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DOTS for Braille Literacy (Development of Teacher Support) Volume 16, Number 2, Winter 2011

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

In this issue...

From the Editor

A recent Internet search for news about braille took me to archived information from decades before my time. There were links to stories from 1945 about the wedding of a couple who courted ten years by corresponding in braille—the bride, Mary Mansfield, was from Colorado and traveled with her guide dog to England after World War II for the wedding. Perhaps even more interesting, she was editor of a braille magazine in the early 1940s. Other bits of journalistic trivia offered news of the arrest of a bookie who kept his horse plays in braille, a 1943 article, "Baseballs, Banjos, Books in Braille Are Sent to Captive Americans," about items sent to American prisoners of war in Germany, and the report about a young woman winning a sectional American Legion oratorical contest by reading her braille manuscript.

The same Internet search took me to a 1946 article about a pocket typewriter invented to replace the braille slate, a 1948 headline about the dedication in Boston of the National Braille Press, and a 1949 article on "Uniform Braille Code" which indicated a committee would meet for six days in Paris to "consider the practicability of a world Braille for all languages."

Archives for subsequent decades offered similar stories, such as news in 1958 that the American Printing House for the Blind had developed a new process to allow faster printing of braille books, and the 1963 story of a young boy who wrote a braille letter to (and later, had the opportunity to meet) President John F. Kennedy.

Some things never change. Journalists are often fascinated by braille and stories about how it is used. Technology continues to evolve with each decade bringing advances that promise to work better than what was available before. And, experts are still trying to determine ways to improve the system Louis Braille invented.

Thankfully, one important "constant" is the recognition that braille is relevant for individuals who are visually impaired.

As you read this issue of DOTS, keep in mind how educators, parents, and consumers ensure students learn braille, and what they do to prepare students with visual impairments to learn, work, and succeed along with their sighted peers. Think about ways to promote news about successes or issues facing students, whether they are being tested, using tools in the learning toolbox or exploring the world of science or fashion. Keep literacy and braille in the news.

-Marie Amerson, Editor

Testing...Testing...Are We Ready?

Assessments and evaluations—tools used to determine unique needs in a classroom or to measure the effectiveness of teaching—are facts of life in education. Information gathered through assessment can enable teachers to tailor their strategies to meet the needs of their group or an individual in the group, or can provide data for administrators or parents to hold educators accountable for the learning environment they provide. Whether the evaluation is required by Federal or state legislation, or is part of a local policy, most standardized tests are given to all students in certain grades, including those with a disability.

Students with a visual impairment, including those who use braille, often require modifications or accommodations to provide them equitable access to test materials. Some may require additional time to take an exam, and often, the student's response procedures will differ from those of his or her sighted peers. Other issues to be considered when preparing a student who reads braille to participate in standardized testing include:

  • What accommodations (changes in the way information is presented) have been identified in a student's Individualized Educational Program (IEP) and what modifications (changes in content or presentation) have been allowed during instruction?
  • Have test administrators been provided specific information and/or training in the procedures and special instructions required for testing students with visual impairments? (For example, will the student require extra time? How will the student mark answers: by writing in the test booklet or answer document, by typing, by using braille, or by indicating to the test administrator? If the student answers using braille, who is responsible for transcribing the answers to a standard format?)
  • Are all necessary materials and equipment the student needs furnished before the test begins (i.e., typewriter, braille writer, braille paper, pens, pencils, slate and stylus, etc.)?
  • Were textbooks and classroom materials prepared in a manner consistent with the way information will be presented on the exam? (For example, graphs and maps were presented as tactile graphics and not omitted from the text, Nemeth standards were used appropriately, etc.)
  • Were braille forms of the standardized test prepared by qualified braille transcribers using standard guidelines from the field? Were the materials proofread and/or reviewed by professional educators of students with visual impairments?

Validity and reliability are essential elements considered in the selection of exams, and companies who publish tests must consider standards-based norms. They design tests so the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures and interpretations are consistent. The company must also consider how they produce assessments for students with visual impairments. As one company noted, "Providing an educational assessment in braille is clearly an intense and challenging undertaking." (A Primer on Assessing the Visually Impaired, Pearson Education, December 2005.)

