Parents' perspectives on braille literacy: results from the ABC Braille Study.
Structured Abstract: Introduction: Parents who were the primary caretakers of children in the Alphabetic and Contracted Braille Study (ABC Braille Study) revealed their perspectives about braille literacy. Methods: A 30-item questionnaire was constructed by the ABC Braille research team, and researchers conducted telephone interviews with 31 parents who were the primary caregivers of children in the ABC Braille Study. The questions investigated how often the parents read to their children, whether print or braille books were available at home, what their primary goals were for their children, and whether they knew braille. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Demographic information was also gathered and analyzed. Last, the parents were separated into two groups on the basis of the students' achievement, and data on the parents of the high-achieving students were compared with data on the parents of the low-achieving students. Results: The data from the interviews showed that the participants often read to their children and provided them with some braille books. The primary goals of the parents were that their children learn to read and write braille, and the parents indicated that braille would be the primary medium throughout their children's lives. Although many parents knew at least the braille alphabet (20 of the 31 participants), only 3 of the 31 indicated that they know contracted braille. The findings revealed a slight relationship between the parents' level of education and the children's reading performance. Discussion: The participants placed a high value on supporting literacy at home by reading to their children, learning some braille, and providing their children with books. However, the availability of braille books at home was limited in comparison to the availability of print books, and the participants' knowledge of contracted braille was limited. Implications for Practitioners: The involvement of parents is critical to promoting positive literacy experiences at home. Teachers of students with visual impairments are regarded as the primary support persons who provide resources for parents of children who are learning braille, including resources for learning braille and braille materials for use at home.
Parents and other caregivers play an integral role in nurturing positive literacy experiences for children. Research has clearly demonstrated that children who are read to from an early age and have access to books exhibit greater success in learning to read and write (Senechal & LeFevre, 2002). Also, young children who are given rich literacy experiences demonstrate high levels of motivation to achieve literacy skills (Baker & Wigfield, 1999; Morgan, Fuchs, Compton, Cordray, & Fuchs, 2008). Sometimes, however, parents of students with disabilities believe that they lack access to books and materials or do not have the knowledge or skills needed to provide positive literacy experiences for their children (Light & Smith, 1993; Marvin & Mirenda, 1993).
The acquisition of literacy skills by children with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) is influenced by support from family members and caregivers. Craig (1996) documented that parents view learning to read and write as a priority for academic success. Murphy, Hatton, and Erickson, 2008), on the other hand, found that parents often viewed their children's acquisition of literacy skills as secondary to their children's acquisition of life skills. The results from both studies indicated the need for continued support by professionals to enhance the literacy experiences of children with visual impairments. In addition, studies that examined the relationship between family involvement and the successful acquisition of literacy skills by sighted children (Bennett, Weigel, & Martin, 2006; Fantuzzo, Tighe, & Childs, 2000) clearly demonstrated the importance of family support in language and literacy experiences. As a result, the research team of the Alphabetic and Contracted Braille Study (ABC Braille Study) wanted to examine how parents' attitudes and perceptions related to braille literacy might influence students' success in learning to read and write braille.
This investigation was conducted as part of the ABC Braille Study, a longitudinal, collaborative effort in which researchers investigated the literacy experiences of children who were learning either contracted or alphabetic braille (Wall Emerson, Holbrook, & D'Andrea, 2009). The study was conducted in 15 U.S. states and 1 Canadian province. In all, 38 children participated in the study over the course of five years from 2002 to 2007 (Wall Emerson, Sitar, Erin, Wormsley, & Herlich, 2009). In the research reported here, the parents of students who participated in the ABC Braille Study shared their perspectives. They completed a survey that examined their level of education, proficiency in braille, and goals for their children. They also provided information on how often they read aloud to their children and whether they had braille books at home.
During the spring visit of each student's first year in the ABC Braille Study, the student's parents were contacted by a researcher from the study and asked if they would complete a family survey. The parent who was the primary caregiver, who was identified as the individual who spent the most time engaged with the student, was interviewed. The interviews were completed via telephone or in person. The survey took 30-45 minutes to complete, depending on the amount of information the participant wanted to share.
