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For Immediate Release
Wednesday, January 17, 1996
Contact:Joseph Weisse or Jan Feldman

Braille Literacy is Celebrated at State House

Boston - Statewide education leaders, legislators and advocates for the rights of blind people gathered in historic Great Hall* at the State House on Wednesday to call attention to the need for braille literacy and to recognize a state agreement which will assist blind students in receiving educational services. The occasion was highlighted by a noontime ceremony where Massachusetts Commissioner for the Blind Charles H. Crawford, Education Commissioner Robert V. Antonucci, National Federation of the Blind President Priscilla Ferris, Bay State Council of the Blind President Kim Charlson, legislators and blind consumers formally announced a new agreement promoting blind children's educational rights to literacy and a call for passage of the braille bill in the legislature.

The agreement is the result of a year-long, collaborative effort on the part of educators, parents and consumer groups to develop policy guidelines for teaching, reading and writing to blind students and to students experiencing progressive vision loss to the point where they may no longer effectively use print. The new guidelines were drawn up in response to the alarming 1994 statistic showing Massachusetts blind students scoring 7% below the already low national average for braille literacy.

Commenting on the importance of this agreement in light of the new statewide educational standards for students in all public schools under Education Reform, Education Commissioner Robert Antonucci said that this new measure will ensure that the goals of Education Reform are being met. "All students must not only be literate, they must achieve at high levels of literacy. And if a student needs braille instruction to become a high-achiever in reading, writing and other academics, that is what he or she should have,"he stated.

Braille is the system of touch reading and writing for persons who are blind which utilizes raised dots to represent the letters of the print alphabet. The Braille system also includes symbols to represent punctuation, mathematic and scientific characters, music, computer notation, and foreign languages. Through the use of Braille, people who are blind are able to review and study the written word. It provides a vehicle for literacy and gives an individual the ability to become familiar with spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.

Commissioner for the Blind, Charles Crawford said, "There are few tools as powerful as braille literacy in the building of a successful future for blind people. Just as we measure civilization in terms of literacy rates, we must apply the same measure of importance to braille literacy in order to give children who are blind equal opportunities for their future success."

"Braille means literacy for thousands of people who are blind throughout the country," agrees Charlson. "Imagine balancing your checkbook, keeping a list of addresses or phone numbers, or writing a paper for school with only the help of your memory or a tape recorder. What would you think if the teachers in your neighborhood school told the community that students would no longer be taught to read or to use paper and pencil for writing, but instead would use tape recorders. The Bay State Council of the Blind believes that most parents would find this plan unacceptable and educationally unsound. Unfortunately, this is often the kind of education being provided to many children who are blind. Only by using Braille can blind individuals read and write for themselves with freedom and independence."

"Learning braille has been an uppermost priority for the National Federation of the Blind for the past 12 years," Ferris reports. "Similar braille literacy legislation has become law in 28 states, where the emphasis is placed on children and adults to learn braille in order that they are literate. We have found that approximately 90% of the employed blind population read and write braille and our motto is braille readers are leaders. I sincerely hope that Massachusetts becomes the 29th state to pass braille literacy legislation."

Nine area organizations and groups who produce and promote braille production also demonstrated their services at the State House. They were: Adaptive Technology Consulting, Bay State Council of the Blind, Braille & Talking Book Library, Massachusetts Association for the Blind, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, National Braille Press Inc., National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, Perkins School for the Blind and the Vision Resource Library.

* (originally scheduled for Nurses' Hall)

Last Updated: January 17, 1996
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