 2004. A key element of this newly reauthorized version of IDEA for students who are blind or visually impaired is the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS).

NIMAS resulted from the recognition of the cost of acquiring accessible materials and from a desire to avoid duplication of effort. As defined in IDEA, Section 674 (e)(3)(B), NIMAS is a standard established by the Secretary of Education to be used in the preparation of electronic files suitable and used solely for efficient conversion into specialized formats. The standard establishes a set of information and tags that conforms to specifications for how a file is constructed. NIMAS is used to create a source file—not a student-ready version of a publication. Using the standardized NIMAS files, authorized entities can prepare a student-ready file in braille, accessible electronic text, talking book, or other accessible format.

The AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum provided some of the momentum for the work in creating a standard. Active participation from the community of persons who are blind or have low vision was instrumental in moving the agenda forward. As the value of a national file format became more apparent, advocates for other groups representing people with disabilities became active partners in the effort. The challenge now is to find a way to make NIMAS as inclusive as possible.

The major goals that guided the process of including instructional materials accessibility in the reauthorization of IDEA included:

  • ensuring timely access to materials,
  • recognizing the need for an electronic file format,
  • ensuring that the requirement for instructional materials accessibility was clear and enforceable,
  • making the process of acquiring accessible materials as easy as possible, and
  • ensuring copyright protection throughout the process.

The phrase "print instructional materials" refers to printed textbooks and related printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary school and secondary school instruction and are required by a state educational agency or local educational agency for use by students in the classroom. At this point, it appears that NIMAS files would only need to be provided by publishers for textbooks and materials required by the state or local education agency to meet the curriculum, not for supplemental or ancillary materials. No NIMAS file is required although entities may be allowed to adapt supplemental materials under the Chafee Amendment,. NIMAS files will be required only for materials written or published for use in primary, middle, and secondary schools. Works of fiction that are not packaged by a publisher as part of a curriculum were cited as an example of instructional material for which NIMAS files would not be required.

The term "specialized formats" has the meaning given in Section 121 (d)(3) of Title 17, United States Code and is a continuation of what has been allowed under the Chafee Amendment, with the recent addition of large print. Specialized formats include braille, audio, digital text, and large print (print instructional materials only).

A central component of IDEA 2004's instructional materials accessibility component is the establishment of National Instructional Materials Access Center, or NIMAC. The Secretary of Education was directed to establish and support the center through the American Printing House for the Blind. APH is committed to creating an efficient process with NIMAC in an effort to get accessible instructional materials into students' hands in the quickest way possible. Three requirements or duties placed on NIMAC are:

  • Cataloguing: to receive and maintain NIMAS files and print instructional materials made available by the textbook publishing industry, state educational agencies, and local education agencies.
  • Copyright protection: to develop and publish procedures that protect against copyright infringement in NIMAS files.
  • Dissemination: to provide NIMAS files to authorized entities so that they can produce student-ready alternate-format versions of a publication.

As a condition of eligibility for funds, states must adopt NIMAS to provide access to instruction. State and local educational agencies may choose to coordinate with NIMAC, but they are not required to do so. Instead, a state or local educational agency can provide assurance to the Secretary of Education that the agency will provide instructional materials in a timely manner to persons who are blind or have other print disabilities. Adopting NIMAS and choosing to coordinate with the NIMAC would be a tremendous advantage to agencies, and advocacy groups, publishers, instructional materials centers, and other interested parties may need to educate state education agencies and others to show them the benefits of NIMAS and NIMAC. Two years after the date of enactment, IDEA 2004 requires that, as a condition of sale, states have to ask publishers to submit a NIMAS file to the Access Center (or have some system in place within their jurisdiction to provide accessible materials). In other words, publishers will have to begin producing NIMAS files.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded two five-year Cooperative Agreements to establish two national centers to develop and implement NIMAS further: the NIMAS Development Center and the NIMAS Technical Assistance Center. For more information about these centers, visit the web site: web site also provides direct access to the specifications for NIMAS files. A description of the two centers follows.

The NIMAS Development Center works with a committee representing national disability organizations, publishers, technology specialists, directors of special education, educators, and parents to support the large-scale implementation of NIMAS. The Development Center works to identify technological advances and pedagogical research that have the potential to enhance NIMAS and further improve the system for delivering universally designed, multiple-output formats in a cost-effective and timely manner. The Development Center is also charged with exploring the feasibility of a free-market distribution model to increase the quality, quantity, and timely delivery of accessible materials.

