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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

DOTS for Braille Literacy (Development of Teacher Support), Volume 15, Number 1, Fall 2009

In this issue...

DOTS (Development of Teacher Support) for Braille Literacy is published three times a year (October, February, and June), and is available online at or in braille, by request.

Keep in Touch with News

Since DOTS is published only a few times each year, the announcement of some workshops and events of interest to teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired slips through the cracks. AFB eNews, and AFB's Professional Development department's newsletter Connections, and the AFB Calendar of Events usually have the latest information on activities. (Register to receive eNews and Connections for free at Also, AFB and the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) host a web site where local and national events of interest to families are posted:

Please make a habit of checking the AFB web site and other web sites and links identified in this newsletter. Perhaps subscribe to an electronic discussion list such as AERnet to keep up with news related to teaching and promoting braille literacy. Connect to and follow the Join AER Listservs link to subscribe to the AER electronic discussion list; you can choose to receive it either as individual e-mail messages or as a digest that includes several messages at one time.

From the Editor

Yoga is purported to be good for you, so I've been trying the pose where you stand on one foot and raise your arms over your head. It's supposed to help me achieve better balance, and I surely need that. One of the most important strategies for perfecting this pose is to keep your eyes focused on a fixed point in front of you.

I've been thinking about balance, not only as it relates to my posture, but also how it relates to questions I've heard in our field. Do we depend on technology more and seek even greater improvements, or do we use basic tools that worked well for our predecessors? Do we push students to try harder to work in a traditional career, or do we try to find a mentor who shows them the way to more learning so that they can break into new careers? Do we allow ourselves to appreciate the accomplishments made in our field, or do we fight to make things better?

When I ask my husband, "Do you want brownies or ice cream for dessert?" his answer is usually, "Yes." That seems to be a very balanced answer, doesn't it? His focus is on the goal of enjoying chocolate and ice cream.

For most teachers of students with visual impairments, the goal is helping students achieve at their highest potential. So, yes, use basic tools and learn new technology and encourage research and development for more. Yes, encourage your students to explore careers and jobs held by other individuals who are blind or visually impaired and find people with interesting jobs who can motivate your students to consider a variety of heretofore untried options. Yes, take time to appreciate the gains our field has made in teaching students with visual impairments and realize that some places in the world are not as fortunate.

Maybe yoga is helping me to achieve greater balance, after all. If I focus on the goal of holding myself steady and I find I want to say yes to both choices, then I just have to figure out the strategies to achieve both. Hmmm. I think I'll go have some ice cream while I consider this some more...and a brownie.

Marie J. Amerson, Editor

National Leadership Consortium in Sensory Disabilities

Kathleen M. Huebner, Professor and Associate Dean at Salus University, recently posted an announcement on behalf of Salus University and Michigan State University regarding a new consortium effort for doctoral study in blindness/visual impairment, deafness/ hearing impairment, and deafblindness. The effort, similar to the current National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairments (NCLVI), will provide tuition and stipends for doctoral study in these sensory disability areas. The start date for academic studies at one of the consortium universities will be Fall 2010.

Dr. Huebner, Salus University, and Dr. Harold Johnson, Michigan State University, will be providing more details in the future, but they noted that individuals sincerely interested in applying for the opportunity should start inquiring into university programs now. See a list of university programs involved in the current NCLVI effort (and, potentially, part of the 2010 consortium) at
To be put on an e-mail list for further announcements send an e-mail to

US Signs UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In August 2009 Carl Augusto, President of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and representative for the North American/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union (WBU), witnessed the United States signing on to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Augusto was present when the UN adopted the first new human rights convention of the 21st century that further advances the human rights of the 650 million people with disabilities worldwide. Augusto reported in his blog that Ambassador Susan Rice spoke of President Obama's continual commitment to equality for people with disabilities.

The blog includes a link to the White House blog on this topic where Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama writes, "With this signing, we once again confirm that disability rights are not just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they are universal human rights to be promoted around the world. So we proudly join the international community in protecting the human rights for all, thank you very much."

News Quotes from Around the World

September 2009, Gambia: FOROYAA Newspaper interviewed Mr. Alasana Kora about the role of the state in the provision of services for persons with disability: "The fact of the matter is that persons with visual impairment cannot utilize educational books until and unless they are in Braille (sic) format....there is not much difference between the 1970s and the present day, as far as understanding issues of persons with visual impairment are concerned."

September 2009, Llandudno, North Wales: The Daily Post in the United Kingdom carried a story about Nicola Cockburn, a young woman who has been blind since birth who will be the first braille teacher in North Wales. Cockburn said, "There are no Braille (sic) teachers in the whole of North Wales, so there is definitely an employment gap to be filled. Initially, I backed away from the idea of teaching Braille (sic) because I thought it was too much of a stereotype."

