In what way will I read – Braille or print?
Report from a study about reading media and the pupil’s choice.
Focus: School Years
Topic: Access to Literacy
Birgit Ericson Inga-Stina Fellers
Specialist teacher/Low vision therapist Specialist teacher/Low vision therapist
Swedish Institute for Special Needs Education
Resource Center Vision
The Royal Institute for the Blind, The Tomteboda School, was built in 1888 for blind children in Sweden. A great number of the pupils were totally blind or had very small residual vision. The most natural reading medium was of course braille. At The Tomteboda School you could even find pupils with residual vision enough for reading.
New discoveries and new devices in the beginning of the 1970s altered the situation at the special school.
We learned from Dr. Nathalie Barraga, USA, that it was not risky to use your residual vision, but that it was even stimulating the visual ability. Low vision training became a reality for adults and for the pupils at Tomteboda Resource Centre.
During the same period the magnifying TV-system with possibility to magnify 40 times was developed. Pupils with residual vision were able to read common print.
In Sweden the first two school beginners with severe low vision started 1977 in ordinary basic school, close to their homes. The including process continued during the 1980ties.
In the ordinary basic schools print was the natural reading medium for the teachers.
The multi disciplinary low vision team at Tomteboda Resource Centre (RC Vision, Stockholm) accomplished the assessment to be able to recommend the best reading medium. They met a lot of children every year and about ten of them were recommended to use braille as their reading medium. To learn and even to teach Braille is an enormous task for the teachers and leads to increased costs for the community.
Children from all Sweden visit our resource center together with their parents. One common question is “In what way will my child read?”
To be able to answer this question we make an assessment of the functional vision, which means the children´ s ability to use their visual capacity in different situations, as a base.
An assessment of this ability includes the visual functions: visual acuity, visual field, contrast vision, colour vision, ability to adapt to light and darkness, eye motor control, visual perception and the needs and results of using devices.
An evaluation of spontaneous behavior, tactile ability, developmental level and cognitive ability is included.
Our recommendations are very important to the child and the family. Therefore we felt a strong need to start a study to compare our recommendations with the pupils’ choices of reading media.
Our purpose with the study was to increase our knowledge about factors which can influence some pupils in their choice of reading medium. These are pupils with some residual vision.
Another purpose was to look at the outcome of our recommendations in comparison with the pupils´ choice of reading media.
Which of the individual abilities have affected the pupil´ s choice?
Which factors in the surroundings have affected the pupil´ s own choice?
Three methods have been used in the study to find the answers of our questions:
The first one was a study of the archives and the written reports to get data from a great number of children
The second one was an inquiry, answered by itinerant teachers, about the pupils’ reading capacity, the pupils’ choice of reading medium, and the factors which had affected that choice
Finally a case study was accomplished in order to get a deeper knowledge of the pupils’ visual ability and current reading development and of their own opinions about reading medium.
The most important results showed that our recommendations of reading medium were of prime importance to the pupils in their choices.
When we recommended the child to start with print during the first school years and to learn Braille later, braille reading seemed to be of less significance to the pupil and to others surrounding him.
Visual acuity at near was another factor for the choice of reading medium.
We found the best braille readers among the severely visually impaired pupils.
We have found that factors in the surroundings of the child have an important influence on the choice. In this study we have not had the possibility to make a close examination of these factors. We understand that a more comprehensive evaluation including developmental level, diagnosis, visual ability and the possibility in the surroundings to accept Braille as a solution, is necessary.
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