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OWNING THE PROBLEM

The following appears on web pages of the AFB Solutions Forum and is used with permission.

By Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

In the early days of "Integration" of blind students into regular classrooms, it was recognized immediately that the child having the right braille book at the same time as her sighted classmates was crucial to successful participation in the general education classroom. In California, there were not state adopted textbooks, leaving each school district the option of choosing which textbooks they would use. APH may have had as many as three reading series at that time thus, it was unlikely that braille textbooks would be readily available for blind children in California, and perhaps for many other parts of the country.

Teachers of blind children were few and far between, and it quickly fell to them to develop a process that assured the timely production of braille books for students in regular classrooms. Individual braille transcribers and transcribing groups multiplied rapidly wherever there was a concentration of blind students in regular classrooms. Groups generally formed in the communities where there was a local educational program for braille reading students.

Therefore, those teachers who served the students blinded by retrolental fibroplasia in the 1950s and 1960s were privileged to be a part of an amazing movement, combining teachers and transcribers in the heroic task of providing "the right book at the right time." Leading this movement were the National Braille Association and the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped.

The early success of mainstreaming required total commitment by everyone in school administration, including the school principal, the superintendent, and the School Board. Because enrollment of blind students in general education classrooms was an exciting, innovative concept, these programs became the pride of the community. Principals and superintendents became the spokespersons for these programs. Parents, teachers, and educators alike considered it a privilege and honor to have a resource program for blind pupils in their neighborhood school.

The message of shared pride and shared responsibility is a critical part of this story. The success of delivering the right book at the right time in the right medium was built on the foundation of mutual pride and responsibility. Everyone involved wanted the program to work, and it could not work if the braille reader did not have her textbooks on time.

With regard to textbooks, two factors made these early programs work:

  1. The quick, but thorough development of a network of transcribers, completely devoted to providing the right book at the right time.
  2. Classroom teachers who believed they shared the responsibility to make mainstreaming work. They demonstrated this in a number of ways. They made themselves available to teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) both before and after school. They adjusted their teaching style so that, if at all possible, materials could be transcribed in braille before they were used in class.

Most importantly to the success of mainstreaming is that classroom teachers were required to select textbooks for the coming school year by January or February of the preceding year. This means that in January of 1959, a classroom teacher was expected to select all textbooks she/he would be using during the 1959-1960 school year. Because these teachers were proud to be a part of an effort to equalize educational opportunities for blind students, they eagerly and willingly made this textbook commitment. The author knows of no teacher who ever refused this request, or who changed textbooks later. They were so proud to be a part of this program to ensure the success of blind students, that they would do anything within reason to make it work for students. The teachers knew that no sighted student would suffer in the process of ensuring the success of mainstreaming, so everyone won!

Between February and August of that spring and summer, transcribing groups went to work preparing textbooks in braille. On the first day of school, students had the same books in their desks as their sighted classmates, and it wasn't all that hard to do.

Can this system work today? There is no reason why not. Successful mainstreaming takes work and cooperation, and it may take some adjusting on the part of educators. Local school districts that are committed to mainstreaming or inclusion must accept their responsibility in the timely delivery of instructional materials. If this means more preplanning, then they must decide how committed they truly are to the success of blind students in the general education program. Teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility specialists, related special education services, and parents all work together to make mainstreaming a success for the blind student. Classroom teachers, principals, and general administrators must be a part of this team, and ensure that commitment for success guarantees "the right book at the right time in the right medium."

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