November 17, 2017

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Reading Room for Visually Impaired Kids Incorporates the Power of Touch

low vision reading room 3

Images courtesy of the San Antonio Public Library

When the Semmes Foundation in San Antonio, TX, offered to underwrite a new low-vision reading room at the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL), it was a chance for the library to expand its braille collection, buy assistive equipment including a magnifying monitor, and more.  But the biggest opportunity was to potentially bring in new patrons. In Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, 720 children have vision disabilities, SAPL public services administrator Joel Bangilan learned after conducting a community assessment study. Overall, 10 percent in San Antonio have low vision, including many elderly.

The Low Vision Reading Room, also supported by SAPL Foundation, includes 100 juvenile braille volumes, 75 juvenile large-print titles, and 100 read-alongs—children’s books accompanied by CDs—as well as a magnifying monitor and a listening station. Refreshable braille displays, devices that provide a braille display of electronic reading materials, may be added in the future, says Kate Simpson, SAPL children’s department manager. Located in a former reading nook, the new area also includes a colorful, tactile art display. Objects include stone animal sculptures and reliefs of human faces made out of ceramic (above right), all meant to be touched and handled. When kids learn about physiognomy by exploring the ceramic faces, Bangilan says, it “allows [them] to experience that without the awkwardness of (touching) someone else.”

As part of their research, Bangilan and staff consulted teachers of low-vision students in the area about children’s preferred reading habits. “They gave us a lot of good feedback,” he says, including “the preference of kids for audio.”

Low vision reading room 1He also learned that “there are quite a number of complicating factors for learning braille,” he says. Kids will wonder why they need to master braille to read something when, they say, “’I already know how to listen to it.’”

Among the benefits of reading braille, he says, is that “you can scan a page and see what exactly you need,” whereas “an audio is a string in time.” He adds, “it’s very difficult to scan an audio book in the same way we can read a page.”

With the presence of the reading room, “we’ve seen an awareness of people who are sighted,” says Bangilan. SAPL sees the launch of the space as just the beginning of its expanded services. Simpson adds, “[We] consider the grand opening of the facility as phase one of an ongoing project.”

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Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (sbayliss@mediasourceinc.com, @shbayliss) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.

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