Post date: 
Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Photo of an adult and a child reading braille together

Laura Hughes, founder of Moorvision, talks about why it’s so important that parents of children with vision impairment (VI) learn braille.

Braille is a system of raised dots that represent letters, groups of letters, numbers, punctuation and words that enables blind and partially sighted people to read and write through touch. It was first invented in France in the early 1800s to help soldiers communicate at night and not long afterward, refined by Louis Braille who developed the system that is used around the world today.
Braille provides blind and partially sighted people access to a range of everyday reading materials including recreational and educational books, financial statements and contracts, and even recipes and restaurant menus. It also helps them to pursue hobbies with materials such as music scores, playing cards and board games.
The arrival of IT and more sophisticated ways of accessing information via audio, could have spelt the end for braille. However, it seems to be just as popular as ever – largely due to the development of high-tech braille devices that enable users to dispense with huge volumes of braille paperwork and quickly access information using electronic braille strips.

Why should parents and carers learn braille?

The most important question actually is: “Why should children learn braille?” With information readily available through audio, it could be seen as a better alternative. Braille, however, has the crucial advantage of teaching a child with VI spelling, grammar and punctuation in a way that audio cannot. It enables the child to be fully literate and therefore access and produce information in a more comprehensive manner.
A parent or carer of a sighted child will read aloud to the child when they are very young. Once the child starts learning to read, the parent and child will read together, with the parent assisting until they are a confident reader. As the child progresses through school, they will bring home pieces of work they are proud of, homework they need help with and a multitude of other written materials.

For the parent or carer of a child who uses braille, they are suddenly no longer a part of that child’s literary life. The parent can listen to the child read, but they will not know if they are reading correctly. They will also not be able to help the child with their homework or admire their classwork.

So it is a huge advantage for both parent and child if the parent knows braille.

How is braille taught?

Tactually versus visually

Although it is possible to learn braille tactually like the child does, the majority of sighted adult learners, both professionals and parents, learn braille by sight as this tends to be easier and quicker.

Is it difficult?

Braille may seem difficult at first, but that is simply because it is a language we are not used to. Remember, if a five-year-old is learning it, then so can their parent or carer! It is actually a very well-structured system and learners simply need to understand and repeat what they've learned to achieve fluency. There are a number of online braille support forums where there is no shortage of other willing parents, carers and professionals to help (such as the Braille Support Group and Braille Institute group on Facebook).

How long does it take?

This will depend on how much time the parent or carer has. On average, if they can allocate two to four hours per week, they will be reasonably fluent within one year and have reached a more advanced level about a year after that. Once they have understood the basic letters, numbers and simple punctuation, they can obtain their Grade 1 or Uncontracted braille qualification. Following this, when all of the various contractions (groups of letters) and rules have been learnt, the Grade 2 or Contracted braille qualification can be obtained.

Where can parents and carers learn braille and how much does it cost?

There are a number of options to learn braille as a sighted adult, which vary depending on learning preferences and income (a small number of local authorities offer braille classes for parents and carers, but not many):
  • RNIB Braille Primer: A printed guide (available in standard and large print) if they want to go at it alone – costs £9.90.
  • Positive Eye Braille course: A distance learning course for schools and parent or carers – the cost for parents is £130 for uncontracted and £290 for contracted (please contact Positive Eye for more information).
  • ChildVision Learn Braille course (it does involve a few trips to the charity in Ireland): Suitable for sighted people interested in learning to read and write braille for personal or professional reasons – costs €680 (which includes the loan of a Perkins Brailler).
  • UEB Online: A free online training program suitable for professionals and parents supporting children with vision impairment (there is also an accessible version for screen readers) – a certificate of completion is available to purchase and download for each completed module for a small fee.
It very much depends on how the parent or carer prefers to learn, what they may already know and how much support they would like.

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