June 19–21, 2013
Prepared by Neil Bernstein, Research and Development Officer and Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer/Acting Braille Development Officer
The Braille Summit was a joint effort between the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, and Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts. Under the general direction of Karen Keninger, director of NLS, and Steven Rothstein, president of Perkins, staff members from both organizations played key roles in planning and conducting the conference.
The core planning team that began work in the fall of 2012 included Judy Dixon, NLS; Steve Prine, NLS; Claire Rojstaczer, NLS; and Kim Charlson, Perkins Library for the Blind. Individuals from other organizations also played key roles, and their efforts are greatly appreciated. Mary Nelle McLennan, American Printing House for the Blind, planned and directed all aspects of the facilitated sessions. The other three facilitators were Beth Caruso, Perkins; Frances Mary D'Andrea, American Foundation for the Blind; and Diane Wormsley, Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Facilitated session scribes were Neil Bernstein, NLS; Edmund O’Reilly, NLS; John Bryant, NLS; and Vikki Hovell, Royal National Institute of Blind People, United Kingdom. Jennifer Dunnam, National Federation of the Blind, managed social networking communications.
Many other staff at Perkins and NLS assisted in countless ways, and their efforts are much appreciated.
True literacy for people who are blind or severely visually impaired—that is, the ability to read, to write, and to read what one wrote—was achieved with the introduction of the braille system nearly 200 years ago. As a direct corollary to print, braille provided complete access to text at every level. Since that time, braille has been universally recognized as the literacy medium for blind and severely visually impaired people throughout the world. Braille readers have the same level of access to the written word, mathematics, and music, in all their nuances, as do print readers.
However, significant changes in education, technology, and communication options require a thorough assessment of the current and future challenges and possibilities impacting full and universal access to the written word through braille.
To that end the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, collaborated with the Perkins School for the Blind to convene a Braille Summit on the Perkins campus in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19–22, 2013. The purpose of the conference was to assess the present state of braille literacy, technology, and access and make recommendations that will shape braille programs and priorities for the future of the NLS library network.
More than one hundred participants gathered to hear speakers, including Peter Osborne, chief braille officer for the Royal National Institute of Blind People; Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education; and Janet LaBreck, presidential nominee for commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration. These leaders expressed the need for positive presentation of the medium in the public eye and for ensuring that braille instruction was available to everyone—children and adults—who would benefit from the skill. Participants engaged in breakout discussions covering policy, readers, selection, production, technology, literacy and promotion, and priorities.
The objective of this summit was to determine the mix of NLS products and services that best meets the needs of today’s braille readers and supports an increase in braille literacy. Stakeholders discussed, debated, and recommended braille policies, products, and services in future program operations. The emerging concerns were the high cost of braille production, the availability of skilled braille instructors, the need for improved technology, and the necessity of improving the public perception of braille.
Participants looked to NLS for leadership in the area of library service as it has been the major provider of braille reading materials since its establishment by an Act of Congress, signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in 1931. They commended NLS for its foresight in convening the meeting and recommended that NLS could address the concerns raised by:
- providing a refreshable-braille display at no cost to patrons,
- varying the quality and/or publication medium of books depending on their use and expected shelf life,
- working with publishers to acquire source texts,
- expanding the use of tactile graphics in its books, and
- building support for efforts to update braille technology, specifications, and methods for selection, production, and distribution, including production on demand.
Conference participants also suggested that NLS mount a public education campaign to raise awareness of the value of braille. These recommendations will be considered as NLS plans for the next generation of braille services.
The Braille Summit also highlighted developments proffered by other organizational leaders in the field, many of whom were represented on the program. The U.S. Department of Education—which recently issued its “Dear Colleague” letter advising educators that braille instruction be provided for students as needed and included in their individual education plans—is working to ensure that the next generation of blind individuals will be equipped with the invaluable literacy skills braille provides. The National Braille Press Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) and the Daisy Consortium Transforming Braille Group are working on developing a cost-efficient braille display to make braille more affordable, portable, and thereby, available. In addition, the Braille Authority of North America has just adopted the Unified English Braille code, which will help to simplify the learning and usage of the code. Working together, all stakeholders of the braille-support community will help overcome the challenges of ensuring braille literacy for future generations.
- 2 Speaker Presentations
- 2.1 Keynote address: Peter Osborne, Chief Braille Officer, Royal National Institute of Blind People, United Kingdom
- 2.2 Special topic: Braille Policy
- 2.2.1 Speaker 1: Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
- 2.2.2 Speaker 2: Janet LaBreck, Presidential Nominee for Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
- 2.2.3 Speaker 3: Steven Rothstein, Member, Council of Schools and Services for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts
- 2.3 Panel 1: Braille Readers
- 2.3.1 Speaker 1: Daisy Russell, Student, Everett High School, Saugus, Massachusetts
- 2.3.2 Speaker 2: Haben Girma, Student, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- 2.3.3 Speaker 3: Deborah Kendrick, Writer, Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 2.3.4 Speaker 4: Tommie Lussier, President, San Francisco Public Library Advisory Committee for the Blind and Print Disabled, San Francisco, California
- 2.4 Panel 2: Braille Selection
- 2.4.1 Speaker 1: Danielle Miller, Program Manager, Washington Talking Book and Braille Library, Seattle, Washington
- 2.4.2 Speaker 2: David Hyde, Chairman, Library Services Committee, National Federation of the Blind, Janesville, Wisconsin
- 2.4.3 Speaker 3: Ed O'Reilly, Head, Collection Development Section, NLS, Washington, D.C.
- 2.4.4 Speaker 4: Paul Edwards, President, Library Users of America, American Council of the Blind, North Miami, Florida
- 2.5 Panel 3: Braille Production
- 2.5.1 Speaker 1: John Bryant, Head, Production Control Section, NLS, Washington, D.C.
- 2.5.2 Speaker 2: Beth Hirst, Supervisor, Library Materials Production, Iowa Library for the Blind, Des Moines, Iowa
- 2.5.3 Speaker 3: Betsy Beaumon, Vice President and General Manager, Benetech, Palo Alto, California
- 2.5.4 Speaker 4: Tuck Tinsley, President, American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky
- 2.6 Panel 4: Braille Technology
- 2.6.1 Speaker 1: Curtis Chong, Technology Specialist, New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Albuquerque, New Mexico
- 2.6.2 Speaker 2: Jim Denham, Director of Education Technology, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts
- 2.6.3 Speaker 3: Brian MacDonald, President, National Braille Press, Boston, Massachusetts
- 2.6.4 Speaker 4: John Freese, Design Director, Product Development Technologies, Newton, Massachusetts
- 2.7 Panel 5: Braille Literacy and Promotion
- 2.7.1 Speaker 1: Kim Charlson, Director, Perkins Library, Watertown, Massachusetts
- 2.7.2 Speaker 2: Diane Wormsley, Ph.D., Professor of Special Education in Visual Impairment, North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina
- 2.7.3 Speaker 3: Lenore Dillon, Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Montgomery, Alabama
- 2.7.4 Speaker 4: Frances Mary D’Andrea, Chair, Braille Authority of North America (BANA), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- 3 Results of breakout sessions
- 3.1 Recommendations for NLS
- 3.1.1 NLS should provide a refreshable-braille display at no cost to patrons or help make them more easily affordable.
- 3.1.2 NLS should vary the quality and/or publication medium of its books, depending on their use and expected shelf life.
- 3.1.3 NLS must work with publishers to acquire source texts.
- 3.1.4 NLS should expand the use of tactile graphics in its books.
- 3.1.5 NLS should support efforts to update braille technology, specifications, and methods for selection, production, and distribution, including production on demand.
- 3.2. Challenges for stakeholders and leaders of the broader community
- 3.2.1 Address the deficiencies in braille learning resources (teachers and material).
- 3.2.2 Improve the image of braille in mainstream life.
- 3.2.3 All practical aspects of braille are hurt by high costs.
- 3.3 Individual breakout sessions
- 3.3.1 Panel 1: Braille Readers
- 3.3.2 Panel 2: Braille Selection
- 3.3.3 Panel 3: Braille Production
- 3.3.4 Panel 4: Braille Technology
- 3.3.5 Panel 5: Braille Literacy and Promotion
- Appendix A: Raw Data
- Attitudes about Braille by the General Public
- Braille Display
- Writing Device
- Braille Literacy
- Jumbo Braille
- Uncontracted Braille
- Braille Production
- Braille Technology (General)
- Braille Reading Population
- Braille Selection and Collection Content
- Braille Instruction
- Braille Proofreading
- Hard-copy Braille
- Braille Embosser
- Braille Promotion
- Braille from Libraries
- Braille Codes
- Braille Transcribing
- Tactile Graphics
- Training (General)
- Web-Braille and BARD
- Braille in Educational Settings
- Timeliness of Braille
- DAISY Braille
- Braille Labeling
- Braille Research
- Interface with Publishers
- Braille Delivery
- Braille Music
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a division of the Library of Congress, collaborated with the Perkins School for the Blind to hold the first Braille Summit on the school campus in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19–21, 2013. Themed The Future of Braille, the two-and-one-half-day conference was attended by more than 100 librarians, technologists, braille producers, and braille literacy professionals as well as braille readers and parents of children who use braille. Topics included federal policy issues; the role of braille literacy in employment, education, and personal and community life; collection development; braille technology; braille production; and the need for a new, affordable refreshable-braille display technology.
The objective of this Braille Summit was to determine the mix of NLS products and services that best meets the needs of today’s braille readers and supports an increase in braille literacy. Stakeholders discussed, debated, and recommended braille policies, products, and services in future program operations. The summit also highlighted developments proffered by other organizational leaders in the field, many of whom were represented on the program. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued its “Dear Colleague” letter advising educators that braille instruction be provided for students as needed and included in their individual education plans. The National Braille Press Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) and the DAISY Consortium Transforming Braille Group are working on developing a cost-efficient braille display. And the Braille Authority of North America has just adopted the Unified English Braille code, which will help to simplify the learning and usage of the code.
The conference also featured the release of the third edition of World Braille Usage, a compendium of the braille codes and standards of 142 countries. World Braille Usage was originally compiled by UNESCO in 1954 and later updated by UNESCO and NLS in 1990. This third revision—a collaboration of NLS and Perkins—includes 133 languages that have been transcribed into 137 different braille alphabet and punctuation codes. (For more information visit www.perkins.org/worldbraille/. )
The Braille Summit highlighted the efforts of all stakeholders in moving braille forward in the coming millennium and beyond. Proceedings were streamed live on the Perkins website, and remote viewers were able to ask questions of panelists via e-mail and Twitter. Sessions were recorded and may be viewed at www.perkins.org/news-events/news/first-ever-braille-summit.html#video.
The background for this event was presented in the Report of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, September 2013, as follows:
Braille is universally recognized as the literacy medium for people who are blind or severely visually impaired. Unlike audio formats, braille is a direct corollary to print. Each letter, each capitalization and punctuation mark, each paragraph, heading, and emphasis mark is displayed in braille with the same fidelity as print. Text breaks, sections and chapters, footnotes, endnotes, references, and sidebars are all clearly portrayed. Mathematical symbols, equations, numbers, and notations are rendered plainly for the reader. Scientific notation, tables, charts, graphs, maps, flow charts, and related presentations can be rendered precisely for the braille reader. The braille music system contains all the notations that provide not only the notes but also the nuances of a musical score. This level of detail is not possible in audio renderings of text. Yet, this level of detail, gained through literacy in print or in braille, is critical for success in education, and in the pursuit of jobs in today’s information economy. Without this access, blind and severely visually impaired students and workers face barriers that significantly impact their ability to compete effectively in today’s information-dependent world.
NLS has played a fundamental role in providing hard-copy braille materials since its inception in 1931. Braille readership has waxed and waned over the years, and a disturbing downward trend in adult braille literacy is currently a topic of serious discussion among consumer organizations, educators, and other stakeholders in the blindness field.
For the most part, adults who read braille fluently learned to read it as children. But people who lose their vision later in life can and do learn to read braille with varying levels of proficiency. Of the U.S. population of blind people who are employed (only some 30 percent of the blind population), approximately 90 percent are braille readers. Because of the vast importance of literacy in American society, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) legislation recognizes braille as the first option for children who are blind or severely visually impaired. Students are using braille in different ways than they did just ten years ago. With increased access to devices with refreshable-braille displays, the demand for electronic braille has increased. However, hard-copy braille continues to play an important role for beginning and advanced readers alike.
Like print, the options for reading braille are changing. A braille reader can now read braille displayed on refreshable braille devices. These devices, which are usually connected to a computer or integrated into a portable system, consist of a line or more of braille cells made up of pins that correspond to the six dots of the cells. These pins change position, rising and falling as the display refreshes to display new lines of braille text. Thus the braille reader can read an electronic braille file in a manner similar to reading print on a computer screen.
NLS currently produces approximately 500 titles in braille and 40 magazines in braille each year. Production costs include two distinct phases: transcription and embossing/binding. Making braille eReaders available to all patrons will shrink the demand for hard copies of braille books and magazines, thus saving the cost of production. In time, some titles may not need to be produced in hard copy at all. With embossing and storage costs eliminated, NLS may be able to reintroduce large reference materials such as an unabridged dictionary or encyclopedia.
Hard-copy braille is bulky, requiring considerable space to store and maintain. Within the NLS network, states are consolidating braille collections and in many cases contracting with larger libraries to provide handling and storage services. Although electronic braille is not expected to completely eliminate the need for hard-copy braille, future production processes and reduced demand may in the long term lead to braille being stored digitally and produced in hard copy only on demand.
(To read the report visit www.loc.gov/nls/other/congressreport.html#priority.)
The goal of the Braille Summit was to conceptualize the best ways for libraries to promote and support braille literacy. Conference organizers created an opportunity for braille users and experts to come together to assess the state of braille literacy, technology, and access to formulate recommendations that will assist in shaping braille programs and priorities for NLS and its network of libraries. The international group of stakeholders was encouraged to share ideas, observations, and expectations to produce a single set of recommendations that could be used for future planning.
The two-and-one-half-day conference opened with welcome messages by NLS Director Karen Keninger, who also explained the purpose of the Braille Summit, and by Perkins School for the Blind President Steven Rothstein. Plenary and panel sessions were held as follows:
- Special topic: Braille policy
- Panel 1: Braille readers
- Panel 2: Braille selection
- Panel 3: Braille production
- Panel 4: Braille technology
- Panel 5: Braille literacy and promotion
- Final plenary: Setting priorities
Each panel session was followed by a breakout session, during which the entire assembly was separated into four randomly preselected groups. The groups were charged with discussion of the preceding panel, and recorders were appointed to capture resulting recommendations. Group discussions were conducted using a preselected, structured method designed to maximize attendee inclusion and produce a set of recommendations in the time allotted. The results of the four breakout groups were later combined into a single set of recommendations, which were presented to the entire assembly in the final plenary. These recommendations are presented in section 30, for which the raw data can be found in Appendix A.
Presentations covered braille from the perspective of its necessity and influence, policy concerns, learning and using, librarianship, production, technology, literacy, and need for promotion. Summaries of the presentations are provided by subject follow.
