"We have come to recognize that literacy is linked with virtually all aspects of our national life, public and private. It is a passport to employment and a key ingredient to a fulfilling life. And without requisite literacy… we can neither survive as a democratic nation nor prosper as an economic power."
— Jerome Bruner, 1991
Although there has been an ever-increasing awareness of the critical need for literacy skills in the United States (Chisman, 1990; Graubard, 1991; Sum, 1999), very little attention has been focused on the special challenges inherent in providing basic literacy skills instruction to adults with visual disabilities. Then, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) National Literacy Center announced plans to focus time and energy on this issue. I have been involved with this effort since its inception, but not as intimately as Frances Mary (FM) D'Andrea, who conceptualized the effort in its present form and with help from Kathryn Martini, Karen LaFontaine, and others on AFB's resource development team, who acquired the monetary support to make it feasible. Tina Tucker, AFB National Program Associate in Literacy, provided the energy and enthusiasm to successfully implement the plan, with stellar technical support from Ike Presley. At first, I watched and participated as an eager and curious colleague, offering support and enthusiasm for the concept, but little else.
Therefore, I was delighted and willing when FM tapped me to be the facilitator at the initial brainstorming meeting (the Roundtable Discussion) held in San Antonio, Texas, in January, 2001. At that meeting, a substantial amount of the current collaboration among rehabilitation teachers working with adults who are visually impaired, practitioners from the field of learning disabilities, adult basic educators, and workforce development center personnel first materialized into something viable, interesting, and tangible. In San Antonio, the groundwork was established for what became the Bridging the Gap (BTG) training sessions.
BTG was a multistate, multidiscipline series of intensive workshops that considered strategies for enhancing the literacy skills of adults with visual disabilities. The BTG train-the-trainer workshops were offered to program managers, rehabilitation teachers, adult basic educators, and workforce development staff. The workshops focused on how to teach reading, particularly to adult students who appeared to have learning disabilities or were not native English speakers, as well as how to modify materials and environments to accommodate to the needs of learners with visual impairments. BTG's goal is to create networks between adult basic education programs and rehabilitation agencies to make sure that, especially in their local communities, adults with visual impairments do not fall between the cracks in receiving services to increase literacy skills, earn GEDs, or learn to read and write English.
This first national symposium, A Celebration of Solutions, was a logical outgrowth of the BTG initiative. The symposium brought together some of the best and brightest minds in the fields of adult basic education, rehabilitation teaching, and workforce development. This collaboration culminated in the papers that follow. These papers evaluate the current status of efforts to provide appropriate literacy instruction to adults with visual disabilities. I hope readers will enjoy the papers, as well as the short report that is included. The report describes a project funded by one of the minigrants from AFB to participants in the BTG training to further local literacy training efforts on behalf of adults with visual disabilities.
— Karen E. Wolffe
American Foundation for the Blind
Bruner, J. (1991). Introduction. In S.R. Graubard (Ed.), Literacy: An overview by 14 experts. New York: Hill and Wang.
Chisman, F. P. (1990). Leadership for literacy: The agenda for the 1990s. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Graubard, S. R. (1991). In S.R. Graubard (Ed.), Doing badly and feeling confused. Literacy: An overview by 14 experts. New York: Hill and Wang.
Sum, A. (1999). Literacy in the labor force: Results from the National Adult Literacy Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.