Comprehending tactile graphics is an essential skill for braille students in the sciences. Therefore, this skill needs to be both taught and used from an early age. Unfortunately, many students with visual impairment lag behind their sighted peers in comprehension of these vital graphics. I have often found that students who struggle with tactile graphics typically also struggle with state assessments, as many of the questions on these assessments include charts, tables, graphs, maps, etc. This blog will provide simple guidelines for teaching tactile graphics.
Braille readers are taught to read left to right. However, when reading tactile graphics, this approach is rarely the most effective scanning pattern as students need to get the big picture (so to speak) before they can understand the details of the graphic. This can be compared to a systematic scan, as when searching for a dropped item. The appropriate exploration of the page with a tactile graphic is very different from reading braille. The student should take in some basic information from scanning with two hands on the page from top to bottom. This can feel very foreign to braille students who have learned to read braille without also learning to properly decipher tactile graphics.
Students should be taught to scan then study the page for the following information:
As graphics are such an integral part of understanding science, it is vital that the student with a visual impairment in a science class have access to the graphic and comprehend it before the class covers related content. To this end, it is highly preferable that the student have the opportunity to study the tactile graphics which will be used prior to class. For this reason, the TVI will want to collaborate with the science teacher regularly in order to determine when to schedule extra time with the student to work on tactile graphics. Ask the science teacher for a timeline for instruction for the year. Schedule a meeting with the teacher at the beginning of the school year and regularly thereafter. Some teachers will be able to provide a syllabus covering the entire year while others may need more encouragement to provide the TVI with needed information.
Based upon the timeline given, the TVI should look ahead in the book (or handouts) and prepare to meet with the student regularly to study the tactile graphics which will be used in class. If regular pull-out time is taken with the TVI, the student will become more comfortable with tactile graphics over time and require less time to prepare. The more time a student spends learning science-related tactile graphics, the more comfortable he/she will become with them.
Setting the Stage for Tactile Understanding Kit: Making Tactile Pictures Make Sense by APH- Catalog #1-08853-00
For those TVIs whose students are just learning to read tactile graphics, the following kit available through APH will be invaluable. This kit is most appropriate for use with young children making the transition from real objects to tactile graphics.
Tactile Graphics, Paths to Literacy
This section of the Paths to Literacy website includes basic information on preparing students to utilize tactile graphics and preparing tactile graphics.
Teaching tactile graphics to young blind students differs significantly from teaching tactile graphics to students blinded later in life. This is comparable to learning language naturally as a young child and learning a language as a second language later in life. For this reason, the tactics employed to teach students in these circumstances differs. For the young blind student, instruction in tactile graphics should begin as soon as the student has enough tactile skill to follow lines and recognize braille. For the student who loses vision later, concentrated instruction in tactile graphics is most appropriate. This may be through an intensive program or through pull-out time with the TVI. This page includes links to many resources on tactile graphics.
In addition, APH (American Printing House for the Blind) offers a number of tactile graphics resources that are specific to science, including the following:
Many thanks to Kay Pruett, TSBVI Braille teacher, for her invaluable words of wisdom on this topic.
By Laura Hospitál
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