Braille by Sight and Touch

This week Hadley Learning Expert Leeanne Frydrychowicz shared her journey of learning braille by sight before learning it by touch. The group also discussed common challenges to reading braille.

October 10, 2019

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Audio Transcript


Embracing Braille – Braille By Sight and Touch

Presented by Vileen Shah

October 10, 2019

Vileen S: Ladies and gentlemen, it's now time to get started with our Embracing Braille session. I'm Vileen Shah your host and I welcome you all. With us we have our cohost Elyse Heinrich and we also have our guest presenter Leeanne.

Leeanne F: Okay. Good morning everyone. Thank you Vileen for having me. My name is Leanne Frydrychowicz. I never expect anybody to pronounce it correctly. It's a very long Polish last name. So I always prefer please just say Leeanne, I'm a very informal person, love going by my first name and maybe that's because my last name is so long.

I taught all of the math courses and I still do for the people that are still [inaudible] but I also teach all the braille courses.

So my journey into braille and to the field of vision in general was a little bumpy and kind of unexpected, I guess. I started college with high hopes of being a business major and making lots of money. And then I realized I was incredibly unhappy and kind of went searching for what was right for me and landed in education but just in elementary education.

And was happy for a while. But as one of the courses that's required in education, it's called Survey of Disabilities where basically all of the professors from all the different areas, hearing impairment, visual impairment, learning disabilities, behavioral issues, all of those professors would come to this one class for a day or two or three and tell us about their area of expertise.

What it was meant to do was to give an elementary education major kind of an idea of students that you might be working with that you might have one or two of in your classroom. And kind of just to make you aware, there'll be specialists to help you with them. But this is what you might encounter. Well, the first day of the vision section of this course, a professor came in from the field of vision and gave her whole spiel and it was interesting, but I was just kind of like, okay this is good, this is fine.

The second day, the second professor from the field of vision and the vision department came and spoke and he just ... I mean he did his whole thing. And again, content-wise I was interested but nothing really awed me until at the very end. And he was writing on the chalkboard, back when we had chalkboards before whiteboards and smartboards. Was writing onto the chalkboard and giving all the information that he wanted to impart on us.

And it wasn't until the very, very end of his presentation that I found out he had almost no vision. And I think that inspired me more than any of the content that either of the professors gave to us over those two days. And I kept thinking about it and thinking about and thinking about it. And of course they always do the little plug, if you want to switch to the field of vision, there's scholarships available and you might be interested in doing this instead of going into elementary education.

And I thought and thought and thought about it and I decided I wanted to do it, but there's just one thing holding me up. And that was that I was convinced I wasn't going to be able to learn braille. I thought my fingers can't do that. I'm just not cut out for that. But it harped on me and it was in my head long enough that I finally called the professor on his phone in his office and I said this is my name and this is what... I'm thinking about doing it, but I can't do braille.

And he kept saying, "Well what do you mean you can't do braille?" And I said my fingers are not going to be able to do that. And of course he did not know me from anybody else because it was a phone conversation and very patiently and quietly, he just said, "Well, do you have sight?" I'm like well of course I'm sighted. It didn't even occur to me that he might think I wasn't sighted. And I said of course I have sight. And he's like, "Well you know you can just learn braille by looking at the dots."

And that was my aha moment that I thought oh my gosh I can do this, sign me up. And I think the next day I changed my major, much to my mother's dismay because I had gone through about three or four majors since then. And that's how I entered the field of vision. So as any other college student that is learning braille, that has sight, that is training to be a teacher of the visually impaired or a rehab teacher in the field of visual impairments, or an orientation and mobility specialist, we had to learn braille. We had to learn it fast.

We had one semester to learn what we now call UEB. It used to be called the Uncontracted Braille Code or EBAE, basically what came before UEB. But we had to learn alphabet, numbers, contractions, everything very quickly. And then our second course was learning all of the Nemeth code, the math code as well as music code. And I was incredibly fortunate to have amazing teachers and I really took to it now that I took that tactile component out of it, I thought I am made for this. This is for me.

So much so that I became the school ... university's braillist and I did all the tactile drawings and brailling for all of our visually impaired students on campus, which ended up to be quite a bit because I found out later, if you have a good vision training program, it draws a lot of visually impaired students because you typically have a lot of support for college students that have visual impairments when you have a good training program.