The NIMAS Technical Assistance Center provides support to publishers and states to ensure the successful implementation of NIMAS. Planning and evaluation of technical assistance are conducted to determine whether NIMAS is helping to get accessible educational materials to students in a timely manner. Collaboration among various U.S. Department of Education stakeholders is another responsibility of the Technical Assistance Center, to ensure coordinated and effective implementation of NIMAS. The Center will provide technical assistance to states and other entities that have adopted or are considering adopting NIMAS to help support a timely phase-in of NIMAS. A related activity will be the dissemination of relevant information about the benefits and availability of accessible digital material availability of current information on two web sites: and

For additional information about NIMAS and the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum, contact Mary Ann Siller, director, AFB National Education Program, 11030 Ables Lane, Dallas TX 75229; phone: 469-522-1803, e-mail:

New Edition of an Old Favorite

AFB Press is very pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of Itinerant Teaching: Tricks of the Trade for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments, by Jean E. Olmstead. This new edition of a famous classic has been completely updated, revised, and expanded. It includes important new information on working with young children and students with multiple disabilities, assistive technology and orientation and mobility, coordinating work with paraeducators and general classroom teachers, and managing extensive and diverse caseloads and dealing with stress.

Itinerant Teaching is the must-have guide to efficiently organizing materials and times, scheduling and programming, working in teams, and being effective as a professional who delivers services in multiple settings. It is 320 pages long and is priced at $39.95; available in paperback and on ASCII disk.

To order, contact AFB Press at 1-800-232-3044 or online at

Australia Adopts Unified English Braille

The Australian Braille Authority (ABA) has adopted Unified English Braille (UEB) as the national standard for braille in Australia. The decision was made by a 26-1 vote of ABA members on May 15, 2005, in Sydney. The ABA now encourages its member organizations to make a smooth transition to the new code as soon as practicable over the next five years after reference and training resources become available.

Speaking after the vote was taken, the ABA's chairperson Bill Jolley said that it was a historic day for braille readers in Australia, and the focus must now turn to ensuring a smooth implementation of the new code.

"The strength of the vote is a clear reflection of the ABA's extensive consultation among braille readers, transcribers, and teachers over recent years," said Jolley. "Our focus now turns to implementation through the development of reference and training resources and advice to ABA members to achieve a smooth transition. UEB entails minor changes for literary braille, but does remove some known problems for braille learners and does enable some rule simplifications. UEB is more intuitive than other codes for braille mathematics and makes computer-based translation between print and braille and braille and print substantially easier and less reliant on manual intervention."

"I expect that braille readers will quickly adapt to UEB for their every-day reading, and of course it will not be necessary for libraries to replace their existing stocks of braille books."

Unified English Braille has been a project of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) since 1993, and most of its technical elements were settled as far back as 1995. The code harmonizes separate codes for literary, mathematics, and computer braille. Its adoption by member countries also brings forward the prospect of unification of braille codes used throughout the English-speaking world.

The Australian Braille Authority is constituted as a sub-committee of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities Inc. Its members are organizations with an interest in the production, teaching or use of braille. Voting members are these organizations plus ABA branches in the eight Australian states and territories.

The members of the International Council on English Braille are the braille authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States of America.

For additional information, contact Bill Jolley, chairperson, Australian Braille Authority at

The Resolution Adopted by the Australian Braille Authority

Confirming that Unified English Braille was accredited as an international standard for braille by the International Council on English Braille in April 2004; and

Recognising that Unified English Braille has substantial advantages over currently used braille codes; and

Acknowledging that some elements of Unified English Braille are yet to be finalised, and that reference documentation and training materials for teachers and transcribers are not currently available,

This general meeting of the Australian Braille Authority, held on 15 May 2005 in Sydney, resolves:

(a) that Unified English Braille is hereby adopted as the national standard for Braille in Australia; and
(b) that organizations responsible for the teaching, production or promotion of braille are encouraged to implement Unified English Braille within five years:
(i) when there are reference and training resources available to enable a smooth and efficient transition; and
(ii) at a time when, and in a manner in which, the benefits of the change will be maximised for their braille readers and any adverse effects will be minimised.

