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Strategies for Teaching with Braille & Tactile Graphics

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Braille and tactile graphics are tools for visually impaired students to learn to work with comfortably. This lesson offers information and suggestions for using these tools in the classroom.

Learning to Read

How do you begin to build the foundations of reading for an average child? To an infant, letters are just random markings with no meaning. What is the process for beginning to connect meaning to those markings? Most early learning specialists recommend reading to children and surrounding them with toys that give them the ability to work with and associate letters with things in their world.

What about blind children? Do they learn to read differently than other children? The simple answer to this is yes and no. No, they don't learn differently in the sense that they need help making connections between letters or words and things in their world. Yes, because they must learn to read through their sense of touch, using tactile input tools, and this can take extra training.

Tactile Input Tools

Braille is a tactile input tool consisting of patterns of raised dots representing letters and concepts. People who are blind or visually impaired can learn to identify the individual patterns of dots just as sighted people can learn to identify the patterns of markings that represent letters. In this way, the visually impaired can learn to read, literally, through their fingertips.

Tactile graphics are tactile input tools that enable blind or visually impaired children to explore maps, pictures or graphs that are not based in words.

Following are strategies and examples for learning and using braille and tactile graphics in the classroom.

Modeling and Exposure

Modeling reading and literacy behaviors to children encourages them to take up these activities themselves. Ensuring that children are exposed to literacy tools gives them the opportunity to practice what has been modeled.

Modeling

All children should be read to daily from the earliest age. This is the first step for all literacy. It is common, when reading with a young child, to follow the words with your finger so that the child can follow along and begin to make connections between the lines on the page and the words you are saying.

This can be done for visually impaired children as well. When reading, run the child's fingers over the braille words as they are read so that the child begins to connect the raised dots with the words being said.

Exposure

It is great to let children hold and play with braille books. Make sure to give them books that have been read together, so that the child can make connections between what they have felt before and what they feel on their own.

Toys can be helpful in connecting literacy concepts. A classic reading foundations toy is a set of alphabet blocks. With their lowercase and uppercase letters paired with words and pictures to match, blocks are great for connecting literacy concepts, e.g., C, c, cat and a picture of a cat).

Did you know you can get alphabet blocks in braille as well? These tactile blocks help children associate the pattern of the raised dots with information. A great toy to support learning braille is anything that connects the sound of the letter to the tactile information given in the braille pattern. Imagine letter blocks that say the letter name and/or sound as the child's finger rubs across the braille pad.

Physical Readiness

Because visually impaired children must use their hands to read or access tactile graphics, they need to develop particular physical strengths. They need to be able to hold their arms up high enough so that their fingertips slightly touch the raised bumps on the surface. To do this for extended periods of time takes incredible upper body strength (Try it! You'll be amazed at how hard it is to hold your hands just above your desk for minutes at a time).

To develop strength, exercises should be incorporated into visually impaired children's everyday lives to encourage fine and gross motor skills and tactile differentiation. These can include work with clay for hand strength as well as shoulder strength, e.g., kneading clay. You can even use clothespins to help develop the child's pincer action.

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