Braille and STEM Education for Blind Students (Part 1)

with Shawn Callaway of the National Federation of the Blind

National Education

Over 90 percent of blind children are not Braille readers. There is a strong correlation between using Braille and educational attainment, employment and higher incomes for the blind.Shawn Callaway, Board Member of the National Federation of the Blind discusses the Braille literacy crisis many children are facing today and exposing blind students to STEM fields.  This discussion continues in part 2 of Braille and STEM Education for Blind Students.

Interview recorded Sept 27, 2017.  Hosted by Robert Traynham.

Read a partial transcript of this interview below:

Traynham: Blind children in K-12 classrooms face significant learning hurdles, underscored by the reality that only 8% of blind students actually read braille. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I´m Robert Traynham. With me today is Shawn

Callaway: He´s the board member of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization that advocates for quality, inclusive education for our nation´s blind students. Shawn, welcome to the program.

Callaway: Thank you for having me.

Traynham: Shawn, let´s walk through specifically the landscapes that blind students face today.

Callaway: Well, in a nutshell, what you have is a situation where there are teachers, administrators, school officials who really lack the awareness in regards to accommodations for blind students. This lack of awareness really hampers the student in acquiring the different technology and braille skills that they need to succeed in school.

Traynham: Is it a lack of awareness with respect to training? Is is perhaps maybe that teachers need to, literally and figuratively, go back to school to raise their awareness? Or perhaps maybe they do not have the resources in the classroom? Or a combination of both, do you think?

Callaway: That´s a good question. In regards to teachers, when they go through school, I´m sure there´s not a big curriculum on how to work with children with disabilities or children who are blind, so when they come into the school district, they really don´t have the knowledge on how to work with students who are blind. So this is where the special-education departments come into play. But oftentimes, they really don´t have really a strong sense of what a blind student needs to succeed in a classroom.

Traynham: Shawn, you may have heard me mention a few moments ago that the reality is that only 8% of blind students read braille. I actually find that to be very surprising. Is that number surprising to you?

Callaway: Well, no. Not based on the educational structure on how we deal with blind children, no. And this is one of the things we advocate for. One of our biggest advocacy points in regards to the educational system — of the importance of having blind students learn and read braille in schools.

Traynham: So, how do we raise that number, assuming that we want to raise that number, from 8% to 80% or 100%?

Callaway: Mm-hmm. Well, like I said, it all starts with the willingness of the school and the administrators and the special-education department, to understand that braille is needed in the school system, in regards to learning and reading comprehension. Oftentimes, Robert, if a person has a little bit of sight, they will work hard in regards to making sure they have what they call CCTVs and other technology that strain that student´s eye to get as much as he can with the little sight that he has, instead of really putting the braille in front of the student and teaching that student braille, and he´ll be prepared, once he leaves school, to be very successful in trying to attain a good career for himself.

Traynham: Sure. Coming up in part two, Shawn discusses how his organization is empowering the blind and raising awareness with one significant symbol — the white cane. Click the link below to watch.