Falling in Love with Braille

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Cay HolbrookHello everyone! Happy New Year! I'm Cay Holbrook. I am thrilled to be connecting with you this month and hope that we can have some very interesting discussions and learn from each other.

First I will tell you a little bit about myself. When I was an undergraduate student at Florida State University, I happened to know a fellow student who was in the program to prepare teachers of students with visual impairments. I went over to his house one Sunday afternoon and he was completing his braille homework and I started looking at the Perkins braillerwriter and his textbook. It was love at first sight! I was so intrigued with those six dots and I spent hours pouring over Louis Braille's ingenious code! In fact, my friend was very happy because he was able to go in the other room and watch a football game while I monopolized his braillewriter!

I became a teacher of students with visual impairments and worked directly with children (mostly elementary aged) in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Then, I realized that I had a passion for "spreading the word" to other people who were interested in teaching children with visual impairments and so, I went back to school and completed graduate work, eventually a Ph.D. Since that time, I have been preparing teachers in Baltimore, Maryland (at Johns Hopkins University), in Little Rock, Arkansas (at The University of Arkansas at Little Rock) and currently at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada!

Without question, I would say that my most powerful memories in my work have been my connections with children and their families. I am so grateful when parents invite me to join them in their journey and I appreciate how much I learn from these families. I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to step far away from the "ivory tower" of university life as teachers, parents and student generously include me in their lives.

I'd love to hear your stories!

I am interested in everything concerning children and youth with visual impairments! How is that for an open door for discussion? But, I am most interested in the development of literacy skills. This includes the development of reading and writing in print, braille, a combination of print and braille and other methods of accessing information in our world! During the next few weeks we will mainly focus on literacy, but I am happy to address other topics as well.

Editor's note: Dr. Holbrook is also the author and editor of many books and articles, which are available in the AFB bookstore.

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There are currently 8 comments

Re: Falling in Love with Braille

I am so thankful people like you are here to offer your knowledge and support. I am guardian of my neice Carly, she was born 3 months early only weighing 1lb 8oz. She had multiple surgical procedures to correct her ROP eventually her left retinia deteched leaving her vision at 20/30/-1. In September 2008 after a routine visit to eye doctors she had developed Angle Closure Gloucoma. Unfortunity the hospital were treating the pain as migraine. Almost 36 hours pasted before someone checked the pressure in her right eye (66). At this time she was totally blind, with simple eyedrops they relieve her pressure and some vision returned along with damage to the optic nerve. carly vision is now 20/400. She just turned 16 in November. She excells in literacy has been writing stories and poems since she learned to write. The computer she is using only has a 15in screen. The school system here is trying to get her some of the things she needs and we are going weekly to our local Disibility Resource Center where she is being taught braille. In just a short amount of time she knows the alphabet and numbers. She wants to attend the Georgia Academy for the Blind were she can learn in a situation more user friendly for her. She is fascinated by braille and printing of braille. Is there a place she could maybe have her work (poetry, stories & journals) printed.

Re: Falling in Love with Braille

Hi olliegrace,

Thank YOU for sharing your story and asking the question about your niece sharing her writing. I know that others have the same question.

First, let me say that I loved your statement that your niece excels in literacy, and tying that excellence to writing stories and poems. We often talk about concerns that writing seems to be less of an emphasis than reading so I'm thrilled that you have targeted Carly's writing ability as an important part of her literacy.

It sounds like you and Carly are excited about increasing her braille reading skills and that's great! I like to think of students having a "literacy toolbox" that includes as many tools as possible...braille, print, computer access options, auditory options...the more comfortable students feel and the higher their level of skills with the tools in their "toolbox", the more likely they are to make independent choices for effective use of literacy skills in school, at work, and in their community!

You asked about places where Carly can have her work printed. If I were you, I would watch for announcements for contests and competitions at the local, regional, national of international level. Don't forget that Carly can participate in writing activities designed for students who do not have disabilities. You may find that your local library sponsors some writing activities that Carly may enjoy. In addition, watch for announcements from NFB (National Federation of the Blind), APH (American Printing House for the Blind) and the Braille Institute of America which sponsors an annual Braille Challenge.

