Touch and Read: Early Tools of Literacy for Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

A mother reading with her visually impaired daughter

From Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow, by Kay Alicyn Ferrell.

Print is often described as a "tool of literacy." It is an important component of a young child's learning to read, and children are exposed to it in the home and in the community. Many children with visual impairments don't get the same exposure to the tools of literacy because they are unable to see all of this print in the environment clearly, if at all.

Although you should still read print books to your toddler, you may be faced early on with the dilemma of knowing your child needs a tool that is accessible, or usable to her, whether that means regular or enlarged print or braille. The selection of print or braille as a reading medium for your child may not be obvious at this point in your child's development. But until you know for sure, it may be useful to expose your child to both print and braille now. Eventually, your child will show a preference for reading visually or tactilely.

You can start now to locate books with textures that can be touched as well as braille books for your child. Here are some ideas for building print/braille options into your young child's life.

  • Ask your child's teacher to find picture books produced in both print and braille (also known as Twin Vision books) that you can borrow.
  • Ask about the many books that the American Printing House for the Blind publishes for young children, particularly those that incorporate touch into the story.
  • Buy your own print-braille-and-picture books from organizations such as Seedlings or National Braille Press.
  • Borrow books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Library of Congress. This free service offers braille and print/braille as well as audiobooks and other materials through the mail or from their network of regional libraries.
  • Ask your specialists to help you label items around the house in braille so that your child begins to be exposed to braille as a learning medium. Or invest in a braille label maker, which is sold in independent living catalogs.
  • Ask grandparents to purchase some of the Touch-and-Feel and Twin Vision books and keep them at their homes, too, so your child is exposed to touch and braille in other familiar and trusted environments.
  • Purchase children's audiobooks from the bookstore or toy store—those that come with CD recordings or a digital sound chip. Teach your child that listening is also a component of literacy.

All of these activities lead to later literacy skills. The literacy activities you do with your young child now will be focused on getting her ready for school but will also establish the foundation for later literacy.

For more information about teaching literacy in early childhood, see the book Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow, available in the AFB Press Bookstore.

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