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Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about Teaching Braille but were Too Scared to Ask
“Most of us who know braille were taught it.” It sounds like such an obvious statement – so obvious, in fact, that it seems appropriate to conclude that the world has an abundance of braille teachers, and the methods and techniques that they use are mature, uniform and understood by everyone working in the field. Presumably, approaches that work well have been iterated over time, those that haven’t worked so well have been abandoned, and the entire process has been well-documented so that future teachers can learn from the mistakes of the past.
The reality is less clearly defined, although certain concepts which have withstood the test of time especially well have become accepted as common knowledge. Pre-braille skills, for instance, feature regularly in discussions about teaching braille, as do the differences between learning braille by touch and by sight and teaching braille to children and adults.
On Tuesday 29 June 2021, we explored this topic in more detail in a live panel discussion with three braille teachers:
Kirsten Roberts is a life-long braille user, a Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (QTVI), and Deputy Braille Tutor for the Mandatory Qualification for Teachers of Children and Young People with Vision Impairments offered at the University of Birmingham. In addition to her university work, she regularly teaches braille to both primary and secondary-aged children.
Christine Williams recently retired from Exhall Grange Specialist School and Science College in Coventry, where she held the post of Lead Teacher of the Visually Impaired. In that capacity, she taught braille not only to the pupils at Exhall Grange, but also peripatetically to pupils of all ages in mainstream schools throughout Warwickshire (via the Vision Support Service). Prior to this, she taught French at Exhall Grange for a number of years, where braille also played a significant role. In her retirement, she teaches braille voluntarily at Coventry Resource Centre for the Blind, predominantly to adults who are losing or in danger of losing their sight.
Melanie Pritchard has an extensive background in teaching braille to adults, either with visual impairments themselves or who are sighted friends or relatives of people with a visual impairment. Most recently, she taught the Braille For Beginners course remotely for the Braillists Foundation.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
I-M-ABLE: Individualized Meaning-Centered Approach to Braille Literacy Education, by Diane P. Wormsley, Ph.D published by the American Printing House for the Blind
The Abi Books: Adventures of a Young Blind Girl, available from the Royal National Institue of Blind People (ABI-BOOKS): full set (formerly TC21432, £115.00), books 1-20 (formerly TC21429, £40.00), books 21-30 (formerly TC21430, £40.00) and books 31-40 (formerly TC21431, £50.00) + Teacher’s Handbook (ABI-TEACHER) available for £15.00 in print (formerly TC21433) and braille (formerly TC21434).
Fingerprint: distance learning course for touch readers, available from RNIB: course books (TC21439, £39.00) + instructions (TC21439-INST) available for £15.00 on audio CD (formerly TC21439CD), multi-media CD (formerly TC21439M) and in print (formerly TC21439P) and grade 2 braille (formerly TC21439B) + Reference Book (volume 10), available in braille (TC21440, £5.00).
BrailleNote Touch Plus (18-cell and 32-cell), available from HumanWare
The Duxbury Braille Translator from Duxbury Systems
The Braille Primer: a comprehensive guide to contracted braille for people wishing to learn to write braille or who want to become transcribers, available from RNIB for £9.90 (TC21423) in print (formerly TC21423P), large print 18pt (formerly TC21423LP) and grade 2 braille (formerly TC21423B).
A Braille Reader in the Family (booklet and sheet formats) and Crack the Code (booklet and sheet formats) from the ClearVisio
JAWS and Braille: A Closer Look
In Using Braille on Windows, we introduced you to the basics of making a braille display work with various screen readers. In this session, we took this to the next level in the first of an occasional series of Masterclasses looking at the braille settings of a particular screen reader.
This time it was JAWS. There are lots of settings and we weren’t able to cover all of them in an hour, so instead we reviewed some of the most common questions we’re asked, found the settings that relate to them, and explained what they do.
Adding and selecting your braille display
Choosing your braille code and grade
Status cells and their use in structured mode
Reversing panning buttons and panning by paragraph
Using JAWS Braille In
This session was recorded on Tuesday 6 July 2021. For further information please visit the Braillists Foundation Media Page.
Braille Music: Let's Tackle the Basics, Session 3
After a recap of octave signs and intervals, this session covered:
Ties and slurs
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Xia Leon Sloane on Studying Composition and a Commission for the BBC Proms
We’re almost exactly a month away from the opening night of the BBC Proms, the world famous summer season of concerts of classical music founded in 1895. Since their infancy, they’ve championed the composition and performance of new works of music through various channels including, latterly, the BBC Young Composer competition.
In 2018, one of the winners of this competition was blind composer Xia Leon Sloane, who describe themselves as “a writer of words and music, with a particular interest in the way that art can respond to political and ecological ideas”. Their choral piece, Earthward, subsequently received its world premier by vocal ensemble VOCES8 at a prom at Cadogan Hall on 22 July 2019.
In addition to the BBC Young Composer competition, they’ve won The Cambridge Young Composer of the Year, The Joan Weller Composition Prize, The Humphrey Searle>/a> Composition Award and the Royal Philharmonic Society/Classic FM 25th Birthday commissions. They’ve also composed with Aldeburgh Young Musicians, The National Youth Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia Academy.
Xia first undertook composition lessons at the age of 12 and, at time of publication, they’ve just finished their final year of undergraduate study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Much of their composition emerges from their spiritual practice and their own responses to world affairs.
Blind since the age of 2, they’re an advanced braillist and a prolific user of braille music. We spoke with them in February about their braille music journey, and what it was like to have a score that originated in braille performed by sighted musicians in front of a live audience of nearly a thousand, and a radio audience of hundreds of thousands more.
The Most Inexpensive Braille Reading Setup in the World? Introducing Braille on the Amazon Fire Tablet
Over the years, blind people have benefitted from incredible enhancements in the fields of electronic braille and accessibility in general. In fact, it’s now possible to purchase a fully accessible Amazon Fire tablet for under £50 which, pared with an inexpensive braille display such as an Orbit Reader, and Amazons Kindle store which offers access to quite literally hundreds of thousands of digital books, makes for an incredibly cost-effective braille reading setup. But how does it work?
In this masterclass, presented by Ben Mustill-Rose, we provided a general overview of the Fire tablet, the basics of setting it up, how to connect a braille display and how to navigate the device using it. We then purchased a book from the Kindle store and walked through how to read it on a braille display.
This session was recorded on Tuesday 15 June 2021. For further information please visit the Braillists Foundation Media Page.
The Clearvision Project and the Typhlo and Tactus International Tactile Book Competition
Parents reading with their children: it’s an experience common to many households in virtually every country of the world. It’s a uniquely special experience for both the parent and the child, remembered for years to come, and often relived as children become parents themselves, and parents become grandparents.
For many blind people in the UK, it’s been facilitated for decades by the Clearvision project and its collection of over 14,000 books, each designed in such a way as to simultaneously enable blind and sighted people to read and enjoy them.
It’s been directed since 2013 by Alexandra Britten, and she joined me on the podcast to tell me more about the project and its involvement with a competition to find the world’s best tactile book.
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