AFB launches public education campaign.
In response to the concerns of educators, parents and the business community, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has launched a major public education campaign to promote literacy among blind and visually impaired people.
The campaign aims to underscore the critical shortage of teachers qualified to teach braille reading as well as the need for recruitment and funding for teacher education programs serving the unique needs of blind and visually handicapped children and recently blinded adults. In addition, the program will promote the unique range of reading and writing mediums available to visually impaired people through feature articles, public presentations and speeches, exhibits and publications.
"For the visually impaired person who cannot make good use of print, braille is the only means of learning how to read and write," said Susan J. Spungin, Ed.D., AFB's associate executive director for program services. "Yet, for a variety of reasons, access to instruction in braille has greatly declined over the past 20 years. There is growing concern about the impact of this trend on visually impaired people competing for education and job opportunities in a predominately sighted world."
Dr. Spungin noted that the American Printing House for the Blind reported that 60 percent of legally blind students used braille in 1963 as compared to 12 percent in 1987. And although information is widely available to visually impaired people on audio form, educators report that growing numbers of visually impaired school-age children are deficient in such fundamental skills as spelling, syntax and grammar. For all practical purposes, these students are functionally illiterate.
Among agencywide initiatives to promote literacy:
* Braille literacy was the subject of a half-day panel at the Josephine L. Taylor Institute, AFB's annual leadership institute for professionals in the blindness field, held earlier this year.
* The June 1989 special issue of AFB's Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB), the leading international journal on blindness and low vision, featured discussion on how the choice of a reading and writing medium - print, braille, or a combination of the two - impacts the literacy rate of blind and visually impaired people.
* An AFB professional chairs the Coalition of Information Access for Print Handicapped Readers, a network of organizations that aims to establish a centralized listing of all materials produced in braille and other formats.
* AFB is participating in a national advisory committee with other organizations brought together by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress to explore the feasibility of a national braille competency test for teachers of braille.
* AFB staff are available to speak about braille literacy to groups of blind consumers, as well as blindness and education professionals.
* An exhibit on literacy for blind and visually impaired people will be launched in New York City in January 1990 to inaugurate International Literacy Year, designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The exhibit will be available for site placements throughout the country.