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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

DOTS for Braille Literacy (Development of Teacher Support), Volume 13, Number 3, Summer 2008

In this issue...

From the Editor

Summer Camp! For me, summer camp was an opportunity to travel to new places, meet new friends, create fun craft projects, and play games. It was a time to work on the 4 Hs: head, heart, hands, and health. Summer camp also meant time away from my parents, a time to figure out for myself how to be part of the larger world. Camp provided a safety net for life lessons and expanded my horizons beyond the borders of home.

Finally, as an adult, I realized that summer camp was really school made up to look like fun and that those cool camp counselors were mentors and role models whose job was to help me think about my future. By then, though, I had become a lifelong learner and would relish time at summer camp: traveling to new places, meeting new friends, and learning new things in the world beyond home.

Today summer camps abound, but too often a student who is a braille reader does not get to participate. Finding a camp where the student who is blind or visually impaired will be welcomed and appropriately challenged is one issue. Another is the reluctance of some families to allow their child to attend camp. I hope you can use the information about summer camps in this issue as a springboard to finding something for students in your area or persuading a family to give it a try for their child next summer.

After all, summer camp is a rite of passage, a way to grow in head, heart, hands, and health, and it just might be the first fun step in making a student a lifetime learner.

—Marie J. Amerson, Editor

Editor's Note: Keeping in Touch with News

One of the goals of DOTS is to provide readers with information about workshops and events of particular interest to teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired. Since DOTS is published only a few times each year, some events slip through the cracks. AFB eNews and Connections, both of which you can register to receive for free at www.afb.org/myafbnewsletter2.asp, or the AFB Calendar of Events, usually have the latest information on activities. In addition, AFB has just launched FamilyConnect™, in collaboration with the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), where local and national events of interest to families are posted. You can also become a FamilyConnect member and receive e-mail alerts whenever an event in your area is added to the calendar. See the article below for further details.

Please make a habit of checking the AFB web site, other web sites and links identified in this newsletter, and perhaps subscribe to a an electronic discussion list such as AERnet to keep in touch with news related to teaching and promoting braille literacy. Connect to www.aerbvi.org and follow the link to subscribe to the AER electronic discussion list; you can choose to receive it either as individual e-mail messages or as one digest delivered daily that includes all the day's messages.

In Touch with Knowledge: The Educational History of Blind People

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is hosting their traveling museum exhibit, In Touch with Knowledge: The Educational History of Blind People, in Washington, D.C., during the week of June 16. All four components of the exhibit: Hands-on Reading and Writing, Hands-on Science, Hands-on Math, and Hands-on Geography, will be on display June 17, 18, and 19 from 8:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., in the rotunda of the Senate Russell Office Building at 1st and C Streets, NE, Washington, DC.

The display will offer a rare opportunity for members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff, and Washington visitors to experience the unique ways in which people who are blind and visually impaired learn the use of specialized educational materials.

If you, or someone you know, are going to be in Washington in mid-June, please visit the exhibit where APH staff will be pleased to guide your tour of the hands-on displays.

FamilyConnect™ Online Community for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments

In May, AFB and the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) launched FamilyConnect™, a new online community. The site is full of information for parents and caretakers of children of all ages who are blind or visually impaired. It gives them a place to connect with other families and find support and resources. The site includes a video profiles section, where you can find personal stories from parents, siblings, and children who are blind or visually impaired. There are numerous message boards where parents and family members can communicate easily with one another and a blog written by Susan LaVenture, featuring topics of interest.

Visit www.FamilyConnect.org to learn more about topics such as:

The site also categorizes information or content by age range (infants and toddlers, preschoolers, grade schoolers, and teens) and by featured topics such as eye conditions, technology, education, coping with the diagnosis, and parenting children with multiple disabilities. You can even do a search, say for "summer camp" and find more than 50 links to information about upcoming events especially for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Summer Camp

Imagine traveling to Manosque, France, to attend a summer program focused on the scents and savors of Provence. L'Occitane, a French fragrance company, established the summer workshop for students who are blind or visually impaired to provide training in sense discovery and fragrance design.

Closer to home, what if your student was one of the 60 finalists chosen to travel to the Braille Challenge™ in Los Angeles, California? Notification packets went to finalists from more than 460 Braille Challenge contests across the country to invite them to the June 28 event.

While it may be too late for students to qualify for either of these events this year, it is not too late to start thinking about such opportunities that may be offered in the future. Keep a watch on your favorite web sites and take note of applications and contests specifically designed for students who are blind or visually impaired. It gives them the opportunity to be with peers who understand the challenges of a visual impairment.