So I thought I know braille, I'm going to rock this thing. And then I went out and graduated and got into the real world of teaching and my aha moment number two was the realization that I'm teaching these young children how to read braille and they're just not getting it, they're just not getting it. That was ... and I know it sounds silly, but I kind of had a what if I can learn it, anybody can learn it type attitude.

But I kept forgetting that I learned it by sight. I am trying to teach it by touch. When you're learning braille, there's two really separate areas that you work on. The cognitive learning, the code, what the position for A is, what position for B is what is the contraction for “as,” that's the cognition part of it. You can memorize those dot formations because I have sight I was able to relay ... equate them to something in the sighted world so that I could help remember the contractions and remember the shapes of all the symbols, but I never had to do it tactily.

And then I realized I really felt I was at a huge disadvantage teaching children braille when I truly felt like I didn't know it myself. Sure I know the code and I was good at that, but I didn't have the experience of doing it tactily. So I set out to teach myself how to do it tactily. And this was well before I found out about Hadley, so I just went with my teaching materials that I used with my students and tried to do it myself.

And I have to say they don't ... there's very little out there at least at the time to teach tracking and scanning skills. And to get my fingers ready for braille. That's why I'm so grateful we have our Braille Literacy 1 course for new braille readers because it's really giving you a really good foundation for being successful in moving your hands smoothly, accurately. Not scrubbing, which is my worst habit in the world.

Because learning to trust your fingers when your eyes have always been the one that you believed in, for many people that are losing their vision, I think is well, giving up, surrendering to the tactile reading over sighted reading is what I think is one of the hardest things. Especially if you have a lot of vision or if you're learning it as a sighted person, but your vision is decreasing, or you have a diagnosis that you know eventually the vision is going to fade.

So I think it's never too early to learn braille, but I think at the same time if you learn it by sight, don't think you truly know it for when you need to read it as a true braille reader, reading it by touch. Because there's... it's just a huge disconnect and I think that allowing yourself to check things visually is reinforcing that your fingers just can't do it. And so for me, I almost feel like it's this internal struggle but surrendering, I think that learning braille, especially as a person that has been losing vision is an incredibly humbling experience because you are learning to give up control and surrendering to a tactile way of reading.

And I think allowing myself the vulnerability, it's not only okay I think it's necessary at least for me to just know that my fingers aren't going to guide me in the wrong direction. It may take a lot of practice. If I were to submit to an instructor, they may have me redo a few pages every now and then because I'm in the beginning. It starts out easy. But we all know how small those braille symbols are and how difficult it is, especially if you have any kind of neuropathy. If you have any kind of arthritis. I have rheumatoid arthritis and so some days are just not good, fingers. It's very painful sometimes. So I think it's a continuous process and for me it's a work in progress. I will say that I still read braille by sight. My goal is to eventually read by touch.

I think…I have four children and a very busy household. So I think until some of that calms down, the reading by touch goal may be a few years off. But that's long term, my goal. I would say the benefits of learning to read by sight is you can get the code down very quickly. And I think it's… success reinforces success where if you're getting it, if it's clicking in, you're understanding it visually, you might go a little bit faster, but as vision decreases or if you decide that you need to switch to a tactile way of reading it, go back and go to the very beginning with tracking skills, scanning skills, everything tactile, what your eyes automatically do as a young person, learning how to read from the time you're born, transferring that over and having to relearn it all on a tactile way is a process and it's a challenge.

And it's been my continuous challenge. And so now as I teach Braille Literacy courses and I do have a number of learners that have enough vision to read it by sight. I strongly encourage them, please put your sleep shade on, wear a mask, close your eyes as long as you won't peek. I can't even not peek at hide and seek because I feel like if I get it wrong, I don't want to get it wrong. So if you're a cheater like me and you have enough sight, please, please, please let your fingers have the chance to succeed.

And vision. I mean, if you must check it, I guess it's not the end of the world, but I think that using your vision, the more you use your vision when you're learning to read braille as a tactile braille reader, the longer it's going to take. That's what I found with me, with others that I've talked with and hopefully I will get it eventually. I am always in awe of my braille learners when they pick something up so quickly and they're doing it tactily and they're moving right along.

And even if they're struggling in this, but they're really, really focused and dedicated, and some are dealing with extenuating circumstances such as diabetic retinopathy or arthritis or limited movement because of CP. There's all kinds of issues that people ... that might extend the learning process. But just the most dedicated students at Hadley, I truly believe that.

Does anyone have any questions or their own experiences in going from vision to tactile learning mode in braille?

