Friday, November 19, 2010

Two CCCOE Locations Serve the Visually Impaired in Contra Costa County

For years, teachers of the visually impaired would access services for their students through the Resource Center for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) located at Mauzy School in Alamo. The Visually Impaired Program provides resource services to students with visual impairments and provides materials in Braille and large print to a wide variety of students throughout Contra Costa County who are either blind or partially sighted.

Above, VI teacher Heather Walsh (left) drops by the East County VI Resource Center to pick up materials from Braillist, Carolyn Brannan (right).

Last school year (2009-2010) Braillist Carolyn Brannan moved her services to East County (located in an office at the Joseph A. Ovick School) in order to better serve teachers in the east county, while central county continues to be served by Carol Drohan RCVI at Mauzy.

Carolyn started with the COE in 2005 working in Alamo with former lead braillist, Monica Kreiger. “Monica encouraged me to learn braille,” said Carolyn. Before coming to the COE, Carolyn worked for Brentwood USD starting in 2002, working one-on-one with, Victor Silva, the first Braille reader in the Brentwood Union School District at Krey Elementary and eventually Edna Hill School. “I knew the best way to help Victor was to learn braille,” Carolyn concluded, “but it was a long arduous task.”

Braille is a system of raised dots that represent letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols, some of which may stand for groups of frequently occurring letters. Braille may be embossed on paper, or read by means of computer-connected refreshable braille output devices, which present the raised dots on a keyboard-like apparatus. There are several levels of braille: in grade one braille, words are spelled out letter by letter; in grade two, a system of contractions streamlines the presentation significantly. Grade three is more highly contracted still and, like shorthand, often used for note taking by the older, more experienced students. Other braille codes are specialized for particular areas of interest, such as music, mathematics, and scientific notation. In order to become a Certified Braillist, Carolyn had to study and complete the Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing produced by the Library of Congress and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Additionally she had to submit a manuscript of at least 35 full braille pages of high school level literary braille to the Library of Congress, which was then proofread by blind proofreaders.

"One of the challenges in my position is to know each student's grade level of braille, making sure that each student gets his/her daily worksheets, quizzes and tests, as well as textbooks and consumables (if they are not available from the state) in braille at their current skill level." That can mean switching between large print and the two grades of braille each day in order to best meet the students needs, and of course, keep them challenged and moving forward in their braille skills. Even though current technology has helped tremendously, Braillists must stay up-to-date on revised codes and rules.

The braillists, and Michael Parsons, braille assistant at the Mauzy site, also use a special piece of equipment called a Zychem Tactile Enhancer. It uses capsule paper which is coated with millions of “thermally-foamed” microcapsules that respond to light and cause the black image on the paper to swell, producing a tactile image (graphs, maps, tables, timelines, figures, etc.).
The county currently offers services to ten braille readers, ranging from pre-school to high school levels. From June 2009 to the present, the Braille Center has received over 153 textbooks, consumables, and novels. This figure does not include the worksheets, quizzes, and tests which the Braille center produces throughout the year. When added up, the Braille Centers have produced of more than 50,500 pages of braille and 4,800 tactiles for the school year thus far.

“I am very proud of the work Carolyn has done to create a complete Braille Center in East County,” said Diane Misasi, Student Programs principal at the East County location. “We invite our local districts and COE staff to schedule a visit, as the output from this office is truly incredible.”

Some e-circuit readers may remember former VI students, Caitlin Hernandez and Derek Czajka. They have both graduated high school and are juniors in college this year. Caitlin is a Literature major at UC Santa Cruz, and Derek is at Stanford majoring in Computer Science. 2007 graduate Jennifer Drohan is currently at DVC and plans to transfer to Saint Mary’s College and major in Psychology. She wants to be a social worker for the disabled population. Each of these students would credit their success in the mainstream classroom to their braille teachers and the Resource Center for providing their materials in braille during their K-12 years.