The Impact of Braille Reading Skills on Employment, Income, Education and Reading Habits. – R. Ryles
A study by R. Ryles compared a number of outcomes for congenitally legally blind adults who learned to read Braille or print as their original reading medium. It was found that those who learned to read using braille had higher employment rates and educational levels, were more financially self-sufficient, and spent more time reading than did those who learned to read using print.
The author established that the decline in the number of braille readers since 1963 (American Printing House for the Blind, 1991) has been widely discussed by professionals and censured by consumer groups (Rex, 1989; Schroeder, 1989; Stephens, 1989). Although there was no consensus on the causes of this decline, a number of factors have been cited.
■ Among them are the rise in the number of visually impaired children with additional disabilities who are non-readers (Rex, 1989),
■ Disputes on the utility of the Braille code (Thurlow, 1988),
■ The decline in the teachers’ knowledge of Braille and methods for teaching it (Shroeder, 1989; Stephens, 1989),
■ Negative attitudes toward Braille (Holbrook & Koenig, 1992; Rex, 1989),
■ And the greater reliance on speech output and print-magnification technology (Paul, 1993).
In my humble opinion I think that Braille instruction, together with other technology in a classroom environment, is very important for a blind and visually impaired learner. However, this strongly depends on the learner’s capabilities. I was a facilitator for an English speaking high school learner who was main-streamed from grades 1-10.
Braille was crucial for him to learn mathematics and Afrikaans, the additional language. Technology is great yes, but it is more practical that mathematics be tangible as the screen reading software just did not read formulas (at the time)… The same applied to the language – the software could read the text, but distorted the Afrikaans words.
I also think that to help visually impaired people especially, it takes a person with true ‘people’ passion as well as being creative and ‘out of the box’ thinkers. In South Africa, many blind people’s career prospects seem to be greatly limited because of a lack of quality education. Mathematics is an important subject and should be taught to all learners – and as it is stated in the abstract above, more teachers could become braille literate – especially when teaching maths. Mathematics is also one of the minimum requirements for accessing tertiary study.
Braille really is very easy for a sighted person to grasp (in order to assist with teaching) -just as soon as you figure out the dots… Lillian Fortuin, CPUT DU