Vileen S: Yes. We will take questions but let me first thank you, Leeanne, for this interesting and inspiring speech. Wonderful. You did a great job.

Leeanne F: Thank you, Vileen.

Vileen S: Then friends all you know that Leeanne wanted to be a good mom and raise her children so well, but she did not realize how callous she was by giving me 200 students. I'm kidding. I know Leeanne doesn't [inaudible] so I continue.

Two things I like so much. When she mentioned reading braille by sight, is it true, reading braille and really not? So that's really great. And this presentation is particularly for those who have low vision and struggling to read braille by touch. And she said again, which was so important for you all, success reinforces success. Yes. So if you are able to successfully read or feel one braille letter and then try again, maybe you will feel the second one correct. And maybe you will feel the third one correct. But feel them by your touch.

I would not take so much time, but I may repeat one piece of information that I earlier said, but there are so many new participants, including one from Sri Lanka, far away from the other end of this globe. And we have participants from different parts of the world, which is so exciting. So I may repeat that. One day I received a phone call at Hadley from Florida and the person who called asked me for tips, she wanted to learn how to read braille by touch.

And interestingly, she had been a braille teacher all her life, but she was sighted. Nearly 30 to 35 years, she taught braille. But now she became blind and she was not able to read braille at all. Because I asked her if she ever tried to read by touch and she said no. So that tells that it is so important to learn how to read braille by touch. And you can learn from Leeanne's experience that she challenged herself and volunteers to learn how to read braille by touch.

So those who have a vision problem, limited sight should challenge themselves. Challenges make you strong. So always challenge yourself and learn. Do not find easy ways. With that I give this session open for question and answers. Feel free to ask, feel free to speak up. No question is dumb. Please speak up.

Elyse H: Wonderful. I see a lot of hands raised. So we'll just start at the list. And Allen you are unmuted. Go ahead.

Allen: Hi, this is Allen. I lost most of my vision when I was 50 and the only way to read print would be on a CCTV and then learning braille only by touch. I can see the page, but I can't see the dots. And the reason why it's difficult to go from sighted learners to braille learners is sight and touch come from two different parts of the brain. So you have to train the brain now to do things by touch. And that's one of the main reasons. And also if you have any vision at all, even if you close your eyes and you can still see some light coming through, that can cause distraction as far as reading braille. So the more you can black out what you're seeing, the better, and better for concentration. Over.

Vileen S: Thank you so much, Allen, and there is one more thing, participants, if you have anything to share as Allen did, he always shares good information, please do. It doesn't have to be only a question, your observations, your comments, your questions are most welcome.

Leeanne F: This is Leeanne. I'd like to respond to Allen's comment. Allen, you're absolutely right. Those... the sense of sight and the sense of touch because they do come from different parts of the brain. It's almost like you need to shut off one, activate the other. And that's my struggle and I don't know if it's the perfectionist. I don't know if it's being unsure and wanting to double check but every time, I double check, I do myself a disservice when I use my vision, when I should only be using my sense of touch. So I absolutely agree with you. Great point. We'll go down the list to Michelle.

Michelle: Hi. Thank you so much Leeanne. Thank you for giving us some great insight. Leeanne I have a question. I came in when I heard you talk about as you taught. Because we deal with the number, the low number of what we call literacy rates with braille. When you taught, did you find that all your students were successful and were most of them totally blind or were they in between? [crosstalk]. So success rates-

Leeanne F: Okay. Thank you for your question Michelle.

Michelle: Okay. Thanks.

Leeanne F: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Michelle: So first question is, what are your success rates with those who, I would say, that you taught as far as being let's say 90% braille literate, that they could read when they finished working with you. And what are some of the challenges that you noticed even as a sighted/braille instructor?

Vileen S: Thank you. Go ahead.

Leeanne F: Sure. I think the success rate for me personally, it's a little hard to judge because I have to tell you, you could be ... and I was an itinerant teacher, so I went and we contracted with different school districts and they may have one person in one class in the entire school that has a vision issue. And so you may be going to 20 different schools in any given week, but the vast majority of the students that I worked with, the younger students in the grade school, high school level and early childhood had enough vision to read print.