2.1 Keynote address: Peter Osborne, Chief Braille Officer, Royal National Institute of Blind People, United Kingdom
Mr. Osborne, a braille user, noted that braille users should always accentuate the positive while talking about braille. Avoid using statements that devalue the medium, such as it is hard to learn, it is bulky and reading is slow, or it is expensive. Braille has benefitted many, many thousands of people over its two-hundred-year history.
Braille is still the only viable way to read by touch. Mr. Osborne recently conversed with a deaf/blind individual via a refreshable-braille display. Braille cannot be valued highly enough for these and other users. He highlighted the following points in his discussion:
• The role of organizations. Organizations spend millions talking about coding and formatting in the provision of hard-copy braille, while spending precious little on promotion, innovation, and enabling learning. Compared to other formats, spending is disproportionately high per beneficiary. Spending arranged around physical models leads to the perception that braille is expensive and elite.
Spending patterns need to change. Organizations should spend instead on promoting use, learning, and innovation. While expenditures per person are falling, the economics of braille production are also changing for the better. The expected norm will soon be reading via refreshable-braille display rather than hard copy, enabling access to millions of books.
These spending patterns need to change. Organizations must “liberate spending” to include the promotion of learning braille. Braille is for all, not just the elite.
• Braille production. Production methods are woefully outdated. Some changes are happening, but we are not making “huge global headway” in increasing the percentage of materials that make their way into braille. Too much emphasis is placed on achieving perfection. “Cordon bleu” production is appropriate in some circumstances, but it shouldn’t be one size fits all. Braille could use a fast-food option, as well. Consumers don’t want to wait for perfection; they’d rather have it immediately rather than perfect.
Some global trends in braille production present models for consideration. On-demand braille in Spain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and other countries changes the service model radically. These countries are now doing to braille what has been done for digital talking books for some time—a book is produced on request, bound simply, and sent directly to the client. Readers get the book they want when they want it. Some countries have abandoned the majority of their physical stock. They now produce quick braille on demand rather than maintain huge stores.
Realized actual cost is in braille transcription, not in reproduction, which saves on storage as well. Most countries in Europe have abandoned plate production, preferring to do the job of volume production with embossers. In India, sixteen million pages are produced from four embossers every year. It’s about running inexpensive equipment 24/7 and getting the best value out of it. Plates add dollars per page, and nobody’s using them in printing any more.
Braille producers also find that proofreading is a bottleneck and needs to be curtailed. More are using published files, and some are using a single source for various outputs and getting better at creating good braille from it. Reprographics (3D reproduction) or the practice of scanning in 3D and reproducing with a 3D printer has achieved great results and is being used to preserve rare braille manuscripts. (Some materials exist only in hard copy, and we stand the chance of losing them. Though the planet has been digitized, much attention has not been given to digitizing braille.) Good work is also being done on optical braille recognition (OBR). It’s not yet a mainstay for embossing but could become one. In the future, computers will automatically translate standard text while transcribers will continue to address complex materials.
• Braille consumption. Braille books are expensive to prepare and difficult to handle. Using refreshable-braille displays would provide a more viable option. The value in braille is in the transcription, not the physical copy. The prevailing reverence for the bound book may not be justifiable in the long term.
Braille use in Europe isn’t declining, but library use has fallen by 7.5 percent annually in the UK. The problem is the mode of material that libraries are providing. Other countries have adopted using electronic braille. The NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) system is to be commended in that respect.
• Technology. The world is going mobile. The lifespan of most technology is measured in months. Most daily consumables can be made by machines—even the parts of a gun can be printed using 3D. Digitally copying objects is here to stay. In 1991 the first scanners cost $15,000. Now they are almost throw-away technology. Yet still only a small amount of material is available in braille. Why is this particular technology so slow to develop?
Braille production technology is archaic next to the massive changes in printing technology. The high price of refreshable-braille displays only holds things back.
A serious lack of organized innovation exists in this sector. The DAISY Consortium Transforming Braille project has considered more than sixty projects in its efforts to produce an inexpensive, affordable braille display. The global effort, however, is not commensurate with the market, and innovation is scattered.
A vibrant future requires change. Braille can and must be liberated through refreshable-braille technology. Producing quantities of books in the low hundreds each year on a national basis is no longer acceptable. One could argue that by launching the Kindle, Amazon did in one day what RNIB would take three thousand years to produce. This community needs to innovate affordable solutions. Mr. Osborne advocated working together to create braille that’s flexible and deliver it affordably.
2.2.1 Speaker 1: Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Yudin advised the gathering to make sure that all kids graduate from high school with the skills to be successful in later education and in the workforce. Too many students drop out or graduate without the necessary skills for college and careers. This is a moral imperative but also an economic imperative. The countries that out-educate the United States today will out-compete us tomorrow.
President Obama’s goal is that by 2020 the United States will lead the world in postsecondary certification/completion attainment. That is guiding the efforts of the Department of Education (DOE). The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has started by formulating a set of values that inform its work. Briefly, OSERS promotes the necessity of inclusion, equity, and opportunity as requirements for those with disabilities to be successful. Thirty years of research have proven that kids with disabilities do better when held to high expectations and given access to the general curriculum. So setting a culture of expectations is the starting point. Expect kids to graduate. Parents, kids, and educators all need to do this.
Start with high quality early learning. It is a very exciting time in this area. The president and [Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan have made this a priority for the second term. They are making a $75 million investment in high-quality preschool access for all children. This is especially important for children in special education. But for many of these kids services are provided in segregated settings. We need kids to learn alongside peers in inclusive settings. This investment provides the opportunity to do this. This is a real commitment from the president and Secretary Duncan. In the K–12 space we are developing standards for what skills kids will need to have when entering higher education or the workforce. States are rolling these out now so teachers can teach to these standards.
The department has issued a series of No Child Left Behind waivers, which thirty-seven states plus D.C. have applied for and received. A condition of the waiver is a commitment to show plans for how students with disabilities have access to the college and career readiness standards and how teachers are going to teach these kids to these standards, which should be available on state websites. The goal is to avoid having to retrofit the standards in five years.
Kids with disabilities are leaving high school with low outcomes. Too many are dropping out, resulting in lower postsecondary enrollment and success and lower employment rates for this population. They are earning less, and therefore more likely to live in poverty than their nondisabled peers. This is not acceptable.
For blind and visually impaired kids in particular, these outcomes are even less acceptable. As many as 60 percent of blind students are dropping out of high school, and 70 percent of blind adults are unemployed. This must change; they must have competitive and productive employment.
The National Federation for the Blind reports that only 10 percent of blind kids are learning braille. Everyone knows how effective braille is. It has so many tangible and intangible benefits, including employment and self-esteem. Congress required the provision of instruction in braille in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), unless inappropriate for a child as determined by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team after a rigorous and thorough evaluation process. This applies equally to kids who are blind or who are likely to lose their vision in the future.
Despite this requirement (in effect since 1997) fewer kids are receiving instruction in braille. OSERS is concerned that the requirements of the law are not being implemented sufficiently. Mr. Yudin announced the release of a “Dear Colleague” letter providing guidance to states and reaffirming the importance of compliance and of braille as a literacy tool. It clarifies that IEP teams must ensure that kids who are blind or visually impaired receive the braille instruction they need and access to regular curriculum without undue delay. The letter, now available on the OSERS website (www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/brailledcl-6-19-13.pdf [PDF: 2.64KB / 6p.]), also clarifies the scope of the evaluation that the IEP team must undertake to determine if braille instruction is or is not appropriate. It must be thorough and rigorous. Beyond affirming what the law says, the letter identifies resources available from OSERS and DOE. A lot of funding supporting a variety of projects is available.
Timely access to accessible materials is also supported via the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) and Bookshare. OSERS met with a group of students with print disabilities who were on the verge of dropping out of school before they discovered Bookshare. These students are no longer at risk of dropping out and in fact are taking college-level courses in high school and getting accepted into four-year colleges.
This is what happens when high expectations are set and kids and teachers are then given the tools and technology that enable them to reach their goals. OSERS hopes the new guidance will spark some discussion and improve access to and use of braille.
2.2.2 Speaker 2: Janet LaBreck, Presidential Nominee for Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
Ms. LaBreck was confirmed by the United States Senate as the commissioner of the Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration on August 1, 2013. At the time of her presentation she was the commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.
The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind is an adult services agency. We want those coming to us to be as prepared as possible to assume a new role outside of the educational system. This is difficult to do without braille literacy. When individuals come in without these skill sets in place, they are difficult to acquire.
Challenges and barriers in the adult services arena start immediately, with entrance exams. Individuals may need to have a preliminary exam if they are entering law school, social work, etc. They are already behind their peers if they do not have those skills.
You can rely on technology, but when it breaks down and you don’t have other skills, you are lost. Technology is expensive and slow to repair. It is critical to think about the position we place individuals in when they don’t have access to these braille skills. It is challenging to get a young kid to think about their own role in their education.
It is more critical today than ever that kids have these opportunities. I have been a part of discussions with parents and teachers about whether kids need braille. The sooner the better—they can grow with the skill and better position themselves for employment.
Math and reading literacy, if not sufficient, causes some to suffer with respect to technology. Reading is critical—if a child is poor at doing it, who takes responsibility? We all do. Discussion about braille literacy should start in preschool. We want the child to have access to as many skills as possible as early as possible.
We wouldn’t ask if it’s appropriate to teach a sighted kid reading! Why the blind kids? Is it really a burden, and, if so, what can we do to lessen it?
Early work experience for students is also important. It’s critical to helping think about career goals and putting goals into practice—something to focus on. Many students experience deficits here. Their peers get the opportunity.
The premise that braille is too expensive and time-consuming must be challenged. This does happen and resources are limited, but the bottom line is that without it we fail these kids, and they will then fail. They deserve to have this opportunity. These excuses cannot be used to support our failure to prepare kids for a future they are entitled to.
Youth are expected to come to the workplace with as many skills as possible. When they don’t, it delays their opportunity to enter the workforce or to move on to higher education. Kids without the skills have to start over.
Massachusetts has proclaimed itself a model employer. State agencies are required to provide access to employment for individuals with disabilities and the required technology (for example, refreshable-braille displays). The commission also has internship programs that start working with these kids at age fourteen to get them acclimated to the workplace. These kids are working in every aspect of employment around the state. We also had two international placements, including one with the FBI in Egypt. The latter had incredible braille skills and could access information that others did not—and the FBI didn’t have to worry about anyone else reading that information. He also spoke three languages. The FBI is interested in his progress and is considering hiring him after he graduates.
This is an example of what can be expected when kids are provided the proper access to skill building that braille provides. It’s important to take advantage of any available funding and other opportunities. We need to increase the level of expectations all around.
2.2.3 Speaker 3: Steven Rothstein, Member, Council of Schools and Services for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts
Mr. Rothstein noted that many factors can impact the use of braille at this particular junction. These include the growth of globalization, explosion of new technology, the growth of older people losing their sight (called the Silver Tsunami), the expansion of inclusive education, and more. While braille is recognized as a code not a language, it is helpful to provide a context on the decline of languages and what is happening globally to provide insight into the potential of the future of braille.
Of the six thousand languages spoken around the world, it is believed that 90 percent will become extinct by 2050. The world’s language system has reached a crisis and is dramatically restructuring. While languages have always gone extinct throughout human history, they are currently disappearing at an accelerated rate, as a result of the processes of globalization and neocolonialism, where the economically powerful languages dominate others. No one wants braille to be extinct.
Mr. Rothstein presented “The ABCs of Literacy through Braille" as a way of thinking about the possibilities of expanding braille usage and awareness:
- American Printing House and the amazing products they provide across the country. We hope their federal funding grows.
- Braille Audit and Bookshare. Just as businesses have a financial audit, it would be great if there was a standard “braille audit” that businesses could go through to determine how accessible they are for employees and clients. Bookshare for the access that they provide.
- Congratulate the Braille Challenge and the important work through the Braille Institute to promote and make braille fun. Perkins has recently started an international version in Africa called the Braille Cup and is seeking partners to expand.
- Data. Importance of having clear data that everyone in our field agrees to instead of the current situation with different perspectives on the rate of braille literacy for students.
- e-Learning and Employment. Promote the use of e-learning tools that Hadley, Perkins, Carroll Center, and others offer. If we are serious about employment for people who are blind we need to be serious about increasing braille literacy.
- Foreign Languages. The new World Braille Usage is important to promoting braille in many foreign languages.
- Graduate University Programs. Continued support for funding graduate programs for teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), where braille is taught, and continuing education programs.
- Helen Keller. Focus on braille for individuals who are deaf/blind like Helen Keller was.
- Inclusive Education and International. Support inclusive education as long as there are braille experts in the classrooms. International: Help to establish braille authorities around the world. According to the International Council on English Braille most countries do not have these important authorities.
- Jumbo Braille. Continue to offer jumbo braille for people who find this useful.
- Karen and Kim. Be thankful for leaders like Karen Keninger and Kim Charlson.
- Lower-Cost Braille Equipment. Recommit to providing lower-cost braille equipment in different forms.
- Movies. Work with Hollywood, Bollywood, and other international entertainment centers to encourage more blind characters and the use of braille in mainstream movies and television shows. I would like to see more love interests, superheroes, and reality TV stars use braille for their access to literacy.
- National Library Service. We all want to congratulate NLS for the vital role it plays every day, the impact it has on braille resources, and for organizing this summit.
- Obama. Start a letter-writing campaign to have braille put on business cards for his cabinet and ambassadors. This would send a powerful symbol across this country and internationally and is being done in other countries.
- Politicians and Parents. Prepare a Literacy through Braille policy statement and ask elected officials to sign it. Parents: continue to engage and collaborate with this group of the ultimate educators.
- Quarrel. End the debates and quarrels about the importance of braille for students who are blind by increasing awareness of the necessity of braille to ensure literacy.
- Refreshable Braille. Continue to seek options for lower-priced refreshable-braille displays through the Transforming Braille group.
- Staples Corporation and SMART Brailler. Feedback was requested on the prototype “Easy Button in Braille” that was circulated during the conference and slated for delivery to the office-supply store Staples. The new SMART Brailler is an exciting innovative educational tool.
- Teachers and Technology. Highlight a national discussion about whether a national standard for braille literacy should be developed like the one held by the Washington State legislation. Technology: recognize the evolved role of technology as we offer hard and soft versions of braille.
- U.S. Department of Education and UEB. As Michael Yudin said, the Department of Education has a vital role in promoting braille usage. BANA is leading the important transition to the Unified English Braille Code (UEB) in the United States.
- More teachers of the visually impaired. We need more TVIs across the country to ensure that the next generation of braille users have the training they need and deserve.
- WIPO. The World Intellectual Property Organization is debating a treaty that will make an enormous impact on the access to copyrighted material worldwide. Continued advocacy and support is critical. The United States is not where we should be on these issues.
- Expertise. More braille code experts, transcribers, and specialized manufacturers are needed.
- Youth. Making braille cool, accessible to learn, and a priority for youth is critical.
- Zero Tolerance. For policies that do not encourage and support braille—from commercial products to IEPs for students to standardized testing.
