This 2002 article by Barlow-Brown and Connelly1 highlights several of the main issues in what is known to many as the “Braille Controversy.”
This controversy arises as students with visual impairments learn to read. In many cases, students with visual impairments are not learning to read Braille at all with increasing audio and interactive learning tools. Many educators argue that this approach creates a group of illiterate students. Other educators point out the constraints of teaching Braille. Students of Braille learn the alphabet through a series of raised dots on a 2 x 3 matrix. There are 26 combinations corresponding to the 26 letters of the alphabet. The process of learning these letters typically takes up to 2 times longer than a child without a visual impairment learns the alphabet. Not only does this process take longer, but there are fewer and fewer educators who are knowledgeable of Braille. Often time educators that do have these skills are put in charge of special education classrooms with only a portion of the students having visual impairments.
Benefits of knowledge of written letters
In this study, Barlow-Brown and Connelly examined the link between knowledge of written letters and “phonological awareness skills” (2002, p.261). Barlow-Brown and Connelly predicted as congenitally blind students learned to recognize written letters in Braille, their phonological skills would increase.
After submitting 31 students to a variety of tests including word recognition, letter recognition, rhyming, and other phonological assessments, the hypothesis was confirmed that as students with visual impairments learn Braille, their phonological awareness skills increase.
What this means to us
This article suggests to us as educators the importance of literacy among students with visual impairments. Although new technologies have made audio and multi media approaches convenient and effective, these should not act as a replacement for Braille or other forms of letter and word recognition.
The recognition of letters and words improved students’ abilities to rhyme words and understand how language comes together. Although the process of learning Braille is complicated and time-consuming, its benefits cannot be overlooked. The ability to recognize letters and understand how words are formed is crucial for every child to learn how language works, and it is no different for a student with visual impairments.2