U.S. National Certification in Literary Braille: History and Current Administration
Bell, Edward, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Abstract: This article reports on a certification examination for teachers of students with visual impairments--the National Literary Braille Competency Test (NLBCT). It discusses the history, development, pilot testing, and validation of NLBCT and the creation of the National Certification in Literary Braille. Data on the current administration of the test and directions for future development are presented.
For as long as there has been a profession for teachers of the braille code, there have been discussions about professional standards, proficiency thresholds, and certification or licensure requirements (Amato, 2002; D'Andrea, Lewis, & Rosenblum, 2009). To help address these concerns, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress, along with other interested stakeholders, worked to create a test of braille competence. The National Literary Braille Competency Test (NLBCT) is the result of that effort, yet its road to realization was a long and uncertain one. Not until 2007 was NLBCT introduced for public use under the administration of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB). This article chronicles the need for professional standards in English braille, the evolution of the test, its current administration, and directions for future development and maintenance.
The need for professional certification
In the United States, there are primarily two types of professionals who are responsible for providing instruction in English literary braille: teachers of students who are visually impaired (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) and rehabilitation teachers or instructors who work principally with adults who are visually impaired. Although these professionals perform many different job responsibilities, the teaching of literary braille to young students is equivalent to providing braille instruction to adult learners and, therefore, the terms teacher and instructor are used interchangeably throughout this article. A critical gap exists in the United States between the providers and consumers of braille instruction. More specifically, this gap is multifaceted and includes a shortage of teachers in all locations where individuals need braille instruction, the lack of access to materials for teaching or learning braille, the lack of support from educational and support systems, and the lack of teachers' continued proficiency in the braille code. This lack of access to high-quality braille instruction has been evidenced in national reports (National Federation of the Blind, NFB, 2009), the research literature (Ponchillia & Durant, 1995), current legislation (NFB, 2009), and the emphasis on braille literacy in public policy (Mullen, 1990). The most salient evidence suggests that the shortage of qualified instructors of braille can be attributed to multiple factors, including the insufficient number of individuals for training (Mullen, 1990), the nature and rigor of professional preparation (D'Andrea et al., 2009; Wittenstein, 1993), the lack of standardization across instructional approaches (D'Andrea et al., 2009; Ponchillia & Durant, 1995), and the lack of national standards for certification or credentialing (Amato, 2009; D'Andrea et al., 2009; Mullen, 1990; NFB, 2009; Ponchillia & Durant, 1995; Wittenstein, 1993). Efforts are under way in many segments of the profession to address this problem. This article focuses on the development of the U.S. National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) as one important element in increasing professional credentialing and maintaining the proficiency of teachers and instructors of braille.
History of NLBCT
For more than two decades, efforts have been under way to develop a test of proficiency in braille that could be used nationwide to certify the braille competence of teachers of students who are visually impaired in the United States (Allman & Lewis, 1996). …