Focusing on these ABCs and other initiatives will help to ensure that babies being born today and tomorrow will have access to literacy through braille and all that it provides and that braille will never become extinct.
This panel features actual braille readers—people who use and depend on braille as their means of personal literacy.
Miss Russell’s comments were entitled “What Braille Means to Me and How I Use It.”
Miss Russell explained that she was not born blind, but suddenly lost her vision at age six. She knew nothing about blindness before then and had to learn a lot of things, of which braille was one. She said, “Braille is so important to me. It’s like a resort with everything for everyone. There’s music code for music, Nemeth for scientists and mathematicians, different languages, and literary braille.” She’s been reading braille for ten years and is thankful to her “wicked awesome” teachers.
Describing how she didn’t see the importance of learning braille at first, Miss Russell postulated that reading print was not a problem for a six-year-old, even though she was totally blind. However, she tired of depending on others and their sympathy and applied herself to four years of learning all the contractions and rules of braille. Then she read everything she could get her hands on, and now considers braille her best friend.
Miss Russell transitioned from audio to braille and participated in the Braille Challenge. She went from lagging behind classmates to excelling. Braille enabled her to become an A student. Because so many things are visual, in print, or just out of reach, braille is essential to bringing things closer.
She uses braille in lots of ways: Apex labels, hard copy, diagrams, and graphs. Braille is moving toward electronic, and she’s using it more. She gets homework on a flash drive or via e-mail and returns it the same way. Teachers can make edits and comments before sending them back. English is easier to find electronically. “I won’t ever completely switch to electronic braille. This would be like a sighted person only ever reading e-books.”
Miss Russell doesn’t think braille will ever disappear, but it’s scary that only 10 percent of blind people can read it. Braille is her life. (Her sighted friend wants to learn it just because!) She hopes braille literacy increases for 100 percent of the visually impaired and that more textbooks become available in electronic format. She hopes that braille technology continues to improve and that it makes a difference to the people who rely on it.
2.3.2 Speaker 2: Haben Girma, Student, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Ms. Girma is deaf/blind.
About three years ago Ms. Girma found a new exciting way to use braille: to avoid noisy places like restaurants. It was too loud to hear and she couldn’t converse. Three years ago she found that she could pair a Bluetooth keyboard to a braille display. In noisy situations people can type on the keyboard and she can read it! She can respond by voice. It opened up so many opportunities.
As a student in Boston at Harvard Law School, she uses this tool to get through classes, networking events, etc., and during summers interning at the Department of Energy and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she uses braille to communicate with people. Her accomplishments would not have been possible without access to braille growing up and improving her braille reading speed so she can read as fast as others can talk.
Ms. Girma started learning braille in Oakland, California, at age six when she was introduced to it as a game—“look at these dots!” It was fun and exciting. She wanted to be good at things, including the task of learning braille. Lots of different books were available. She mastered the alphabet and then moved on to elementary and middle school books. She attended a mainstream primary school with a resource room for visually impaired people. After mastering braille, she got into technology—BrailleNote, Braille ’n Speak—which she uses to access online books through Web-Braille (now part of BARD).
In her studies and work, Ms. Girma uses a combination of electronic and hard copies. In schools—high school, college, law school—it helps to have hard copy. She said she can then remember the information by its location (e.g., bottom right-hand side or just before a page turned). The ability to see headings and subheadings in hard-copy braille also contributes to her ability to learn materials. This may be due to the fact that she started with hard copy and then moved to digital. She said that it could be different for kids who start with digital. Ninety-five percent of the time now she uses digital braille with BrailleNote, but finds it most useful to have hard copy when learning detailed information.
Ms. Girma said she also reads faster in hard copy, a factor that she considers may be the result of her hands sliding faster. She pondered if she should research if increasing the firmness of the dots on the refreshable-braille display would increase her reading speed. There is an evolutionary display: Handitech has a display that autoscrolls based on the position of the user’s fingers. Could it increase her reading speed?
The law student uses braille all the time, every day. As she spoke, two typists typed into a QWERTY keyboard and she read on her display. For the deaf/blind person access to books is really important, so they can build up reading speed and then use that for communications where signing isn’t an option. She wants to make sure braille education is expanded to deaf/blind individuals.
Ms. Kendrick's comments were entitled “Braille Is Personal.”
In 1987 Dean Blazie introduced the first Braille ’n Speak, said Ms. Kendrick. It made him realize just how personal braille is for people. “Personal” seemed odd—it was quirky but it is exactly right. The description has stayed with her.
Braille is personal and essential. It’s personal when she’s touching e-mail on a refreshable-braille display or a comment from an editor. It’s personal when she grabs the right credit card because it’s labeled, or when fishing around in the refrigerator reading labels. When she brings in the mail and feels braille through an envelope, it’s the first envelope she opens. Braille thank-you notes change her attitude.
She lost her sight at age five, just in time for school. There was lots to do at home, but learning to read words and then stories and then to write happened at school and was better than climbing trees or roller skating. School was really a resource classroom in another school across town. By the end of first grade, she was with the “regular kids” or the “out classes.” She flew up to be one of the best readers in the elementary school right away.
At home her love of school and books was an anomaly. Nobody read much. Nobody learned much about braille, so it was personal. Books, however, gave an amazing limitless world beyond the working-class family. Though the school’s offerings were paltry—two shelves in the back of the room—she checked out more books for herself than anyone else and read them again and again. From them she learned how other kids played and dressed and interacted. She saw animals she couldn’t touch and mountains and quaint little English streets.
At eleven she was sent to the neighborhood school because of overcrowding. There she met and loved her braille teacher, whom she saw on Wednesday afternoons. One day that teacher gave her a book that changed her life: Grade 3 Braille, which helped her to take notes rapidly in high school and college. She began writing a diary in grade 3 braille. Again, personal.
Literacy and language are personal: What could be more personal to a twelve-year-old than writing your own thoughts and reading them back? Than reading a book that speaks to you and you alone? Audio is great—she admitted an addiction to BARD—but the narrator comes between you and the personal connection to the author.
In high school Ms. Kendrick bought spiral notebooks and used a slate and stylus and grade 3 braille. She did something different and yet the same. The school was ill-equipped to handle a blind student; there were no braille books.
Books from the library arrived “randomly.” Some were interesting, some not. She loved the class trips to the public library and loved the smell of books. Gradually she realized she could request books from the library. She wrote long sappy letters to the librarian. Might you have this book in braille? Would you have time to send it to me? Catcher in the Rye under the covers at age fourteen made her glad her parents weren’t avid readers. Personal.
At twenty she was offered a teaching assistantship at Kent State University. She got her first apartment, and her family couldn’t handle it. She was on her own to do apartment things. This was followed by her first time in a braille library. She thought she had died and gone to heaven and returned home with a carload of books. She learned to cook, clean, and decorate. She learned how to make baby food, garden, and crochet, all through braille. There’s braille on everything, including the books she reads to her kids. Now a freelance writer, Ms. Kendrick has published thousands of articles, plus poems, magazines, etc.—all in braille.
The tools of braille are also very personal. Ms. Kendrick recalled being terrified that computers would spoil her connection to literacy. That didn’t last. Her productivity quadrupled immediately, as she could now write four articles in the time it previously took to do one. She no longer needed any sighted intervention to look over her work.
Ms. Kendrick now moves from technology to technology and revisits this anxiety with each transition. It’s never a problem. Braille and language are personal and the technology doesn’t matter. It’s still the cherished, direct mind-word connection, the connection that can only occur when seeing words with her fingers.
Ms. Kendrick noted that she reads four hundred words per minute. She looks up facts as quickly as anyone and can read upside down and right-side up (but not with her feet). She said she is grateful for these abilities but is not extraordinary. She doesn’t believe fluent braille readers are geniuses—they’re pretty smart, but have had the good fortune to have a teacher or parent who simply expected them to acquire literacy.
Braille needs a better marketing campaign, and all should be a part of it. A lot can be learned from the deaf community. Braille is not a language, but American Sign Language is now considered cool, and the same needs to be done with braille. Six-year-olds can learn braille, so it can’t be that difficult. Her teacher never indicated that she couldn’t or wouldn’t learn, just assumed she would. Reading was cool.
She has personally taught people in their twenties, thirties, and fifties to be fluent braille readers. She doesn’t consider herself a great teacher, but demonstrates her love of braille. The tools used to read braille are inconsequential. What matters are teachers, producers, and librarians—and techies finding new ways to put braille in the hands of readers.
Ms. Kendrick recalled entering a contest in 1982 in which she wrote an essay about the future of blind people in 2020. She wrote a science fiction story about “Mary Seymour.” In it there had been a blind revolution; blind people got militant and assertive, so the sighted gave them involuntary surgery but it backfired, and each received a different gift. Mary received the gift of hindsight: If she walked out the door of a room she could see what had been there. She became a cabinet member serving the president in the Department of Blindness. She had a huge library and she had a machine on her desk that converted print books to braille. The story won first place.
2.3.4 Speaker 4: Tommie Lussier, President, San Francisco Public Library Advisory Committee for the Blind and Print Disabled, San Francisco, California
Ms. Lussier's comments were entitled “Braille: A Low-Tech Solution."
Ms. Lussier relayed her experiences of becoming blind and being introduced to braille. At the age of 28, she had an accident that nearly took her life and left her completely blind. Prior to the accident she had published her first book and started a publishing company and had run a California resort for seven years before that. She recalled:
I will never forget the day a rehab counselor named Barrie came to my house and the three things he left with me: a white cane, a Perkins braillewriter, and my first book of grade 1 braille instruction. I didn’t think much of the cane at that time, since my family and friends would take me anywhere I needed to go. I certainly didn’t want to be seen with a white cane, and still did not use it for many years. That day, Barrie explained the principles of braille to me and seemed surprised that I caught on so quickly at the first lesson. Even so, I chose to not schedule another appointment for a while, since all of this adjustment would take some time. And I was unsure of my tactile readiness.
When Barrie left, I promptly spray-painted the cane black, because black was the opposite of white. For me, the cane was an outward thing and the braille a private one. As a writer and literary person, the braille had piqued my interest, and I knew how much I needed it to pick up that pen and paper again. I began to study the braille book and would show it to other people.
I immediately started using the braillewriter to make notes and to facilitate phone conversations. If I couldn’t remember the correct letter in a word, I would just make one up to finish whatever I was working on and then I would look up the correct letter. I labeled everything from appliances to file folders, and in so doing, managed to feel more confident about my potential as a blind person. People started to remark as to my genius. I know without a doubt some of you must know what I’m talking about. My success was in the actual practice, without the fear of mistakes that allowed me to learn it in this way.
I taught myself grade 1 braille within a two-month period and used it in the same way I had always used pen and paper as a sighted person. For the next ten years, grade 1 braille served me well, until my need expanded for a more concise approach. I also learned to use a computer and access technology, and this along with braille enabled me to write two screenplays and many other things. I actually made a good living as a writer and publisher during this time.
In 1997 my soul was crying uncle for more self-reliance with my travel, so I forced myself to attend the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany, California, for a year to take my first orientation and mobility lessons. This is also where I formally studied and finally mastered grade 2 braille. The long-term benefits of learning braille far outweigh the short-term inconveniences of the learning process.
By the way, my cane is no longer black and I use it to travel independently. Then, now, and even before, nothing is better than independence.
Braille equals independence for me. It also allows me to keep my finger on the written word, to virtually see the letters, the words, the composition, the lines, the paragraphs, the punctuation, and above all else, the spelling of words. In reading braille, I am more in touch with the pen and paper that I left behind.
There’s no doubt that audiobooks, voice recorders, and speech synthesis have served me well. But listening to audio is a passive function. Reading braille is an active function. When we read, be it braille or print, we are processing information, taking it in either with our eyes or fingers, and activating more of our senses and brain functionality.
Ms. Lussier noted that the digital age has brought unprecedented opportunities to people with disabilities. Yet when batteries die and there’s no electrical outlet technology fails. So many things can go wrong. While conducting a Library for the Blind and Print Disabled Advisory Committee meeting in San Francisco, her laptop shut down, leaving her to rely on her braille hard copy of the agenda. Although it did not contain so much of the materials she had intended to reference, the braille hard copy allowed her to continue with the meeting. That experience taught her the strength of braille. When technology failed, braille provided a low-tech solution.
People learn braille for different reasons and the methods of teaching braille should align with individual goals. Students, parents of blind and visually impaired children, readers, professionals, laypeople, and older people with diminishing eyesight who have a functional need for a limited amount of braille may all have a reason to learn braille. One curriculum cannot suit all of the various represented needs. Grade 2 is a must for students and full-time users, but some people just want to know enough braille to use an elevator, use an ATM machine, read a bathroom door, make labels, take notes, or read a restaurant menu. Grade 1 braille could serve many of these purposes and could probably be learned within a few months. More flexibility and innovation in the teaching braille methodology, though some rigidity is necessary, will produce more braille users. For example, jumbo braille, the equivalent of large print, may serve people whose level of sensitivity prevents them from learning standard braille. The more the learning process can be tailored to individuals and their purposes, the more receptive they will be.
Ms. Lussier’s recommendations for improving braille literacy are as follows:
- Modernize the braille curriculum. Some of the materials she checked had not been updated since 1991 and contained outdated and politically incorrect material. The braille curriculum will be more literary and attractive to potential users of braille when the vocabulary is elevated to contemporary standards and when the content reflects current-day pop culture, social media, current events, and history. A more motivational braille curriculum will attract more users and, in turn, will greatly improve an individual's chances of obtaining gainful employment.
- Upgrade the braille-writing equipment. Nothing speaks to the word “literary” more than the written word. The manual braille-writing machine serves as pen and paper to blind and visually impaired writers. As to the written word in braille, there is a missing link somewhere between the slate and stylus and the Perkins braillewriter. Imagine a quiet, compact, and lightweight version that allows its low-tech users to effectively operate using this reliable low-tech solution wherever they go. Many braille users would welcome a much smaller version of the Perkins braillewriter.
Myths and stereotypes
Blind people and their supporters must dispel the many myths and stereotypes that exist about blindness. They must show the world, by example, the ability of blind individuals to contribute to society and to perform extremely well in many job markets.
The myth about braille is that it is elite, academic, and very difficult to learn. Unlike many other curriculums, braille instruction can be defined by the needs of users, and each group needs a different level of braille and a different way of learning. Grade 1 braille can serve the needs of many people. Grade 2 braille works well for students and frequent users of braille.
Of four braille teachers of adults in California, Ms. Lussier explained, two discouraged the use and learning of jumbo braille. The third teacher uses mostly jumbo braille and has more jumbo braille writers in her classrooms than the standard users. She does teach an inordinate number of students with neuropathy and older people whose fingers have lost sensitivity. The fourth braille teacher often uses jumbo braille as a bridge to teaching normal braille, if the student chooses to do so. Who best knows that person’s needs—the instructor or the person who is willing to learn using jumbo braille? If jumbo is a means to an end, why not allow a student to make that call. Jumbo braille can work; it just depends on the needs of the individual.
