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Handbooks for blind children
by Dr Jadwiga Kuczynska-Kwapisz
Good education to blind children also depends on the availability of handbooks adapted to the needs of blind children. To investigate how this is organised in various countries Jadwiga Kuczynska, professor at the College for Special Education in Warsaw, has conducted an investigation among the participants. The following text is a summary. The full report can be requested at the author's (Maria Grzegorzweska College, Ul. Szczesliwicka 40, 02-353 Warsaw, POLAND).
Handbooks for Blind Children
Findings of the survey
The collected research material refers to the content, publishing standards and sources of financing of handbooks for blind children and youth in the following European countries: Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Jugoslavia, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Lithuania and Poland. The survey was conducted during the seminar organized by the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, which was held in Bratislava between the days 23rd - 27th September, 1999. In view of the apparently different approaches of the West and East European countries to the issues concerned, I have divided the material into two groups with the source of information as the main reason for the division. Below you will find the outcome of the survey:
Respondents from all the surveyed West European countries confirmed that hanbooks for sighted and visually impaired pupils differ in their content to a certain extent. That is caused by the necessity of adapting and modifying the contents, which in turn facilitates the access to hanbooks for blind pupils. The adaptation usually focuses on changes in instructions to exercises, changes made to incomprehensible examples, or eliminating graphic components in handbooks like illustrations.
The merits (informative component) are usually preserved as the school curricula for visually impaired pupils are the same as the school curricula for the sighted ones. The only relevant difference relates to the Braille and black print editions of elementary readers for primary schools, and to the fact that the different senses must be involved in the reading process accordingly. Therefore, the Braille editions introduce the pupils into the ins and outs of the Braille alphabet. This intrinsic difference was pointed out by a Swedish respondent.
According to those surveyed, turning black print handbooks into their Braille counterparts, which involves adaptations, is a very strenuous process. It takes a lot of time as well as funds.
Adaptations are usually made while converting black print into Braille, and usually take the form of slight changes in the content: the need to provide descriptions for illustrations, changes in instructions to exercises, changes in descriptions to make them more comprehensible; and in case of instructions it is important to make them workable for the blind pupil.
It is not only the contents of black print handbooks which is adapted, but also their illustrations. In several countries pictures are not described, but converted into a simpler, more patterned language of raised reliefs.
For adaptation purposes most countries use computer technology, and in case of drawings - the thermoform technique.
In majority of the surveyed countries black print books are adapted to the needs of Braille versions by blind teachers, blind consultants and sighted teachers. Scientific workers appear in the answers much more seldom. It is only Sweden and Spain where they engage themselves in such proceedings. Others involved in the process are as follows: in Great Britain they are teachers' assistants, in France they are people whose task is to rewrite black print books into Braille, while in Finland they are employees of the Library for the Blind.
There appear three groups of answers about the possible differences in the content of handbooks for the blind used in mainstream schools and in special schools. The Austrian, Dutch and Finnish respondents did not find any differences between the handbooks used by the two groups of children. In Great Britain, France, Germany and Belgium there are differences in the content of handbooks for blind pupils in mainstream schools and specials schools. The main reason for that lies in the ways adaptations are carried out, as in the majority of the countries there are no central organizations which would take on the responsibility of standardizing texts converted into Braille.
Another fact which may account for the differences between the content of handbooks for blind children and youth in mainstream schools and in special schools is that blind pupils in mainstream schools usually learn from the same materials as sighted pupils. In special schools, however, educational materials are prepared with the blind pupil's needs in mind only.
Sweden brings us the third group of answers. The Swedish respondent draws our attention to the fact that handbooks for blind children and youth with additional handicaps may differ from handbooks for other blind pupils attending either mainstream or special schools.
There are no binding standards in the size or weight of handbooks. That is true about nearly all the survey West European countries. The Braille handbooks are usually described as bigger and heavier than their black print counterparts, although their final form depends on the publisher.
Paper and plastic are the usual materials used for the production of Braille handbooks. Neither of them prevails. Apart from the content printed in Braille, handbooks also contain illustrations in the form of raised drawings. Their presence in handbooks was confirmed by the respondents from Great Britain, France, Finland, Spain and Sweden. In the latter two countries illustrations can mostly be found in handbooks for younger children. Austrain, German, Dutch and Belgian handbooks are not really illustrated. The respondents usually described illustrations as rather simple reliefs made by hand with the help of Brailleons, by thermoform technique, collage, or a computer with a Braille printer.
The survey shows that the main technical aids that are sometimes used by blind pupils in place of handbooks are: computers with additional hardware i.e. CD.-roms, Braille lines, speaking outputs, and recorded tapes/cassettes with books read aloud.
