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CESA 3 Braille Club Gets Boost from Grant

Any kid who’s “different” can feel isolated, and in a rural area, it can be even tougher. So for low-vision and blind students in southwest Wisconsin’s CESA 3, the Braille Club has been a great way for kids and parents to get together and support each other.

And with the help of a grant from The Meemic Foundation, the club was able to better fulfill its mission with three new braillers, machines that let users type in braille. Vision teacher Cortney Jerrard runs the club, which meets about once a month, mostly at Richland Middle School.

“I applied for the grant on behalf of the Braille Club. I knew that (Cortney) did not have enough machines, and it frustrates everyone,” says Julie Prouty, director of special education at CESA 3. “I noticed last year at the club that the parents and children had to take turns using the braillers. It seemed a shame that the parents, most of whom do not have a vision issue, had to wait to type.”

Julie says only students who are recognized as legally blind are able to get free braillers, so the money was a big help for students who are less visually impaired and going blind.

The three new braillers bring the group’s total up to almost 10. When the club isn’t using them, they’re back in the schools so students can use them independently. It’s the school use that really makes the new machines helpful. CESA 3 is not near any large cities with good access to visual assistance.

With braillers in the schools, students can use them for themselves and also teach their peers, even when a vision teacher is not in the school. Between the schools and club, parents can learn to use them, as well, so they can better communicate with their children.

“Since we are a rural group of districts, and there are very few connections for these kids, the club was invented by Cortney,” Julie says. “I attended the first club meeting, and there were smiles everywhere. Parents were translating braille jokes, and students were ‘typing’ their first letters. It was awesome to see parents helping each other with the awkward machines. The last meeting I attended, everyone had a brailler to use. There was a lot more typing going on. 

“The group is going strong, and we may hook up telecommunications with others across the state.  And when the students know each other, they may have braille pen pals.”

Julie says the district would like to institute a similar club for deaf and hard of hearing students with support and sign language classes for them and their parents.

Vision teacher Cortney Jerrard leads the group.

Julie Prouty (center), director of special education at CESA 3, joins vision teachers Jan Breuer (left) and Cortney Jerrard in celebrating their Meemic Foundation grant to purchase additional braille writers to support the blind and visually impaired students throughout their 31 school districts in southwest Wisconsin.