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School for Blind Expands Online Resources for Educators

A storied institution for the blind is promoting and expanding its online resources for educators across the country who teach students who have visual impairments—a move that coincides with a U.S. Department of Education directive that Braille instruction should be the default literacy medium for blind students.

The 184-year-old Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., which educated both deaf-blind activist and author Helen Keller and her instructor Anne Sullivan, is looking to increase use of Perkins eLearning, a collection of nearly 100 webinars, tutorials, and seminars.

The two-year-old eLearning portal is not just for teachers trained to educate students with visual impairments, said Kevin Bauman, the senior director of Perkins eLearning. Most students who are blind are in classes with typically developing peers, and only spend a fraction of their school week with a specially trained teacher. The resources in Perkins eLearning don't replace the expertise of a special educator, but can help the regular classroom teacher understand and support the specialized instruction, he said. Most of the resources on the website are free, except for seminars that can be used to earn continuing education credits.

Among the resources is a webcast on teaching Braille reading and writing, which offers a basic overview of literacy and language development through Braille, the alphabet system of raised dots that blind people read with their fingertips. A webcast on cortical vision impairment explains this leading cause of vision impairment. Cortical vision impairments come from problems in the processing centers of the brain, as opposed to problems with the eyes.

Perkins has 200 day and residential students as well as national and international programs. School leaders say it can be a resource for districts that may want to bolster their teachers' knowledge of education needs for blind students, especially after the Education Department's June letter stating that technology such as speech-to-text readers or magnified text cannot be used as automatic replacement for Braille instruction.

"This can be something that can build capacity quickly and effectively," Bauman said.

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