Feds push school to meet Braille obligations

Fingers reading Braille
Access to Braille

In a “Dear Colleage” letter sent to schools nationwide June 19, the U.S. Department of Education urged educators to ensure students whom are blind or visually impaired are receiving adequate access to services in Braille.

“Despite the wide range of vision difficulties and varying adaptations to vision loss in the population of blind and visually impaired students, Braille has been a very effective reading and writing medium for many of them,” the DOE wrote in the letter. “Research has shown that knowledge of Braille provides numerous tangible and intangible benefits, including increased likelihood of obtaining productive employment and heightened self-esteem.

“Given these benefits, it is important that States and their public agencies ensure the appropriate implementation of the (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) requirement regarding Braille instruction.”

Congress amended the IDEA in 1997 to specify that schools must provide instructions in Braille if it is necessary to ensure students are receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education, as required by the statute.

In the letter, the DOE stated that for students whom are blind or visually impaired, schools may only refuse Braille services if it finds “after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child.”

On May 1, 2012, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and 25 other senators wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan raising concerns about students not receiving adequate services in Braille.

Though Braille has been a key literacy tail for people who are blind or visually impaired for decades, many schools have reduced their use of Braille in recent years as new technologies have proven a useful substitute for some students.

For many disability advocates, this trend has long been worrisome, as it potentially leaves large populations behind.

“We hope and believe that these clarifications will reverse the harmful decline in Braille instruction that has left too many blind people functionally illiterate, and will restore Braille to its proper place as the most effective reading and writing medium for blind people,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in a news release.

In the fall of 2010, about 30,000 students receiving services through the IDEA reported as having “visual impairment including blindness” as their primary disability.