Visualizing changed lives
USC Upstate professor proves braille literacy provides endless opportunities
By Meg Hunt, USC Upstate, firstname.lastname@example.org
In a world filled with assumptions, it is a common belief that all people who are blind or visually impaired know how to read braille. The reality, however, is just the opposite. Not only do all people who are visually impaired not know how to read braille, many have never had the opportunity to learn.
Driven by an innate passion to change that reality, Tina Herzberg, director of graduate programs and special initiatives for the School of Education at USC Upstate, credits her first year in graduate school as the turning point in guiding her to what she clearly feels is her life’s calling.
“Though I had been a childhood education major and teacher, I knew it was not what I wanted to do all my life,” she said. “So I went back to graduate school.”
Open to exploring other areas of interest beyond her secondary education and math degree for this next step in her life, Herzberg enrolled in a visual impairment class.
“I didn’t even know what ‘VI’ stood for when I applied for that initial class,” she said. “But once I worked with my first visually impaired child, I knew I’d found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Herzberg has become a braille and braille literacy specialist and certified in literary braille by the National Library of Congress.
“It’s not work to me,” she said. “I’m passionate about what we’re doing to improve the lives of visually impaired individuals.”
For Herzberg and other advocates, braille literacy equals independence, confidence and success for individuals who are visually impaired.
Herzberg’s most recent project, a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is trying to significantly increase awareness of braille and knowledge of how best to teach it. BrailleSC.org, a collaboration with the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, emphasizes the importance of braille literacy and offers multiple strategies for infusing braille in everyday life.
It offers oral histories from individuals about their experiences with braille, materials to assist teachers with braille instruction and resources for families.
“More than 300 individuals have been trained through programs made available as a result of this grant,” said Herzberg. “This effort is about quality of life, about being independent. It’s working with parents, as well as with the child to learn even the most basic things like making a sandwich or getting a glass of water or milk.”
After years of committing herself to finding a way to turn assumption into fact and three years into implementing the five-year grant, Herzberg hopes to prove that braille literacy and its possibilities are endless for the thousands of visually impaired individuals across South Carolina.
“The overriding question has always been ‘How do we build capacity?’ for individuals who are visually impaired,” she said. “So when I hear from visually impaired individuals across the state who now feel empowered to experience and live a life they’ve dreamed of, then I know we’ve changed their reality by enabling a quality life, a productive life, a meaningful life.”