And so at the time, with everything in education it kind of ebbs and flows and what's in and what's not and what the thought processes are, and what is kind of the big push. And at the time it was if they have vision, teach them to read print, if they have vision, teach them to read print. So in reality, I didn't have many braille reading students in the grade schools because vision is a very low incidence handicap. If there were multiple impairments, which many of the students that I worked with did have multiple impairments, the cognitive disabilities trumped the vision and so even though they may have been a good candidate because they're totally blind, their cognitive concerns preempted that. And so they weren't able to just from a cognitive standpoint, but the few I do remember working with when they had vision but they were low enough vision or the parents said, "You know what, I really feel like we need to work on braille even though they can still see." I would say the success rate is better when I didn't let them cheat. We had our little mini blindfolds for each of my learners that were learning braille and I insisted that they wear them and then once they wear them, I might do a tactile smiley face or something, but they were learning that even though I have vision, I'm going to use it for other things and I'm going to use my tactile skills for learning to read.

And so I would say the literacy rates are very low. I think that there's a couple of reasons. Sometimes there's no vision teacher available. It's amazing how many areas of our country, there's a huge shortage and people trained to work with children with visual impairments. And so sometimes they may get a general Special Ed teacher that knows nothing of braille. And finding those resources for them is a big struggle. And I think that because of the trends and wanting them to use as much vision as possible.

Teaching braille is a very time intensive activity. And so when you have a school district with a limited budget and you're going for IEP, for the Individual Educational Programming and listing out what kind of services are going to be given to the student in any given year, they look at it also from a financial aspect sadly. Where teaching braille is much more costly for a school district than teaching to use what vision they have to read print which is the sad truth. But I think that that's my experience.

And so sometimes we had to really push to teach braille because there wasn't always an agreement that yes, this truly should be a braille reader. And so I think that lack of ... at the time anyway, lack of a true ... if you're this visual acuity and less you can ... you're a braille reader, if you're this and more you're print reader and then taught as such. And I think that having that indecision and an ambiguity only hurts the child so that those success rates and the literacy rate, the success rate is lower than you want it to be.

Another thing to consider is a lot of the kids with the visual impairments would either move or the vision teachers like any other profession in the area of teaching, turnover rate is high. And so you may be working with somebody for three years and then they go to another person and then you don't really get the follow-up as to what happened with them.

Michelle: Great insight. Thank you so much.

Leeanne F: You're welcome.

Vileen S: Thank you ,Leeanne.

Elyse H: This person's phone numbers starts 760. You tell us your name please.

Beth: Okay, it's Beth. I have ... first I want to say when I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I learned to type and I would ... but I wasn't ... well good enough and I didn't ... back then there were regular typewriters, not really with speech, it wasn't as sophisticated. So I had a ... they call them braille clerks in the resource room who printed out my assignments, what I would braille and she would write print on them.

And when I would erase, I wouldn't erase good enough that when I wrote over it, she was like what is this? I can't ... I could feel it, but she couldn't tell it with her eyes. So maybe the fingers could be more sensitive, too, right? Is that correct? Over.

Leeanne F: I think so. I think it can go both ways. I receive assignments from learners now that sometimes with their erasers, I can see it as a sighted person but if I were a tactile instructor, if I was an instructor that read tactily, it's too jumbled. The eraser isn't good, but I also can see it the other way where I might not be able to see it because I can see those dots pushed down where a tactile instructor may be able to feel if it's a push down.

And so I think it can go both ways. That's why I encourage people, if you have three or four mistakes on a page, take the time and redo it. It's going to be good practice to get that extra time in and on your brailling. And it's also going to make a nice clean paper. Because I mean as a sighted person working with sighted children in the past as well, if they turn in a messy paper, that kind of reflects on the person and maybe that isn't fair, but that does happen... producing braille. I know braille is harder to reproduce when you have to re-braille it than it is to do something in print.

But I think having nice, cleaner erasers or if your instructor allows them to be blacked out with the full braille cell for two or three symbols that you need to blackout, I would say that would be preferred for me anyway over a poor eraser. Because I want to give everybody as much credit and I want to make sure that I can read it and if there's any doubt, it's hard to determine, did they truly not know that symbol or was it just they figured it out? They just fixed it, but I can't tell which way it goes. I can't tell if they fixed it correctly or not. [inaudible] not being clear on the eraser.

Vileen S: Yeah. As a tactile instructor, I may add that it certainly varies how different ability emanating from finger sensitivity helps a tactile reader to see the dots or feel the dots. I was blessed I would say, I think I am still. One day I received braille material on a single print sheet and that came by mail. So obviously the dots were crushed, but I was still able to read. Thank goodness I have good finger sensitivity so far. I don't know how long it will last. Over. Okay. Next one.

