Visualizing Changed Lives: Braille Literacy Providing Endless Opportunities

January 29, 2013 at 11:38 am

In a world filled with assumptions, it is a common belief that all people who are blind or visually impaired know how to read braille. The reality, however, is just the opposite. Not only do all people who are visually impaired not know how to read braille, many have never had the opportunity to learn.

Driven by an innate passion to change that reality, Dr. Tina Herzberg, Director of Graduate Programs and Special Initiatives for the School of Education at USC Upstate, received a grant for the university’s Special Education – Visual Impairment Program in 2009 from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the United States Department of Education.

“We put all the pieces together,” said Herzberg, who was named project coordinator for the grant. “We had comprehensive data that fortunately, or unfortunately, showed South Carolina’s great gaps and needs (relative to visual impairment), but I believe that helped us win the grant.”

Collaborating with the South Carolina Vision Education Partnership, work began to bring life to the concept that “Possibilities Are Endless: Promoting Braille Throughout South Carolina.”

As a result, in the first year was born. Designed to emphasize the importance of braille literacy and offer multiple strategies for infusing braille into everyday life, this website continues to open doors of opportunity for visually impaired individuals by providing a fully accessible, online scholarly resource that includes oral histories from individuals about their experiences with braille in everyday life; pedagogical materials to assist teachers in developing best practices for braille instruction; and resources for families, stressing the importance of braille literacy and the methods of braille instruction.

Other notable achievements, thus far, include collaborating with the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind to provide five graduate braille courses and 23 training sessions for teachers, adult service providers and parents; providing stipends for individuals to attend training related to braille and access technology; providing in-home training to youth and adults with visual impairments throughout the state; instituting a Technology Olympics for visually impaired students across the state; working with the National Federation of the Blind and South Carolina Commission for the Blind to provide evening training in tactually reading and writing the braille code; developing relevant training materials; and hosting braille immersion weekends for students.

Primary objectives continue to be identified each year to maximize the potential and relevancy of what has been achieved to date.

“The overriding question has always been ‘How do we build capacity?’ for individuals who are visually impaired,” said Herzberg. “This grant has enabled us to answer that question positively as we’ve met every goal, every objective we’ve set so far; objectives created to promote a quality life, a productive life, a meaningful life.”

Three years into implementing the five-year grant, braille literacy and its possibilities are truly proving to be endless for the thousands of visually impaired individuals across South Carolina.

South Carolina Vision Education Partnership

–          South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind

–          South Carolina Department of Education

–          USC Upstate

–          South Carolina Commission for the Blind

–          National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina

–          South Carolina Association of Education & Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired

–          South Carolina State University

–          Medical University of South Carolina Storm Eye Institute