An inside look at how braille is taught in Rapides Parish

January is National Braille Literacy Month.
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 8:17 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Braille is not a language. It is a system of raised dots that can be read with fingers, mostly used by blind people or the visually impaired. It was invented in France by Louis Braille in 1809.

Now, over 200 years later, Carla Gremillion, a teacher of the visually impaired, is teaching students braille in Central Louisiana. She said, like languages, it’s best to start learning braille at a young age.

“We get them (visually impaired students) in Rapides Parish at age three or four, and we start immediately,” said Gremillion.

Gremillion has been teaching Wellendrick Gatson, a blind ninth-grade student at Pineville High School, for the last 12 years. The two helped explain the beginning stages of learning braille.

(Credit: KALB)

“Just like a two-year-old if they had Legos, their Legos would be big and chunky. We use something that’s big and chunky for their hand,” said Gremillion, holding a muffin tin with tennis balls in it, a tool the resembles a cell of a braille symbol. “As their fine motor skills get better, we move to something smaller.”

Wellendrick told KALB that learning braille was difficult at first, as there are over 189 contractions, 23 single letter contractions, and many rules to follow when becoming literate in braille.

Now a master braille reader, Wellendrick demonstrated his skills by reading an excerpt from ‘A Lesson Before Dying’, a standard ninth-grade reading assignment.

As well as reading braille, Wellendrick also uses a machine called a brailler to make notes in braille for him to read later. He also uses a tablet-like device called a braille note that he uses to write and hand in school assignments, send emails and take notes. The device uses a braille keyboard but translates the braille into English so his teachers can read his work.

“That’s the biggest thing is that people don’t think that blind people can do what they’re capable of doing. So, I think that’s one of our biggest jobs is to make sure they can access the curriculum and show off what they can do and what they can learn because it’s really pretty amazing.”

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