Navajo Teacher Develops Braille System to Help Visually Impaired Read Tribal Language

by Noel Lyn Smith

Reprinted from “The Farmington Daily Times,” Dec. 30, 2017.
 
To read this article online, go to https://tinyurl.com/y9397wrg.
 
Farmington, N.M. — As Carol Begay Green’s index finger moved along the Navajo braille code she developed, she read aloud a story about a boy and his monkey.
 
Green, a teacher of the blind and visually impaired for the Farmington Municipal School District, has developed a braille code for the Navajo language.
 
Braille is a system of raised dots that enables people who are blind or visually impaired to read and write through touch, according to the American Foundation for the Blind.
 
The Navajo braille code Green developed uses English Braille – with the absence of the letters “F,” “P,” “Q,” “R,” “U,” and “V” – and with the addition of a prefix code for the vowels “A,” “E,” “I,” and “O.” There is also code to instruct the reader to pronounce vowels as eight plain, high tone, plain nasal, or high tone and nasal.
 
“The advantage of having this code for the reader is that they can distinguish and pronounce everything properly,” Green said.
 
Green, who was born into the Tó'aheedlííníí (Water Flow Together Clan), was raised in Michigan but visited her paternal grandparents in Lukachukai, Ariz. She learned basic words in the Navajo language from her grandparents, and the exposure instilled a lifelong interest in further learning the language.
 
During Green’s junior year in college, she transferred to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., and graduated from there in 1991.
 
Before joining the Farmington Municipal School District in 2010, she taught at Red Mesa Elementary School in Red Mesa, Ariz., and at Nataani Nez Elementary School in Shiprock.
 
Green developed vision problems as a child and eventually lost sight in her left eye at 13. Cataract surgery in her right eye in 2000 led to further decline in her vision and, in 2009, she learned how to read and write braille.
 
Since she wanted to continue learning how to speak, read and write Navajo, she asked the Braille Authority of North America in 2013 if a braille code for Navajo was available. When she found out there was none, she began working on one. To her knowledge, her work resulted in the first code for Navajo.
 
Another reason Green, who has a National Certification in Unified English Braille, developed the Navajo braille code was to provide the opportunity for blind and visually impaired Navajo students to learn about their traditional language.
 
With the Navajo language being taught in schools, and in some cases, a requirement for students to apply for scholarships, Green wanted blind or visually impaired students to have a fair opportunity. “I thought, ‘If I am going to develop it for myself, then I might as well share it so these children have that opportunity. The same as their peers,’” she said.
 
In a resolution passed by the Navajo Nation Board of Education in October 2015, the Navajo braille code was adopted to teach blind and visually impaired tribal members Navajo.
 
Green continues to share information about the code at various conferences and in presentations across the country.
 
One of Green’s students in Farmington is a Navajo girl who is learning English braille. “She is just learning braille. As she moves in her progress, she might want to take the Navajo language in junior high and high school. That will be an option to her now,” Green said.