It is only Great Britain, Spain and Finland where there are established organizations and publishing houses which deal in publishing Braille handbooks. Other surveyed countries declare various publishers without naming them; organizations and schools which offer the access to Braille handbooks for blind pupils.
It is mainly the Ministry of Education, local authorities, schools, sponsors, charities, Associations of the Blind (occassionally), and social welfare which provide funds for the publishing of educational materials for blind children and youth.
The parents have to participate in the costs of publishing handbooks in France, Germany and Spain. They do not cover any such costs in Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands or Sweden; and in Great Britain handbooks can be borrowed.
The collected research materials comprises the content, publishing standards and sources of finance of handbooks for blind children in the following countries of Eastern Europe: Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Jugoslavia, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Lithuania and Poland. Here are the inrtoductory conclusions on the research done with the questionnaire method.
According to all the respondents handbooks for blind children and youth are similar in their content to handbooks for sighted pupils. That results from the fact that both sighted and visually impaired pupils follow the same school curricula, use the same handbooks, and even learn in the same classes e.g. in Estonia. Moreover, the respondent from Slovakia stressed the fact that using handbooks with the same content allows visually impaired pupils move easily to mainstream integration schools. Any differences may arise from the necessity to adapt books to the capabilities of blind pupils. The changes may refer to both some of the content and illustrations. In Poland the extent of such adaptations can be significant.
Handbooks for blind children which does not contain the same information / merits as black print handbooks, are the ones used by blind children with additional handicaps, mainly mental. The Lithuanian and Polish respondents pointed out this fact.
Generally, according to those surveyed, handbooks for sighted children are adapted to the needs of visually impaired pupils. The basic adaptation concernes simple transfer of black print into Braille, presenting certain pictures in the relief form or recording certain handbooks onto audio tapes. Such adaptations are mentioned by the respondents from Romania, Croatia, Jugoslavia, Slovakia and Poland. Further changes referring to the content of instructions, exercises, transferring maps, diagrams or adding or skipping certain topics are undertaken by Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland. Lithuanian and Estonian respondents said there were no adaptations made. The representative of Estonia explained this lack saying too small funds were at their disposal and too much time was to be spent on adaptations.
New technical devices like computers, computer software (e.g. RECOGNITA), scanners or Braille printers are considered useful while transferring black print into Braille in Estonia, Poland and in Hungary. In Lithuania and Poland adaptations are made by people specially employed by publishers, who cooperate with teachers; in Slovakia it is only the teachers who adapt books. Respondents from other countries did not give concrete information about adaptations made. In their answers they focused on what is and what is not subject to adaptation. The question in the survey might have been misunderstood or wrongly formulated.
In Hungary, Slovakia, Jugoslavia, Croatia, Poland and Lithuania adaptations are made by blind consultants, blind teachers or sighted teachers. It is only in Jugoslavia where research workers also deal with that. In Romania this job is done by teams of specialists, whereas in Slovenia by partially sighted teachers.
None of the respondents from the surveyed East European countries found any big differences between the handbooks for blind children in mainstream schools and in special schools. Such differences may only appear in case of blind pupils with additional handicaps, or in case of handbooks for primary school pupils.
In most East European countries there are no binding standards with reference to handbooks in Braille. Their weight and size depends on the size of paper which is the usual material the books are made of. Only Hungary, Jugoslavia and Slovakia mentioned the standard format of handbooks obligatory in these countries. The pages are usually thick, made of paper or plastic; illustrations are made by the thermoform technique or with a special press which raises the required shapes and forms.
Illustrations in the form of raised reliefs, pressed in paper or plastic occur in Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian, Polish, Jugoslav and Lithuanian handbooks. In Slovenia pictures are not fitted in the books, they are described. The shortage of adequate technical equipment can be blamed for the lack of raised drawings in Estonian and Croatian handbooks.
Hungary, Estonia and Slovakia declare access to the technical equipment such as computers and linked devices like CD.-ROMS, Braille printers, Braille lines, speaking outputs, all of which support handbooks for blind children. The equipment is mostly used by pupils in mainstream and special secondary schools. The remaining respondents mentioned shortages in funds which make any purchases of such equipment for schools very difficult or impossible. Other commonly used technical aids are audio cassettes, and in Croatia and Slovakia - Braille'n Speak.
In the countries of East Europe Braille handbooks are printed mainly by Associations of the Blind, in some cases - special schools or certain printing houses owned by the state.
The Ministry of Education provides the funds for publishing books. It is only occassionally that sponsors or Ministries of Social Welfare deal with that problem.
Only in Jugoslavia, Poland and Slovakia parents partially cover the costs of handbooks (they are handbooks for visually impaired pupils attending mainstream schools). In the other countries Braille handbooks are free of charge.
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