Good luck, you are on an interesting and exciting journey!


Re: Falling in Love with Braille

Thank you Cay for all you do and for bringing your skills, professional training, and above all, passion to your work. I am a blind adult who treasures braille and I use it everyday for work and fun. My love of braille started very early because my mother took the time to learn enough braille to transcribe some Dick and Jane books for me to read before I started school. While I know not every parent has the time to do that, it is so very important to give blind children positive messages about braille as a wonderful medium for reading, self expression and practical activities like labeling.

Also, it is important to learn about the tools which range from the simple and very practical slate and stylus for writing braille by hand, to the Perkins brailler (there's a new design now which is way cool), and braille printing, display and input technologies. AFB has information about these technologies on the AFB website at

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Louis Braille who was born 200 years ago this month. You can find lots of information about him, as we celebrate the anniversary of his birth and contributions to mankind, at www.afb.org/LouisBrailleMuseum.

Re: Falling in Love with Braille

Hi Paul and others!

I couldn't agree with you more! My friend and colleague Alan Koenig used to say "attitudes are not developed in a vacuum". I think that is true for positive attitudes and for negative attitudes, especially for children, but for adults as well. I loved that you said that you "treasure braille". That's a beautiful way to express the value of braille for your life.

I don't think we can overestimate the importance of showing our sincere excitement and enthusiasm for a child's reading experiences...in whatever media they use, but especially in the use of braille. In a very real sense we "set the stage" for the child and the sighted adults around him or her!

And thanks for reminding us to say a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Louis Braille!

Re: Falling in Love with Braille

My 4 1/2 year old daughter Julia is just starting to learn Braille, and has a Braille machine to use at home and one at preschool. She loves it, though it's still more of a toy than a tool for her. I wonder: how quickly can Braille-proficient people type with a brailler? Can they approach the speed of a typewriter? I am new to all of this.

Re: Falling in Love with Braille

Dear Cay,

My 14-year-old daughter was finally diagnosed with CVI last spring after years of medical appointments that provided no help with functional vision issues. During the summer, I followed the advice of a friend and went through part of the Mangold Program of Tactile Perception with her. It became clear that she can learn Braille and, with practice, could probably read Braille much faster that print. However, neither my daughter's eye doctors nor her educators support this, saying "She's so visual!" Well, she's had no choice and she struggles terribly with print. I want to pursue this and could do some teaching at home during the summer (as I learn Braille too), but if home is the only place she uses Braille, how will she ever become truly competent with it? Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks for your thoughts,
Mary Ann

Re: Falling in Love with Braille

Your efforts are greatly appreciated, the world needs people like you! Braille is so interesting as well as the complex questions of reading through touch and the brain-to-finger connections that happen at rapid speed! It would be great to see insurance companies offer braille programs to children diagnosed with conditions which require the use.
Good luck in all of your efforts!

Re: Falling in Love with Braille

Hi Cay, I'm a TVI who is working with a 7 yr old with Lebers (light perception) and autism. Since the beginning of the year, he's demonstrated prodigious verbal memory/ expression for names, music and lyrics but other communication has been sporadic at best. His engagement with peers, teachers and classroom activities also has been minimal and he's exhibited a fair amount of noncompliant behavior. Fortunately, he's recently become more content and cooperative--increasingly following routines and staying more engaged. Amazingly, within the last two weeks, he seems to be fascinated by letter sounds---constantly blurting out "A is for apple, C is for candy, E is for elephant" etc. We think he may have been exposed to this content on a cd or dvd at home. He takes delight when I infuse a Spanish word or two into the phonics exercise--Spanish is the spoken language at home. It sure does seem as if he's beginning to transfer his progigious memory to the academic literacy milieu. He currently has pre-reading goals focusing on locating and identifying braille labels on functional locations and objects but I wasn't intending to introduce instruction in Braille letter recognition. However, now, with this occurence, I'm reviewing the situation. Do you see his new fascination with phonics as a possible launching point for the learning of the Braille alphabet and letter sounds? I'd definitely appreciate your advice! Jacqueline

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