In all, 31 individuals participated in the interviews, all of whom were parents of children in the ABC Braille Study. The majority of the participants were Caucasian (n = 17, 54.8%); the remainder were Hispanic (n = 5, 16.1%), African American (n = 3, 9.7%), Canadian (n = 2, 6.5%), biracial (n = 1, 3.2%), Asian American (n = 1, 3.2%), American (n= 1, 3.2%), and Unknown (n=l, 3.2%). (Please note that "American" was the precise term used by the respondent, and the authors cannot speculate beyond what was stated regarding the respondant' s ethnicity.) More than half the participants had a college degree or higher (n = 16; 51.6%; see Table 1). When race/ethnicity was compared with the participants' level of education, the data showed that individuals who were from minority backgrounds had less education than did those from nonminority backgrounds. Six of the 8 parents who identified themselves as African American or Hispanic had less than a college education, and only 1 of the 8 had a graduate degree. Among the participants who identified as Hispanic, 4 of the 5 did not have a college degree, and 1 did not answer the question. Among those with college degrees and graduate degrees, 15 of the 16 participants identified themselves as Caucasian,Canadian, Asian, or American.
A 30-item questionnaire was constructed by the ABC Braille Study research team to examine what types of literacy activities took place in the home and how often these activities occurred. The interview was based on the survey used by Craig (1996), and the participants were asked to provide their perspectives on each open-ended question. The first and last sections of the interview collected demographic information about the student and his or her family. Next, the participants were asked about services provided to their children, home literacy activities, and their knowledge of reading and writing braille. They were also asked about the availability of braille books and materials in their homes, including games, labels on food items and furniture, and equipment used by the students in literacy activities; how often they read to their children; and whether the children had braille books at home.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS
Each ABC Braille Study researcher who was assigned to a student participant initiated contact with the student's parent and conducted the interview. Data were collected by recording the information directly on each survey. Questions related to education, race/ethnicity, and knowledge of the braille code were presented in a list format, and the participants indicated the appropriate responses. The questions on the amount of time that the participants spent reading to their children allowed the participants to make ranked choices. For example, "How many times do you read to your child each week?--none, 1-2 times per week, 3-4 times per week, 5-6 times per week, 7 or more times per week. The questions that asked the participants about the way braille is used in the home required dichotomous (yes or no) responses, followed by an opportunity to expand on the response.
The data were analyzed using frequency counts and percentages. No empirical statistical analyses were used to interpret the data. Even though the researchers examined the relationship among education, race/ethnicity, knowledge of braille, and levels of achievement, no correlational analyses were conducted because of the uneven grouping of the students.
The ABC Braille Study was approved by the human subjects Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Vanderbilt University, and all the researchers received IRB approval from their respective universities. Informed consent was obtained from the parents of the children in the ABC Braille Study using IRBapproved consent forms, and an assent was obtained from each child who participated in the study. Oral consent at the start of each interview was obtained by the researcher who conducted the interview.
The following research questions were addressed: What is the primary goal that the parents (the primary caregivers) have for their children? Do the children have access to books at home? How often do the parents read to their children at home? Do the parents read print or tactile books? Does the parents' level of education have an impact on the frequency with which the parents read aloud to their children? Are there any relationships between learning contracted or uncontracted braille and the parents' race/ethnicity, level of education, and proficiency in braille; having access to books at home; or the frequency of children being read to at home? Are there any relationships between high- and low-achieving students and the parents' race/ethnicity, level of education, and proficiency in braille; having access to books at home; or the frequency with which the children are read to at home?
THE PARENTS' PRIMARY GOALS FOR THEIR CHILDREN
When the participants were asked what their primary goal for their children would be, the majority identified learning to read and write as the most important goal (n = 18, 58%; see Table 2). The second and third most common responses were for their children to learn self-help skills (n = 6, 19.4%) and to make friends (n = 2, 6.5%). Other goals included learning to communicate effectively (n = 1, 3.2%), being happy (n = 1, 3.2%), and developing vocational skills (n = 1, 3.2%). Two (6.5%) participants did not respond. The participants unanimously (100%) stated that they expected their children to use braille as a primary medium throughout their children's education and careers.