Elyse H: Thank you. Doug you're next in line. Go ahead.

Doug: Yes. I took Uncontracted Braille with Hadley about 10 years ago and I, like Leeanne, was big peeper and a cheater and a scrubber and I did everything in the world wrong. And I got through, struggled and got through the course, but I was not satisfied at all with the result. And I got totally frustrated and gave up on it. And now my vision is deteriorated quite a bit more. I could see the page, but I could not see the dots. And I was wondering if ... plus my finger sensitivity is probably deteriorated too. I would love to be able to read braille. I wonder if I could retake the course with Hadley and maybe I could do it right this time.

Leeanne F: Doug, this is Leeanne. I think you absolutely could re-enroll in a course and depending on if you were in the braille literacy series or if you were in a different series, because the course has changed over the years. But I do have a fair number of people that are relearning braille for lack of a better term. And now that they really need it, like you, you said you're a cheater which you know what I hate calling myself that but that's what it is. Because I'm afraid to get it wrong.

But now there's almost a new urgency it sounds like where you can retake the course or take a different course that's best suited for your needs so that you can truly get what you need to get. And now you don't have the vision to rely on. So I think that yes, absolutely. Contact Student Services and get yourself re-enrolled if you're interested.

Now we use digital talking books, or you can even get a flash drive that you pop into a computer and then just listen to the audio. The textbook is all on audio, either through a digital talking book, which you would need a digital talking book player to use. Or if you request it you can get a flash drive, jump drive, whatever you want to call it to listen to the audio and then you'll have braille workbooks.

Our braille, when you're learning to read braille for the first time by touch, Hadley has a series of courses called Braille Literacy 1, 2, 3 and 4. Braille Literacy 1 is just practicing. It's called Tactile Readiness for Braille, getting your hands ready, learning the right movements, how to have a light touch, how not to scrub. As you mentioned, I'm a horrible scrubber. And how did you get yourself a really good foundation.

Braille Literacy Two, you only focus on the alphabet A through Z. Braille Literacy Three, excuse me. Quick review of the alphabet. And then you're going to learn numbers and some punctuation that go with numbers and you're going to use some punctuation as well. You're also going to get more practice learning to write braille as well as reading it. And you're going to be reading ... you're getting into sentences now, not just individual letters. So it sounds like Braille Literacy 1, 2, and 3 would be the equivalent of the old Uncontracted Braille course if I'm reading that correctly.

Doug: I think you're correct. And I need to start at the very beginning again. I developed horrible habits, so if there was a wrong way to do it, I did that that way.

Vileen S: That will get corrected. So now that you know-

Doug: Excuse me?

Vileen S: You can take the right approach. Doug?

Doug: Okay.

Vileen S: Okay. All right. We'll go to the next question.

Elyse H: Thank you. Rodrick, you're next in line. Go ahead.

Rodrick: Good morning. After Leeanne's valuable experiences, I'm glad that I decided not to learn braille a few years ago when I could see because I thought well that would make a problem if I ever lost my sight. I knew that was going to happen and that's when I was so bad, my sight I could not see anything else, any print or anything. I started learning braille and I'm glad I did, now I'm in last March. I was in braille in March of 2018. I was in Braille Literacy 1 first lesson and now I'm in lesson 19 of Braille Literacy Four.

Leeanne F: That's fantastic.

Rodrick: I'm glad that I waited until I was unable to see print to learn braille. Over.

Leeanne F: Thanks for sharing that, Rodrick. This is Leeanne. I think that ... and it's a personal decision. You have to find the right time. What's right for you because you’re learning it as a tactile learner versus a sighted learner, was your best choice. I had no choice but to learn it by sight as quickly as I could because that's what the course mandated.

But some people might benefit from learning the code, the academic part of it and then going back and doing it tactily as needed. I guess it really is individual for each person, but being able to find the right time, which sounds like you did that is excellent.

Vileen S: Great. And persistence spells success so yes. From Roderick, everybody can take a lesson to persist. Great. Next one and I'll request you all to be brief in your question please.

Elyse H: Next is Dorothy. Go ahead.

Dorothy: Hello. Leeanne, thank you for being here today. And I so get what you're saying about the sighted because I had my sight when I started the course. I have RP, so it's been a slow progressional loss all along. But I did not hear until I think Allen K. told me in one of these rooms about, I guess several months to maybe a year ago, that you need to put on a blindfold or block out that light. And I didn't take it seriously for a while. And I regret that, and I know you understand why because we're exactly in the same place where the vision has actually hampered my learning.

