Dallas Morning News, Texas.
Saturday, March 04, 2006.
By JAMIE STENGLE, Associated Press.
Reading children's books in braille used to be frustrating for Eric Ligon and his 8-year-old son. When Ethan read the braille, his hands would cover up the nearby printed words, making it hard for his father to offer help.
"It wasn't a very fluid process, reading that way," Ligon said.
So Ligon, a visual arts professor at the University of North Texas, decided to make it easier. He designed books with the original print and illustrations at the top of the page, and printed words on top of the braille at the bottom of the page.
His books could be a breakthrough for blind and sighted readers who want to enjoy books together, according to national experts. Ethan, a third-grader who has been blind since he was a baby, has deemed them "pretty cool."
"Back in the old days, when I was in kindergarten, we would have books that had print between the lines," he said. "When I'd get stuck, I'd have to move my hands."
Besides braille-only books, one traditional style of children's book puts braille words on the page amid printed words and pictures. Another binds a clear plastic page next to a page with written words and pictures.
But those formats made it hard for Ligon and his wife, who eventually learned braille to follow along with Ethan.
Ligon's design could help parents and others who don't know braille, said Karen Wolffe, director of professional development for the American Foundation for the Blind.
"I think what Eric's got is ideal for very, very young readers," Wolffe said. "Those are the folks that are typically truly needing their parents to sit beside them and read."
Of the 1.3 million legally blind people in the United States, about 55,200 are children, according to Wolffe's foundation. About 5,500 of those children use mainly braille, while others may have enough sight to read print or might use books on tape.
Tanya Holton, vice president for development at National Braille Press, said more legally blind schoolchildren should be encouraged to learn braille.
"The more books that blind children have access to, the better," Holton said. "There is a whole generation of young blind adults who don't know how to read (braille)."
Ligon co-founded the nonprofit organization BrailleInk in 2004 with Bruce Curtis, who had previously worked at the Perkins School for the Blind near Boston managing the development and production of early literacy material.
They began selling books with Ligon's new design in December. Since then, they've sold about 800 books to parents, teachers and libraries.
So far, BrailleInk has two titles available in the unique format at $19.95: "The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds and "Guess How Much I Love You?" by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram.
With their colorful illustrations in addition to the print and braille words, the books can also help a sighted child learn about braille. Each one includes a glossary explaining the braille representations.
The books have been added to the children's collection at Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pa., and have been constantly checked out, said children services librarian Anita Ditz.
"There are very few books with pictures that are accessible to sighted children to give them a sense of what braille is," she said. "For my public library, what it is providing is sighted children with a direct connection to what it would be like to not have vision."
Curtis, executive director of BrailleInk, said the company hopes to get the funding for another four to five publications in the format by fall, eventually producing "hundreds and hundreds" of such titles.
Caroline Daley's twin 3-year-old daughters got the two books as Christmas presents. Daley, of the Houston suburb of Kingwood, said the format should help her daughters become acquainted with braille.
"Because of their vision loss and potential for complete vision loss in the future, we wanted to introduce them to braille," Daley said.
For now, they mostly enjoy turning the pages of the thick books. But Daley hopes the books eventually will allow the girls to read along with relatives, baby sitters, friends and even their younger brother.
"Having this as a learning tool for them is a really big deal, it really helps bridge the gap between the sighted and not," she said.
For the Ligon family, the books have already created a few such moments, including one between Ethan and his younger brother, 7-year-old Spencer.
"Without my prompting, I came in one day and they were reading together," Ligon said.
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