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Visual Impairment :
Special Educational Needs

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Compensatory skills are those needed by severely visually impaired pupils in order to access all areas of core curriculum. Mastery of compensatory skills will usually mean that the visually impaired pupil is able to access the curriculum on a par with his/her sighted peers. Functional skills refer to the skills that they need to learn that provide them with the opportunity to work, play, socialize, and take care of personal needs to the highest level possible. Compensatory and functional skills include such learning experiences as concept development, spatial understanding, study and organizational skills, speaking and listening skills, and adaptations necessary for accessing all areas of the existing core curriculum.

Severely visually impaired pupils, whether they have some residual vision or not, are unable to read printed text even if it is considerably enlarged. Tactile schemes are used instead, such as Moon or Braille.

William Moon

William Moon, (1818 – 1894) lost the sight in one eye following an infection of scarlet fever when he was a child. By his 21st birthday he lost the sight in his other eye and had become totally blind. He moved in with his widowed mother and sister in Brighton, East Sussex. He became a teacher, and taught boys how to read using the existing embossed reading codes. He realised that the boys found these reading codes difficult to learn and devised a new system, Moon type, based on a simplified alphabet which he designed to be easier to learn. He first formulated his ideas in 1843 and they were published in 1845. Moon type was subsequently replaced in popularity by Braille but it is still important for people who have difficulty reading Braille.

Click here for more information about William Moon.

Moon alphabet


Louis Braille

Louis Braille was born in 1809. When he was 3 he was blinded in an accident in his father’s workshop and at 10 years old attended Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. He found the books with large raised letters very difficult to read. In 1821 Charles Barbier visited the school and Louis was able to learn Barbier’s system which was created to enable Napoleon’s troops to communicate silently at night. It was based on 12 dots and was difficult to use. Louis devised a new system based on Barbier’s system, but which was not based on alphabetic shapes but used a 6-cell system of raised dots to represent the letters. Louis’s system did not become widely used until after his death in 1852.

Grade 1 Braille consists of the basic alphabet, with the numbers being the same as letters a – j. There are codes to identify numbers and capital letters as well as punctuation marks. A line of Braille is usually 40 characters long, and an A4 page will have 25 lines, so a page can contain 1000 characters. In contrast, an A4 page printed with a font such as Arial, will contain over 80 characters per line and fit over 50 lines on a page, i.e. 4000 characters. Braille paper has to be much thicker than normal paper so that it retains the shape of the embossed dots. Consequently a single book printed in Braille will often fill 5 volumes. There is no equivalent to different styles or sizes of fonts in Braille.

Braille alphabet

Braille has been developed and improved to make it faster to read and reduce the number of characters used. Contracted or grade 2 Braille incorporates many (c. 250) abbreviations and short cuts. There are specialist variations for languages, music, maths and science. Braille is the most widely used and best known tactile system. Braille readers can only read one letter at a time by detecting the pattern of the raised dots, remembering each word in a sentence or paragraph. Recognising/reading whole words or going back to check letters as sighted people do is extremely difficult. Braillists must store all of the letters and words in a paragraph to make sense of it, so pupils with problems with working memory have difficulty reading Braille. MRI scans seem to show that totally blind people, even those blind from birth, use the brain’s visual cortex when reading Braille. Reading and writing is slower and more demanding than reading text.

For more information about Louis Braille click on this link

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