American Association of Blind Teachers

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Although advances in technology have greatly increased the independence of blind educators, the large majority of visually impaired teachers still depend on live readers to do their job. I confess that every time I hear the term “live readers,” I can’t help but think, “`Live` as opposed to what?” Terminology aside, it is frequently challenging to know how to locate and identify good readers. The following article is an anecdotal summary of an informal survey of AABT members and how they have addressed these problems. As you might imagine, what works depends on individual needs and personality as well as local resources.

There are a number of ways members report locating readers. The Office of Disabled Students Services is a logical option for college students, although a number of respondents preferred identifying potential readers themselves from classmates. “The best way of recruiting a student reader,” says an English professor, “was to find someone taking the same class, someone who didn't mind turning a reading session into a study session, someone familiar with the discipline's jargon, conventions and so on. As a college student, I found it easy enough to recruit readers just by announcing my need in class.” Once employed, many teachers continue this practice except announce the need for readers at the very end of the term. At this point, they are in a better position to know who in the class would be best suited to be a future reader.

The most frequently mentioned sources, however, were churches, temples, and synagogues. One teacher, living in a rural community, says, “I put a notice in my church bulletin and I got several responses. The members of my church are service oriented and this was looked on as another worthy service that was needed.” Other interviewees commented that, since they were active in their religious institution, not only did they have a good idea which members of the congregation would likely make good readers, but they themselves were already known to the prospective readers.

Also frequently mentioned were interpersonal contacts. “I’ve had the best luck using friends who might know someone whom they thought might want to read,” reports one experienced teacher. Communicating the need to friends may significantly increase the number of people enlisted to be on the alert for likely prospects.

I found readers by talking to retired teachers,” says a high school teacher. “I employed a retired teacher for about ten years who wasn't ready to totally give up school-related matters, but who did not want to teach anymore. This is especially helpful if you want someone who knows a specialized subject.”

Friends, and friends of friends may, however, be a mixed blessing. They hold the potential of being better able to work with confidential material than someone who is relatively unknown. They may, and sometimes insist, on not being paid. However, several members report that balancing the demands of a quasi-professional relationship with a friend runs the risk of either damaging the friendship or sacrificing professional efficiency. To paraphrase the children’s nursery rhyme, when using friends as readers is good, it is very, very good; and, when it is bad, it is horrid.

All interviewees who were full-time teachers reported that their employer, whether a school district, parochial institution, community college, or university, paid for readers. The exact nature of these arrangements varied with the institution and the requirements of the teaching position, with teacher’s aids and student assistants being the most common. A significant minority of those interviewed also said that they used readers from agencies, when available, to augment the readers supplied by their employer. A number of other teachers said that they had found retirees especially dependable.

How best to advertise for readers may be problematic. Many respondents reported using church bulletins, campus newspapers, public bulletin boards, or local newspaper ads with success. As one teacher says, “I put a short article in the paper saying that a blind teacher was looking for a person to assist with grading. I put the amount of money I was paying and the approximate amount of time required. From the start, I got a lot of calls and could interview applicants. One of the first people who I hired in 1989, I am still using, so this method really worked for me.” Other respondents, however, report that publicly advertising was less than productive.

Although this type of solicitation has been widely and successfully used, a note of caution should be added. Organizations that depend on recruiting numerous volunteers, such as the YMCA, report that a surprisingly large number of applicants, when professionally vetted, are revealed to have criminal records, frequently related to substance abuse or sexual misconduct. The reason: volunteers with these profiles are especially attracted to situations where they believe there will be a greater likelihood of encountering people who are vulnerable.

This having been said, a skilled, dependable reader who is sensitive to the need for confidentiality can be a distinct asset for a blind teacher. As one professor says, “Good readers can be wonderful, provided that they and we select one another with care, never exploit one another, and never take one another for granted.”

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