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Tips on Good Braille Reading Habits

Relax!

Place the book on a table or on your lap so that your shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers can all be involved in reaching the braille pages comfortably.

Relax! When you are perfectly relaxed and comfortable, follow these steps:

  1. Un-reading: Spend some time with all your fingers on both hands spread out, just touching all the dots on the page (or pages) in front of you, moving rapidly in any way you want to--up, down, in circles, diagonally, ... whatever feels like fun. Avoid using the movements you normally use for reading. Zip around the pages, with your fingers, hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders all involved in the game. If you pick up any words while playing this unreading game, you aren't moving fast enough! Zip! Have fun, like a kid touching a braille book for the first time! Forget that you ever knew anything about how to read braille--ever! Play this game for a minute, with your only object being to touch all the dots with some fingers on all the pages you can get to in one minute. Remember, forget you ever learned to read, and use all the fingers on both your hands, unless one arm is paralyzed or you have lost fingers on one hand. After a rest period of a minute or two, do the unreading again for another minute.

    Relax! Raise your arms and do some exercises.
  2. Bits and Pieces: Now do the touching again, fingers on both hands all spread out, moving rapidly in any way you want to, remembering to avoid any of your regular reading movements. Try not to slow down too much; keep zipping around the pages rapidly. Notice if you catch any words going by. You should probably pick up only a couple per page, no more. Try to notice if other fingers besides your regular reading fingers can help you pick up words here and there. Keep moving rapidly for one minute.

    Relax your shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers!
  3. Reading Technique--minus actual reading: Stretch out the fingers on each hand that you found to have the most sensitivity. Bring them to the page, making sure that your wrists are relaxed and flat, a little lower than your slightly-cupped hands, not raising up or twisting to the right or left, staying aligned with your hands. Keep the pads of your fingers--the fatty parts, placed lightly on the braille page. Find the first line at the top of the page by asking your arms to move away from your body so that your fingers can reach that first line comfortably. Point your fingernails toward the top of the page and do not move your fingers at all by themselves. The secret to good braille-reading technique is that your arms and shoulders propel your relaxed, lightly-touching, well-positioned, and unmoving fingers across, down, or back, as necessary. This allows the braille dots in each cell that passes by your fingers to touch your finger pads in the spots that Louis Braille intended them to: dots 1-2-3 on the top- middle- and bottom-left sides of your finger pads, and dots 4-5-6 on the top- middle- and bottom-right sides.

    To practice this, and to feel how it really works, forget about reading, and just do the movements of reading like this: Let your arms and shoulders move you to the right across that first line in a light, gliding, relaxed motion. Do not press down hard on the braille! Pressing hard, as if you're sweeping the floor, truly is not necessary, and it is a hindrance to your sense of touch, often causing you to miss dots or feel dots that aren't actually on the page. Keep your fingers still--unmoving--as they are propelled along. If your fingers move up-and-down or in circles, or curl and uncurl while they are propelled along the line, the braille dots in the cells cannot touch your finger pads where they should, making reading difficult, tedious, and tiring! Move along at a comfortable speed, or at the speed you'd like to be able to read, without pressing or wiggling or moving your lightly-touching fingers. When you come to the end of that first line, ask your arms and shoulders to bring you back to the left on the line you just glided across. Bring your arms closer to your body in order to move your fingers to the next line. Notice how your fingers do not have to move on their own in order to find a new line of braille!

    Repeat this procedure with several lines, or even several pages, beginning to notice how many blank spaces you find. As you continue doing reading movements without actually trying to read, you'll next pick up some letters or small words, and then maybe even some bigger ones, without ever "scrubbing" or "dipping" your fingers, or pressing hard, or raising or twisting your wrists! Notice how your relaxed, flexible, comfortable arms and shoulders really can do all the work of moving you along the lines and down the pages.

    Keep both hands moving together as you practice these reading movements, until you begin to notice that the hand you haven't used much is actually starting to pick up words here and there. Eventually, when that unused hand has "learned" more braille, you can later go on to read more efficiently in your everyday reading. As your right hand finishes a line of reading, your left hand moves back and down to the next line to begin reading a word or two as soon as your right hand finishes the line above. In this way, there is no pause in your reading. This works well with regular practice, but don't worry if you can't do it right away. For now, work with both your hands as you practice reading movements, and let the training of your unused hand happen naturally; don't force the issue. You'll know when that other hand has learned as much as it can and you can start using it to read more efficiently in your everyday reading.

    If you feel yourself tensing or your fingers beginning to scrub or press, stop this exercise right away, and do some stretching exercises, or something else that takes you away from the braille for at least five or ten minutes.
  4. Real Reading: Now, begin to read. Glide along the lines and down the pages as you've learned to do from the above exercises. Hopefully, you'll see a real difference in your comfort, accuracy, comprehension, and maybe even your reading speed. You might even find that other fingers are better for reading braille than you ever realized before. If you are doing these movements and are still having trouble, review braille letters or contractions from materials that you first used when learning braille, or ask your instructor for practice materials to use for review.

    If you catch yourself going back to your old habits, be your own policeman, and stop reading immediately! Go away from the braille for a while until you can relax again, and then repeat the above steps. The unhelpful reading techniques won't go away unless you push them away by stopping a reading session for at least a few minutes, until you can relax again.
  5. One Final Hint: Use your brain as you read. If something doesn't make sense, chances are that you've missed a symbol, letter, word, phrase, or line. Ask your arms and shoulders to take you back to a space or to the beginning of the line before the problem word or phrase. Check to see that you are still in the relaxed reading position described above before asking your arms and shoulders to take you back over the troublesome word. Then, be sure to take time to practice gliding comfortably, with good reading technique, over the entire line on which the troublesome word or phrase appeared, so you can really learn--and store away in your memory--the feel of that problem word or phrase.

Happy reading!

(Submitted by: Susan Fisher; Last updated: May 24, 2013)

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