September 2009, Yangon, Myanmar: IFIN News noted that Myanmar has one of the highest rates of blindness in Asia yet has scant resources to help people with visual impairments. Aung Ko Myint, secretary-general of the Myanmar National Association of the Blind stated, "There are almost no job opportunities for blind graduates, which discourages them from pursuing higher formal education."

September 2009, Knoxville, Tennessee: WBIR News carried a story on their web site about a student at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska who is training for a broadcast career. Nick Pavel, who has been blind since birth, uses braille to read his broadcast notes. His instructor noted, "For someone like Nick with a visual impairment who only has the same challenges that everyone else does, that's a real testament to his attitude and how hard he works at doing what he wants to do."

September 2009, Louisville, Kentucky: Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) carried a letter from Nancy Lacewell, Director of Government and Community Affairs at the American Printing House for the Blind. Lacewell thanked the newsweekly for their August story on KCI Braille Services at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women. "There is no doubt prison braille programs bring about positive change on all fronts. Inmates learn, develop critical job skills and give back to the community for the wrong they have done. Professionals in corrections and the field of blindness link arms to utilize their resources and address a critical need. Most importantly, people who are blind are gaining access to many braille materials that they would not have otherwise."

50 States, 50 Weeks, 50 Jobs: What Kind of Job Do You Want?

Daniel Seddiqui has been a real estate agent, archeologist, petroleum engineer, cheesemaker, peanut sheller, insurance broker, and held 44 other jobs, all within the past year. Seddiqui traveled to all 50 states to explore the diverse careers, environments and cultures offered in America. Although Seddiqui is not visually impaired, perhaps a review of his jobs might spark an interest in students who are visually impaired to consider how many jobs they might be able to do. Seddiqui's journal is located at Students who are visually impaired can also visit AFB CareerConnect® to learn about jobs performed by adults who are blind or visually impaired or find a mentor to help them learn about career opportunities.

National Braille Association Updated Web Site

The National Braille Association (NBA) has updated its "Ask An Expert" web site, a wonderful resource for asking questions or reviewing the answers about textbook formats, tactile graphics, mathematics or science notation, and much more. The site includes forums for Transcriber and Educator Services, Online Braille Course, Literary Braille, and others. You can also view past Ask An Expert posts since NBA is maintaining a link to their archives for the site. When you visit the new site at you might also check out the online store to find NBA publications on braille transcribing.

Dear DOT

Dear DOT:

I am a new TVI (Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments), and I think my braille skills are very good. Even though I read it visually and not by touch, I can read about 30 words per minute. My university program used the Library of Congress course to ensure we understood the braille code and all its intricacies, and we had to demonstrate we could produce braille on the old-fashioned Perkins braillewriter. When I get time, I may submit my manuscript to become certified in literary braille, but I'm more interested in teaching students to use braille for reading and learning. Do they really need to know how it's transcribed?
- Brittany Flint

Dear Ms. Flint:
Now, what makes you go and stir up a hornet's nest like this? Educators, university personnel, adult braille readers, parents, transcribers – all these folks have been debating forever about what it means for a teacher of the visually impaired to be "qualified" to teach braille. Interestingly, all of them have the same goal in mind: preparing students to be the strongest braille readers they can be.

I commend your university program for their emphasis on strong braille skills. There's so much to learn about teaching students with visual impairments, but this basic competency is critical. But, what makes you call the Perkins braillewriter old-fashioned? It is one of many tools your students will use, just like the slate and stylus, and screen readers, and devices with electroactive polymers (see Technology News for a description of this). I once heard Fred Gissoni from the American Printing House for the Blind talk about technology, and he surprised me with the reminder that low-tech would always be an option and should be considered when striving to build skills.

I don't know very many people whose vision is not impaired who feel they are good at reading braille with their fingers. If you can develop the tactile skills to do that, great! Either way, your competency in braille will allow you to be comfortable using the medium, and as you demonstrate this to a student, it can only help him or her to see you as a role model. And, think about it – who else will do that for your student?

Does your student need to know how braille is transcribed? Well, do students who read print need to know how to produce print? It's a matter of selecting the appropriate medium for producing words on a page. So, yes, your student should understand how to produce his or her work in braille so information is placed on the page in a consistent manner. When the student's work is reproduced in print (whether through software translation or interlined with print), it should demonstrate the same level of understanding of concepts and formatting that sighted classmates are required to show. Think about the lessons in writing a letter, or the specific style a teacher requires for reports. Are you teaching the student to be a transcriber? No. You are teaching him or her how to read and write using the most appropriate learning medium.