But Allen was right, I think last week or week before last where he said, "If you really want to do it and have determination, you'll get it." And so I like the other learner that spoke, the gentleman from long ago. I need to learn some of it again, meaning eventually I'm going to have to go back and do the tracking and that sort of thing again.

Because I'm guilty right there with you for. I can't cheat now. I can't see the dots, but it has hampered or slowed me down. So kudos to ones like Rodrick that have moved right through it because I still struggle. Thank you. Over.

Leeanne F: Dorothy, this is Leeanne. I think you're definitely not alone. I know I think as I always tell you, I think you're much harder on yourself then than any anybody else would be, but being critical because you want to get it right. And I get that. We want to make sure that we're reading and we're interpreting exactly what the code is.

We know there's only 64 dot formations and those dots are tiny, and it takes time. And I think that allowing yourself that time that's needed for some people, it goes quickly. For others it doesn't. And then others they want it to go faster, but your fingers just aren't cooperating. So I think that you find a pace that works for you and then you find that some symbols are harder, some symbols are easier.

And so just giving yourself that grace. I truly believe that it's a form of surrender, especially for the population that are going from sight to non-sighted or from a print reading world to a braille reading world. A huge, huge, huge change and allowing yourself the time necessary and the grace to say no, my eyes aren't doing it anymore. My fingers are still new, my fingers are still learning. It took us years to read as sighted people and through childhood to get good at it.

And hopefully now that you don't have to relearn the alphabet and everything, but you are going to ... it takes time. And so just allowing yourself the time needed is a good way to go.

Dorothy: I agree. Thanks, Leeanne.

Leeanne F: You're welcome.

Vileen S: Yes. And that's right. It's a huge transition from having sight to not having sight and therefore I keep saying 3Ps: practice, persist, and prevail. Unless you practice, you cannot achieve. Persist even if you are frustrated and if you would persist, you will prevail.

Elyse H: Okay. This person's name is Se Zun.

Se Zun: Y Yeah. Se Zun. Hi, Leeanne.

Leeanne F: Se Zun.

Vileen S: She's from Sri Lanka.

Se Zun: Hi. Yeah. I'm from Sri Lanka. I feel really happy to-

Vileen S: Tell everybody the time there. What time it is.

Se Zun: Now, let me check it.

Vileen S: 10:45 PM.

Se Zun: Yeah. 10:47 PM. It's night.

Vileen S: Okay. Go ahead please.

Se Zun: The last two days we were chatting, I was sending my assignment and we were chatting so today I feel happy to listen your voice, Leeanne. It's so lively for me today. And I'm totally blind. And what I wanted to ask you is like just now I have started learning braille because I lost my vision when I was 15 years old and now, I'm at 26 years old.

So I cope up or I studied all [inaudible] using the screen readers a lot, but now I started learning braille and it's quite interesting that Hadley has provided the modules and all sources to meet it. So I feel so grateful for that. And also wanted to like ask I read ... When I read the braille, I place my fingers like we have to read left to right. So that is the instruction.

But sometimes I feel hard to identify the individual letters. So when I want to recognize individual leaders, then I move it like up and down. Like I scrub each letter. So is that a bad habit or do I want to like practice myself to keep my fingers and move from left to right? So while moving like that, do I want to understand or recognize the letter?

Leeanne F: Sure. You had a lot. Scrubbing I would say, please stop. It's an immediate win because you might feel like, “Oh yes I do know this symbol and I can scrub to find it by moving up and down.” But long term, it's going to make you a very, very slow braille reader. And so if you want braille to be your reading medium from here on out, I suggest if you're struggling on a symbol, you might stop your finger. But making it move up and down is not good.

Well you want to feel the movement, you want to feel the symbol through movement. So if you're struggling with something go back, track back to the beginning of that line or the beginning of that word. Try it again. If you're trying to spell out a word because you know three of the four symbols, I would go over and over it without going up and down. Even if you are moving your hand back to the beginning of that line or the beginning of the word 10 times.

Because eventually you're going to go and you're going to say okay P-I-N, I don't know what that last one is P-I-N and eventually you might find out that it's a T and now its pint, but the up and down movement is going to make for, you'll regret it later. And that's something that from personal experience, because I was a scrubber and trying to do it tactically and get it all right, that it slows everything down eventually.

