Success with Virtual Braille Classes

As we celebrate Louis Braille’s 212th birthday this month, we checked in with Society for the Blind’s certified UEB Braille Instructor, Jill Guilbeau, to hear more about how she has successfully moved this tactile program online to keep students safe during the pandemic.

In March 2020, when the stay-at-home order was made, Jill had to figure out how to take a hands-on program and adapt it for distance learning.

“I was pretty stressed out and panicked in the beginning,” Jill said. “I wondered how I would still have a job trying to teach something hands-on without having students in my office.”

Jill began mailing individual learning packets to each of her dozen students so they could continue to learn at their own pace. She was able to loan Braille writers to students and even host Zoom meetings with five participants at a time. Together over Zoom, students now play word games like hangman using Braille and have even learned to create some Braille artwork of dolphins, pumpkins and more.

“A lot of my students have missed interacting with each other,” Jill said. “They like doing the challenges and talking with each other over Zoom, so it works out nicely. I just have to be creative and keep them engaged.”

Jill creates most of her lessons by hand, only using the Braille embosser when she goes into the office once a month. Her biggest challenge is getting everything in the mail as often as needed, but over the last 10 months of distance learning, Jill said her students are progressing well and attendance is up. More students are doing their assigned tasks than when they would come into the office.

“With distance learning, I have to give my students more direction,” Jill said. “But when they lose their place reading Braille, they also can’t rely on me to help them track since I’m not in the room with them. So I’m sending them more tracking sheets to make up for that.”

Meanwhile, Jill is trying to produce more Braille materials for her class and Society for the Blind’s other programs, even though she has to do much of it by hand. She also hopes to finish the transcription program that shut down when the stay-at-home order went through. She even has a volunteer assistant – her student Susan just finished the program and has become so proficient at Braille that she is helping to proofread Jill’s materials.

“I’m fortunate that I have great students who are patient, and I appreciate every single one of them,” Jill said.