Different types of braille readers/users
The needs of braille readers and writers vary according to purpose. For example, the traveler wants to use an elevator, ATM, bathroom, restaurant menus, and airline safety handouts. Then the labeler wants to label the laundry machines, kitchen appliances, and food. The note taker uses grade 1 braille without a computer to write notes, make lists, keep a phone and address Rolodex file, maintain a calendar, and label hard copies and files. And the expert reads and writes grades 1 and 2 braille with efficiency and speed. The astute traveler, labeler, and note taker can lead to a greater braille experience. Given the opportunity to focus on these practical curriculums, they may develop a desire to learn grade 2 braille.
What role can NLS play in this braille curriculum? NLS can publish scintillating practical guides for public speaking; for labeling files in an office environment; and for labeling items in the home, the kitchen, and the laundry such as dials on equipment and appliances, to be distributed through the library network and sold in bookstores. Consider such titles as:
- Where to Look for Information in Braille
- How to Use Braille and Related Symbols for Navigating an Elevator
- How to Use Braille and Related Symbols in a Restroom
- How to Use Braille and Other Symbols to Use an ATM
- How to Read a Restaurant Menu in Braille
- How to Read Music Using Braille and Braille Music Notation . . .
And the last recommendation: NLS can mount a public relations/marketing campaign to promote braille literacy and use its network of libraries to distribute updated and other braille learning materials.
In closing, Ms. Lussier thanked NLS and Perkins School for improving the quality of her life. “To NLS, I thank you for sending me the books that have comforted my mind, in good times and bad. To Perkins, I thank you for putting that pen and paper back into my life in the form of the braillewriter. It never occurred to me to spray-paint it black.”
2.4.1 Speaker 1: Danielle Miller, Program Manager, Washington Talking Book and Braille Library, Seattle, Washington
Ms. Miller explained that the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library (WTBBL)has a local Braille Production Department that is responsible for producing the library’s braille materials. Its Collection Development Committee uses journals to make selection decisions. The library focuses on Pacific Northwest award books and recently did a book of poetry from the first state poet laureate. Production is linked with local events.
The library accepts patron requests, but it first consults reviews and considers whether anyone else would want to read the recommended book. Books that are of interest to only one person will not be added to the collection.
The library sometimes takes on big jobs, e.g., a long book about the Holocaust. This requires a lot of proofreading. One staff member and seventeen active transcribers have been provided with software to transcribe from home. Eight proofreading teams have been partners for eight to ten years. The braille reader reads out loud to the sighted copyholder to catch errors. Speed depends on the transcriber and the content. A young adult book might go faster. Poetry has difficult formatting.
Once finished, the book’s file is used to emboss a copy, and it is added to the collection. But physical circulation is less than large print—1.2 percent and 3 percent of circulation respectively—so now books are embossed on demand. This has been a good switch. Eleven books have been produced in the past seven to eight months, five of which have been produced on demand (45–50 percent). These books are shelved upon their return.
Braille, as well as audiobooks, may be downloaded from the WTBBL website. Not embossing has saved money. Keystone Library Automation System (KLAS) is set up so that a patron reserve triggers the braille coordinator to emboss a copy. It is assigned and then goes out to the patron.
The library conducted a survey of 334 people to learn why braille circulation was low and about other issues important to braille readers. The survey indicated that speed of reading is central to readers’ preference for braille, while the required storage space impacts the amount of braille books requested. Seventy-five out of 107 participants indicated that accuracy of braille material was most important. Seventeen said speed of getting publications was most important. Many said that the level of accuracy depends on the type of material—for example, while a technical manual needs to be perfect, novels do not. (For the complete survey and results see Appendix C.)
2.4.2 Speaker 2: David Hyde, Chairman, Library Services Committee, National Federation of the Blind, Janesville, Wisconsin
Mr. Hyde performs professional development with teachers of blind children. He also works with parents of blind children and is a member of the NLS Collection Development Advisory Group.
Though a braille collection should include the full range of available materials, Mr. Hyde noted that primary consideration should be given to those things that braille does best and to the needs and preferences of braille users.
He said that more braille material is available now than ever before and summarized the discussions of the May 2013 NLS Collection Development Advisory Group (representatives from network libraries, constituency organizations, and the network of NLS cooperating libraries who gather biennially) meeting in Washington, D.C. Committee members posited the following:
- Braille makes it easier to read aloud. Recordings do not permit this. Plays, hymns, songbooks, and stories for kids should all be included.
- Things that require attention to detail need braille. Tables of numbers, cookbooks, how-to, crafts, home improvement, crocheting and knitting. Braille is best when instructions have to be followed in sequence.
- Reference materials need braille. Dictionaries, atlases, and maps—audio doesn’t cut it for these.
- Materials to encourage new braille readers to read are needed. Some in uncontracted braille, some composed of short pieces, (e.g., collections of columns, poems, and quick mysteries), and designed for adults learning braille or who have learned and need to practice.
- Science and math materials are needed. NLS doesn’t do textbooks, but some adults want to learn or refresh knowledge in these areas. Things change quickly in science; people need to keep current. Raised-line drawings are becoming expected in textbooks. 3D printers produce models.
This is a time in the life of braille that can hardly be grasped. Mr. Hyde said, “At the end of all things we stand at the door of abundance of something that we’ve always lived with—scarcity. Help us go through the door and make braille available to everybody.”
Dr. O’Reilly opened his remarks by noting that Kim Charlson sent an e-mail stating that the NLS braille collection is not meeting the needs of today’s readers. She suggested a consultative process of braille selection through the NLS Collection Development Advisory Group (CDAG), but something more than an annual meeting. She suggested that electronic-only materials be included in the collection. She also posited that NLS should begin to work collaboratively with other agencies on the “Braille Transition,” analogous to the NLS Digital Transition. She also suggested an inexpensive braille reading device would be a great help. That letter is bearing fruit in this conference.
Dr. O’Reilly noted that NLS is working to update its policy and guidance on the braille collection. Four selection librarians select all the books for the national program. One specializes in children’s and young adult books, including print/braille.
NLS’s goal has been to produce 2,000 audio and 500 to 600 braille titles per year. Those numbers as targets was an evolutionary process, given costs and capacities, inputs, and requests, among other things. Through the 1980s selection evolved, especially over the inclusion of popular materials. The selection policy was codified by the early 1990s but by then the recorded cassette (RC) had taken command: the braille-to-RC ratio was 1:5.
The NLS braille collection, however, represents a very good public library collection in the traditional sense. It includes nineteen thousand braille books produced by NLS, eleven thousand of which are available for download from BARD.
NLS selection replicates selection for the audio collection in the same proportion of subject codes: 60 percent/40 percent fiction/nonfiction, 70 percent/30 percent current/retrospective, and 80 percent/20 percent adult/juvenile. External requests are never statistically significant. The last meeting of CDAG was the first with really focused braille suggestions.
One current challenge of NLS is the consideration of the inclusion of textbooks, scientific, and professional works. While educational materials are not excluded in general, materials associated with coursework are not covered by the recreational reading mandate.
Inclusion of braille material in the collection is ultimately a cost-benefit algorithm among content, size, complexity, and cost. The librarians adhere to a slightly higher standard of “worthiness” based on time; information that is quickly outdated is generally passed over, as is very ephemeral fiction. Light fiction has finally been added but it is still a small consideration. For example: Stephen King's novel 11/22/63 contains 1,576 transcribed pages in eleven volumes. NLS produced forty-three copies of 7,768 braille pages each, which cost $23,300. The cost for twelve hundred audio copies was $11,000. Another popular title The Joy of Cooking cost $88,380 to produce.
Abstruse pricing results in a 40- to 50-percent price hike, or even higher; for example,How the States Got Their Shapes. This book would be a great test case for tactile graphics, but even the standard abstruse pricing was not enough. The producer wanted a separate contract just for this book. NLS has been considering a dictionary for a while. The American Printing House for the Blind declined even before a bid package was posted. It just was not something they were willing to take on because of the scope. It wouldn’t justify the effort they would have to make. It would have taken a company-wide effort, requiring all of their people and equipment. This is generally true of all reference materials.
NLS has a hard-copy requirement. In the past, hard-copy circulation to all of the lending libraries has been required. Perhaps a few electronic-only titles have made it to BARD. But the creation of electronic-only would cost a fraction and enable production of materials with a shorter shelf life. But there NLS must consider the digital divide, that is, the number of patrons who have access to the electronic tools necessary to use such materials.
2.4.4 Speaker 4: Paul Edwards, President, Library Users of America, American Council of the Blind, North Miami, Florida
Mr. Edwards considers himself a congenital braille reader. It’s different when you start out as a braille reader. You get to be good at reading dots but not so good at tactile graphics. Good at reading out loud but you don’t comprehend shapes effectively. Adventitious braille readers can do this better. Materials that make no sense to produce in audio must be considered. The hard questions so far have not been asked.
Where is it written that it’s not appropriate for braille books to include pictures and picture descriptions? Many books for kids and young adults ought to have both. Part of the inability to understand pictures is because nobody teaches that skill. Don’t buy into the notion that price should preclude this.
Many use Web-Braille, but it has limitations. Ask BANA or NLS to take a leadership role in developing standards for the production of linear braille. Every refreshable-braille display has a long line of braille from the beginning of document to the end. It’s difficult to effectively translate material that’s in tabular form in a braille book into a format that can be understood in linear format. But it’s not impossible to develop an approach to that. How about two separate standards? One would be for more complex books that allows the conveyance of formatted information.
There is value in diagrams. They don’t need to be complex. For example, in The Armchair Guide to Cricket, diagrams very effectively explain positions and strategy.
Blind people’s ability to spell is becoming questionable. This is very visible in e-mail. And it’s scary! It has a huge impact on the ability of these people to find and retain employment. Statistics uniformly suggest that braille reading and employment are directly related. A focus is needed on materials that enable blind individuals to see words related to current events, which will make them better spellers.
It is crucial to look beyond the present. Many books are being produced in various text formats that can be made easily accessible in braille. The audio collection is looking at pre-produced audiobooks. An agreement should be established with publishers who produce e-books to develop methods of direct translation that would significantly alter the costs, to the point that only “special” books be produced in hard copy.
NLS needs to develop and offer a braille display as part of its services. Over the next five years something will come along that will make that possible. The notion that hard-copy braille is anything more than a specialized format for those books that won’t work electronically must not be accepted.
Two-thirds to three-fourths of braille comes from non-NLS sources, and it’s available more quickly. Translators do a credible job of producing braille. Tear down the doors and windows and allow a hurricane of fresh air into the collection-development policy.
Mr. Bryant’s talk focused on NLS braille book and magazine production.
Mr. Bryant explained that the NLS mission is given by law: To provide free library service for U.S. citizens who cannot read print. To fulfill this mission NLS must keep its limitations in mind; limitations, however, are also opportunities. Here’s the box NLS works in:
- Funding. Only so much money is available for production, but this amount has been very steady over the years. Sequestration is not affecting braille production as much as audio production. But the budget is flat. More is not coming in the current environment.
- Selection. Selection librarians are told how many braille books NLS can make in a given year. They are asked not to choose books that are more expensive to produce, so they have chosen very few with tactile graphics. These add a lot of cost, almost to the point that they are forbidden. Abstruse books fall into a separate category because of their expense.
- Number of readers served. Ten years ago NLS produced 600 titles at an average of 60 copies each. Five years ago those numbers were 500 and 50, and now they are 467 and 40. Readership is not demanding increased production.
- Technology. Duxbury was a wonderful thing when it came around. It kept costs down. Advances today focus on distribution, not on production. Now NLS can distribute on the Web, but it doesn’t have a refreshable-braille display to distribute. Many NLS patrons are not online, and NLS must provide service to everyone.
- Capacity. Each yearly solicitation is placed on the Web along with NLS specifications. Bids are received from the usual suspects. Sometimes newcomers submit, but their samples invariably do not pass quality-assurance testing. They can’t produce to NLS quality standards, so fewer books are produced because the capacity just isn’t there. Technology can help here.
NLS can change its requirements to mitigate some of this but not as much as people think. Though proud of its product quality, NLS recognizes the need to increase the speed of production. Management and staff want to leave here with the seeds of change to enable the provision of more service to more people in a more accessible manner.
2.5.2 Speaker 2: Beth Hirst, Supervisor, Library Materials Production, Iowa Library for the Blind, Des Moines, Iowa
The Iowa Library for the Blind has produced several hundred titles now available on the NLS BARD.
According to Ms. Hirst, the Iowa Library for the Blind has a small but mighty staff. The staff includes a coordinator, a transcriber, and a production clerk, as well as a few braille contractors and volunteers. Some are certified.
Significant changes have been made in the paradigm for collection management over the past several years. There are differences between hard-copy braille, digital braille, and braille-on-demand. The library once had the largest collection in the United States but that’s no longer the case because of storage space. Older titles were stored off-site, but the state decided to tear down the building. The collection is being weeded, and the mindset has changed from keeping any book to considering what needs to and can be kept. Some books have not been circulated in twenty-five years, and their pages are cracking and disintegrating, therefore unusable, and out-of-date material is thrown away. All files produced since the beginning of the program, however, are being kept and can be copied on request. When the book is returned, it is put on the shelves, but for the most part hard copies are not being produced to put on the shelf before a book is requested.
The ideal set-up is a climate-controlled storage facility with more staff, more money, and higher-speed embossing. The staff is leery of changes associated with the Unified English Braille code. It will affect transcribers and proofreaders most.
Ms. Beaumon spoke about the Benetech Literacy Program and using technology to make tactile accessibility faster and less expensive.
Ms. Beaumon explained that Bookshare, operated by Benetech, now has a quarter million users in forty countries, of which most are U.S. students. The collection has more than 197,000 books. It served 222,000 braille file (BRF) downloads in 2012, not counting periodicals.
Volunteers contribute lots of books, and many are now doing image descriptions. Benetech primarily scans materials in-house. It does take student requests and will add any book that is requested by a student, which is hard to do. Every single scanned book is proofread prior to processing and spot-proofed on the braille side. Book quality is reported for every book. Books are stored in DAISY format and pumped out in multiple formats, including BRF. Individual preferences are stored in their user profiles. They do not produce any hard-copy braille but work with transcribers who do.
More than two hundred publishers directly give Benetech their books. These are the same digital distributors from which Amazon, Apple, and others receive materials. Once a publisher is signed up, the materials are put through a digital quality check (for formatting), and then the books start flowing in.
Over the next few months Benetech will engage in fixing a punch list of items. The process may never be perfect, but the staff is always making improvements. They have completed their first tests of the Unified English Braille code, which they will use in production.
Images and graphics are a huge expense issue which requires the tactile-graphics research working group to make a lot of decisions. Which graphics should be left out, just described, or fully produced? How can technology be used more so that experts can do the expert stuff? How can the crowd be leveraged? When is a tactile graphic required? How can they be produced more easily? How can changing technology become be a part of the answer? How can the process be moved upstream? The group is working on a decision tree based on the BANA guidelines and is trying to automate that.
Electronic files need to have the right attributes to become a good tactile graphic. National Braille Press conducted good evaluations of Scalable Vector Graphics software. The promise of 3D printing is also being considered, as it is now a big commercial trend and becoming cheaper. The difference between raised 2D and actual 3D is being examined, and 3D printing in schools is being considered.
