Main Image: Youngster tries out the PRIOR alphabet
A Masters student at LJMU has developed an exciting new system for teaching the alphabet to children with visual impairments.
Enterprising Jade Smith, from St Helens on Merseyside, says the pre-braille method is already being used by youngsters in Liverpool, Lancashire, London, Wales and even in Missouri, in the US.
“Access to literacy for sighted children is so easily obtained, yet if you have a sight impairment, such access is difficult to find and when you do, very expensive,” said the 30-year-old Special Educational Needs teacher, who is studying for her MA Teaching Learners with Visual Impairments.
Jade worked as a design and technology teacher before a sight problem forced a career move into SEN, and she is now a Qualified Teacher of Visual Impairment for the Royal School for the Blind, in Liverpool.
Her Masters dissertation at LJMU’s School of Education focusses on PRIOR, her own system of tactile letter shapes which are based on braille letter dot formations. She has also developed a ‘learning journey’ which starts with play and provoking an interest in the meaning behind letter sounds, develops fine motor skills, refines fine motor skills, and facilitates progression onto future braille reading.
“I wanted to create something that could be accessed by any child with a sight impairment across the world, supporting them to feel included and recognised. This is not something I have created for financial gain in any way, my hopes are that the word spreads and many other children can benefit from it too,” said Jade.
“Learners are really enjoying the tactile approach, and it has really helped with the understanding of different shape formations representing a different letter sound.”
She says teachers, who have used PRIOR, have warmly welcomed a system to support visually impaired children, especially for who have fallen through an educational gap for available and appropriate support.
Jade has also contacted the Royal National Institute for the Blind who are currently trialling some of her packs with family groups and schools in London.
The digital designs, product manufacture, marketing, scheme of work, windows font, website, and learning pack, are all the 30-year-olds work.
Jade, a keen runner, was formerly on UK Athletics fast-track for the Paralympics, but says teaching, college and her new venture, have put paid to any sporting career. She also has a wedding to plan for this coming December!
“At the end of the day something had to give and using my skills to help the learning of children at a disadvantage, means far more to me than any gold medal.”
Dr Matt McLain, Senior Lecturer at LJMU and her supervisor said: “This is a really exciting project. Jade has consulted a large number of educators and SEN teachers in preparing the ground for this innovation and I’m certain interest in her work will grow from here.”