New, Updated AFB Directory of Services Now Available

Although losing one's vision—at any age—ushers in a number of challenges, it does not have to end one's independence and love of life. There are a variety of resources available throughout North America that expand possibilities for people with vision loss. To ensure that people with vision loss can easily find the help they need, the American Foundation for the Blind has released the 27th edition of the AFB Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons in the United States and Canada, both in print and online.

The Directory, published by AFB Press, continues to be the most convenient, comprehensive, and reliable source of information on services related to blindness and visual impairment available. Each organizational profile provides full contact information, including web site addresses and key personnel, as well as useful descriptions of services offered. The online edition is fully searchable and includes "quick links" to agencies. In addition to featuring expanded information on products for visually impaired persons, this new edition of the Directory features helpful new state and provincial indexes to help readers quickly find the information they need.

Originally published in 1926, five years after AFB's inception, the Directory addressed a great need for information on available services and allowed for a more prompt response to the requirements of blind and visually impaired persons, their families, and professionals who worked with them. The specific needs of, opportunities for, and variety of resources available to people with vision loss continue to evolve, and the information and its format have reflected these changes. Because of legislative, technological, and scholarly advancements, opportunities for people with vision loss have greatly expanded since 1926. The 27th edition of the Directory has expanded as well. The print version of the Directory is 808 pages long and is bundled with the online version for a price of $79.95; the online version alone is priced at $39.95.

To order your copy, visit AFB's online bookstore,, or call AFB Press at 800-232-3044.

Short Takes

New Address: Exceptional Teaching Aids has changed its name and has moved. Contact Exceptional Teaching Inc. at 5673 W. Las Positas Blvd., Suite 207. Pleasanton, CA 94588; phone: 800-549-6999 or 925-598-0082; fax: 925-598-0086; e-mail:

Colored Braille Paper: Star Continuous Cards manufactures tractor-feed braille paper that is available in colors. For colorful braille projects, try using braille paper in one of seven colors: cherry pink, green, canary yellow, blue, manila (natural), white, and salmon. For more information, contact Star Continuous Cards (, 32 N. Bacton Hill Road, Frazer, PA 19355-1026; phone: 800-458-1413 or 610-644-3838; Fax: 800-637-6708 or 610-647-9210; e-mail:; web site:

Research Study: Donna Richards is doing research on the prerequisites needed before introducing notetakers, and the impact of using the devices. She would like to talk to teachers who have taught any refreshable braille device to a student in grades K-5. E-mail her for a survey at:

Free Resources: The Oakmont Visual Aids Workshop provides tactile learning materials to teachers of blind and cognitively disabled children. These materials include readiness materials teaching basic concepts, basic braille instruction materials, educational games, and math study aids. The learning aids are made by hand by a group of volunteers living at Oakmont Village, an adult community in Santa Rosa, California. These books and games are provided free of charge to teachers worldwide. For more information, contact Oakmont Visual Aids Workshop, 6637 Oakmont Drive, Suite B, Santa Rosa, CA 95409-5942; phone: 707-539-1611 or 888-625-6668; fax: 707-539-6537; e-mail:; web site:

Save the Date!

National Family Conference
"Families Connecting with Families"
August 12-14, 2005
Galt House Hotel
Louisville, Kentucky
National Braille Association
Fall Conference and Workshops
October 20-22, 2005
Seattle, Washington
Getting in Touch with Literacy
December 1-4, 2005
Marriott City Center, Denver, Colorado
"All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections."
—Arthur Aufderheide, Paleopathologist; quoted in The New Yorker, March 16, 2005

This newsletter is published by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and funded in part by contributions to the National Literacy Center. However, information contained herein does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of AFB or its contributors and no endorsement by AFB or its contributors should be inferred.

© 2005 American Foundation for the Blind. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.

DOTS is published three times a year (October, February, and June), and is available in regular print, braille, via e-mail, or on disk. If you'd prefer to be reading this in a different format, please contact the editor at:

American Foundation for the Blind
100 Peachtree St., Suite 620
Atlanta GA 30303
Telephone: 404-525-2303
Fax: 404-659-6957

services icon Directory of Services

book icon Featured Book

JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & BlindnessJVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

Join Our Mission

Families, students, professionals and others rely on AFB because we rely on you.