TADA! Foreword

To provide some context regarding the inspirations and experiences that informed the development of TADA!, we offer two forewords. The first is from Ann Cunningham, a tactile artist and educator at the Colorado Center for the Blind. The second is from Danielle Montour, a blind Braille and tactile literacy educator in New York City.

The Importance of Pictures — by Ann Cunningham

When we mention "fine art," the immediate association for most is visual art. Similarly, the terms "graphics" and "images? bring to mind photographs, cartoons, logos, diagrams, charts, graphs, and maps. Picture books are often a child's first encounter with literacy.

Pictures serve as crucial educational tools. They teach us how to represent familiar real-world objects on a two-dimensional plane using symbols, like using a circle to depict a ball. This foundational understanding of symbolizing real objects forms the basis of literacy, eventually leading to reading.

This grasp of symbolic representation is also key in interpreting pictures of various complexities. Once individuals understand how intricate objects are depicted, they can easily comprehend information about unfamiliar subjects using the same skills. By adding multiple objects into the picture, it is possible to understand the relationship between the pictured objects and the observer too.

These functions, traditionally linked with visual images for sighted individuals, can now effectively convey precise information to tactile learners and consumers. This marks an exciting evolution where tactile consumers not only receive but also create tactile materials.

This program plays a significant role in advancing this next step!

Foundational differences in world view: What is tactile literacy? — by Danielle Montour

The moment sighted children can open their eyes, they begin taking in the world around them in several dimensions. There may be wallpaper in their room, brightly colored toys, printed letters on board books, and faces of people holding them. While babies don't immediately understand all that they see, more importantly they have access to information that eventually becomes a foundation for lived experiences and a worldview.

This trajectory looks different for blind and low vision children. At a young age, their world is generally made up of small-scale 3-dimensional models (toy trucks, dollhouses, plastic animals, stuffed animals, figurines, etc.). There isn't a constant flood of information as there is for sighted children, and this is especially true when it comes to 2-dimensional representations of what a blind or low vision child may (or may not) recognize as parts of their 3-dimensional world. Meanwhile, Braille is introduced, often becoming a first on-paper, entirely tactile experience.

To bring it all together, sighted children are given access to their world as soon as they open their eyes and eventually understand what it all means via incidental learning. Blind children, however, must piece together the 3-dimensional aspects of their world with limited access to accessible 2-dimensional information; understanding must be bridged with lived and direct experiences. Chancey Fleet, the assistive technology coordinator at the New York Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, refers to blind people's disparity of access to graphics as "image poverty." Read Chancey's MIT article on Image Poverty

The term "image poverty" sounds rather serious, and it is. Fewer opportunities to take in accessible and tactile graphics impact spatial awareness, creativity, ability to put the world into perspective, self-image, and many other aspects of life. An effective way to address this is to give everyone access to tactile literacy. That is how TADA! came to be.

What is tactile literacy? Put simply, tactile awareness and comprehension. This includes understanding the differences between textures, building a sense of scale, learning to identify tactile representations of objects, and discerning nuances by touch. Tactile literacy is as vital as literary literacy, and it is fundamentally important to equal participation in the world we live in.

Here are some quick things to keep in mind as we embark on this tactile adventure.

Accessible Adventures Take Time

Understanding 2-D and 3-D parts of our world is an ongoing process. We all discover new parts of it every day. This is just as true for sighted people as it is for blind and low vision people. Having less access to 2-D content makes it so blind and low vision people get started later than our sighted counterparts, but our aptitude and capacity is not diminished. There will always be discoveries of new objects, ways of showing familiar objects, and how we as people fit into it all. This process will go far beyond these lessons, and it is totally expected that there will be some parts that move more slowly or take longer than others. Please know this is encouraged and a sign that parts of our foundations are being built. Also like physical fitness, feeling tired is a great time to slow down but not totally stop learning. Free drawing, coloring in tactile pictures, and creating tactile collages are ways a student can continue developing their tactile awareness in more relaxed settings.

Adventuring is Work

Building new connections in our brains takes a lot of energy. It doesn't feel the same as running, which demands physical energy, but the neurological energy demanded is just as intense. The lessons in this workbook can feel like a long day's work, at least where our brains are concerned. We are building part of a foundation, and there is a lot that will begin to shift as more of that foundation is put into place. Feeling tired is totally expected, and like physical fitness, the time it takes to feel tired will increase as students continue learning.

Access Checks

Never be afraid to explore and re-explore a concept. Check in frequently with both yourself and your student(s) to make sure everyone is on the same page and that no one needs an adjustment in pace or intensity.

Recipes, Not Prescriptions!

The stops on our adventure map are not the end all, be all of tactile exploration. You and your student are the experts on learning tactile art together, and if you have another way in mind that can demonstrate a concept in a way that makes more sense, all the better! Don't be afraid to improvise. Whatever enables you to be your most effective teacher and a student to be their most engaged learner is best.

This is a Team Effort

Like any memorable adventure, tactile literacy involves everyone. For blind and low vision students, this means specialized teachers of blind and low vision students, orientation and mobility instructors, general education teachers, parents, and other members of their community. Every experience, from facilitating one of these lessons to a museum visit to feeling what farm animals feel like contributes to exploring more of the world we live in, and all of it is crucial. Bring as many people with you on these adventures as you can. After all, the more who come along, the higher the chance that everyone will learn and have fun in a new way.