Reading program helps blind students shine

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Since 2016, the Assisting Blind Children in Reading Program has provided blind students with high-quality extra-curricular reading materials to enhance their reading ability in 100 special-education schools across China.

Operated by Hongdandan Service Center for the Visually Impaired and funded by Alibaba Foundation and China Charities Aid Foundation for Children, the program gives blind children a chance to see the world and helps them feel optimistic about their future.

One of the special education schools supported by the program this year is Tai’an Special Education Center. “After eight live-stream reading classes, I can see significant changes happening in our students,” said Li Jing, who has been teaching at the center for 28 years.

The schedule for the program is tight. Each student has to finish reading one book every week to attend the lessons, and then has to write a reading report. During her long years at the center, Li has come to understand that the schedule can be challenging for her students.

When the program first started, many children would come to Li asking what would happen if they couldn’t finish the reading on time.

Instead of worrying, Li decided to try and encourage her students, regularly reminding them to finish the books they were reading. Gradually, students started to respond, with some proudly telling her that they had already finished.

“The students become more motivated every week, and you can see the drive in them,” Li said. The most striking change is the improvement in the children’s ability to write. In the past, students could only write short sentences. But now, after so much practice, most students have improved significantly.

Besides writing, other changes are quietly taking place. Some of Li’s students were impressed by the spirit of perseverance depicted in The Old Man and the Sea and learned that even during hard times, one should never give up. Others learnt to cherish food after reading The Ordinary World.

What has surprised Li the most is that after reading The Little Prince, many children realized the importance of gratitude and showing empathy.

“A lot of blind children become a bit selfish and self-centered because their parents usually indulge them to a certain extent. This results in the children taking for granted whatever other people do for them. Reading has the power to bring them to another world where they can experience the emotions of different characters and see the world through other people,” Li said.

Despite the fast-paced reading schedule, students show more excitement than avoidance. Some students have found that using the memo or screen-reading app on smartphones to write reading reports can hugely boost productivity.

Li wanted to teach all students this new method. But many students were hesitant about this new approach because they didn’t think they could make it. However, it took Li just one afternoon to help all students become adept at using the new method.

“All they need is confidence,” Li concluded.

While the program has inspired students, it has also made Li realize that special education shouldn’t be limited. If teachers don’t put any pressure on blind students, they can easily become withdrawn.

Expanding special education will help enable all blind students to realize their potential.