Spending a day, or week, or even a whole month with other children who are blind or visually impaired can also be accomplished at a summer camp. Many of the camps have specially trained staff, and children may find a mentor or role model among the counselors or older campers. Summer camp can be as exotic as traveling to France for a fragrance workshop or closer to home at a day camp sponsored by a school for the blind or other agency in your community or the surrounding area. The FamilyConnect Calendar of Events provides information about camps such as the "Jazz Up Your World" camp at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, the Easter Seals Arkansas Camp Imagine Summer Day Camp, and the Camp Lighthouse Day Camp in Washington, DC. The AFB Calendar of Events lists conferences and events of interest to professionals, and includes activities for students as well.

Teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired have a wonderful network to help them in locating appropriate camps. They have the experience to know the importance of expanding a child's horizons and families usually trust their opinion about such matters. Enjoy searching for opportunities for your students, but more than that, look forward to their "What I Did Last Summer" essay in the fall.

Braille Without Borders

The international organization Braille Without Borders (BWB) has initiated the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs. BWB wants to give people who are blind or visually impaired a chance to receive training in management, public speech, fundraising, and other skills so they can set up social projects in their own regions or countries. BWB will be accepting applications until September, 2008 for participants interested in the 11-month course of study. Preference is given to candidates who are blind or visually impaired. Visit www.braillewithoutborders.org for more information.

AFB Workshop — Braille Literacy: A Functional Approach

A two-and-a-half day hands-on workshop is planned for teachers who provide braille instruction to children and adults, including those with additional disabilities, developmental delays, deafblindness, for whom English is their second language, or who have other learning challenges. Dr. Diane P. Wormsley will present information on aspects of reading and writing acquisition that can be applied to all learners, with a focus on the components of a functional approach to teaching braille. The workshop will be held September 18-20, 2008, at the American Foundation for the Blind National Literacy Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Stipends will be available to help defray travel and lodging expenses. Space is limited to 24 participants and applications must be received by Thursday, August 7, 2008. Contact Shirley Landrum at slandrum@afb.net or call 404-525-2303 to request an application.

RoboBraille

RoboBraille is a European e-mail based service capable of translating electronic documents to and from contracted braille and into synthetic speech. The service began in Denmark and has received several awards for technical innovation and accessibility. Funded by the European Union, RoboBraille's consortium of founding agencies include the United Kingdom's Royal National College of the Blind, as well as organizations from Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Cyprus.

RoboBraille currently handles documents in plain text, rich text, HTML, and Microsoft Word format, but the development team led by Lars Balieu Christensen is about to add PDF documents as well. Visit www.robobraille.org to learn more.

Braille "Tattoo"

This is not an endorsement of tattoos, braille or otherwise, but the editor did find this bit of news interesting. A student project at the University of the Arts in Berlin, Germany resulted in the creation of braille tattoos. Klaara Jirkova designed a series of implantable steel, titanium, or medical plastic materials that can be placed under the skin so that a tattoo can be read by touch. Jirkova proposed the idea as a "meaningful body alteration" for people who are blind or visually impaired.

New CareerConnect Article of Interest

Recently posted to AFB's CareerConnect is a wonderful article under the Just for Fun section of the site authored by Judy Dixon. Judy is the head of Consumer Relations at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The article, Bumpity, Bump, Bump, describes Judy's hobby: collecting braille slates and styluses.

Note: The editor of DOTS invites you to submit links to news about braille for future issues of DOTS (literacy@afb.net).

Dear Dot:

Thank you for your very good and specific answer in the Winter 2008 issue of Dots for Braille Literacy to the question about how one learns braille. You definitely provided a lot of good information for newcomers to the field of braille literacy.

I want to add one aspect that should be helpful to parents of young children who are blind or visually impaired.

It is important that all children have extensive experience interacting with the environment: touching, listening to, looking at (when possible), smelling, and even tasting many different things, while being encouraged to talk about their experiences. Parents of children who are blind or visually impaired should be aware that this kind of interaction is very important for oral vocabulary and comprehension building, as well as a basis for developing literacy. This kind of interaction can also help children who are blind or visually impaired to learn more effectively to understand tactile graphics. However, many parents, classroom teachers, and caretakers of children with disabilities are sometimes understandably worried about allowing them to explore the environment on their own because of concerns about safety. And sometimes the parents, teachers, or caretakers only provide sketchy descriptions of the environment, which young children find difficult to understand without the full, direct interactions and conversation about what is being described. So, I think it is important to add to your discussion of how someone learns braille literacy skills. Providing young children who are blind or visually impaired with rich interactive environmental experiences and discussions about them is a very important component of building braille literacy.