And then you had also asked about the speed and learning to read braille. I think that you can only go as fast as your fingers will allow. Because the cognitive part of it, you may be picking up quickly, but the reality is if your fingers aren't keeping up and you're having to scrub in order to identify symbols and identify words, later on it's really going to come back to get you and you don't want to do that.

So I always say move as fast as you have the time too, as long as your fingers are keeping up, if that tactile sensitivity is not there, if you are a print reader and learned to read print as a child that's not a one month or a two month or a one year thing, it's like the first 10 years of your life that you're first being exposed to print.

And then you might be identifying words that you see frequently. Like if you had a fast food restaurant, you might see the signage and then you're learning to read and it's slow. It's that ... you can't always scrunch that whole process down, especially when your tactile sensitivity is being questioned. I think that the tactile sensitivity, it can only go as fast as your body will allow it. Just my thoughts.

Se Zun: Thank you. Thank you, Leeanne.

Vileen S: I can tell you a lot about the training you are looking for as an international students. Great. Next question. We have four participants, so let's see if we can take all. Yeah, go ahead.

Elyse H: Alison, you're next in line.

Alison: I have a couple of comments and then a question. I have known braille all my life. I started learning when I was three years old. God bless my mother. I grew up in a very good school district that had a very good VI program and a very good ... I had very good couple of VI teachers. What I want to say is I went to school with a student who was autistic and I tutored a student that was also blind and autistic.

What are the signs that they just cannot grasp the concept of learning braille? Because my VI teacher pushed the students that I went to school with very, very hard and she just didn't realize that he had a tactile deficiency in his fingers. Is there a way to test the children for tactile deficiencies or what? Because they should have realized that he couldn't get the concept of long time ago.

Leeanne F: This is Leeanne. I think that in defense of the teacher that was working with him, for the most part teachers are eternal optimists. They want to keep trying and trying and trying and it might be through a different modality, it might be using different methods. If there's an actual scale gradable assessment on tactical abilities, I'm honestly not sure, I haven't been to the public school system in quite a while because I've been working with adults since 2002.

But I think that just because a student has autism and vision or a vision issue doesn't necessarily preclude them from learning braille. And I think that the teacher… giving it a long time actually to try different things, it may be that eventually that that student would pick it up or may not, but if that student does not pick it up, what are his alternatives for being a reader? And then you have to weigh what those alternatives are.

Alison: Yeah. He ended up being an audio learner. Unfortunately he did not continue to learn braille. My second question is, I'm already certified as a braille transcriber and proofreader through the National Library Service. And I noticed in our school district there's a shortage of teacher para-pros to help out the visually impaired and a lot of our VI consultants in our school districts are O and M specialists. And I was wondering what courses could I take to be a para-pro. I figured that I could help these teachers out with their students if they go out and when I'm out through whatever.

Leeanne F: Sure. I think the best thing to do because I mean in our school district and we have a fantastic school district, but there's no specific qualifications for the para-pro. I would say if you're looking to become employed or even volunteer within a school district, check with them, tell them your situation and say what kind of training would you require? They may be able to guide you because it's so individualized from district to district because in our district, para-pros do not have to have a college degree of any kind, but they may need certain training courses.

Alison: Yeah. And I think too, it would look better on my resume if I got some sort of basic college credits. I’m not looking to go for four-year degree to be a full time teacher. It's just too much for me.

Leeanne F: Sure.

Alison: I'm thinking I could take my basic courses through Hadley.

Leeanne F: That might be an option then. Thank you, Alison.

Vileen S: Probably.

Alison: Over. Thanks.

Vileen S: Great. Next question.

Elyse H: Okay. Beth you're next in line.

Beth: Yeah. I have a pro ... I still struggle. Like with SH. You know in the word dishes in the word dime. That's the hardest word that I have. With the SH and with the M because I even tested it and it was the same. The dots felt just the same. And the distance between like the M and E or the SH sign E. So Leanne how would you ... maybe like did you students ever have trouble with that and-

Leeanne F: Sure.

Beth: How can I resolve that?

Leeanne F: Sure. Well I think students have a lot of errors with, we call them reversals, because the SH is a mirror image of the letter M.

Beth: Yes.

Leeanne F: So I think that that just by the function of what they look like sets yourself up for, sets someone up for a potential miss ... getting it wrong. I would say if you're reading words in a sentence, use the context clues. You use the other words and then read the sentence. I wash the dishes, I wash the dime. If you're really not sure, and then which one makes more sense? And if it all, unless you're going to list of words, try using the context clues if you can't figure it out because that does help.