When all the components are there—thoughtful preparation of test materials, directions and training, as well as a core curriculum that ensures standard concepts are presented in accessible format—students with visual impairments will be ready to participate in standardized tests.

Dear DOT:

It seems I always hear people talking about "tools in the toolbox" for students who are visually impaired or blind. To me, that means a student might learn to read using braille as well as audio, large print or assistive technology. Recently, though, I heard someone suggest that teachers of students with visual impairments have forgotten about some basic tools at their disposal. They weren't talking about the Perkins braille writer, slate and stylus, abacus, video magnifier/CCTV, computer with speech, refreshable braille displays, screen magnification software or any of the equipment I already use with my students.

I know about resources like my state's instructional materials center and school for the blind where I can get information and materials. I am a member of AER and my state offers a consortium for teachers of the visually impaired. I know how to use software to develop IEPs and how to use a muffin tin and tennis balls or the Swing-cell from APH to demonstrate braille to classroom teachers or the sighted peers of my students. What else could they be talking about?
-Carley Kemp

Dear Carley:

As your laundry list of tools suggests, there is much that teachers of students with visual impairments have to learn. It can be a challenge for personnel preparation programs at college to include everything, and I'm glad to know you have resources like your teachers' group and your AER membership that allow you to network and stay informed.

Maybe what the person was referring to are the tools that were valuable in the past but which have been overshadowed by new, improved technology of today. For instance, I was happy to see you mentioned the slate and stylus and abacus. There are some who believe those tools are obsolete, but they are the people who forget the value of a pencil and paper when the battery goes dead in their calculator or they can't jot down a quick note because their PDA needs to be re-charged.

Perhaps the person was talking about tools you can use for teaching, not just those your student needs to learn. Have you ever heard of a magnetic card reader? Teachers today may not have heard of the Voxcom or Language Master, (not to be confused with the Franklin Speaking Language Master Special Edition talking dictionary) but such devices read recorded snippets of language from a card with a magnetic strip. Some of my friends used the devices to provide drill in braille words or phrases by using braille instead of print on the cards. In some cases, the student would read the braille, say the answer and then check his or her answer by running the card through the machine to hear the teacher's recorded answer. Other times, the teacher provided the braille and had the student record their answer so it could be checked. If you are interested, check Maxiaids or do an Internet search for the Califone Card Reader or other magnetic card readers. You might even check with a speech therapist in your area to see if your system has one of the machines stored in a closet somewhere.

Another "old school" thought for teachers working with students who are visually impaired is handwriting, and the slate you mentioned earlier is a perfect tool for teaching a student how to write letters that a sighted person can read. Of course, handwriting is only one tool in the student's toolbox, and a teacher's day is only so long. Learning to form letters enables a student to write his or her name on printed assignments or leave brief notes for someone, just as their sighted peers do on a daily basis. Plastic letter magnets or wooden shapes of letters provide a tangible example of letter shapes, and you can teach students to form letters by using the dot positions of the slate as a template. For instance, a capital A is formed by taking the pencil from dot 3 up to dot 1, across to dot 4, down to dot 6, and then adding a line from dot 2 to dot 5; the letter M would be written from dot 3 to dot 1, from dot 4 to dot 5, and then two short strokes from the center of the cell, one up to the dot 1 and the other to dot 4; the letter Z is written from dot 1 to dot 4, dot 3 to dot 6, and a diagonal line from dot 3 to dot 4. You get the idea. Play with it and enjoy showing your braille students how to use their handy slates for more than notes they read themselves. You might also show a classmate or the classroom teacher so they can take over the task while you focus on the umpteen-other skills you need to teach.

As you pack the student's tool box with new skills, remember to occasionally sort through your own to ensure you don't miss some of the simple low-tech strategies that have worked well for a long time. And keep an eye on those resources you have in the field—someone else just might be looking for information on the same tools you want to know about.

National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam 2011: A STEM Leadership Academy

The third biennial NFB Youth Slam will be taking place on July 17-23, 2011 at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Whether or not science or technology is "your thing," there's sure to be something for everyone, from learning the science behind building apps for your iPod, using cutting edge equipment and technology to determine chemical reactions in chemistry labs, building robots or learning how to use nonvisual techniques to perform a real dissection! One hundred and fifty blind and low vision students from across the country will be selected to attend this five-day adventure that will engage, inspire and encourage the next generation of blind youth to consider careers in science.