The community can share tactile graphics by making use of shared image descriptions. For example, why describe a diagram of a heart more than once? Benetech is looking at ways to share metadata at a below-book level. It has a diagram content model, POET, that can help compose image descriptions faster and easier. It also supports converting math into MathML.
Another interesting new technology is haptics, which is the use of meaningful buzzing and other sound feedback. The goal is to produce smart images that react to touch.
Bookshare can’t keep up with three thousand books a month while adding accessibility after the fact. Publishers must publish accessible books in the first place. Benetech is talking to partners about publishing accessible e-books. DAISY and NCAM have tools and standards to share with publishers. Materials must be produced that are born accessible.
2.5.4 Speaker 4: Tuck Tinsley, President, American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky
American Printing House (APH) is the largest braille-production house in the world.
Mr. Tinsley began his remarks with a brief history. The American Printing House (APH) was founded in 1858 to produce tactile materials and textbooks. Small raised letters known as the Boston line were used first, then the Philadelphia line came along, and then these were combined.
In 1879 Congress named APH the official source of embossed materials for schoolchildren. Even in 1900 very few books other than textbooks were available to blind individuals. APH used five different formats, and then more—multiple systems—all of which were finally replaced by Standard English Braille, adopted in 1932. Meanwhile, in 1931, the Pratt-Smoot Act established NLS. APH did fifteen titles in the first year. APH usually underwrites the NLS book program, as it cannot break even on it.
Braille materials form 10 percent of APH sales. Zinc plates are by far the best quality way to produce braille materials, but thermography and other technologies are also used. APH produced eighteen million pages of braille last year. It also does covers and five types of bindings: stitch, plastic spiral, plastic fingers, metal rings, and flexispiral (the most expensive). APH also produced 1,100 exams, 90 percent of them in braille.
The company employs fifteen literary transcribers, three Nemeth, eight textbook formats, and so on. They do not have music transcribers. Still, the volume of the work requires outsourcing. APH has worked with 1,343 literary transcribers and many others. Much has yet to be achieved to have access equal to the sighted population.
Graphics are by far the biggest challenge. The Department of Education is discussing the ramifications for educational materials as textbooks are becoming extremely visual, which makes the braille conversion that much harder.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) texts are very time-consuming. Literary books are easy unless they have graphics. Six math books are awaiting transcribers. As an example, a pre-calculus textbook of 1,098 pages required 6,500 braille pages and 1,500 graphics—58 volumes in all. It cost $35,000 to produce but retails for only $1,400. What’s the solution? A dream device, like an iPad with a polymer skin that could display a full page of braille and tactile graphics simultaneously would meet the need.
2.6.1 Speaker 1: Curtis Chong, Technology Specialist, New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mr. Chong noted that his presentation notes were on hard-copy braille.
Mr. Chong’s experience with braille dates back to the 1970s when he converted a printer to produce braille. After noting that the first contact that people have with braille is on paper, he discussed braille technology.
The high cost of technology has led to a general acceptance of the idea that one line of braille on a braille display device is okay. A multi-line display, however, would be more useful. Imagine the difficulty in learning subtraction on a single line of braille and trying to understand how the numbers line up.
In addition, braille embossers, which start at $1,500, are also too expensive for most braille readers. Inexpensive multi-line braille displays would provide a viable alternative.
Piezoelectricity is popular as a technology for refreshable braille because it’s quiet and fast. Any new display technology needs to meet this bar. It also should be modular.
Mixing graphics and text is a problem: spaces between cells hurt graphics. A uniform matrix is needed. What about mathematical problems? For hard copy, is punching a dot through paper better? Is there a quicker, cheaper method? For some characteristics the slate and stylus are hard to beat. A rugged, portable, reliable, and cheap device is needed.
In the very distant future: Can the brain be fooled into thinking you’re feeling dots or raised images? Could a smooth surface with the capability of rising and falling be produced? The options for innovation and creativity are immense.
2.6.2 Speaker 2: Jim Denham, Director of Education Technology, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts
Mr. Denham works with teachers and students to make sure they have the technology they need. A braille user, he prefers refreshable-braille displays, especially when giving speeches. Refreshable braille is also easier to produce.
Mr. Denham described how students on and off campus use braille in a wide variety of ways, from early learners just learning to read a book and onward. Braille embossers are available on campus, some networked, for student use. Teachers can send documents to an embosser down the hall to produce hard-copy braille. Some students use PDAs to take notes during classes or labs. Some parents claim their kids don’t need to learn braille. Those same students later find they can’t do some things with synthetic speech (for example, editing a document) and find it is much easier using refreshable braille. Such moments where students learn and embrace braille literacy are the high points of his career. More and more students are learning braille at Perkins every day. It’s a major part of life.
What will a student fifteen years from now be like? How will a child born today interact with braille when in high school? He will be able to get a new version of a textbook just by downloading it to a portable device. He will open a full page or multi-line display on a device that costs less than $1,000, including graphs and equations. He will participate right alongside his sighted peers. Then he will drive away in his driverless car, with a tactile GPS inside so he can look at a map of the area—but only if we continue to stress the importance of braille.
Even in the past six years things have changed dramatically. iPads are a big factor. They support refreshable-braille displays. The fact that Google and Apple include built-in screen readers with braille support indicates how strongly they understand the importance of braille. Amazon’s new Kindle app opened up a whole new world of braille books.
Paper braille will never go away, but the ability to get materials quickly in refreshable braille is so important. Students need to be empowered to embrace a future with braille.
Mr. MacDonald explained that the National Braille Press (NBP) produces braille books for NLS and many of their own publications. Technical books have been very popular, as well as texts for the education market.
Four and a half years ago NBP founded the Center for Braille Innovation (CBI), described as “a hub for imaginative new ideas, inventive tools, and professional expertise.” The initial objective was to develop a lower-cost refreshable-braille display. Apps and games were added to encourage blind students to practice braille on their own time. The first call for support was to Dean Blazie, a pioneer in refreshable braille. He has volunteered his time for the past four years and has recruited people to CBI.
The Holy Grail was a full-page display. After six months of meeting with people around the world, the team found that not much had changed in the last twenty-five years, but that lots of promising technology is on the horizon, including electroactive polymers, belts and wheels, fluids, pneumatics, skin deformation, and other innovations. So they decided to back off on the full-page display and started working on a new note-taker—a twenty-cell, Android-driven computer, the b2g (Braille-2-Go), which is planned for release in the near future for a lot less money than current displays.
Two and a half years ago NBP met with Dean Blazie, Tuck Tinsley, Marc Maurer, and others to figure out the future of braille tech. Mike Romeo had an idea that was never implemented: to make a lower-cost actuator of a braille dot. Last July at the NFB conference private demos of a five-row by forty-cell display were held. It was still a bit slow and a bit noisy but received great reactions, prompting further action. Devices have a shelf-life. Some are intermediate solutions.
The common core is going all digital. The ACT test in 2015 will be all digital with the SAT to follow. Still one state isn’t doing any testing in braille—it is still giving tests on screen readers. NBP will seek to prevent that.
So now a second-generation tool is in progress: A five-row by forty-cell braille component with a twenty-row by forty-cell graphic display. It uses nitinol, a nickel-titanium, shape-memory alloy. Electric current causes it to shrink, and then it keeps its shape. It is durable and low cost.
New materials are emerging all the time. For example, a quantum physicist in Japan at the University of Tokyo was working on a robot skin but realized the material could be used to actuate braille dots.
Haptics is being used primarily for gaming (vibrating and nonvibrating). IBM thinks touch is one of the five technologies that will change the world. At the Google I/O conference a touch product was demonstrated with a six-string guitar simulation that allowed the vibrations and the strings to be felt! It can do a resolution smaller than a braille dot. If these haptic designs can be put into a mainstream tablet, a universal design can be produced that brings the cost down for everyone.
2.6.4 Speaker 4: John Freese, Design Director, Product Development Technologies, Newton, Massachusetts
Mr. Freese is a mechanical-design engineer for Product Development Technologies, a consulting firm specializing in developing rugged mobile electronics.
For the past three years, Mr. Freese has been working with Perkins and the Transforming Braille Group. Improvements to the refreshable-braille display have been constrained for the past thirty years for a number of reasons.
Aside from the fact that the current piezoelectric dots perform really well, the following critical factors must be considered:
- Cost. Everybody wants to lower it.
- Size. The biggest issue. Haptic QWERTY keyboards are emerging, but these are fifty times larger than a braille dot. Braille dots are very small, so it needs to be scaled down, but it’s too big a leap right now. The smallest tactile switches and keys are five times the size of the braille dot. Tiny mechanisms are expensive.
- Power consumption and portability. The successful technology needs to be low-power, portable, and cool and can’t include a heavy battery or require a main outlet.
- Reading speed. Piezo can react very quickly. Maximizing speed requires power, higher temperatures, and increased noise. All are too sensitive to noise, especially when it comes to reading in a group.
- Reliability. Piezo requires a lot of care and maintenance but can provide millions of cycles when kept in good condition. Most other technologies cannot meet that bar.
- Development costs and low production volumes. These can keep new concepts from getting to production. It takes lots of up-front capital to develop new technologies. Refreshable-braille displays are still too much of a niche product to have a big payoff when released, so a solution is needed that rides on the coattails of other advancements. But most advances can’t be applied to something as tiny as a braille dot.
But everything else has improved since the piezo braille dot was invented. Why not braille-cell technology? Compare it to all of these other advances. Take, for example, iOS devices like the iPod touch. It’s got no moving parts, which is a huge advantage in all of the areas we have talked about. With no moving parts there is less to break. It operates on very low power (and so less heat), with no noise, and it’s made in massive volume. A refreshable-braille display still has to move dots around.
The reality of product development is that most products fail to catch on and are forgotten. All of the many well-meaning efforts need to be remembered, built on, and learned from. Some ideas have been tried and failed repeatedly.
So now what? What can be expected in future developments? There are three likely paths:
- Cost reductions in products that use existing piezo cells. Push lower cost in other components and use fewer cells to lower overall price. Piezo costs will only come down with competition from other types of cells.
- Novel use of existing materials and new mechanisms. These will tend to be complex workarounds. They are prone to compare badly to piezo in some areas, but may be overall acceptable as long as users understand the trade-offs. The focus here should be on multi-line or full-page displays.
- Those based on new materials science: electronically controlled polymer actuators. Electroactive polymers (EAPs) have been around for a while now. Some are getting closer to market. That’s because of demand for high-volume mobile haptic devices. These will have patent protection and still cost quite a bit. But prices will come down if they are produced in large volume by major manufacturers like Apple.
In the longer run something else could be developed that doesn’t fit into these three general categories but still promotes braille literacy.
Could the braille code be used in new ways that are not dependent on tiny dots on paper? Is there any way to move to solid-state components? Could a large braille cell with existing haptics felt by the palm be used, or even built into a glove that responds as you point to letters on a screen?
Ms. Charlson began by asking, “In what ways can libraries promote braille literacy?” Public libraries do a lot of promotion, and thus present a lot of lessons to glean from. Two aspects of braille promotion should be considered: braille to the public and braille to blind individuals. Perkins has held reading events to promote braille for the public as well as blind readers.
Many blind people in this country don’t think that braille is important. Strategies are needed to reach them with the message of braille’s role in increasing literacy. One method is a campaign featuring successful braille readers.
Perkins also promotes via Braille Literacy Month, coming up in January. Readers are then encouraged to participate in mainstream reading events using braille books, like charity events, read-a-thons, and other events. For example, the staff took the braille version of Shelter Island to an author signing for the One Fund Boston featuring Dennis Lehane, and he was fascinated. They were able to take advantage of photo ops.
Another thing that’s useful is to have all business cards use braille—including government officials, supervisors, and anyone else.
Serving the needs of the youngest braille reader is a concern. NLS provides great print/braille books, but they don’t always address the literacy needs of the youngest reader. How might your collections be able to add appropriate titles for the youngest readers? What issues surround contracted and uncontracted braille for the youngest readers? Try to add tactile books to the collections—kids absolutely love these. Obtain pre-braille readiness materials and promote pre-reading, especially with parents. Address family literacy. Getting parents reading to children is key for all populations.
One dilemma is that early literacy materials are somewhat expensive (especially tactile materials). A toy-lending library is a possible option for promoting braille. Add tactile toys to your collection. Perhaps friends groups can assist with this effort.
What about for older braille readers? How much instruction can we support for older readers and blind adults?
Regarding instructional activities, librarians should collaborate with private and public rehabilitation agencies and consumer organizations, because they have instructional talent and expertise that libraries may not have available. Add high-interest/low-vocabulary braille materials for the older adult blind. Encourage libraries that are producing in audio to also produce in braille. Encourage teachers of the visually impaired to utilize the braille library’s services and to sign up their students.
The community must work together to keep braille relevant. Its relevance is pivotal to its promotion among blind people. The importance of braille is evident in public signage and on elevator controls, which emphasize braille’s role. In addition, some braille advocacy will be seen on packaging, especially over-the-counter pharmaceutical products and some grocery products. Europe is way ahead in that area.
The print concept of “wild text” should be taken to heart. That’s the idea of “print everywhere.”So why not “wild braille”? Start putting it everywhere, so kids start to feel it everywhere. Read Label It! by Judy Dixon to learn how to label the world.
Perkins does some specific things:
- For several years the staff has had an alphabetical list of all the contractions produced in uncontracted braille, which is sent to those needing to brush up.
- Perkins has a braille mentorship program that matches readers to help others learning braille.
- The staff circulates playing cards (donated used from a casino) labeled by middle school and high school kids with a slate and stylus.
- Perkins operates a brailler loan program and a brailler repair program for individuals.
- The staff distributes a braille-awareness packet in print. It’s good for kids doing biographies of Louis Braille.
- And it has a braille-awareness kit. It's a suitcase full of braille-related items, such as a bingo game, timers, books, toys, and other objects.
What can NLS do to help libraries promote braille? They should:
- Investigate the development of a braille curriculum.
- Help by preparing articles to promote braille—about readers, technology, etc.—for libraries to use in newsletters.
- Promote transcribers and proofreader programs.
- Create software to label cartridges and containers.
- Do more promotion of braille music.
What has been emphasized here is the need to be braille evangelists. Braille needs to be promoted and marketed. Let’s develop a campaign and get braille off life support!
2.7.2 Speaker 2: Diane Wormsley, Ph.D., Professor of Special Education in Visual Impairment, North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina
Dr. Wormsley’s comments focused on braille and children.
Dr. Wormsley emphasized that braille must be talked about in a more positive way. Some teachers will say “I’m afraid we’ve got to bite the bullet and teach him braille.” Nobody says that about print! There’s simply an assumption that a child will learn to read print. Braille must be thought of in the same way.
One of the most important steps in this journey is to set up a literacy environment that will promote reading. Educators know how to teach reading but need to make some modifications for braille readers. Don’t leave anything out just because it’s braille.
Sighted kids are shown things, not told: “Look at the print!” But with braille readers, the braille is overemphasized and made a big deal of. Too much focus is placed on the medium and not the message. So what should be in a literacy environment for children? What is it that makes a good environment for young kids?
