August is for many, (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) the time when thinking about going back to school. This is related to different investments, new clothing, schoolbooks and much more, or simply the opportunity to invest in oneself, when the house goes quiet for some hours after a buzzing summer. This time also provides an opportunity to consider whether an effort to further an individual’s education has merit and value for adults, as well – Gen Z to Boomers.
That is why I like to think of this time of year as “Back-to-Learning” as much as “Back-to-School.” After all, the importance, objective, and true meaning of these preparations is closer to the former phrase than the latter.
Equal Opportunities for Everyone
For us at ViewPlus, it is important that persons with vision loss don’t feel that this opportunity is something beyond their reach and consideration. In fact, two pieces of data reinforce the importance of this consideration:
• Only 10% of visually impaired individuals have fully developed the skill of reading braille
• Only 30% are productively employed
Both sobering statistics provide food for thought to consider continued learning – for both youth and adults of any age, to not become part of that statistic.
As an individual whose career is dedicated to seeing improvement in those statistics, let me humbly suggest a path for the visually impaired to consider for advancing their education and learning.
Step 1: Quench Your Thirst
Consider for a moment: What piques your curiosity? Learning is so much more motivating when aligned with a personal interest. Whether you are simply curious about learning more about the world around you in terms of people and their cultures, the wonders of geographies or astronomy, or the internal workings of the human body, the only difference it makes (and it’s a HUGE one) is in the power your passion has to truly motivate you to learn more.
Step 2: Plan Your Learning Journey
Everyone’s learning journey is different and therefore must be tailored. Age, health, financial or previous educational achievement will impact how you craft a realistic plan. But do not let the word “realistic” imply limits to your learning objective or goal.
Do not let the word “realistic” imply limits to your learning objective or goal.
Technology, communications, and social support networks are all available to assist your planning and encourage achievement of your goals. Techniques and tools to enable the intellectual development and learning for the visually impaired are continually improving.
For example, computers combined with special software and braille printers can easily produce tactile graphics, helping visually impaired individuals of any education level (from toddler to PHD) achieve learning and awareness breakthroughs, from basic to advanced concepts – even in areas of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM).
All Meaningful Learning and Discoveries are Not Planned – and Better When Shared
Here are two of my favorite examples:
If you have ever delighted me with your presence at our booth at one of the conferences, it is quite likely that I shared my first of many favorite memories in this delightful and interesting community, and without a doubt, shared with tears! It was at CSUN 2018, my very first day working with ViewPlus and the blind community.
Three visually impaired college student friends intentionally visited our booth because they “love Tiger embossers and could never have made it to college without access to one, especially for math and sciences.” They wanted to see what was new and checked out the different embosser samples before coming upon…the United States map! It was printed on the Elite so has the tactile graphics, along with state abbreviations in braille, with black ink overlay, and I gave them each a map so that they could explore together. The young lady knew all the state abbreviations, so she was enjoying helping in the guys’ navigation. One of the gentlemen suddenly belted out, “Wow! I didn’t know Washington was north of Oregon!” He was beyond excited and said, “Can I keep this?” I said, “Of course,” as tears streamed down my face, as I realized what I take for granted and witnessed for the first time the incredible power of tactile graphics.
Fast forward to CSUN 2022. Two silver headed darlings, canes in hand, approached our booth. Addie and Mae are both blind and we could see from their smiles and bubbly energy their excitement to be there, exploring and learning together. They loved being able to “touch and see” each of the samples from our various embossers and then much to their delight…they found the famous US map! We watched in awe as they shared the experience of “feeling” a tactile graphic representation of a map of the United States for the very first time. They gasped and laughed with wonder, surprised by the never-before understood geographic location of each state. “I thought Montana was on the coast!” one laughed. Their visible excitement, enhanced by their shared discoveries, made them seem like schoolgirls.
These stories illustrate the key points of the power of tactile graphics in enabling the learning journey, at any age, and the reinforcement value and joy of shared learning experiences.
The value of discovery and learning can be so much enhanced by the sharing of the journey.
Getting Back to School means Getting Back to Learning
For adults, the phrase “getting back to school” really means “getting back to learning.”
With 90% visually impaired not fully braille literate and 70% of the visually impaired not employed, no matter your age, there is enormous reward and opportunity awaiting you on your forever learning journey.
If this is at all of interest to you, I suggest you begin by reaching out to either of these organizations or resources that can help you craft an exciting and wonder-filled future through learning.
In the meantime, request a FREE sample of the United States map and “touch and see” for yourself!