KNOWLEDGE OF BRAILLE
When the participants were asked if they read braille, 16 (51.61%) stated that they did and 15 stated that they did not (48.39%). However, when asked the level of proficiency with which they read braille, a larger percentage of participants stated that they knew some braille (n = 20, 64.5%). Most participants stated they knew at least the braille alphabet and some contractions (n = 9, 29.03%) or, at a minimum, the alphabet (n = 8, 25.80%). Only 3 (9.7%) participants stated that they knew contracted braille, 7 (22.6%) stated that they did not know any braille, and 4 (12.90%) did not respond. When we analyzed the data by race/ethnicity, we found that 11 of the 16 participants who said that they read braille were Caucasian (see Table 3), 6 of whom stated that they knew the alphabet and some contractions, and 3 of whom stated that they knew contracted braille. Although all five Hispanic participants stated that they did not know any braille, 1 also said that he or she knew the alphabet and some contractions. Data showed that individuals with a higher level of education also had more knowledge of the braille code. When level of education was compared with knowledge of the braille code, 13 of the 16 individuals who stated that they read braille had a college degree or higher, compared to 11 of the 15 who did not have a college degree (see Table 4).
ACCESS TO hOOKS AND FREQUENCY OF READING ALOUD AT HOME
The results indicated that 80.6% of the parents (25 of the 31 participants) stated that their children had access to braille or tactile books at home, and 19.4% (6 of the 31 participants) said they did not. In addition, 90% of the participants indicated that they read to their children at least once or twice a week, and more than 50% percent stated that they read to their children more than four times a week (see Table 5). The 3 participants who said they read to their children less than once a week also said that they did not have braille or tactile books at home. Furthermore, nearly all the participants who read to their children at least 1-2 times per week used tactile books. The 4 participants who said they "never" read print books said that they read braille books at least 1-2 times a week. When we compared the level of education with the frequency with which the participants read to their children, we found that the participants with more education read more frequently to their children; that is, 11 of the 16 participants who had college degrees read tactile books to their children more than 4 times a week, whereas 11 of the 15 who did not have college degrees read to their children fewer than 4 times a week (see Table 6).
Low- AND HIGH-ACHIEVING STUDENTS
Using previous data from ABC Braille Study publications, we found that the parents of the students in the ABC Braille Study were separated into two groups on the basis of their children's academic achievement (Wall Emerson, Sitar et al., 2009) and analyzed the data to determine if family perspectives differed between the groups. Thus, in this study, two groups of students were formed, high-achieving students and low-achieving students, on the basis of the students' performance on reading assessments (the Basic Reading Inventory and the Brigance). The seven students in the lowachieving group were described as "below grade level on at least 66% of all their reading assessments in the study and had no assessment on which they performed above grade level" (Wall Emerson, Sitar et al., p. 597). The eight students in the high-achieving group were described as "above grade level on at least 62.5% of all their reading assessments in the study and had no assessment on which they performed below grade level" (Wall Emerson, Sitar et al., p. 597).
All the students in the high-achieving group, compared to five of the seven in the low-achieving group, had access to braille books at home (see Table 7). Also, the students in the high-achieving group were read to by their parents more often. All eight students in this group were read to at least 3-4 times per week, compared to four of the seven students in the low-achieving group. Five of the eight parents of the students in the high-achieving group had a college degree or higher versus three of the seven in the lowachieving group. Last, no relationship was found between the parents' level of proficiency in braille and the students' placement in the high- or low-achieving group.
In general, the participants valued literacy and braille. More than half identified the achievement of literacy skills as the most important goal for their children. The parents often read to their children, and most children had access to braille books at home. As was consistent with past research, the high-achieving students had greater access to braille books at home and were read to more often than were the low-achieving students (Senechal & LeFevre, 2002). The participants envisioned braille being the primary literacy medium throughout their children's education, and more than half had learned at least the alphabet in braille. However, despite the value they placed on literacy and braille, less than 10% of the parents reported that they were proficient enough to read contracted braille.
The level of education and race/ethnicity of the parents who were the primary caregivers may be related to several other factors. First, the parents with a high level of education read to their children more often. Second, the parents with college degrees or higher were more proficient in braille and read to their children using braille books more often. With regard to race/ethnicity, the participants who were Hispanic said that they read to their children less often (about 1-2 times per week) than did those from other racial/ ethnic backgrounds. They were also less proficient in braille than were those who were Caucasian. Because of the small sample of children from minority backgrounds who participated in the study, the data must be interpreted with caution, and causal relationships cannot be asserted.