Interest in and curiosity about written language must be fostered. It’s different from spoken language, and kids need exposure to it. Kids’ efforts to become readers and writers must be supported. Sixty percent of visually impaired kids are multiple- handicapped. So the expectations for these kids becoming readers must be kept high. It’s up to the teachers, parents, and other significant persons with a high regard for reading to help make early readers thrive.
Braille must be ubiquitous. Learning to read is strongly associated with positive learning environments. Easy reading materials in the home and visits to libraries will support this. They must read everything in their environment. Four factors important to producing readers are associated with the home. They are as follows.
- Access to print (braille) and books, including writing materials
- Adult demonstrations of literacy behavior; that is, parents as role models
- Supportive adults
- Storybook readings
A lot needs to happen for this to become a reality.
- The first issue to deal with is teaching braille. It must be assumed that kids will learn it. This shouldn’t be a question. Make the determination early on. Err on the side of kids becoming braille readers. Put braille in their environments.
- Teach braille early. Ordinary parents are scared of braille—it’s an admission of a problem. Help them to get over it. It would be great if part of the elementary school curriculum was learning the braille alphabet.
- Set up a braille-rich environment using labels and extend the invitation to explore the environment. Get fingers on braille. This is not the same as looking at print—a child needs to read these labels over and over.
- Model the uses of reading and writing, including iPads, with preschoolers. Have books in print and braille. Create meaningful storybooks for kids based upon their own experiences. Reading has to be a meaningful activity.
In addition, promote the spoken language by making conversation, acknowledging kids’ comments, and asking questions that require more than yes or no answers. Give explanations. Expand kids’ vocabulary. Read nursery rhymes. The five essentials are talking, singing, playing, reading, and writing.
Literate classrooms must be created in the same way. Involve braille-reading kids in all literacy-creating activities.
Parents must understand what’s needed for their kids, and teachers—preschool through secondary school—must understand literacy.
Think about reading. No one talks about pre-reading or reading readiness. Instead they talk about building literacy skills. Kids must not think they need to do one thing before they can do another. Roadblocks must not be put in their way.
It’s conceivable that a child could get to school without having been exposed to braille. The earlier it’s taught as the reading medium the faster the reading speed. When they have to wait until third or fourth grade, the reading rates are slower, and if they wait longer, it takes even more time for them to achieve fluency.
The ABC braille study (funded by APH and Canadian Literacy Foundation) looked at contracted and uncontracted braille. It looked at two groups divided based on how teachers said kids had started reading braille—with contracted or uncontracted braille—and found that out that this isn’t the main issue. Reading with contractions, however, was related to higher braille reading achievement. The study suggests starting with contracted braille right from the beginning unless a child has special circumstances.
For kids with additional disabilities, introduce whole words right from the beginning. Letters are more abstract. Start with contractions so kids learn the whole word. Also, spelling errors are not related to contractions. Reading achievement positively related to the number of contractions learned. No correlation was found with reading ability.
Isolation can distract from the process of learning to read and write. Reading is more than just the letters. It’s the meaning derived from it. What one brings to the reading process determines what one takes away.
2.7.3 Speaker 3: Lenore Dillon, Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Montgomery, Alabama
Ms. Dillon’s comments focused on braille and adult learners.
Ms. Dillon noted that adult learners face many of the same concerns as children. Everyone must be aware of the importance of braille to literacy, especially the following:
- Medical professionals. Many don’t have a lot of knowledge about braille and think of it as the last resort. They see learning braille as a negative. Some rehabilitation facilities tell people they don’t need to learn it. They say, “It’s not a tool for today.”
- Educators. Vision rehabilitation therapists and teachers of the visually impaired need to understand the urgency of braille and the independence it brings people. It can be challenging, but we need to get through those challenges. Adults can learn braille well.
- Those who influence public opinion. Stand-up comics, for example! We’ve all heard the braille-on-the-ATM joke. Sometimes people take comedians seriously.
If everyone were educated about braille, it would be easier to approach adults about their learning it when they need to.
Kids encounter a more positive attitude about learning braille. They are more willing to try things than adults, who wonder what’s in it for them. Adults want immediate gratification. They want to see immediate results of their study. They often quit if they don’t immediately succeed. To teach them, braille must be made interesting; boring repetition of simple words doesn’t cut it. Incorporate applicable information immediately, such as signage, labels, and numbers. This helps adults see the value in learning it right away.
Prepare for two groups of adult learners: the “vocational crowd,” who have been adventitiously blinded, and the over-55 macular degeneration crowd, most of whom have some usable vision. The first group is going to go out and work, either in continued employment or even in new employment. They will have a far greater vocational opportunity if they are braille readers. Ms. Dillon said her organization is seeking to do learning medium assessments with adults, as it had with children, and expects to find more braille readers.
The second group, the macular degeneration crowd, might not be reading a lot of braille books but should be introduced to “survival braille.” The final goal would be learning uncontracted braille, but better still if it goes on to contracted. The first thing to teach is numbers, then signage, etc. It’s certainly healthier to touch the braille than to stick their faces up to the elevator buttons.
Librarians and vision rehabilitation therapists should work together, which helps both consumers and future braille readers.
2.7.4 Speaker 4: Frances Mary D’Andrea, Chair, Braille Authority of North America (BANA), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ms. D’Andrea’s comments focused on the adoption of the Unified English Braille (UEB) code.
Ms. D’Andrea outlined the purpose of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA)—to promote and facilitate the uses, teaching, and production of braille. It now has seventeen member organizations, including NLS, the American Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, the National Braille Press, the Canadian National Institute of the Blind, Blind Industries, Associated Services for the Blind, the National Braille Association, the Council of Schools for the Blind, and the Hadley School. One representative from each serves on the board. The board includes transcribers, producers, educators, and readers.
BANA also has eighteen active committees of volunteers—readers, transcribers, and educators—working on guidelines and rules to ensure that braille properly represents reading materials for education, leisure, and work.
It is because of BANA’s commitment to the future of braille that Unified English Braille (UEB) code was conceived more than twenty years ago. It was initiated in the United States by readers who were concerned that the number of codes and numerous symbols were becoming a hindrance to literacy. It became more difficult to add new symbols that were needed and to represent print exactly. Students had trouble back-translating so they could turn in work. Exceptions to rules were making transcription less accurate.
In the early 1990s UEB became an international effort. Readers from seven countries developed the code. In 2004 UEB was judged to be sufficiently complete by the International Council on English Braille (ICEB). Individual countries then had the opportunity to adopt the code.
The United States is monitoring the adoption and discussing implementation with those countries that have already done so. The success stories about the increased interest and vitality UEB brought to reading led to the United States adopting UEB in November 2012, along with Nemeth, Music, and IPA. BANA immediately started planning the transition, looking at immediate needs, intermediate objectives, and long-term goals. Many devices are already UEB-ready, including PDAs and refreshable-braille displays. iOS can also handle the new code.
UEB contains fewer exceptions. It is based on current literary codes, so existing readers will find it quite readable. New readers will be able to read old books. Some other countries have simply switched production and circulate the old code alongside the new. There are no formatting requirements in the standard. These decisions are left up to individual countries. So that is one area that doesn’t need to change from current practice.
A successful transition in the United States will take some time and require coordination and preparation. The timeline will take into consideration various aspects of using, learning, teaching, and producing braille. Still, many issues must be explored and decisions made in order to ensure a smooth transition and implementation. Preliminary discussions are underway with NLS regarding certification issues and the training of new transcribers. NLS is relied on to continue its role in developing and providing training and certification materials.
BANA is also developing materials. It has developed a ten-page overview of UEB and other materials in the past few months. It is presenting at sessions, hosting opportunities to gather input and ideas from users and communities such as materials centers, prison programs, and state departments of education.
The most complete source of information is the BANA web site, www.brailleauthority.org. Sample documents in BRF and PDF can be found there. Tutorials, resources, and the UEB rule book are all also available there. The information is updated periodically, so please check back often. This is an exciting time for braille in the United States and around the world. Everyone’s participation and enthusiasm is invited. Those who have questions can post them on an online form.
During each topical breakout session, which followed the panel discussions, the entire assembly was broken into four randomly selected, pre-assigned groups. Structured conversations in each group resulted in a set of ideas that were then prioritized by vote. The top five ideas from each group were presented in the final plenary session.
The following is an amalgamation of the top five recommendations for NLS distilled from the breakout sessions on multiple topics. A summary of each topic of the major ideas supporting the concept is presented below followed by the list of contributing groups. See Appendix A for a more detailed presentation of themes and comments.
3.1.1 NLS should provide refreshable-braille displays at no cost to patrons or help make them more easily affordable.
Participants from multiple groups expressed a need for NLS to produce and distribute a low-cost, good-quality braille display with at least forty cells and a number of rows. It should have adjustable-size dots with the capacity to translate to contracted and/or uncontracted braille, and should have Internet capabilities and a built-in dictionary. (Literacy, group 1; Literacy, group 2; Production, group 1; Production, group 2; Production, group 3; Production, group 4; Readers, group 1; Selection, group 1; Selection, group 3; Selection, group 4; Technology, group 1; Technology, group 3; Technology, group 4)
3.1.2 NLS should vary the quality and/or publication medium of its books, depending on their use and expected shelf life.
Participants recommended that NLS mitigate its policy of requiring libraries have a hard copy for every book in the collection and that it develop criteria for determining producing hard copy vs. soft copy. They also suggested that NLS relax standards and specifications for production without compromising quality. NLS should adopt varying levels of quality depending on the material and require proofreading as appropriate for audience and text. NLS should throw away output for popular items like paperbacks and use Jiffy-Braille/Cheetah. (Production, group 1; Production, group 2; Production, group 3; Production, group 4; Selection, group 1; Selection, group 3)
Participants recommended that NLS work with mainstream publishers to acquire e-pub and file access for transcription and/or make available braille copies from publishers without limits when a book is released in print. It should also establish a standard by which to transform print book files to braille instantly and ensure that specifications for braille book production are aligned with mainstream publishing formats, leading to greater availability of books/materials. (Literacy, group 2; Production, group 2; Production, group 3; Production, group 4; Selection, group 1; Selection, group 2; Selection, group 4; Technology, group 3)
Participants recognized that access to images in hard-copy braille is difficult and more costly to produce and nonexistent in electronic braille. They suggested that NLS should produce more books with pictures, picture descriptions, tactile graphics, maps, and tabular materials. NLS should explore the use of 3D printing in braille production and explore ways to make tactile graphics and braille more available through capacity sharing. More books related to math, including tactile counting books, should be included in the NLS collection. (Literacy, group 4; Readers, group 2; Selection, group 1; Selection, group 2; Selection, group 4; Technology, group 1; Technology, group 4)
3.1.5 NLS should support efforts to update braille technology, specifications, and methods for selection, production, and distribution, including production on demand.
Participants recognized that technology is limited. They recommended NLS automate title selection (e.g., based on bestseller list) and develop an infrastructure to support on-demand production. They suggested NLS consider adopting a model that uses one file to make multiple formats—braille and audio; leverage the advantages of DAISY structure with contracted braille content (“DAISY braille”); investigate haptic (touch) displays that go beyond dots on paper or current refreshable-braille technology; and sponsor an innovative technology competition. They suggested that devices should use the mobile network to send and receive information, with NLS funding users’ connectivity (like e-rate). They would like to see better navigation capability in BARD (Web-Braille) books, DAISY with braille and speech in combination, and multi-format file-delivery capability: different size dots, contracted and uncontracted braille. They suggested that NLS develop software that is smart enough to take any electronically published material and put it into properly formatted and encoded braille and establish a standard to transform print book files to braille instantly. NLS should also develop a specification for braille book production to be aligned with mainstream publishing formats, leading to greater availability of books and materials. (Literacy, group 2; Production, group 1; Production, group 2; Production, group 3; Readers, group 4; Selection, group 3; Technology, group 1; Technology, group 2; Technology, group 3)
3.2. Challenges for stakeholders and leaders of the broader community
The following is an amalgamation of general issues distilled from the breakout sessions that attendees felt that the community serving braille readers must address. The groups from which these ideas were gathered are identified in parentheses at the end of each note.
Participants noted that the insufficient numbers of braille teachers and inadequate quality of training contribute to the lack of effective instruction and low numbers of braille readers. Recommendations for overcoming this issue included partnering with organizations to rigorously understand why only 10 percent of blind individuals learn to read braille, recruiting braille teachers, and improving staff and volunteer training to use available existing technologies. They also called for developing braille learning materials and making more braille instructional material, such as learning basic braille, available in the public domain. A braille literacy kit was suggested as a way to help potential readers get started. The participants suggested creating a learning device, similar to Leapfrog, for young children to learn braille and training transcribers in and promoting braille music code. (Literacy, group 2; Literacy, group 3; Literacy, group 4; Readers, group 2; Readers, group 3; Readers, group 4; Selection, group 2; Technology, group 3; Technology, group 4)
3.2.2 Improve the image of braille in mainstream life.
Participants noted that a lack of knowledge about braille exists in the mainstream. The general misperception is that braille is only for totally blind people. The community must take a proactive role in encouraging all companies and organizations to provide materials in braille. To overcome this issue, a national public relations/marketing campaign must be mounted to demonstrate the importance of braille literacy in daily life. NLS network libraries could offer Braille 101 to the general public. Government agencies should be encouraged to have braille added to all consumer packages. (Literacy, group 1; Literacy, group 4; Readers, group 1; Readers, group 2)
3.2.3 All practical aspects of braille are hurt by high costs.
Participants opined that there is not enough money in the braille ecosystem and that the cost of producing braille materials is high. In addition, devices for reading braille are expensive. As a result, low-cost options are causing braille to be marginalized in favor of audio. One group proposed that one cent for every book sold should go to NLS to help mitigate the cost of braille production. (Readers, group 2; Readers, group 3; Readers, group 4; Production, group 4)
3.3 Individual breakout sessions
The following items represent the recommendations of the conference participants that appeared most often across all the groups during a given topical breakout session. In many cases the same idea was expressed slightly differently. The wording here attempts to reconcile these variations into a single representative thought. The raw data from which these items were collated appears in Appendix A.
Breakout session goal: To identify factors, both positive and negative,that currently impact the usability and availability of braille by people who are blind.
- A lack of effective instruction has resulted from a limited number of qualified teachers.
- Devices for reading and writing are expensive or inconvenient. A low-cost, good-quality braille display with at least forty cells is needed.
- There is a lack of available transcribers.
- Misperceptions about braille, including that it is intended for totally blind people, prevail.
- Cost of production causes braille to be marginalized in favor of audio.
- More braille instructional material is needed in public domain.
- Access to images in hard-copy braille is difficult, because they are more costly to produce, and is nonexistent in electronic braille.
Breakout session goal: To identify factors that could be changed to improve the effectiveness of braille title selection.
- Make available braille copy from publisher without limits when a book is released in print.
- Provide cost-effective braille displays with Internet capability, making it easier for those without computers to access braille content.
- Select material based on mainstream popularity. Drop library model and produce material that is peer-normative.
- Mitigate policy of requiring hard copy for every book in the collection.
- Produce more books with pictures, picture descriptions, and tactile graphics.
- Provide instruction books on learning braille.