Registration is now open! Visit NFB's National Center for Blind Youth in Science website to apply.

News About Resources

*Writing Contests—The annual youth and adult writing contests sponsored by the Writers' Division of the National Federation of the Blind opened January 1 and will close April 1, 2011. Adult contests, poetry, fiction and non-fiction are open to entrants eighteen years and over. Youth contests are all about braille, and all poetry and fiction entries are required to be submitted in braille. Age groups for youth contests are divided into three categories: first through sixth grades, seventh and eighth grades, and ninth through twelfth grades. Prizes for contest winners range up to $100 for adult categories and $25 for youth categories. Winners will be announced at the Writers' Division business meeting during the NFB national convention the first week of July 2011. Visit
for details.

*Braille American Flag—American Legion Posts and other volunteers often distribute miniature American flags to people at military events and patriotic celebrations. Students at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and an Army veteran who lost his vision as a side effect of diabetes recently received braille flags created at the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute. The flag features the Pledge of Allegiance written in braille across its 13 red and white stripes. The nonprofit organization designed the braille flag in 2005 and in recent years has installed a bronze replica at Arlington National Cemetery and presented one to President Barack Obama. Visit the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute to learn more about the nonprofit organization and their braille American flag project.

*Spring 2011 Fashion Collection with Braille—Denise Lasprogata is a fashion designer inspired by braille and how one experiences the visual world of fashion not only through sight but through touch as well. Each piece in her debut collection for DLASPROGATA has a braille signature included in the texture of the cloth or with beadwork. Previously, Lasprogata developed washable braille and large print garment labels that could be used to identify the color and other attributes of a garment; her work has been featured in People, Glamour and Entrepreneur magazines. Watch for news of this collection or visit

*Braille Institute's Cinema Without Sight Film Festival—The Braille Institute is challenging junior high and high school students who are blind or visually impaired to submit a short video on the theme If Blind Kids Ruled the World. The top film selected by a committee of Braille Institute staff and Hollywood film industry professionals will premiere at the June 25, 2011 Braille Challenge Finals in Los Angeles, California. Films must be submitted by April 1, 2011. Full festival details are outlined on the application form available on the Braille Institute's website.

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 may slip through the cracks. AFB eNews, AFB's Professional Development department's Connections Alerts, and the AFB Calendar of Events usually have the latest information on activities. (Register to receive eNews and Connections Alerts for free at Also, AFB and the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) host a website where local and national events of interest to families are posted:

Please make a habit of checking the AFB website and other websites and links identified in this newsletter. You may want to 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 a digest that includes several messages at one time.

Calendar Dates of Interest

  • March 10-13, 2011. Oakland, California. California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEBVI) Conference. Visit for information.
  • March 11, 2011. Seattle, Washington. The 2011 Josephine Taylor Leadership Institute will take place at the downtown Seattle Renaissance Marriott. Pre-conferences will take place on March 10 and will cover subjects such as optic nerve hypoplasia and O&M. Visit for details.
  • March 14, 2011. San Diego, California. CSUN Conference: The 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference. Visit for details.
  • April 1, 2011. Application deadline for Cinema Without Sight Film Festival. Visit for details.
  • April 25, 2011. National Harbor, Maryland. Council for Exceptional Children Convention and Expo. Check for information.
  • August 12-14, 2011. Boston, Massachusetts. AER Regional Conference featuring an AER Vision Rehabilitation Therapy Division Conference Within a Conference will be held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Visit for more information.
  • October 13-15, 2011. Louisville, Kentucky. Annual Meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) will take place at the Galt House. Contact the American Printing House for the Blind for more details.
  • October 28-30, 2011. Cleveland, Ohio. AER Regional Conference featuring an AER Information & Technology Division Conference Within a Conference will be held at the Crowne Plaza Cleveland City Centre. Visit for more information.
  • November 2-5, 2011. Chicago, Illinois. ATIA 2011 Chicago Conference. Visit for details.
  • December 7, 2011. Louisville, Kentucky. Getting In Touch With Literacy.

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