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My son, Joseph, Brailled this birthday card for me.
My son, Joseph, Brailled this birthday card for me.

Though there are several versions of the alphabet for the visually impaired like the Moon Alphabet,  Gall’s Traingular AlphabetAlston Alphabet , and various other systems have been used over time. Today, Braille, that is typically taught in public schools, was invented around 1829 by Louis Braille.

Moon Alphabet
Moon Alphabet

Guidance released from the Office of Special Education Services (OSEP) discussed how Braille instruction

For decades, Braille has been a key tool for literacy for many blind and visually impaired individuals. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA or Act), in section 614(d)(3)(B)(iii), specifically addresses a public agency’s responsibility to make provisions for Braille instruction in educating blind and visually impaired students. This requirement states that, “in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, [the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team must] provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child.” In the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA, Congress added this requirement to ensure that blind and visually impaired students are provided the Braille instruction that is necessary for them to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). It was retained without change when the IDEA was reauthorized in 2004.  This requirement applies equally to children who need Braille instruction when they enroll in kindergarten, as well as to children who will benefit from Braille instruction because they face the prospect of future vision loss later on in their educational careers.

Though there is a directive, by IDEA, to instruct children who are visually impaired or face the prospect of future vision loss, children are not getting the Braille instruction they are entitled to in the public school system.

Despite this requirement, one of the most serious concerns voiced by parents and advocates of blind and visually impaired children is that the number of students receiving instruction in Braille has decreased significantly over the past several decades. As a result, these individuals believe that Braille instruction is not being provided to some students for whom it may be appropriate. The purpose of this letter is to provide guidance to States and public agencies to reaffirm the importance of Braille instruction as a literacy tool for blind and visually impaired students, to clarify the circumstances in which Braille instruction should be provided, and to reiterate the scope of an evaluation required to guide decisions of IEP Teams in this area.  This letter also identifies resources that are designed to help strengthen the capacity of State and local personnel to meet the needs of students who are blind or visually impaired.

Research shows that braille literacy directly correlates with academic achievement and employment. The majority of working-age blind people are unemployed (74 percent) and depend on support such as disability income benefits. It is estimated that the lost productivity due to blindness and eye diseases is $8.0 billion per year in the United States. Of the 26 percent of blind people who are employed, the majority of them are braille readers. The correlation is clear – braille is an extremely important tool for blind people to become literate, and it is a critical component that supports educational advancement and increases employment prospects.

Despite the link between braille literacy and employment, braille literacy rates for school-age blind children have declined from greater than 50 percent (40 years ago) to only 12 percent today. Part of the reason for this decline can be attributed to the mainstreaming of blind students into the public school system, where significantly less time is available for learning braille. Another factor is that many people believed that talking computers would replace the need to learn braille. However, listening alone is not enough. Research shows that braille provides a critical advantage for students to learn grammar, language, math, and science.

It is time to bring Braille literacy back! If you have a child that is visually impaired insist the public school assess your child for Braille instruction. For those that homeschool there are a lot of ways to teach a child Braille in the home environment. Please join us in our Facebook groups for more discussion on visual impairment at  IEP Assistance and Special Needs Parenting Advice or Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids.

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