One Year Away from ’UEB Transition Day’, New Mexico is Taking the Lead

5 Jan
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Greg Trapp is the executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, a position he has held since 1999. Prior to becoming commission director, he was a senior staff attorney with Disability Rights New Mexico. He has taught disability law as an adjunct professor, and he is a past president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind.

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Here in New Mexico, the transition to Unified English Braille (UEB) has put us in a unique and advantageous position, one which has some similarities to what happened in Germany and Japan after the Second World War. WWII resulted in widespread destruction to the economies and national infrastructure of these two countries. The rebuilding process led Germany and Japan to more efficient factories, improved production methods, and modern transportation systems. Prior to the war, countries like Great Britain were burdened by what economist Thorstein Veblen called the “penalty of taking the lead,” in which existing industry had to introduce innovations without any examples to study. The reason that Germany and Japan have such successful economies today, many economists would argue, stems largely from the destruction of their older factories and transportation systems during the war and their replacement with modern transportation systems, more efficient factories, and improved production methods. The Marshall Plan facilitated the rebuilding in Germany, and the infusion of massive American aid led to The Japanese economic miracle.

With our focus on the implementation of Unified English Braille, New Mexico now has key people in the state who are working on identifying the best methods and strategies for producing quality Braille and providing appropriate braille instruction. While books produced in Literary Braille will continue to be read for years to come, we now also have the opportunity to create new and modern braille libraries full of the most popular books produced in UEB. The advent of UEB also provides a more fertile environment for advocates and public officials to seek additional funding for the purchase of braille books produced in UEB. In addition, With the long-running and controversial battle over braille largely settled, teachers and schools can now focus on learning and teaching UEB.

The approach that we are taking in New Mexico is that we will take the lead in the transition to UEB, but that we will do so with the benefit of being able to learn from both the successful and unsuccessful efforts of the past.

Rather than trying to fix what we have, we are poised to be able to create new and innovative approaches. To be clear, the transition from Literary Braille to UEB is an incremental change and not a fundamental new braille system, but the coming months and years will present new opportunities to improve upon the current system of braille instruction. As a result, even though New Mexico is a rural state that is often near the bottom of most economic rankings, we now have the opportunity to move to the forefront of braille instruction.

Training teachers about Unified English Braille

The Commission for the Blind recently sponsored a UEB training event with the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. More than 20 teachers of the blind from across the state attended, and they all shared the same goal: learning more about UEB so that they can better serve their students. The day before the training, we sponsored a planning session specifically aimed at the UEB transition, which was designed to kickstart the UEB discussion. We included braille transcriptionists, braille instructors, and administrators of the programs that serve people who use braille.

In pursuit of our desire to be a catalyst for the state’s transition, we are providing training that would not have otherwise been available to teachers of the blind. Our goal is to bring key people to the table, so we can learn from the successes and failures of the past. We want to produce a more efficient system, and to mutually design a strategy that will result in greater literacy for blind people in the future.

The future of Unified English Braille in New Mexico

New Mexico will be a state that is on the cutting edge and setting the model for braille instruction. The New Mexico Commission for the Blind has had a long history of setting the standards for adult services, but as a state, we have a chronic shortage of qualified teachers of the blind. This is largely due to the overall shortage of teachers of the blind, and the trend toward educating blind students in their local schools instead of in residential schools. While this is a problem that can be found throughout the country, it is especially acute in New Mexico. By sponsoring the National Certification in Unified English Braille training and exam, we are raising the bar here in New Mexico. The teachers who pass the exam will be more marketable, and can better advance in their profession.

We are all starting from essentially the same place with the transition to UEB. We also find ourselves in a time of chronic budget shortages and fiscal austerity, but—even in these times—there are some activities that have a highly-compelling justification. The small amount of money that we are investing in high-quality braille training is quite tiny for the benefit that we will see; these programs will allow us to provide transition services to our consumers, and set them on paths toward maximum employment.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that took effect this past summer encourages vocational rehabilitation agencies to spend money on these young, transition-aged people for a reason. We know that these students understand our expectations of them. When we hold the bar high, we know that they’ll seek more productive, higher-paying employment…and they’ll have the travel, technology and literacy skills to exceed our expectations.

The following two tabs change content below.
Greg Trapp is the executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, a position he has held since 1999. Prior to becoming commission director, he was a senior staff attorney with Disability Rights New Mexico. He has taught disability law as an adjunct professor, and he is a past president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind.

Latest posts by Greg Trapp, J.D. (see all)

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