Braille Tales Builds a Foundation for a Lifetime of Literacy

Parent holding child on lap while reading a Braille Tales book together.
Alison and Finn Clougherty

Editor’s note: Early literacy via exposure to braille at young ages is important for children who are blind or low vision. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library provides books to children to provide exposure to literacy. But what about the children who need exposure to braille? Braille Tale is part of the solution. Braille Tales is the collaboration between APH and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library that started in 2011. Signing up as a parent or family member will allow your child six free print/braille books a year until their 6th birthday. Braille Tales is one way to ensure early literacy fun as they open special books throughout the year.  Register your child here: 

Braille Tales Builds a Foundation for a Lifetime of Literacy

Alison Clougherty was a mom first and then became a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) – inspired in part by a desire to help her son, Finn, and others like him.

Finn was born blind, with two detached retinas, and it was a whole new world for Alison. She quickly began looking for every resource possible to give Finn the same advantages as every other child.

One of those resources is APH’s Braille Tales. The program partners with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which offers free books to children around the world. Six books are selected from the Imagination Library each year, and APH affixes clear braille labels on top of the printed type. This means both children who are blind and sighted members of their family can read together – and APH sends out the books absolutely free.

“The impact is huge,” Alison says. “When any child is born, parents are reading to their children, and their children are looking at books. It’s the earliest stages of literacy, which means understanding nuances of grammar and being able to read something that isn’t auditory, like an audiobook. It’s been huge to have braille in his books.”

Learning about braille as a family

Before Alison became a TVI, she didn’t know how to read braille. She also has a daughter, Sloane, who is sighted, but they both began learning through Finn’s Braille Tales.

“Most parents, like my husband and I – at least before I learned braille –  don’t have the ability to help their child with braille,” Alison says. “So to have an organization that sends these books to the house has been great for Finn. He’s known since he was very young how to put his hands on the braille, and I’ve taught him to move his hands from left to right.”

Now that he’s five years old, Finn is learning to equate braille dots to words and their meanings. Alison says it’s been equally beneficial for Sloane, who is three years old, to understand that this is how her brother reads.

“I think it’s just as important for siblings and friends in a classroom to have braille books,” Alison says. “It’s another form of literacy – and I want Finn to grow up having the literacy to make a grocery list, read signs on walls, apply for a job, and more.”

Parent holds child on lap while reading, "a story for small bear".

Laying a foundation for literacy

Alison explains that for TVIs, the stage Finn is at is known as pre-braille or pre-literacy. Just as her daughter is starting to recognize letters, Braille Tales helps Finn develop early literacy skills.

“It’s laying a foundation for literacy,” she explains. “Learning how to touch braille with a light touch and move left to right, just like sighted people read, is setting the stage for him to become literate.”

What’s more, Alison says, it takes children who are blind longer to learn to read braille than it does for their sighted counterparts, who have visual cues like pictures and shapes of letters. That makes this early exposure especially important for kids like Finn.

Recognizing the importance of early intervention motivated Alison not only to become a TVI, but also to co-found an organization called Blind Early Services TN (BEST). She serves as executive director of programs and development for the nonprofit, which fills gaps in the system in Tennessee, which didn’t offer vision-specific early intervention services to children from birth until they start school.

“These are critical years of development and growth,” Alison says. “And if you wait until a child is in school, you’ve missed the mark.”

Fortunately for the children BEST serves – and for Finn – early intervention is available, including through programs like Braille Tales.

“Finn loves reading, he loves touching the braille,” Alison says. “It’s kind of a game for him to feel it and try to find things that he recognizes and can attach meaning to. It’s been really great to have something that we can share and that I can see him enjoying doing.”

If you want to receive free Braille Tales books, sign up here.

In December 2022, Dolly Parton appeared on “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” where they talked about how she’s supporting braille literacy – and featured a young girl who is thriving thanks, in part, to Braille Tales. This lucky little girl even sang with the two stars, making for a heartwarming segment.   

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