Hank's Mom Wins Fight for Braille Tutor

The Oceanport School District will pay for sixth-grader Hank Miller to learn Braille.

This story is about sixth-grader Hank Miller of . No doubt his mother Holly will show him that he made the Patch front page, but unless she bumps up the font to 16 point and holds the screen two inches from his face, he won't be able to read it. That's because 11-year-old Hank is legally blind.

"He does have some vision," says his mom Holly Miller. But the act of straining his eyes to read for more than a few minutes is exhausting. "It's huge burden for him."

That burden may soon be lifted. Thanks to his mom's dogged determination, Hank is learning Braille with a tutor provided by the Oceanport school district. Holly and her husband Jeff recently took the district to court to get the services their son needed. This spring the Millers won a judgement against the district, which requires the school to provide Braille instruction for him at school, as well as compensatory instruction. This means the district will have to make up for the years Hank went without it.

Hank's poor eyesight is a result of albinism, which also gives him white hair, skin and light colored eyes. It also causes his eyes to be extremely sensitive to bright light.

Patch only learned about this last month when we caught sight of a tow-headed boy and his tutor typing away on a strange looking typewriter in the lounge of the Monmouth County Library Eastern Branch. The machine, which looks like a court stenographer's typewriter, presses the paper characters composed of a series of five dots in different configurations which represent the alphabet. The words are either written out or abbreviated.

Holly Miller said that she knew her son would need to learn Braille as early as second grade, despite the fact that he had "managed" at school. With every grade that Hank completes, the amount of reading increases and the workload gets larger. "At a certain point," she said, "just being smarter isn't enough."

On a break between lessons Hank's tutor, Kim Vaughan of Oceanport, asked Hank about what they were doing. "Is it translation or transcription?"

"Transcription," he said, "because Braille isn't a language."

Hank may know the difference easily since English is not his first language. Born in China, he was adopted by his parents and arrived in the United States when he was almost 6. His mom said he learned English quickly and did well in school despite his poor vision. Still she was frustrated that her son was getting instruction in the resource room when, she said, "He doesn't have a reading disability."

She said her three-year battle with the school was frustrating, but worth it now that she sees he is getting the education he needs.

Hank's school tutoring is on hold now as he spends three weeks at a camp at the Louisiana Center for the Blind where he will get more Braille lessons, as well as functional life training like how to do the laundry when you can't see.

In this digital age Holly said she hears criticism about her decision to push for Braille education. 

In an interview with Geek Mom blogger Melissa Wiley for Wired magazine, Holly said:

"Today’s technology makes Braille even more available and portable than ever before. Instead of large paper Braille volumes there are now refreshable Braille displays available for computers and also in small, portable Braille notetakers. Notetakers have essentially the same functions as a laptop computer, simply without a screen. Small pins raise to form the Braille characters. Once they are read, they retract and pop up again to form a new line. This can be used for books, documents, even navigating the internet."

Foreign as Braille seems in the age of the iPad, Holly told Patch, it is as accessible as ever. "If you can figure out your kid's text messages, you can figure out Braille."


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