Yes — Brooklyn’s Naima Hall does teach blind and visually impaired students to read and write in Braille.
But she also empowers kids to find their voices, and to navigate a world made for sighted people.
It’s all part of her role as a teacher to blind and visually impaired children, and as a Library of Congress Certified Braille Transcriber.
“Part of [the role] is to teach empowering language, and it’s so beautiful when you see a kid come into their own and start doing that,” she told BK Reader this Teacher Appreciation Week.
Hall said she remembers when one of her seven-year-old students spoke up for himself in a classroom, using skills he’d learned through her.
“I had a little guy, he was a cane traveler, he uses a cane as a navigational tool,” she said. “He started getting up and one of the adults in the classroom who was new grabbed his arm to help him go somewhere.”
Hall said many people may not realize that touching someone without warning to help them, even if you think you’re doing the right thing, is a “big no-no.”
“I think no one appreciates being touched out of nowhere,” she said. “But he said, very politely, ‘That’s OK, I can go myself.” The curriculum teaches self-advocacy and self-determination ages K through 12.
There are more than 63,000 children enrolled in elementary and high school across the country who are eligible to receive free reading matter in Braille, large print, or audio format due to visual impairment, according to the American Printing House for the Blind.
Hall has been teaching blind and visually impaired kids in Brooklyn for about 11 years. She got into the profession by chance in around 2018 — after answering an ad on Cragslist — and then fell in love with it.
“I probably did every job except this beforehand,” she laughed. “I think the world of work is challenging for a lot of people. I know it was for me in my 20s. You might get the thing that was your dream, and when you get there its not what you thought it was.”
After working “aspirational” jobs in government and international corporations, Hall quit, and answered an ad on Craigslist posted by Downtown Brooklyn’s Helen Keller Services for the Blind. She turned up in sneakers, camo-print pants and a hoodie, and was honest: She hadn’t worked in the field before, but she was willing to do anything possible to find herself, and find what she loved.
She got the job, and more than a decade later, she’s also got her Masters Degree in Education for Serving Blind and Visually Impaired Students, and Library of Congress Braille Transcriber certification — said to have lower pass rates than the legal bar exam.
Now she credits the Brooklyn non-profit for giving her a chance, and for exposing her to “the best in the business.”
“The longer I stayed the more I realized, this is a workable thing. The work culture I like, children you can fall in love with, and teaching that is largely tactile,” she said. “A lot of grown ups, they should consider it.”
In 2018, Hall won a Fund for Teachers grant to explore French historic sites related to Louis Braille, and create a curriculum to teach kids about the inventor. The fund took her from museums, to markets, to perfumeries as she created a multi-sensory experience for students to understand the life of Louis Braille — and themselves — better.
“It wasn’t just about Braille, it was also about about self-empowerment, determination and overcoming self doubt,” she said. “If we have role models, we can see the light better.”
Teacher Appreciation Week runs from May 3 – 7. See more resources for showing gratitude to your teachers here.
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