Although each researcher in the ABC Braille Study was trained to conduct the family interview, the credibility of the responses may have been flawed by having only one parent respond to the questionnaire. Thus, the responses are limited to the individual who responded to the survey and may not reflect the family's perspectives. The responses do not represent a "household" consent. Also, because the responses were obtained via self-reports, rather than direct observation, or having a second family member complete the interview, they may have been skewed. Another limitation was that the parents knew that the research was about literacy. As a result, their responses may have been more favorable toward literacy. Finally, the data represented disproportionate groupings based on race/ ethnicity, with small groups of children from minority backgrounds. Thus, the data that are related to race/ethnicity should be interpreted with caution.
Despite the limitations imposed by the way in which the responses were obtained and a relatively small sample of participants, the information gleaned from this study parallels that of Craig (1996) and Brennan, Luze, and Peterson (2009). Although these studies examined the responses of parents of preschool students, the parents' goals were similar; that is, the parents viewed academic success as the primary goal for their children. Also, these studies showed that the availability of braille materials, including books, was essential to enhance literacy activities in the home. Like the parents in Craig's (1996) and Brennan et al.'s (2009) studies, the parents in the ABC Braille Study believed that professional support from teachers of students with visual impairments is critical to ensure positive literacy experiences.
Of great interest was the fact that more than 50% of the parents in the ABC Braille Study, especially those whose children were high achievers, said that they knew some braille. Many of these parents also indicated that they knew some contracted braille. It would be important to examine this relationship in future investigations to determine if there is a correlation between the students' level of achievement and parents' knowledge of braille. Also, since less than 10% of the participants were proficient in contracted braille, it seems important for professionals to design user-friendly curricula for parents to learn to read and write contracted braille.
The availability of braille books and materials is another area in which families, especially minority families, need continued support, since books in braille or braille and print may not be as accessible for these groups. As a result, parents may not have the means to read to their children. Therefore, teachers of students with visual impairments must take an active role in providing needed resources in the parents' native language, so the parents can participate more actively in literacy experiences with their children who are visually impaired.
In subsequent research studies, it would be interesting to continue to examine the relationship between high levels of academic achievement and parents' involvement in reading and writing activities in the home for students with visual impairments. Research on sighted students has clearly shown that students who are exposed to rich literacy experiences in the home demonstrate academic success in school. (Galindo & Sheldon, 2012; Oxford & Lee, 2011; Sticht, 2011; Strickland & Walker, 2004). Although the findings of this study showed a relationship between parents' knowledge of braille and students' level of success in academic pursuits, further investigation is needed. Perhaps it would be useful to design a study in which three family groups (no braille, uncontracted braille, and contracted braille) are interviewed, honing in on how the parents were trained to learn braille, how braille is used in the home, and how much time the parents spend reading books to the children who are visually impaired.
Although the family interview was only one piece of the ABC Braille Study agenda, it provided insightful information to share with the field. Two important issues emerged from the interview data. First, parental involvement is essential for literacy success. The results emphasized the importance of parents implementing literacy experiences in the home. Equally important is the involvement of the teacher of students with visual impairments in assisting families with resources. The findings reinforced the importance of families and professionals working together to ensure high-quality literacy experiences for students with visual impairments in the home and at school. It is clear that additional research and the development of curricula are needed to support this effort. Teacher preparation programs in visual impairment and inservice training for practicing teachers of students with visual impairments must place a greater emphasis on teaching effective reading and writing strategies, developing strategies to work with English-language learners, and providing up-to-date resources to families regarding braille and literacy.
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Cheryl Kamei-Hannan, Ph.D., assistant professor, Charter College of Education, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Sharon Zell Sacks, Ph.D., director of curriculum, assessment, and staff development, California School for the Blind, 500 Walnut Avenue, Fremont, CA 94566; e-mail: <email@example.com>.