- Develop braille learning materials and age-appropriate materials for late adopters.
- Develop an infrastructure to support on-demand production.
Break-out session goal: To determine how NLS can produce braille that is more flexible, affordable, and practical.
- Need a portable refreshable-braille device that is capable of displaying grades 1 and 2 (uncontracted and contracted) braille with translation in the device and a built-in dictionary.
- Recommend that NLS sponsor an innovative technology competition for refreshable braille technology.
- Adopt varying levels of quality depending on the material.
- Engineer affordable low-cost full-page braille display with graphics capability.
- Create a system that will enable braille production on demand.
- Work with mainstream publishers for e-pub or source file access.
- Recommend community take a proactive role in encouraging all companies and organizations to provide materials in braille.
- Recommend NLS receive one cent for every book sold.
- Develop a universal design.
- Work with mainstream manufacturers to incorporate braille.
Breakout session goal: To determine how the braille services of NLS and its network of libraries can be improved by new uses of technology.
- Develop an inexpensive, quick, durable, and easy-to-use refreshable-braille display for patrons with built-in dictionary and capacity to translate contracted/uncontracted braille
- Provide one device for patrons to handle audio and braille and receive materials via the cloud, with NLS funding mobile connectivity.
- Leverage the advantages of DAISY structure with contracted braille content (DAISY braille).
- Develop software that can take any electronically published material and put it into properly formatted and encoded braille.
- Align specifications for braille production with mainstream publishing formats.
- Explore ways to make tactile graphics and braille more available through capacity sharing.
- Explore the use of 3D printing in braille production.
- Develop multi-format file (contracted and uncontracted braille) delivery capability.
- Develop a device for young children to learn braille (like Leapfrog).
Breakout session goal: To determine how NLS and its network of libraries can impact the future of braille.
- Recommend that NLS launch a “braille is cool” or “got braille” marketing campaign, partnering with celebrities and YA authors to promote braille, demonstrating the importance of braille literacy in daily life.
- Help bring low-cost refreshable-braille technology to market.
- Develop accurate and positive statistics with all stakeholders about braille literacy (children and adults).
- Develop a braille-literacy kit to help potential readers get started.
- Develop practical guides for “survival braille.”
- Recommend that NLS be the government printing house for braille.
- Work with government agencies to have braille added to all consumer packages.
- Encourage NLS libraries to involve their patrons in community library programs to model braille literacy.
- Recommend that all libraries dust off image and reinvent themselves as modern information-access centers and become more electronic.
This appendix includes a complete list of all the comments made during the facilitated breakout discussions, collated into thematic clusters. Letter codes indicate the breakout session from which the comment was collected, as follows:
- B: Braille readers (panel 1)
- S: Braille selection (panel 2)
- P: Braille production (panel 3)
- T: Braille technology (panel 4)
- L: Braille literacy and promotion (panel 5)
(Numeric notations are provided for administrative reference.)
B102. The process or continuum of going blind; what do people need? Fear.
B103. The image of braille; can be positive or negative. There needs to be real outreach before rehab. Misconceptions.
B106. Lack of knowledge about braille in the mainstream
B120. The obscurity factor; difficult for the sighted to understand how blind people read braille
B121. Need to admit to the fact you are losing vision and need to learn braille, especially among aging
B122. Employers need to understand differences between print and braille
B125. Why doesn’t one device fit all? Isn't speech sufficient? Funding, stigma, etc.
B132. Employers who question need for braille technology
B134. Belief that it's harder for child to learn braille compared to print
B205. Misperception that braille is only for totally blind people
B323. Generational change, which will change nature of learning
B328. Stigmas against learning braille especially in vision change
B348. Professionals working with blind people not aware of positives of braille
B407. Stigma of braille
B112. Need low-cost, good quality braille display with at least forty cells
B126. What does “low cost” really mean?
B129. Refresh rate of braille displays; pairing via Bluetooth can lead to sluggish refresh
B222. Inexpensive multi-line braille-display device
B313. There is perceived risk in abandoning methods that have worked in the past
B325. Web-Braille is fine if you have computer and refreshable braille but expensive
B335. Tremendous amount of material available for refreshable-braille displays
B346. Sacrifice of formatting issues from not having full-page braille display
B347. Refreshable multi-linear displays not available
L109. Help bring low-cost refreshable-braille technology to market
L207. Put braille display in home of every person who wants to learn braille
L324. Free or affordable refreshable-braille displays with dictionary
P103. Need a portable refreshable-braille device capable of displaying grades, with translation in the device and a built-in dictionary
P104. Mobile, tactile display that could render both text and graphics
P111. Investigate haptic (touch) displays that go beyond dots on paper or current refreshable-braille technology
P206. Engineer affordable low-cost braille display
P209. Engineer affordable low-cost full-page braille display with graphics capability
P213. Provide Internet access to support book download for braille displays
P220. Braille displays provided to public libraries for availability to public
P301. Produce refreshable-braille display free for NLS patrons
P407. Flexible one-page braille display
P414. Use more Web-Braille by using older displays
P418. Use current digital player to download books and connect to Bluetooth display
P421. Provide refreshable displays for all
P423. Mainstream national contest for refreshable display
S114. Have NLS provide braille devices with Internet capabilities
S236. Refreshable-braille display device with built-in dictionary should be available to all patrons on request
S321. Provide cost-effective braille display
S414. Make it as easy as possible for those without computers to get refreshable braille
S425. Refreshable-braille display device (affordable)
T105. Develop new NLS player that includes braille display. Should have multiple connectivity options/“braille media center.”
T112. NLS develops a braille display that can function as an accessory to the DTB player
T205. Braille display to notify patron of arrival of new magazines
T206. Provide WiFi capabilities to connect to braille display
T212. Customizable braille output in device
T303. Provide multi-modal device for users (audio and braille)
T305. Less expensive, quicker, durable and easy-to-use refreshable-braille displays for patrons with built-in dictionary with capacity to translate to contracted/uncontracted braille with adjustable size dots and number of cells/rows
T314. Call on the brightest in the technology field for new ideas to lower cost, improve service, and use international contest with meaningful prize money
T413.Refreshable-braille display with dictionary (OED), braille translation, etc.
B101. No good portable, mechanical writing device
B426. Lack of compact writing device
L411. Promote low-cost braille writing instruments
B105. Too few literacy tools/games/toys for blind children
B133. Low literacy rate
B337. No right to read braille mandated
B352. Literacy is great
B353. Can’t get toys that have braille
B402. Lack of family support
L108. Early learning kits with braille books and real objects (storyboxes)
L113. Develop practical guides for survival braille and distribute through the network of libraries
L115. Require all NLS network librarians to learn braille
L301. Network librarians partner with school librarians to have braille materials in public schools
L302. NLS develop braille literacy kits for adult learners that network libraries distribute to adult learners
L303. Coordinate with concert, theatre organizations to produce braille programs
L311. NLS to create curriculum for sighted kids to learn the braille basics
L323. Network librarians to learn braille at some level to better understand the needs of patrons
L330. Network libraries foster relationships between new learners and experienced learners; mentoring
L331. Encourage Librarian of Congress to establish a Braille Literacy Council
L332. Partner with organizations to rigorously understand why only 10 percent of blind individuals learn braille
L405. Braille literacy kit to help potential readers get started
L406. NLS to become stronger reference source for braille
L416. Develop accurate and positive statistics with all stakeholders about braille literacy (children and adults)
B107. Lack of availability of jumbo braille for those learning at later age
P315. Produce various formats for each title (jumbo, contracted, uncontracted)
S221. Add jumbo braille
T207. Multi-format file-delivery capability: different size dots, contracted/uncontracted braille
L102. Publish more uncontracted braille
L209. Offer a choice between contracted and uncontracted braille
L318. Create more uncontracted braille for adult learners that is high interest and low vocabulary and provided in digital format
P212. Produce more in uncontracted braille
P315. Produce various formats for each title (jumbo, contracted, uncontracted)
P318. Use uncontracted braille
S104. Availability of both contracted and uncontracted braille
S121. More books in uncontracted braille (for beginning readers; keep subjects appropriate; not just for children)
S231. More uncontracted braille
S426. Uncontracted braille for older readers and children
T207. Multi-format file-delivery capability: different size dots, contracted/uncontracted braille
B108. Cost of production of hard-copy braille
B219. High cost of production of braille materials
B225. High cost of braille production equipment (personal)
B229. Low-cost options causing braille to be marginalized in favor of audio
B230. Not enough money in braille ecosystem
B324. Current model of braille production results in over production and poor utilization
B344. Many application alternatives are cheaper and easier to use
B359. Production costs for braille, especially tactiles, are very high
B401. Expense of production equipment
B411. Can’t produce enough to meet diversity of demand
B414. Various levels of acceptable quality
B415. Crowd sourcing to check quality
B416. Limited production and device technology
B418. Cost of math and science books
B420. Durability of materials
B423. Braille on demand
B425. Sloppy and broken braille
L110. Produce more braille
L116. Provide financial support for an emboss-on-demand program
L119. Develop LSTA grants to local public libraries to teach and produce braille
L205. Offer custom braille production through regional libraries
L215. Produce more braille
L218. Modify existing equipment for download and translation into braille of all books offered by NLS
P107. Adopt varying levels of quality, depending on the material
P109. Federally funded government agencies should fund production of their documentation in braille, with NLS as the production partner
P110. Produce hybrid electronic/hard-copy items, e.g., with graphics and tables as supplementary material
P113. All organizations should work together to avoid overlaps in production
P123. Work to have these capabilities made universal
P201. Produce braille on demand.
P202. Apply proofreading as appropriate for audience and text, [combined with] relaxed standards/specifications for production without compromising quality
P204. Flexibility in production values based on consumer options
P207. Separate components of book according to requirements of reader and text
P208. Provide different types of braille media for different needs
P210. Use mainstream 3D printing technology
P211. Longer commitment between NLS and producers to support production flexibility
P215. Put 3D printers in commercial/public venues
P303. More electronic files to cut down on cost, more technical materials to be handled by transcribers
P304. Update technology NLS uses to accept master files
P305. Revise NLS specification to produce less formalized braille
P308. Specification should allow for more flexible proofreading options
P309. Placing items onto paper rather than holes; surface mount device (SMD) placement machines
P312. Consideration of adopting model that uses one file to make multiple formats, braille and audio
P314. Create system that will enable braille production on demand
P317. Good definition of current costs to be able to evaluate and compare
P325. Agree on approach to digitizing rare braille masters so [they] can be more widely available
P405. Adjust standards of quality to reflect print book quality
P406. National and international planning to eliminate duplication
P409. Provide embossers to all regional libraries for duplication on demand
P412. Use Jiffy-Braille/Cheetah (chosen on recount)
P415. Learn from and use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) scanning systems worldwide
P417. NLS access digital files from other sources (Amicus)
S112. Quality of books should be impeccable
S120. Develop an infrastructure to support on-demand production
S122. Focus less on selection and more on ways to make mainstream production/conversion available in braille
S304. Quality books; good braille
S305. Quality of transcription
S417. Different tiers of quality requirements depending on content
S429. Braille on demand
T311. Use optical braille recognition to digitize all valuable braille masters
T410. Audition for braille on demand
B110.Current limitations of braille technology, especially with respect to science, graphics, etc.
B220. Expand use of mainstream technology, processes, and formats
B308. Technology lacks ability to withstand/outstand meetings/accidents
B312. Devices for reading braille are expensive
B350. Technology is difficult for some people
B355. Technology is expensive
L121. Work with regional libraries to make sure there are accessible technologies available to patrons in the library, including embossers for personal material
L214. Establish standard by which to transform print book files to braille instantly
L408. Use current technology to target certain groups (e.g., middle school boys) to encourage reading
P112. Universal/off-the-shelf design that allows blind people to access information in braille
P119. New technology for braille cells/dots
P404. Device to send braille directly to brain
P416. Glove to turn page to braille
T401. One device for patrons to handle audio and braille and receive materials via the cloud
B111. Effort divided over too few braille users
B339. Wide cross section of users have not been involved in refreshable-braille displays
B360. Lots of braille readers who aren’t very good at it
P124. Focus on young blind people—help them fall in love with braille. Peer group involvement
P125. Don’t forget the over-55 population
B114. Availability of titles in braille
B330. High-interest/low-vocabulary braille materials, especially for adult learners
B333. Lack of availability of factual books
L316. Print/braille books that are geared towards success stories of blind people
L319. Produce local voting guides in braille
L325. Produce books on local history by local authors and local attractions
P316. Items on Bookshare should be able to go into NLS collection
P319. Make better selections based on users’ interests
P324. Acquire more content from other international organizations
P402. National database of patrons who want the same title
P419. Evaluate book collection to determine which books do not “deserve” hard copy
S105. Children’s and youth selections are on-target. Print/braille and magazines for kids
S106. Regional libraries also contributing to the collection
S108. Wide variety of books
S109. New braille books available digitally
S110. Selection operates in the same way national public library would; no censorship
S111. Know what’s available; access to Braille Book Review and BARD
S113. There is still a place for fiction in braille—readers like to read just for fun, too
S115. Policy of requiring hard copy for every book needs to be mitigated
S118. System for patron requests/recommendations, with feedback/status (no more black hole!)
