University of Edinburgh

Teaching Braille to Pupils in Mainstream Classrooms

Presented on Tuesday 13 January 2009

Braille in a Mainstream Setting

With particular consideration for pupils who have experienced sight loss

Louise France and Adrienne Speirits

Session 1 Braille/Print Decision Making


1 UK Research

Julie Jennings: Decision-Making in the Choice of the Primary Literacy Medium for Pupils with a Severe Visual Impairment. British Journal of Visual Impairment. 1999. Vol 17 (1) p11-15.

Sue Rogers: Learning Braille and Print Together - The Mainstream Issues. British Journal of Visual Impairment. 2007. Vol 25 (2) p120-

Julie Jennings (1999) states:
There is a small group of children who are unable to achieve fluency in print but who have sufficient residual vision to make braille a less obvious choice as it is so frequently associated with total blindness. These children are essentially 'visual' but have difficulties with sustained and efficient reading of print. For many teachers, parents and children this is a dilemma which places barriers to progress in reading and writing, key skills at the heart of school based education. For them: "The fun of reading and writing is overcome by the function of it". (Griffiths, 1998).

Notes: The evidence provided by the questionnaire ... reveals that ... all too often the decision as to whether a child should follow a mainly print route or a braille route to literacy is not fully informed. Those involved in determining the most efficient use of braille, or a combination of both, thus need clearer guidelines to support their decision.

Julie Jennings (1999) found that 61% of VI teachers were working with, or had worked with, a child on Print/Braille borderline and almost half experienced difficulties in deciding which learning media was the most appropriate.

Factors which were found to affect Braille / print decision making

  • Status of braille versus print
  • The education setting
  • Who contributes to the decision making process
  • Individual characteristics of the child
  • Age and stage of child
  • Time
  • Opportunities for effective team working with class teacher and PSA
  • Visual abilities and prognosis

Access to the curriculum

We have become so preoccupied with doing things right - that we often forget to ask "Are we doing the right things?"

Verhage (1978). Cited Mangold S and Mangold P, (1989) Selecting the most appropriate primary learning medium for students with functional vision. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. Vol 83. June. P294-296

Access Hypothesis

  • If we modify the media appropriately it is assumed that access is improved and literacy will follow but ...
  • Graeme Douglas says there is more to access than that!
  • Douglas questions whether the process of giving access to literacy - do we change the nature of literacy itself?
  • Douglas et al (2001) discovered a two year lag in reading scores for large print users by age 12.
  • 'Lag' implies that the child will catch up but there is a qualitative difference we can't ignore.
  • Access to braille means more than access to braille resources,
  • It means (amongst other things) access to a skilled teacher!

Mangold and Mangold (1989) Selecting the most appropriate primary learning medium for students with functional vision.

Ask 2 questions:

  • Is the pupil keeping up with peers in terms of quantity and quality of successfully completed work?
  • Is the student's performance at a level commensurate with his/her abilities and interests?

5 Major considerations for the selection of Learning Medium

1. Working distance from page.
2. Portability of reading skills.
3. Reading rate and reading accuracy, expect steady improvement.
4. Visual fatigue.
5. Objective assessment of student's performance in assessments, tests and exams. Again, expect steady improvement.

A Diagnostic Teaching Approach to Braille / Print Decision Making

  • Koenig and Holbrook (1989) emphasize that decisions can’t be based on acuity scores and print sizes
  • Instead the decision should be based on a cycle of assessment, instruction, evaluation, subsequent changes to instruction and re-evaluation
  • A problem solving approach that most VI teachers are very familiar with!
  • Their Learning Media Assessment (LMA) provides observational guidelines and checklists so that the decision making process can be documented.


2 GTCS Scholarship visit to Tomteboda, Sweden, 2004

What makes Braille successful for a child with Low Vision?
6 factors based on my observations and research by Fellers and Ericson (2002)

1. The Child:

  • How much the child used their tactile sense, compared to their vision, to identify things,
  • Their near visual acuity,
  • The prognosis,
  • How the child felt about their visual impairment - is their relative distance acuity a factor?
  • Child's inner self-confidence.

2. The Parents:
Fellers and Ericson found a positive attitude is very important

3. The Teacher:

  • The Teacher's ability to motivate
  • The ability to integrate teaching into the classroom as the child progressed
  • The Braille knowledge and skill of the teacher

4. Braille Reading Speed:
A Speed of at least 60-100 wpm was aimed for and my observations confirmed that a speed of at least 60 wpm was necessary for braille to be perceived by the child as functional in the mainstream classroom.

5. Access to Braille Technology

6. Access to Braille Resources

3 Coping with Vision Loss

Today's Talk

  • Impact of vision loss.
  • Vision loss from pupils perspective.
  • List of useful books, articles and websites.
  • Common factors relating to vision loss.
  • Coping strategies.
  • Helpful hints – what YOU can do.

Emotional Impact on coming to terms with vision loss

  • Sudden loss of vision.
  • Progressive vision loss.
  • Interpretation of pupils' behaviour

Pupils' Perspective

  • Worried about going back to school.
  • Worried that no-one would play with them.
  • Worried that no-one would be able to teach them.
  • Happy when adults are nice and show understanding.
  • Unhappy to constantly have adult support.
  • Unhappy to be excluded from activities.
  • Friendships and maintaining independence were most important.

Books, Articles, Websites
'Dealing With Vision Loss' Fred Olver
'Coping with Vision Loss' Bill Chapman, Ed. D

British Journal of Visual Impairment:
'Knitting in the dark: narratives about the experience of sight loss in a counselling context' Susan Dale, Vol.26 No.3 Sept 2008.
'Social inclusion: meeting the socio-emotional needs of children with vision needs' Joao Roe, Vol.26 No.2, May 2008
'A qualitative self-study of Retinitis Pigmentosa' Robert James Fourie, Vol.25, No.3, Sept. 2007

Website: Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Common Factors

  • Individuals are likely to experience feelings of: shock, denial, grief, anger and depression.
  • Fear and uncertainty.
  • Confusion over self-worth and self-esteem.
  • Loss of personal independence.

Coping Strategies

  • Period of adjustment (no timescale)
  • Counselling may be required.
  • Positive attitude of family and others is vital.
  • Attitude/Personality of individual is vital in determining how successful one is in dealing with vision loss.
  • Embrace your humanness, listen, grow, change and accept, because only by accepting where you are and what is going on in your life can you begin to move forward. (Olver, 2007.)
  • The most difficult barriers are those in our hearts and in our heads.

What YOU can do

  • Provide sensitive and knowledgeable support.
  • Advocate for the pupil, communicate effectively with: pupil, parents, teachers, PSA and other agencies.
  • Make time to: understand, talk and empathise.
  • Allow the individual an opportunity to tell you what their needs are.
  • Make appropriate choices; sometimes academic achievement and progress needs to be secondary to the overall well-being of an individual.

4 ABC Braille Study (2004-08) Contracted or Uncontracted Braille?

  • Longitudinal Study in America to compare 40 pupils (without any additional learning difficulties) taught contracted or uncontracted braille, in mainstream schools.
  • However only 3 were taught no contractions and only 5 were taught less than 18.
  • 5 children knew all 189 after one year.

Initial Findings:

  • The higher the number of contractions learnt, the higher achievement in Braille.
  • All children read much slower than peers but reading speed was not related to whether contractions used or not: the reading technique the child was taught was more significant,
  • Accuracy was not an issue: the contracted braille code itself was not a barrier to learning for these children without learning difficulties.