And I also really love flashcards. I love braille flashcards. I'm hoping in the future that Hadley will provide them with courses which we've been talking about. But for now if you can’t, I mean they sell them at APH. You can make your own just one symbol per card and then you just practice, practice, practice, practice. It's just one of those things. I've made a lot of flash cards when I was learning to read braille and it really was helpful.

Beth: That's what I thought too, the context.

Leeanne F: Absolutely. Yes. Those context clues would be important. Thank you, Beth.

Elyse H: Rodrick, you're next in line.

Rodrick: I have been listening and I ... first I realized one reason why after all this time, I still tend to scrub and sometimes let my fingers point towards one corner or the other as I'm trying to double check and make sure I got the right symbol, I end up reading it wrong and I got to remember [inaudible] saying the braille cell is straight up and down and you don't have to scrub because it's not dirty.

Leeanne F: You have just made my day. I'm going to have to ... with your permission I will use that with all of my students that scrub because that's perfect. You don't have to scrub because it's not dirty. Yeah sometimes-

Rodrick: You have my permission. Over.

Leeanne F: Thank you. Thank you. Sometimes when you're struggling with the word, it is a good idea check your hand position. Check are your fingers kind of splayed? Whether you've got your left-hand kind of pointing to the left, your right hand pointing to the right and readjust them if needed. Because that way getting them in alignment is going to give you the best chance of reading that symbol. Because you're right there, they're always brailled up and down.

And unless you do a little crazy slate and stylus thing at an angle, for the most part it's always left to right, it's always up ... the cells are always up and down. And I think you made a really good point when you're struggling with something to do a self-check or sometimes you get so busy and worked up about what you're reading that you realize if you really think about it, your shoulders are practically up to your ears and your body is tensed. And when you have all this tension in your body, it's not allowing your fingers to do their job. And so I say it's a good time to take a break, get a snack, walk away for a little bit. Go ahead and wash your hands, make sure they're nice and warm and soft because you don't want to work with cold hands, you don't want to work with hands that are really rough.

So making sure that sometimes like people like to rub in some lotion before they start their reading to get yourself ready in a good position. And when you're struggling so much like that, it's better to take a break than to keep fighting through it.

Rodrick: Thank you. Over.

Vileen S: Okay. Next.

Elyse H: Allen, you're next in line.

Allen: Hi, this is Allen. With the person that asked about the M and the SH. The easiest thing to do is take your slate and stylus or braille writer, create a full cell and then an M symbol and then an SH right after it and right below it create a full cell and reverse it. That way you can practice on the same line to see the difference between those two characters. And then you can feel from one line to the other, the position of the dots from up when they're above each other and below each other. And that may help you to be able to identify that and practice more with that particular symbol. Over.

Vileen S: This is called the experience speaks. Great. Next one.

Leeanne F: Thank you. Allen.

Elyse H: Beth, you're next in line.

Beth: Yeah. I noticed too when ... I didn't learn much about position. I just kind of just ... no wonder why when my hands were cold, I couldn't feel the dots. So is that maybe you lose sensitivity in your fingers? Over.

Leeanne F: This is Leeanne. I think that you do. I think that by having warmer hands there ... you know I just think about it. I live in the Midwest, it's cold in the winter. If I don't wear gloves out there, my fingers have dexterity issues. I have more trouble starting my car when my fingers are cold. I have a lot of trouble doing a lot of things when my fingers are cold. Making sure they're warm is very helpful.

Beth: Yeah. I also live in Iowa, so I know what that's like.

Leeanne F: Sure.

Vileen S: And I may say that I keep bragging about my sensitivity, but when it is hard winter, I'm so bad I just can't read braille.

Leeanne F: Yeah.

Vileen S: Okay.

Leeanne F: Well I think that that's something that not everybody thinks about that when you're reading braille, especially when you're first learning to read braille, how your body, how your overall body feels, what's your hand position is, where is the braille? Is it too high up that your hands are kind of uncomfortable resting on top of something too tall? Is it too low? All those things you'll find in with practice and with time. Well making sure your hands are warm, as soft as they can be and taking frequent breaks is always ... they're always good ideas to try.

Vileen S: Great job, Leeanne. Thanks you so much. On behalf of all participants and on behalf of me, you did a great job. I see that you're very knowledgeable about braille and all the options that braille offers and all challenges that braille poses. Appreciate your time and thank you so much. Participants, I'll see you all a week from today and thank you for joining us.