Braille. Say this to a student who is blind, you may get a groan; say this to a sighted student, and you get a more enthusiastic response. One of the most challenging areas in teaching students with Visual impairments is to keep them motivated and made to feel a part of the mainstream. Below are a few ways I have found work extremely well, and make the education process enjoyable for everyone.
- Start a Braille Club: This club is unique in that the focus is on all things Braille. The members consisted of 1 student who is blind and a Braille reader (club president) and 3-6 grade students who are sighted. Each meeting started with a little history of Braille, facts and ways it is used. The Braille concepts were taught through games. I had t-shirts made, which we wore for our picture taken for the yearbook (we had an entire page) The principal, who gave a tour of the school later in the year, boasted that we had a Braille Club. While the education of the students in the use of Braille was beneficial, the main benefit of the club was how it enhances the learning of my Braille student. She didn’t think Braille was a big deal, but once she saw how fascinated everyone was by it, she embraced the fact that she was a Braille reader.
- Technology: American Printing House for the Blind has an 18 cell Braille display that pairs with an IPAD using voice over. I use this in the classroom with my students for a variety of purposes. Mainly the student can Braille and it shows up in print on the iPad. With the new focus in the classroom being collaborative learning, the immediate translation between Braille (display) to print (IPAD) makes the Braille learner independent and a part of the team. How it works: The sighted peer holds the IPAD, types on it using a keyboard, which is displayed in Braille on the display. The sighted students are begging to be paired with the Braille student, because they are part of the learning/teaching process.
- Class Visits: My students have Braille skills that are admired by many. Teachers have asked if they can read to the class, or demonstrate how Braille works. I love seeing the progression of the event. When a student who is blind enters the classroom, the students are silent, stare a little and feel a bit awkward. After they have heard how Braille works, or a story being read, they are eager to hug and clap, and get excited when they encounter her later in the halls. The student goes from being stared at, to being a celebrity all because we took the time to talk, and tell our story.
These are just a few ways I have found to include students who see, into the world of those who don’t. One of the students, who joined Braille club, later told his mom “Emily was so cool, and just like me”. As special educators, I think we are so consumed with making sure our kids are adapted to the sighted world, that we forget it is others that need to be educated on our “sightless” world as well. The more we know, the better we are prepared to face challenges, differences and opportunities.