Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Technology and Early Braille Literacy: Using the Mountbatten Pro Brailler in Primary-Grade Classrooms

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Technology and Early Braille Literacy: Using the Mountbatten Pro Brailler in Primary-Grade Classrooms

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article describes the Early Braille Readers Project, which provided a Mountbatten Pro Brailler and peripheral equipment to 20 kindergarteners, first-, and second graders in Texas. The project included training and support in the form of site visits and teacher training for both teachers of students with visual impairments and classroom teachers, group workshops, and an electronic discussion group. The project had a positive impact on the students' writing and reading skills and participation in instruction and social interaction.

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Technology plays an important role in the education and daily lives of all students, and it is especially important for children who are visually impaired (that is, those who are blind or have low vision). Texas has guidelines for the curriculum in technology for students in all grades. For students in kindergarten though the second grade, the learning objectives include familiarity with appropriate keyboarding techniques; the use of a variety of input devices; and learning to create, name, and save files (Texas Education Agency, 1998). The use of alternative braille writing and technological devices is not common in the primary grades in the United States (Connell, 2003).

In addition to limited experience with technology, young children who are visually impaired often do not have braille books and materials at home or in a child care environment in the same quantity and quality as print materials. Because of this lack of exposure to braille, many of these children begin their education with a significant disadvantage compared to their peers who are print readers. Accepted educational strategies indicate that the key prerequisites to reading are mastery of oral language, construction of a conceptual framework for understanding the meaning of messages that are conveyed in text, and immersion in written language (Lamb, 1996). Because of constant exposure to written text in a variety of environments, many young sighted children are able to read and write before they begin school, but children who are potential braille readers have limited experiences with literacy in the environment and with books (Lamb, 1996). "Because of the scarcity of braille materials, children who are blind or have very low vision ... do not automatically participate in this kind of literacy learning. Instead their 'braille immersion' must be orchestrated by teachers and parents" (Swenson, 1999, p. 11). Thus, these children "may miss out on certain experiences and opportunities for learning that other children have available .. incidentally as part of their everyday lives" (Wormsley & D'Andrea, 1997, p. 18).

It is because children who are visually impaired have limited reading and writing experiences that the Early Braille Readers Project was developed. This project was designed to facilitate early braille literacy by making it easier for teachers of students with visual impairments and students to engage in reading and writing activities. In addition, the project provided early exposure to braille technology for students to construct a foundation on which later technological skills could be built. Since technology can provide access to written information for people who read braille, knowledge of technology is crucial for children with visual impairments, perhaps even more so than for sighted children. Because learning tasks are less complicated in the primary grades, implementing the use of technology at this stage could help teachers of students with visual impairments to become more knowledgeable about technology and make it more likely for the teachers to use more technology at earlier ages with students who read braille.

Overview

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) Outreach Program, based in Austin, provides consultative and teacher training services for children who are visually impaired throughout the state. …

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