4th January is World Braille Day, an international day of awareness to highlight the importance of Braille as a means of communication for blind and visually impaired people. It is significant as it also marks the 1809 birth of Louis Braille.
By the age of five, Louis Braille was completely blind, at 15 he invented a universal system for reading and writing to be used by people who are blind or visually impaired and spent the rest of his life perfecting it. It is a tactile code enabling blind and visually impaired people to read and write by touch, with various combinations of raised dots representing the alphabet, words, punctuation and numbers.
Develop a love of books from an early age
For all children, the joy of reading starts long before they can actually read, and it’s no different for children who are visually impaired. Here are some hints and tips to help support your child in developing a love of books even if they can’t see the words or the pictures.
- Read aloud with your child every day
- Select a time and location that is quiet, comfortable and free of external noise or distraction
- Choose books that relate to the child’s own experiences
- Use interactive language to bring the story to life
- Create a box of props for each book, using actual objects that your child can touch and hold to support the story
- Adapt a book by adding multiple textures or bright colours to the page to help them find the subject and engage with the story
- Create your own personalised books with tactile shapes
- Encourage your child to engage with the book, find the bottom of the page, turn the page
- Book chat throughout - before, during and after reading the book!
Braille and Large Print Books
Get books in braille and/or large print. There are many sources of braille books, some of which are free. Braille books allow your child to connect raised dots with reading, and set the stage for braille literacy.
As parents and carers or teachers of young children who have visual impairment, we purchase books with braille only to find the braille can be meaningless for our youngest. Sighted children are looking at the pictures and participating in “reading” the book. In order to provide a similar opportunity for children with visual impairments, tactile aids should be added.
Tips to make books accessible to young children who are blind or visually impaired
Adapting braille books for our youngest learners will get their hands on books and engage them in the learning process. Their sighted peers are being exposed to print as they look at picture books long before they are able to read print. Children who have visual impairments need to “see” braille long before it becomes meaningful too. In addition, providing tactile representations help our students begin to develop tactile discrimination skills they will need as they begin to learn to read braille.
Look for books that are available in board book format. The thickness of the page supports the tactile representations and is easier for our children to turn independently.
Which Items to Represent
Determining what items in the book to represent is a challenge. Keep it simple. Choose one or two items per page. Read the text and decide what is important.
Use Simple Shapes
Outline shapes of many objects will be too complex for young learners to identify. Select simple shapes and ensure it is small enough for children to feel the whole shape with their fingers.
Make it visually appropriate wherever possible so that sighted peers or siblings who might also be enjoying the book can appreciate it.
Look for books that are available in braille.
ClearVision is a postal lending library of children’s books designed to be shared by visually impaired and sighted children and adults. Their books all have braille, print and pictures and they lend books all across the UK and Ireland.
This allows children with little or no sight to share books with their sighted friends and family, and adult braille readers to enjoy stories with sighted children. There are over 14,000 books in the collection, catering for children from birth until they’re independent readers.
They have fiction and non-fiction in uncontracted (grade 1) and contracted (grade 2) braille and Moon - everything a young reader could want from The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Peppa Pig to Katie Morag, Dick King-Smith and books about space.
They add lots of new ClearVision books each month to make sure the collection is up-to-date and children with a visual impairment can enjoy the same titles as their sighted friends. They also have the UK’s only loan collection of fully textured tactile books, in which every illustration is specially designed to be explored by touch, so children can enjoy fully-accessible pictures too.
Thanks to the Jack Petchey Foundation, Roald Dahl Foundation and the Blatchington Court Trust, ClearVision also has a collection of books to suit children who have moved on from picture books but are not yet fully independent readers. These books come in a folder which includes a slim, single-sided A4 braille volume and a matching print copy. The collection includes humour, fantasy, everyday life and animal stories, as well as short biographies and retold classics.
They are delighted when people outgrow their library because they’ve become fluent readers! The RNIB National Library Service has a wide selection for those ready for longer books. Find out more about ClearVision at http://www.clearvisionproject.org/
The RNIB’s library collection gives you access to more than 11,000 braille books, in a wide choice of genres for both adults and children. Whether you’re reading for learning or leisure, you’ll find plenty to inspire you in RNIB's Library, which is used by more than 1,400 blind and partially sighted people nationwide.
It’s free to join and you can enjoy access to their whole range of braille books for adults and children.
Use their online library catalogue to browse the collection and if you wish to order Braille books, contact them directly. You can call their Helpline on 0303 123 9999, or email email@example.com
Books are delivered free of charge to your home, school or place of work, and are yours to keep, share or recycle.
Read On: The Audiobook Show with RNIB Connect Radio
For those passionate about books and accessible reading, Read On: The Audiobook Show presented by Robert Kirkwood is a weekly compendium of book news, reviews and exclusive author interviews, broadcast and podcast every Friday at 1pm. All their episodes are available at https://pod.link/ROTAS
RNIB Connect Radio is also on Freeview 730, Smart Devices, and online at www.rnibconnectradio.org.uk
Listening Books is an audiobook lending charity for those that find their illness, mental health, physical or learning disability affects their ability to read the printed word or hold a book. For individuals, membership costs £20 per year. School membership can be delivered from just £100 per year for 10 pupil logins. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a demo, or click here to find out more about membership.
They have a huge range of fiction and non-fiction titles for both adults and children, and support school age children from age 7 upwards. Listening to audiobooks allows children and young people to listen to the same books their friends are reading, helping to instill a greater understanding and enjoyment of literature. Their members can also listen to thousands of newspapers and magazines from around the world, with title choices updated on a daily basis.
Perkins School for the Blind
Perkins has created a Book Library which contains digital resources created by educators, family members, groups, individuals and students. These free resources can be downloaded.
RNIB and VICTA are supporting children and young people with their use of technology. Registered blind or partially sighted children may be eligible to apply for a grant for an Orbit Reader 20 compact braille display or an Apple iPad Air 32GB. To find out more visit the VICTA website http://www.victa.org.uk/grants/