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Practice Perspectives

Adaptation of a Reading Program to Meet the Needs of Braille Readers

Jane N. Erin

Print edition page number(s) 145-146

Do you have a professional success story that could encourage and inform others in our field? Send your idea to Jane N. Erin at <>, and she will work with you to develop an article for a future issue of Practice Perspectives.

Like styles of dress and music, approaches to reading instruction come into fashion and go out of style. The vocabulary lists and memorized materials of the early 20th century were replaced by Dick and Jane, with their controlled vocabularies, in the 1930s. In the 1950s, we were told that Johnny could not read because he did not know phonics. Then the advocates of phonics were shouldered aside by whole-language proponents in the 1980s; these educators emphasized context and experience in supporting literacy.

Over time, the pendulum swings of reading theory have created the illusion that there are vast differences in methods of reading instruction, with only one right answer. In reality, most children become successful readers because their education and experience include a variety of activities related to literacy. Although phonetic instruction is generally acknowledged as the framework of successful reading, many other elements must be present to support learning (National Reading Panel, 2000).

With regard to reading instruction, many teachers of students with visual impairments slip from one skin into another like chameleons. In one week they may work with a 6-year-old child whose reading instruction emphasizes phonics related to new braille contractions; a 9-year-old student with low vision who needs to increase reading speed and fluency; and an unmotivated middle-school student who needs the opportunity to read articles and books that are related to his own experiences. The role of the teacher varies according to the child's needs, as well as to the nature of other reading experiences and activities a child encounters during his or her day. When a student has difficulty learning to read, teachers of students with visual impairments have a limited repertoire of accessible tools with which to attack the problem.

Conventional remedial approaches may not be appropriate due to use of pictures, asynchronous presentation with braille contractions, and inaccessible formats. In this month's Practice Perspectives, three professionals from Perkins School for the Blind describe their success in adapting a high-quality reading program to meet the needs of braille readers who required an intensive reading approach. Roz Rowley, Mary McCarthy, and Justine Carlone Rines recognized the importance of the Wilson Reading System as a way of providing their students an opportunity to gradually build reading skills. Ultimately, their creative adaptations and hard work set the stage for the production of training materials by the American Printing House for the Blind, resulting from collaboration with Wilson Language Training Corporation and Perkins School for the Blind.

The intense efforts of Jack, Josh, and their teachers will remind readers that literacy learning requires planning, persistence, and practice. As participants in their own learning, both readers were able to understand and apply the rules because the Wilson program made clear what they were expected to learn. As I envisioned Josh reading his class graduation speech in braille, I wondered how far he and other students would have come if Roz, Mary, and Justine had not recognized the value of the Wilson system and if they had not been willing to carefully consider how to adapt the materials for readers who are blind.

Like other stories from Practice Perspectives, the ones presented here provide unquestionable evidence that the work of professionals makes a difference in the lives of children and adults. We want to hear about your teaching successes, and we welcome your submissions. To find out how you can tell your story as an author in Practice Perspectives, please visit <>.


National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH Pub. No., 00-4769. Retrieved from

Jane N. Erin, Ph.D., associate editor for practice, JVIB, and professor, Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and School Psychology, College of Education, University of Arizona, P.O. Box 210069, Tucson, AZ 85721; e-mail: <>.

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The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB)--the international, interdisciplinary journal of record on blindness and visual impairment that publishes research and practice
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