Expert discussion in Madrid, september 2022: Braille Teaching of Adults

These discussions and information change between braille experts took place during the EBU Braille Workgroup meeting in september 2022 in Madrid. Each discussion lasted one hour. This article represents the notes of the discussion with useful information and resources gathered during the meeting.

Moderator: Ana González Areán

On methods and methodology:

  • In Austria, no institutionalized method is being currently used. Adults must practice by themselves. They count on a booklet containing the specific characters used in German. Blind adult students must have a tutor. Every page of this booklet is dedicated to one letter of the alphabet. Each day there is a sequence of exercises to follow. Letters are introduced by the alphabet. Most of the training is done at home. There is a book they use, written by France Kvasnicka, a blind man.
  • In the UK, they have been using two courses: “Dot to Dot,” based on uncontracted braille, and “Fingerprints”, based on contracted braille. Courses are quite old, and they have been updated in 2015. Blocks of letters are introduced, trying to leave similar / confusing characters separate. Adults learn mainly on their own. Some of them find it easier to learn with a teacher, so the Braillist Foundation has been providing on-line and phone courses. They have contacted a group of passionate blind persons who are willing to teach. This is non-governmental. Braille has been on the decline, and there is reluctance to teach it. They intend to simplify the method, and to make it more accessible. Some tutors are self-employed, and there is a data base about them, that students can access. There is no governmental policy on this. Courses are heavily subsidized, but still they are not free. If they go to the social services of their area, adults are provided with the materials and equipments they need. Currently students learn by the sound, and not by the letter. The idea is to read words faster.
  • In Germany, they think it is impossible for an elderly person to learn on his / her own, they need a teacher. However, very few teachers are accessible. They have produced lots of tactile material. Their main institution is governmental. They are actually in the process of creating a new methodology. They aim to include exercises on tactile stimulation, as they have been doing with children: find similar figures, order horizontal and vertical lines, detect squares, circles, and so on. They want to use Tactile View for this purpose. The idea is that the material can be shared and printed anywhere, at an international scale.
  • In Slovakia, the main institution in charge is the Slovak Blind Union. They offer rehabilitation activities, and among them, there is braille. Adults come to their Social Services and they receive a course, among other areas, on braille. Some others are cooking, and computer skills. It is a sort of hostel, in which they can also be self-employed, and offer massage courses, for instance. Jumbo braille is not used. Libraries produce braille books in interlineate fashion, to make it simpler. They don’t teach by the alphabet, but they pay attention to these mirrorlike, confusing letters. When required, they use tactile stimulation in adults. If an adult student needs to acquire a rather expensive resource of equipment for learning braille, this petition must be adequately justified, and they must prove that they really have an academic or professional necessity, and that their salary is not high enough.
  • In France, they also have a specific letter order, and they do not teach by the alphabet. There is a book created by the Swiss Evangelic Mission, which is tactile. At the end, it contains quotes from literary books. If specific adults require it, they start with tactile stimulation. Those adults cannot work independently, they need a teacher with them. They use games and jumbo braille.
  • In ONCE in Spain, several methods are being currently used for adult teaching, which have been very useful throughout time, but currently they are not updated. Thus, they are trying to create a new, attractive, updated manual. Their aim is to make it interactive, unfinished, continuously updated by the different professionals who use it, in order to match present and future adult needs. Adult needs are changing fast, and they need attractive texts, materials, learning strategies. Adult interests are very diverse. They have already created the theoretical framework, and the didactic guide for teachers, and now they are devoted to the creation of the method that students will have in their hands. They have introduced a specific letter order. The method will be structured in three stages: prebraille, code acquisition, and code consolidation. They have incorporated a new professional profile: “promotores braille.” These professionals will be in charge of teaching braille to adults. This had traditionally been done by different professionals, but it was somehow, a disperse process, so they aim to unify it. They want to create on-line archives that can be shared and printed all over the country. Previously, every geographic location had been applying different, separate strategies. There is an issue with some resources: adults do not have easy access to Perkins braillers, or to braille displays, since they don’t get one from ONCE as a result of study or job adaptation requirements. Therefore, it is hard for them to have the chance of practicing at home, unless they can afford these resources on a personal basis.

Straight to words?

There was a discussion on whether or not, adults should move on immediately to words, or if they need to pass through syllables first. Also, on the issue of using contracted braille from the very beginning. In Slovakia, for instance, it is impossible to use contracted braille, due to the structure and nature of this language.

Learn braille as an adult with interest

There was a debate on whether teaching techniques should be adapted to the type of adult that comes to learn. Some of them were exhaustive readers before losing sight, so they are willing to keep being so, in their new code. But some others, just intend to read labels, to use elevators, or to play cards, for instance. Some group members think that teaching strategies and contents should be completely adapted to these interests. However, some others believe that there must be a systematic method: braille should be enforced from the beginning, all signs and letters should be taught to any student, and then he or she will decide how to use them. In any case, as a concluding statement it was agreed that, even if personal interests should be considered, adults should be always offered something beyond: further alternatives, materials, readings, contents.

Method of teaching the braille configurations

There was a discussion on whether braille letters should be taught following their visual shape, or their dot position and numbers. Since there was no full agreement on this issue, it was concluded that this teaching procedure would depend on the observation of the way each individual brain works.

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