Low vision pioneer Natalie Carter Barraga has died

Date Posted: 01/02/2015

Renowned in the field of visual impairment and blindness and one of the inductees to the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field, Natalie Carter Barraga, professor emerita of special education at The University of Texas at Austin, died on Monday, December 29, 2014, at age 99. Dr. Barraga was born in Troy, Texas, on October 10, 1915. She earned a bachelor's degree in home economics and child development from North Texas State Teacher's College, University of North Texas, in 1938; a master's degree in educational psychology–special education from The University of Texas at Austin in 1957; and a doctoral degree in education from George Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, in 1963.

Dr. Barraga began her career as a home economics teacher, first in public schools and then at the Texas School for the Blind (now known as the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired), where her daughter was enrolled. In 1963, she joined the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin. She advanced to the title of professor of special education in 1971 and later retired from the university with professor emerita status in 1984.

Dr. Barraga was best known for her groundbreaking research on low vision and visual efficiency, which she commenced in 1963 by studying the increased visual behavior of children with visual impairments. Through her work, she developed a visual efficiency scale and sequential learning activities and materials for training children with low vision. She replicated her important findings in 1965 with colleagues S. C. Ashcroft and Carol Halliday. Dr. Barraga published an article, entitled "Teaching Children with Low Vision," on her findings in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) in 1966. The next year, Ruth Holmes again replicated Dr. Barraga's original study on visual efficiency and built on Dr. Barraga's research by reporting on visual efficiency training of adolescents with low vision. In 1970, the first textbook based on Dr. Barraga's research, Teacher's Guide for the Development of Visual Learning Abilities and Utilization of Low Vision, was published by the American Printing House for the Blind, along with Dr. Barraga's Visual Efficiency Scale. Dr. Barraga also published numerous monographs, book chapters, and articles in professional journals, and her writings and materials continue to be used all over the world. She was the editor of the journal Education of the Visually Handicapped from 1968 to 1972, and she served two terms on the Editorial Advisory Board of JVIB. In 2007, Dr. Barraga authored a memoir, If Anyone Can, You Can: The Story of My Life, in which she described her personal saga from her beginnings in Texas, to her travels across the globe.

In addition to the numerous students she mentored through her teaching in Texas, Dr. Barraga taught courses and held seminars and workshops across the United States and in 22 different countries. In the mid1980s, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and spent a semester conducting research and lecturing at The University of Zagreb in Croatia in 1986. Dr. Barraga earned the respect of students and colleagues around the world, and she received countless national and international honors and awards from all the professional organizations with which she was active in her lifetime. In 1984, she was given the Ambrose M. Shotwell Memorial Award for national and international service to visually impaired persons from the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. In 1986, she received an award for Distinguished Service to Parents and Children from the National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments. In 1988, she received the Distinguished Alumna Award from Peabody College. In 1994, the American Foundation for the Blind presented Dr. Barraga with the Migel Medal for Outstanding Service to Blind Persons, the highest honor in the blindness field. And, in 1997, the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) announced the opening of the Natalie Barraga Center for Studies and Research in Low Vision in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Dr. Barraga is survived by her daughter, many nephews and nieces, friends, and extended family members. Her teachings live on in the children she taught and the countless professionals she prepared and mentored. For more information, contact: Department of Special Education, College of Education, The University of Texas at Austin, 1912 Speedway STOP D5300, Austin, TX 78712; website: www.edb.utexas.edu/education/departments/sped.

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