UND professor carries the torch for UND studies of visual impairment and blindness

GRAND FORKS — Assistant Professor Renae Bjorg is carrying on a UND legacy in the field of visual impairments and blindness.

With her new book “Guidelines and Games for Teaching Efficient Braille Reading (Second Edition),” she continues the work of a longtime UND professor and her former mentor, Myrna Olson.

The first edition of “Guidelines and Games'' was published in 1981, and was written in part by Olson, a UND professor of almost 50 years, and Sally Mangold, professor at San Francisco State. Since it was published 40 years ago, the book has remained one of the most popular resources for teachers learning how to teach students braille.

Bjorg said she was approached by American Printing House Press to write the book for the 40th anniversary of the first edition.

The updated edition, says Bjorg, includes new information about technological advances from the last 40 years, as well as updated terminology and research. The new edition also has more of a focus on bridging the gap between students who can see and students who are visually impaired or blind when learning to read.

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“We’re still teaching reading and writing,” said Bjorg. “It’s still English language arts, it’s just a different modality now — Braille instead of print, but it’s still the same.”

And like learning to read can be made fun for seeing students, learning to read can be fun for visually impaired or blind students as well. Board games and word games can be used to teach seeing students to read and write, so the book outlines similar games for those that cannot see.

“When we can learn to make it fun and incorporate ergonomics and posture, then students, children and teachers can enjoy the process and enjoy the full learning and apply it in a natural way,” said Bjorg.

Many of Bjorg’s collaborators for “Guidelines and Games” were her advisees at UND that have gone on to work in the field of education and visual impairment and blindness, like Sara Careless, Sandra Kenrick, Danielle Moelter-Swangstue and Amy Neils.

“We all have strengths and abilities, and part of my job as an adviser and a professor is to look at my students and pull these things out of them,” she said. “These students that I invited are beautiful writers and researchers, and highly qualified teachers in our field.”

Others, like Laura Roy, coordinator of the Blind and Visually Impaired Services Unit in Manitoba; Dave Beckett, consultant for the blind and visually impaired in Manitoba, and Brittany Hagan, associate professor at Mayville State University have been impacted by Olson and wanted to give back to her.

Austin Winger, one of Olson’s sons, also helped with the book.

Bjorg recently signed books at the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired International Conference in St. Louis, and has been invited to present at the North Dakota State Deafblind Conference and a conference in Nebraska hosted by the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired.

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At the book signing in St. Louis, Bjorg was surprised by the number of people lined up to get a copy of her book signed. At the conference, more than 200 copies were sold.

“It was really encouraging,” she said. “People were so excited to get this book and when I was signing books, people didn’t know Myrna Olson because some of the people are new in the field.”



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