Teaching Adults to Read Braille Using Phonological Methods: Single-Case Studies

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Abstract: Four women with visual impairments were taught 13 braille letters as phonemes and another 13 braille letters as graphemes and then were taught 10 braille words as onset-rime and another 10 braille words as whole words. Phoneme and onset-rime instruction resulted in faster and more accurate performance.


There are several ways of learning to read words, and decoding (phonological recoding) is one way of doing so when the words are unknown to young readers (Ehri, 1994, 2005) or to nonreading or beginning adult readers (National Institute for Literacy, 2005). With decoding, graphemes (the names of letters) are converted to phonemes (the sounds of letters), and the phonemes are blended together to form recognizable words in print (Adams, 1990; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) and in braille reading (Millar, 1997a). Onset-rime reading is an alternative method of reading words as whole words in which there is no distinct focus on phonemes. Onset-rime is the segmentation of words into two parts that are intermediate in size between the syllable and the phoneme. The onset (e.g., /s/ in /sat/) is the beginning consonant, and the time (e.g., /at/ in /sat/) is the vowel and any consonants that follow (Treiman, 1992). Adults find the division of non-words into one- and two-consonant onsets (Treiman, 1983) and the division of real words and nonwords into one-, two-, and three- consonant onsets an easier task than a division at other boundaries within the syllable or word (Treiman, 1986). Learning to read involves the detection of orthographic pattems in words and blending the intrasyllabic and syllabic components (and braille contractions) to form recognizable words in print (Ehri, 1994, 2005; Treiman, 1992) and braille (Millar, 1997a). The language of braille and the language of print are the same. Thus, leaming to read braille is possible because braille is a code that represents an English alphabetic orthography (Millar, 1997a).

Adults who are learning braille as a second reading medium have an advantage over young beginners in the linguistic, vocabulary, and general knowledge aspects of reading that facilitate the recognition of the sounds of letters, words, and the meaning of text for decoding a new script (Millar, 1997a). Significant differences have also been found for adults who were learning braille between reading words in which braille contractions disrupted the regular orthographicphonological (spelling-sound) conventions in print and words in which the same braille contractions conformed to the usual orthographic-phonological conventions in print (for example, the braille contractions THE and OF in the words THErapy and proOF are not compatible with the normal segmentation of printed words, whereas the braille contractions ING, OF, and ER in actING and OFfER are consistent with the normal segmentation of printed words). The adult former print readers achieved substantial improvements with these difficult aspects of braille reading, including repetition priming of the words in a tactile and auditory modality (Millar, 1995, cited in Millar, 1997a). In addition, former fluent print readers who had learned braille in adulthood tactilely scanned braille letters with up-down or zig-zag movements during fluent reading, whereas older experienced braille readers and young children, both of whom learned braille as their only reading medium, read with continuous smooth hand movements even though the children often demonstrated regressive movements over letters and words. (Millar, 1997a).

In a study of 30 adult braille users who had studied and used braille for a minimum of five years in public schools, 97% used braille for recording personal memoranda (such as telephone numbers and addresses), 43% used braille for recording financial records, and 17% used braille for reading books and magazines (Mack, 1984). A survey of 105 braille instructors (Ponchillia & Durant, 1995) who taught braille to adults in 136 adult rehabilitation centers reported that 52% of the instructors taught braille with fewer than 1 in 5 clients, and 19% taught braille to all their adult clients. …


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