Table 1 Parents' race/ethnicity and level of education. Race/ethnicity Number of Some High school Some responses high diploma or college (out of 31) school GED Caucasian 17(54.8%) 1 2 3 Hispanic 5(16.1%) 1 2 1 African American 3(9.7%) 1 1 0 Canadian 2(6.5%) 0 0 0 Asian 1 (3.2%) 0 0 0 Biracial 1 (3.2%) 1 0 0 American 1 (3.2%) 0 0 0 Unknown 1 (3.2%) 0 1 0 Summary of level of education 4(12.9%) 6(19.4%) 4(12.9%) Race/ethnicity College Graduate No degree degree response Caucasian 9 2 0 Hispanic 0 0 1 African American 0 1 0 Canadian 2 0 0 Asian 0 1 0 Biracial 0 0 0 American 1 0 0 Unknown 0 0 0 Summary of level of education 12(38.7%) 4 (12.9%) 1 (3.2%) Table 2 Parents' primary goals for their children. Number of responses Primary goals (out of 31) Percentage Learning to read and write 18 58.0 Learning self-help skills 6 19.4 Making friends 2 6.5 Other 3 9.7 No response 2 6.5 Table 3 Parents' proficiency in braille compared with parents' race/ethnicity. Race/ethnicity Does anyone What braille do at home read people at home read? braille? Yes No None Alphabet Caucasian 11 6 4 4 Hispanic 5 3 African American 2 1 Canadian 2 2 Asian 1 Biracial 1 American 1 1 No response 1 1 Total 16(51.61%) 15(48.39%) 7(22.58%) 8(25.80%) Race/ethnicity What braille do people at home read? Alphabet Contracted No and some braille Response contractions Caucasian 6 2 1 Hispanic 1 1 African American 2 1 Canadian Asian 1 Biracial 1 American No response Total 9(29.03%) 3(9.68%) 4(12.90%) Table 4 Parents' proficiency in braille compared with parents' level of education. Does anyone at home read What braille braille? do people at home read? Education level Yes No None Alphabet Some high school 4 1 High school or GED 3 3 1 1 Some college 4 2 College degree 9 3 2 6 Graduate degree 4 1 No response 1 1 Total 16(51.61%) 15(48.39%) 7(22.58%) 8(25.80%) What braille do people at home read? Alphabet and some Contracted No Education level contractions braille response Some high school 1 2 High school or GED 2 1 1 Some college 1 1 College degree 4 Graduate degree 1 2 No response Total 9(29.03%) 3(9.68%) 4(12.90%) Table 5 Frequency with which the participants read aloud at home. Number of times Number of times the the participants participants read aloud read aloud using print using tactile books each week books each week Number of Number of responses responses Frequency (out of 31) Percentage (out of 31) More than 4 times a week 10 32.3% 14 3-4 times a week 3 9.7% 6 1-2 times a week 8 25.8% 8 Less than once a week 6 19.4% 3 Never 4 12.9% 0 Number of times the participants read aloud using tactile books each week Frequency Percentage More than 4 times a week 51.6 3-4 times a week 19.4 1-2 times a week 25.8 Less than once a week 9.7 Never 0.0 Table 6 Parents' level of education compared with the frequency with which they read aloud. Number of times the participant reads aloud in print each week Less than 1-2 More than 4 Education level Never 1 time times 3-4 times Some high school 1 3 High school or GED 1 2 1 2 Some college 1 1 1 1 College degree 1 2 5 1 3 Graduate degree 4 No response 1 Total 4 6 8 3 10 Number of times the participant reads aloud using tactile books each week Less than 1 Education level Never time 1-2 3-4 times More than times 4 times Some high school 2 1 1 High school or GED 2 2 2 Some college 1 2 1 College degree 3 1 8 Graduate degree 1 3 No response 1 Total 0 3 8 6 14 Table 7 Characteristics of the low- and high-achieving students. Student Parent's race/ Parent's Braille identification ethnicity level of proficiency number education at home Low-achieving students 1 Caucasian Some high Braille alphabet school and some contractions 3 Hispanic Some HS None 203 Caucasian Some college No response 204 Biracial Some HS No response 229 Caucasian College degree Braille alphabet 233 American College degree Braille alphabet 309 Caucasian Graduate degree Braille alphabet High-achieving students 7 Caucasian Some college None 15 Caucasian College degree None 18 Asian Graduate degree Contracted braille American 206 Caucasian College degree Braille alphabet 223 African Some high No response American school 305 Caucasian College degree Braille alphabet 308 Caucasian Some college None 31 Caucasian College degree Braille alphabet and some contractions Student Access to Number of times identification braille books the parent number at home reads to the student Low-achieving students 1 Yes 3-4 times a week 3 No Less than once a week 203 Yes More than 4 times a week 204 Yes 1-2 times a week 229 Yes 2-3 times a week 233 Yes More than 4 times a week 309 No More than 4 times a week High-achieving students 7 Yes 3-4 times a week 15 Yes 3-4 times a week 18 Yes More than 4 times a week 206 Yes More than 4 times a week 223 Yes Less than once a week 305 Yes More than 4 times a week 308 Yes 3-4 times a week 31 Yes More than 4 times a week