An education industry has grown up around providing teaching materials for students with dyslexia.
But when a student has dyslexia and is also blind, that presents an unusual challenge.
Roz Rowley, a teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., found herself laboring to find appropriate materials when she had a student struggling to read Braille into his teenage years.
The popular notion of dyslexia is that it is primarily a problem of letter reversal, such as confusing “b” and “d.” Though letter reversal can be a symptom, dyslexia is more broadly defined as difficulty decoding words and associating the letter and vowel sounds with letter symbols.
Braille, just like printed letters, uses symbols to represent consonant and vowel sounds. Ms. Rowley’s student couldn’t translate the pattern of raised dots into word sounds.
“He was having a terrible time,” said Ms. Rowley, who teaches secondary reading, English, Braille, and study skills at the school.
Ms. Rowley and her colleagues at the Perkins School have modified a popular phonics-based curriculum for dyslexia, the Wilson Reading System, so that it can be used with the blind and visually impaired.
The Wilson system is a highly structured, 12-step program that teaches children phonemes, or letter sounds. Ms. Rowley and her colleagues converted the system’s sound and syllable cards and worksheets into Braille.
The 150-year-old American Printing House for the Blind is reproducing the curriculum for other educators.
Edward J. Wilson, the publisher and co-founder of the reading system, has also conducted training programs for the instructors at the Perkins School. Anne Sullivan, the longtime tutor of author and activist Helen Keller, was a graduate. Ms. Keller also attended the school.
Mr. Wilson noted that he doesn’t have specific experience with education for the blind, but the work at the Perkins School has been a good partnership. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the December 03, 2008 edition of Education Week