Thank you for your good work.

Sincerely,
Sylvie Kashdan, M.A.
Instructor/Curriculum Coordinator
KAIZEN PROGRAM for New English Learners with Visual Limitations

Dear Sylvie,

First of all, thank you for the kind words!

You are certainly right that young children who are blind or visually impaired need to explore their environments. There is so much for children to learn before they even learn to read!

I have seen information defining emergent literacy as a process of learning about the environment, building meaning and understanding concepts, and figuring out symbols on a page that can lead to a world of adventure. Sort of relates to the importance of summer camp and other social opportunities that teachers often have to persuade families are really a vital part of their child's education.

Of course, students who are braille readers have the specialized need to learn to read tactilely, and the question of reading instruction for this group has implications for both the teacher of students with visual impairments and the classroom teacher. The April 2008 Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB) includes commentary on the topic of reading instruction and its relationship to braille. Reading Instruction for Students with Visual Impairments: Whose Job Is It? appears in the Perspectives column of JVIB and features reactions by Karen Blankenship, co-chair of the National Agenda; Carol Farrenkopf, coordinator of the vision program for the largest school district in Canada; M. Cay Holbrook, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia; and Anna Swenson, a teacher of students with visual impairments in Virginia.

Again, thanks for your letter. I hope your comments will help others see the important relationship of early childhood experiences and braille literacy.

—Dot

Calendar Dates of Interest

  • June 27-28, 2008. Los Angeles, California. The Braille Challenge™ Finals. For more information visit www.braillechallenge.org or call 1-800-BRAILLE (272-4553).
  • June 29-July 5, 2008. Dallas, Texas. National Federation of the Blind 2008 National Convention. Visit www.nfb.org for more information.
  • July 5-12, 2008. Louisville, Kentucky. American Council of the Blind 47th Annual National Convention. Check www.acb.org for details.
  • July 22-27, 2008. Chicago, Illinois. Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) International Conference. Visit www.aerbvi.org for registration information.
  • July 22-25, 2008. Colorado Springs, Colorado. United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) 2008 National Sports Festival. Visit www.usaba.org for information.
  • July 25-27, 2008. Cleveland, Ohio. 5th Bi-Annual Leber's Congenital Amaurosis Family Conference. Visit The Foundation for Retinal Research web site for details.
  • September 5-6, 2008. San Antonio, Texas. Envision Conference 2008. The conference web site is www.envisionconference.org.
  • September 18-20, 2008. Atlanta, Georgia. Braille Literacy: A Functional Approach Workshop, (see above for more details).
  • October 2-4, 2008. Louisville, Kentucky. Annual Meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind. Check www.aph.org for more information.
  • January 22-24, 2009. San Francisco, California. Technology, Reading & Learning Diversity (TRLD) 2009 Conference. The theme is "Opening Doors to Universal Learning." For information visit www.trld.com.
  • July 17-19, 2009. Costa Mesa, California. Families Connecting with Families Conference. Visit the AFB Calendar of Events and www.napvi.org for updates and information.

DOTS (Development of Teacher Support) for Braille Literacy is published three times a year (October, February, and June), and is available online at: www.afb.org/dots or in braille, by request. For further information please contact:

DOTS Editor
American Foundation for the Blind
100 Peachtree Street, Suite 620
Atlanta, GA 30303
Telephone: 404-525-2303
Fax: 404-659-6957
E-mail: literacy@afb.net

If you would like routinely to receive an e-mail alerting you to the posting of future issues of the DOTS newsletter, please send a message to Shirley Landrum (slandrum@afb.net) as follows: In the subject line, please write "DOTS notification," and in the body of the message please include your entire name and any changes to your contact information that may have occurred over the last 12 months. You will be signed up to receive notices automatically. If you choose not to receive an e-mail notice, you will still be able to access current and archived issues of DOTS online at www.afb.org/dots; and if you are a braille format subscriber, you will continue to receive your DOTS newsletter in braille.

[Web visitors, please visit www.afb.org/myAFBnewsletter2.asp and follow the instructions there to sign up. You can then log in and update your profile at any time to alert us to changes in your contact information.]

Subscribe to the brlhelp-afb electronic discussion list by sending the message: brlhelp-afb-subscribe@igc.topica.com.

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