In addition to teaching you the braille code and rules, I hope your university also taught you strategies to adapt literary skills for the tactile learner, and maybe covered translation software, including ways to teach a student how to use the software to independently prepare material for sighted readers.

Oh! This must be an exciting time for you – starting your career as a teacher of students with visual impairments! Remember to keep your braille skills strong, even if you go through a period of having students with low vision who are not braille readers. And don't forget that any student with a visual impairment is a potential candidate for learning braille. Remember, also, to maintain your skills in learning media assessment. Most of all, though, remember you chose this career because you want to teach and make a difference in the lives of students. Enjoy!

- Dot

Technology News

Technology offers exciting opportunities for those who are willing to learn. And, there is much to learn!

  • EAP. This new acronym (which stands for electroactive polymer materials) is important to braille readers because of the potential to improve refreshable braille displays. Yoseph Bar-Cohen, a senior researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote about the idea of tiny "artificial muscles" that may yield a full-page active braille system, and scientists and engineers around the world have used his ideas to develop prototypes. The Center for Braille Innovation at National Braille Press contacted Bar-Cohen about collaborating with researchers to accelerate the development of EAP-actuated braille displays. (Visit or search on EAP at

  • 6Dot Labeler. Designed by MIT students, the 6Dot is a portable device that embosses braille onto commercially available adhesive labeling tape. The major difference in this device from previous label makers is the standard braille keyboard and the fact that it uses a built-in microprocessor that can store up to 16 characters. A provisional patent has been filed, and two companies have expressed interest in manufacturing and distributing the 6Dot. Feedback has been mixed on the news of the 6Dot, which won the Dyson Award, an engineering competition with the goal of designing something that solves a problem. (Visit

  • Tactility Phone, the Braille Phone, the Universal Phone, and the iPhone. Accessibility of cell phones, especially touch screen models, is an important issue for users who are blind or visually impaired. The gadget blog, Ubergizmo, found several designs being developed for cell phones with tactile access. Korean designer Seon-Keun Park uses EAP (identified by this company as Electric Active Plastic) to raise part of its surface in braille so the user can retrieve text messages. Another designer, Siwei Liu used current technology to produce a cool-looking phone with a simple three-dimensional braille face to make dialing easier for users who are blind. (Visit and search for "braille.")

    AccessWorld®, AFB's free technology magazine for people who are blind or visually impaired, reviewed the iPhone's ingenious "gesture" technology for interacting with its touch-screen interface, and concluded, "We do not often use the term 'revolutionary' in AccessWorld, but it does apply here." (Visit AccessWorld® to read the full review.)

  • DeafBlind Communicator. Washington state's Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing conceived the idea for a two-piece portable device for individuals who are deaf-blind to independently communicate with a non-signing person. The system developed by HumanWare features a braille note-taker (laptop-size device that has either a regular or braille keyboard and beneath that, a small refreshable braille display), a cell phone, and software to translate text messages between the two devices. (Visit to see more about the testing of this device.)

Braille Bug Reading Club Celebrates National Literacy Month

In celebration of National Literacy Month, you'll find a new selection in the Braille Bug Reading Club series, The Bravest Dog Ever: The Story of Balto, with an accompanying Braille Jumble game for elementary-aged students. Please encourage the students and teachers with whom you work to check it out. Last spring we were able to add informative materials to our What is Braille? section that discuss foreign language braille, Nemeth code, and music braille. These new sections flesh out our information about braille's versatility as a code and its fundamental importance in the lives of people with visual impairments.

Bookshare-NIMAC News

Although the actual number of NIMAC books in Bookshare's collection is in the 600-700 range, you will see over 4,000 titles because they've listed textbooks from the NIMAC that are available for Bookshare to convert. For schools that are authorized to download NIMAC-sourced materials (basically, U.S. public K-12 schools in states that are authorized Bookshare users), there is a request-this-book button option (based on the user's agreement that the user will abide by the NIMAC LUA terms). For schools in other states, the site notes that users can request the book be assigned to Bookshare as an Accessible Media Producer by an AU in their state. In addition, Bookshare's library will soon be added to APH's Louis database.

Bottom line: schools can search to see if a NIMAC-sourced textbook is already in Bookshare; and if it isn't and they see that it's in the NIMAC, the user can request that it be converted into student-ready format for Bookshare. (Adapted from an announcement by Jim Fruchterman and Betsy Beaumon of Bookshare,

Calendar Dates of Interest

DOTS (Development of Teacher Support) for Braille Literacy is published three times a year (October, February and June), and is available online at: 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

If you would like routinely to receive an e-mail alerting you to the posting of future issues of the DOTS newsletter, please visit 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. 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; and if you are a braille format subscriber, you will continue to receive your DOTS newsletter in braille.

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