State Department of Education levels the playing field
Blind students can meet their academic goals with the tools and materials provided by the NH DOE
Abby Duffy, 16, is a junior at Concord High School. Since birth, she’s lived with the challenges brought on by a diagnosis of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, an inherited form of vision loss.
She describes it as having “reverse tunnel vision,” where she is unable to see as well in the middle as she does on the sides. Because of this loss of central vision, Duffy can’t read print. Instead, she relies on braille to read, complete her schoolwork, and even operate her calculator.
Adrienne Shoemaker, a teacher of the blind and vision impaired for the Concord School District, has worked with Duffy for several years and assists 26 other students in the district access their materials through the New Hampshire Department of Education’s Accessibility and Assistive Technology division, also known as NHAEM.
“Mrs. Shoemaker is the one, who in first grade, got me a brailler. It made it so I could actually write instead of depending on dictation or talking all of the time,” Duffy said.
Shoemaker is able to access braille displays, Perkins Braillers, talking graphing calculators, and even braille protractors and a myriad of other resources for blind and visually impaired students through the materials offered via NHAEM.
“As long as Abby has accessible tools, she can work side-by-side, independently, alongside her peers,” Shoemaker said.
The mission of NHAEM to is procure, maintain, and distribute books, educational tools, and materials for students who are blind or visually impaired and who require alternate formats to access print materials.
The four major ways materials are formatted for visually impaired learners include braille, large print, audio and digital text. The NHAEM has its own online inventory system to allow individuals to order American Printing House for the Blind educational materials and products purchased through the Federal Quota Program for New Hampshire Blind and visually impaired students eligible under the Federal Act to Promote Education of the Blind.
Shoemaker said that NHAEM grants her access to a wide range of materials, which include digital formats of papers and books, but also tactile globes and science kits.
“If your class is doing something on the solar system, you are able to sign out a kit for a tactile solar system, use it, and return it. You can do the same with world maps,” she said.
This year, Duffy wanted to learn how to read sheet music written in Braille so that she could learn to play the guitar. Although Braille music uses the same six-position Braille cell as literary braille, it still requires an understanding of how to read music notation. Through NHAEM, Shoemaker was able to order a new product called Feel the Beat, a Braille music curriculum.
“Literary Braille is different than Braille music, just like sheet music is different from print. I was able to borrow a book from them (NHAEM) to learn it,” Duffy said.
NHAEM produces the New Hampshire Accessible Instructional Materials Online System Manual (NHAIM), which allows teachers to create accounts, add students, search for inventory, create orders, and get those orders shipped to their schools.
The catalog allows educators to look for materials in different subject areas, by material type and subcategory. For example, you could search for braille algebra materials that cover concepts learned in Algebra I. To access the NHAEM online system, authorized individuals must create an account through https://my.doe.nh.gov.
The division this year was awarded funding to serve 313 eligible New Hampshire students, and is in the beginning phases of completing the 2021 Federal Quota Census to Promote the Education of the Blind.
NHAEM encourages school districts and teachers of the visually impaired to begin conversations to ensure that all eligible students will be registered on the 2021 Federal Quota Census.
For Duffy, access to NHAEM materials means that she is able to engage in the same type of classwork as her peers and aspire to similar academic goals.
After graduating from high school, she hopes to earn a degree in psychology and learn more about law, and eventually seeks to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. Her career goal is to work as a therapist in a prison.
“At this point, I don’t consider (my vision) a challenge. It’s just a different way of doing things,” she said.
Other resources NHAEM offers
- American Printing House for the Blind product manuals
- Braille Tales — reading books for preschool students
- Future in Sight — a nonprofit advocacy organization
- Braille books for loan, via BookShare, the Perkins School for the Blind, and the NH Talking Book Library