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Program to teach Braille to blind children

Staff Writer

“It’s not an embarrassment to be blind,” Yvonne Franz said.
The Lincolnton resident has been teaching visually-impaired students for more than three decades and could not be more excited to teach Braille and other life skills to eight local five to 12-year-olds this week.
Franz helped North Carolina pick up the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Program in Raleigh three years ago.
She decided, at the end of last year, that Lincoln County’s visually-impaired students needed the program’s life-changing curriculum.
“I would really like to see it expanded in some of the rural areas,” she said.
The program will only last one week this summer as part of a trial test run with state officials in Raleigh.
Now in nearly 20 states across the country, the BELL Program focuses on using engaging methods and center-based activities to teach both blind and low-vision students how to read Braille and develop daily life skills such as cooking, cutting, money counting, reading and writing.
Franz said Lincoln County students will learn how to maintain personal space, a common challenge for visually-impaired people, and have the opportunity to play Braille Twister, keep a Braille journal, and take a midweek field trip to Morgan’s Dairy Bar & Calf-A in Lincolnton.
Because of the program’s play-based curriculum, younger students are the focus, Franz said.
However, the state has not forgotten older visually-impaired students. She said The Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh provides services specific for older age groups.
Franz will be teaching this week’s program with Kings Mountain resident and Cleveland County Schools volunteer teacher Laney Troutman, who will also have her guide dog Mack on hand.
By working with visually-impaired teachers and volunteers as examples, Franz said students learn it’s possible to become functioning adults, work jobs, marry and have families.
“You don’t have to sit at home and collect a Social Security check,” she said.
Students also absorb the unique practices and routines the visually-impaired adults use to accomplish everyday tasks, and in turn, develop their own methods and procedures for success.
“Students get the feeling it doesn’t matter how they do it, as long as it works for them — that’s the beauty of the program,” she said. “Every blind person has their own system.”
The program also allows interaction between students and adults facing similar sight-related battles.
Franz said her passion for helping the visually-impaired started in junior high school when a blind student in her class caught her interest.
“I spent more time paying attention to him,” she said.
From 8th-12th grade, she volunteered as a Braille transcriber at area schools.
Following a decade of volunteering, friends encouraged her to get her credentials for the job and make it a career, a decision she has yet to regret.
She said she wishes more people would enter the field since a limited number of teachers are available for the visually-impaired.
Her 35-year career has included work with Cleveland County Schools and educational facilities in Oxnard, Calif.
She said support for Lincoln County’s inaugural year with the BELL Program has been overwhelming.
Not only have local grocery stores and businesses stepped up to donate gift cards, lunches and funds for program officials to purchase items for Braille “goodie bags” and Braille books at each students’ reading level, but also Raleigh nonprofit organization Friends of the North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provided a financial donation.
The Lincolnton Lions Club plans to host a luncheon for students, teachers and volunteers on Friday, the program’s final day.
The Lions Club has always maintained a strong focus on sight conservation and helping each club’s local blind population, according to Publicity Chair Robert Tomlinson.
He said support for the visually-impaired stems from a speech Helen Keller gave at a Lions Club International Convention in 1925.
During the speech, Tomlinson said Keller challenged members to “constitute” themselves as the “Knights of the Blind.”
Each year, the Lincolnton Lions Club works to fulfill Keller’s command by raising money for blind people to attend Camp Dogwood and by purchasing eyeglasses and eye examinations for those in need, among other forms of community assistance.
Tomlinson said club members chose to additionally support the BELL Program after Franz spoke at a meeting.
The NFB BELL Program will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily Monday through Friday at David Memorial United Methodist Church in Lincolnton.

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