S119. More Young Adult and High School/transitional selections
S124. Remember not everyone has Internet access—don’t stop selecting across all title areas until everyone does
S125. Selection should not be based on cost; include definitive works despite their length or cost
S126. Plays and libretti of major composers should be included
S201. Lots of good classics
S202. Good broad selection
S203. CDAG with diverse membership
S205. 100 Words series (good for young people, new braille readers)
S207. Good production of ephemera (sports schedules, magazines)
S209. Print/braille collection is good as are children’s materials in general
S211. Allocate more money for more materials
S212. Lack of completeness in series should be remedied
S213. Purchase books from smaller agencies/make process more transparent
S214. More current career information
S215. Collections of shorter pieces for new readers (e.g., columns)
S218. Improve business-related titles, such as improving management skills
S219. Develop crowd-sourcing model for braille selection
S220. Add braille specialist to CDS staff
S222. Consider limiting the length of books/fewer long titles
S223. Exploit multiple formats for certain titles (multimedia products)
S224. High-interest/low-vocabulary books that are age-appropriate
S227. More tutorials/how-to books on technical topics
S228. Produce more nonfiction informational books for children
S229. Change ratio of nonfiction/fiction in hard copy, increasing nonfiction
S232. Bilingual Spanish/English books
S235. Do more weeding
S303. Titles including rarer/lesser-required books
S307. Have some large books, e.g., The Joy of Cooking
S308. NLS does better selection of books than in the past
S310. Good collection of magazines/“lap reading”
S311. Attempt to have a broad selection, e.g., medical reference books
S316. Engage consumer more in selection process
S318. Select material based on mainstream popularity; drop library model and produce material that is peer-normative
S325. Automate title selection, e.g., based on bestseller list
S326. More process and direction in cookbooks and how-to books
S328. Don’t wait for title selection until the book is published
S331. Provide more mixed-media books/braille appendices
S335. Consider international selection of titles in specialist areas
S402. Keeps current with titles
S404. Use input from CDAG
S407. Quality of books chosen remains high
S408. Combination of braille and audio on same site
S413. Same title in both audio and braille
S415. Add more titles
S418. More instruction manuals for appliances and products
S420. Age-appropriate material for late adopters
S422. More Spanish braille
S423. List books available in both formats
S424. Create supplemental indexes
S427. More reference materials
S428. Fill holes in series
T106. Flexible or multi-format content on a single cartridge
T110. Integrate search to find other accessible books
T304. Customer can request any book/material that is currently not accessible by any method and have it deposited into a device in the reading mode of choice
T312. Remote reference services using technology to enhance access
B115. Current pedagogical practices need to encourage braille speed reading
B118. Impact of Individual Education Program teams’ decisions on whether to teach braille or not to a student
B123. Teachers of Visually Impaired training/standards for teaching braille
B128. Not enough reinforcement for learning/not enough places to use it in everyday life; isolation
B130. Promote early adoption of braille; educate parents to start this early
B137. Motivation to learn is lacking—needs to be a priority
B203. Training and education should be more widespread; include sighted
B206. Everyone receiving rehab/educational vision services shall be encouraged to learn braille
B208. Insufficient numbers of braille teachers; inadequate quality of training
B209. Braille teachers do not need to be TVIs
B212. Refine/intensify state certification requirements
B213. Uniform national requirements
B214. Students receive inconsistent braille instruction
B217. Difficulty of instructing people who lose sight later in life: materials, time
B218. Fund development of improved training materials/qualified trainers
B231. Not enough material for adult braille learners
B232. Time constraints to teach braille students (adults)
B304. Lack of effective instruction due to number of qualified teachers
B310. Online braille training courses for self-education; need to be created/more available
B315. Early functional vision assessment to make sure young people don’t fall through the cracks
B316. More braille instructional material in public domain
B322. More training for youth on braille technology
B334. Amount of support and guidance in value of learning braille
B354. NLS doesn’t have much in way of braille instruction material online
L105. Develop braille instruction at the national level and promote through the NLS network of libraries
L210. Offer online courses to libraries to learn braille
L211. Promote learning tools for young children through regional libraries
L221. Increase range of materials for learning braille
L412. Make use of low tech tools we presently have to teach braille
S116. More books of easy reading for adults learning braille
S230. Instruction books on learning braille; develop braille learning materials
T402. Develop a device for young children to learn braille, like Leapfrog
T411. Provide embossers to network libraries to create braille instruction curriculum
B119. Proofreading time creates a big bottleneck
B116. Need to keep the paper braille in the face of emphasis on electronic braille
B117. Space constraints for libraries and borrowers
B127. Challenging to return books via the post office because of bulk
B136. Delivery of hard-copy braille, USPS is cutting back; cost is high
B221. Hard-copy storage difficult to manage
B301. Braille volumes are large and heavy and many needed for one book, so space is needed
B340. Lack of content specific to people’s interests in hard-copy braille
B421. Amount of space that hard-copy braille takes up
B422. Thinking more carefully about which books are on paper
P101. Find a medium other than paper
P108. Produce braille on thinner paper with less sophisticated binding/covers
P306. Throw-away output for popular items, e.g., paperbacks
P307. Book bindings that are easier for the user to handle
P310. Larger books—circulate and produce in parts
P320. Look at and amend specifications to allow for other producers and binding methods
P322. Continuous-feed braille; scrollable paper, not on a single line
P401. Look at different paper or materials for disposable braille
P425. Go to forty- or forty-two-character line to save paper
P430. Bind books less expensively
S401. Hard-copy braille is useful for review
S412. Durability and reliability of materials
B135. More portable/affordable braille embossers
B305. Paper dust mucks up interpoint printers
B207. Practical applications stressed
B306. Blind people need to use braille in public and ask for facilities without shame
B311. Promoting resources that exist, e.g., national library service
B320. Spreading information about braille and what is around out there
B331. Librarians unaware of materials
B336. Braille is not an either/ or—make braille cool
B403. Vigorous campaign to promote braille
B404. More braille in public view (movies, etc.)
B406. Limited marketing of usability to adults
L101. TV commercials to promote literacy that include braille
L104. Provide a speakers bureau service promoting braille
L106. Mount a national PR/marketing campaign to demonstrate the importance of braille literacy in daily life
L107. Work with consumers to encourage them to ask for braille everywhere they go
L111. Hold NLS 5K runs around the country promoting braille reading and writing (like the Dot Dash)
L112. Braille Challenge for adults
L114. Have the NLS network offer Braille 101 to the general public
L117. Advocate for braille in Congress
L118. Braille reading contest for beginners
L120. Sponsor legislation to have all government employees have braille on their business cards
L124. Develop a touring display that network libraries could place in local public libraries promoting braille
L125. Partner with state blind services agencies to promote the teaching of braille to clients
L127. Partner with bakeries to provide braille cakes and cookies
L128. Sibling and peer reading program; blind kids and sighted siblings/peers read books together
L129. Braille reading theater; mix braille and print readers to perform plays
L130. Encourage NLS libraries to involve their patrons in community library programs to model braille literacy
L202. Promote awareness of braille in all public libraries
L203. Promote braille awareness week
L204. Develop relationship with celebrities (including YA authors) to promote braille
L208. Use social media to promote braille, especially to young people
L213. Take a significant role in promotion of braille nationwide by using braille clubs and kits
L216. Start a competition for innovation
L217. Form partnerships for promotion of braille and braille library services
L222. Emphasize braille usage for elderly patrons
L223. Start ad campaign for braille literacy with national saturation
L225. Make braille sexy
L226. Conduct regional braille conferences similar to Braille Summit
L304. NLS harness business world through community organizations to educate general population about braille literacy and blindness
L305. NLS have small kits to include braille board book to give to any blind/visually impaired child who is born at the hospital
L306. NLS should launch a “braille is cool” or “got braille?” marketing campaign
L307. Promote braille in the mainstream to as many routes as possible
L308. Promote braille at national medical conventions
L309. NLS should produce with PBS a one-hour show on braille literacy and blindness
L310. Braille needs to be available everywhere; partner with American Sign Language, foreign languages, and braille
L312. NLS could find a high-profile spokesperson to do advertising for braille
L313. NLS should establish outreach programs, e.g., with libraries; create bookmarks with braille, posters with braille—more braille promotion
L314. Partner with children’s shows to incorporate braille, e.g., with letter of the day on Sesame Street
L317. NLS outreach to universities to ensure classroom teachers get braille component
L320. NLS to create a program to invite families of braille students or readers to understand impact of braille
L327. NLS develop tools to help regional libraries see ways to promote braille to their patrons
L328. Close gap between special and public libraries by having demo/showcase of books and get braille into community libraries for all to borrow
L402. Run TV ads to promote braille; Bill Cosby ad
L404. NLS develop a promotional item that teaches braille alphabet; pop-up cell
L409. Business cards for Obama and cabinet and other well-known folks; want APH to make them
L410. Give impressers as honorarium gift
P105. Community must take a proactive role in encouraging all companies and organizations to provide materials in braille
P216. NLS to sponsor innovative technology competition
S327. Heavily market digital/Web-Braille
S409. Outreach efforts and surveys
T108. Reach out to users and educators on how to incorporate new technology in teaching braille
T109. Sponsor a nationwide contest for tactile technology innovation
T316. Reward technology innovation in production process for braille books; give favor to producers to bring down costs
T403. Randomly highlight braille titles at BARD login weekly for each person to encourage braille
B131. Interlibrary loan still has barriers to service
B210. Elimination of regional boundary limitations
L122. All network libraries should carry a small braille browsing collection
L123. Braille reading book clubs
L403. Libraries need to circulate braille books; keep it local
B215. Clumsy, incompatible braille-translation software
B224. Incentives for training in specialized codes; professionalize; regional centers
B338. Contractions used in grade 2 are not intuitive
B341. Adapting from print to braille sometimes very difficult (and braille to print)
B424. Textbook vs. literary format
P102. Too many codes/formats
P426. Develop more complex software to reduce or eliminate transcriber and proofreader need
S217. Develop standard for linear braille
T313. Develop software that is vastly smarter to take any electronically published material and put it into properly formatted and encoded braille
B223. Lack of braille transcribers
B302. Lack of available transcribers
B321. Lack of college-level training for transcriber “professions”
B327. Limited number of volunteers
B357. NLS doesn’t accept volunteers unless they have passed official braille exams
L212. Make braille transcribing and proofreading courses relevant (upgrade)
P106. Streamline the certification process for braille transcription and proofreading
P311. List of work currently being worked on by transcribers
P313. Contract with independent transcribers
P410. Develop and implement live courses for training transcribers and proofreaders
P424. Harness the power of crowd sourcing to transcribe
P428. Hire cheap labor to transcribe or other lower-level tasks
S309. Where no structure, human can put structure in (transcriber)
B227. Access to images in hard-copy braille is difficult/more costly to produce; nonexistent in electronic braille
B228. New technology to produce properly spaced braille cells and uniformly spaced pixels for graphics; training operators in tactile graphics issues/complexities
B234. Time to create quality tactile graphics is too great
B349. Braille graphics are impossible to get
L401. More books related to math, including tactile counting books
P321. Explore 3D printing to produce masters for tactile graphics
P411. More options—contracted, tactile, descriptions, etc.
S117. Books should include maps and graphics
S226. Produce more books with pictures/picture descriptions/tactile graphics
S233. Improve selection of atlases and maps
S315. Provide titles that lend themselves to necessity of tactile graphics, pictures
S330. When pictures must be described or be omitted
S332. Books to direct blind readers how to learn graphic material
S419 More graphics and tabular materials
T111. Explore the use of 3D printing in braille production
B233. Lack of training in technology for consumers (e.g., download)
T209. Training for regional library staff about technology
T302. Improve staff/volunteer training to use existing technologies that are available
B238. Should be more collaboration among braille producers
B351. Braille is great for sharing info
B356. More for school setting—ability to share braille/graphic files so not recreating
P323. Develop system that allows for coordinated sharing for network libraries
T409. Explore ways to make tactile graphics and braille more available through capacity-sharing
B329. Magazines and short books are in multi-volume files rather than one file
B345. Ability to add locally produced materials to BARD
L321. NLS should collaborate and develop worldwide to maintain API standards for download deliveries
P420. Older users with e-mail only can order books for download only
S101. More availability has increased over time; online availability
S107. Can get materials quickly—braille book within a week, BARD in seconds
S204. Web-Braille accepts things from other libraries
S317. Add additional sources of braille books onto BARD
S319. Better formatting for electronic files; mark up electronic files
S324. Develop criteria for determining producing hard copy vs. soft copy
S403. Web-Braille author list is helpful
S406. Web-Braille itself is helpful and “cool”
S430. All recent braille postings to BARD announced in Braille Book Review
T202. 24/7 customer hotline for BARD
T211. One file per book, not one per volume (or allow option)
T404. Add non-NLS braille content to BARD
T405. Add consumer ratings
T406. Use podcasts to let folks know what’s hot in BARD (with description)
T407. Use something similar to Goodreads; BARD social networking
B236. Time lag in production (educational settings)
B309. Education curriculum materials are inaccessible
B342. Lack of braille production at college level
B358. Teachers sometimes reluctant to promote braille instruction; national standard for teachers
B405. Attitudes of school personnel
B417. Recruitment and funding braille teachers
B419. Ramifications of more complex textbooks for braille readers
L126. Help get technology into the hands of non-TVI teachers to help jump-start braille learning in young students
L220. Add teaching basics of braille to curricula around country
L326. All colleges should have programs for TVIs and create braille-refresher courses
L407. Partnerships with educators to refer students and parents to libraries (all ages)
L414. Add braille to the alphabet and number lines on elementary school desks
L415. Local libraries go to schools to prepare teachers
B303. Time to produce/turnaround time to produce
B307. Focus on accuracy makes it a long time to get produced
B326. Small quantity of current materials available
B343. Braille moves too slowly; decisions and changes
B408. Availability of current books in timely manner
S411. Nonfiction choices seem timely
B332. Current digital-braille formats not navigational
T104. Leverage the advantages of DAISY structure with contracted-braille content (DAISY braille)
T201. DAISY with braille and speech in combination
T204. Full audio and text in all DAISY books for transmission via electronic means to device
T208. Better navigation capability in BARD (Web-Braille) books
L224. Create guidance and resources for braille labeling of consumer products
L322. Engage corporations to do more braille labels
L413. Work with government agencies to have braille added to all consumer packages
S312. Improved labeling of volumes—content and adhesive
B216.R&D money for compatibility (speed, accuracy, etc.)
B226. Funding for R&D
B235. Not enough R&D in braille production
L103. Assist with research and updating of braille technologies
P114. NLS should have active R&D in these areas
P118. Clear explanation of what’s already known and what still needs to be invented
P120. Carefully scope the problem; engage the community to define the problem
P121. Put major resources into R&D
P122. Start with a task force defining why this is important/worthwhile—need to justify the costs/strong advocacy. Explain the fundamental nature of reading and writing to ALL.
P427. Survey current patrons on what they need
S216. Conduct national survey of patrons re: future of collection
S329. Invest research effort into on-the-fly translation systems (braille file causing problems)
T101. NLS needs to be leaders and innovators of new technology through R&D
B319. Lack of cooperation from mainstream publishers to put braille into workflow when making a book
B409. Working with publishers to make all available
P219. Work with mainstream publishers for e-pub access
P302. Getting publishers to provide files for transcription
P408. Work with publishers to get digital files when book is published
S123. Develop connection with publishers for file access (NBP scans approximately 90 percent of titles)
S225. E-pubs from mainstream publishers
S322. Greater awareness of publishers’ workflow at an earlier stage; influence of younger people
S323. Lobby publishers to break down international barriers to book sharing
S416. Make available braille copy from publisher without limits when book is released in print
T210. Automation to produce BRF files and acquire files from publishers for instant conversion to BRF
T306. Specification for braille book production to be aligned with mainstream publishing formats, leading to greater availability of books/materials
L329. Method to receive/deliver books should be easier/user-friendly
P205. Equip regional libraries with embossers and training
P218. SD/USB storage apparatus through USPS for patrons without Internet access
P327. Provide braille embosser for everyone
P422. Provide braille embossers and scanners for all
S208. “New” containers are useful
S313. Some libraries do special requests
S314. Need to improve delivery options, e.g., U.S. post office, and not be treated as fourth class
S421. Different distribution models
T102. Devices should use the mobile network to send and receive information; NLS funding users’ connectivity (like e-rate)
T103. Use profile selection and push materials directly to your device
T203. Provide braille embossers to all regional libraries
T307. Easier, smoother content delivery to patrons
T308. Less expensive braille embossers for heavy use for libraries and patrons
T309. Send braille files on SD cards or USB drives to patrons
T315. Access on mobile services to get new technology into remote areas
T408. Encourage use of titles to non-tech patrons by an automated telephone directory, etc.
L201. Take a role in training transcribers and promoting braille music code
S210. Good music collection
S333. International braille music selection through World Braille Council
S334. Select more braille music titles aimed at supporting adult amateur users
B109. Braille is an afterthought
B113. Society’s opinion that technology makes things faster/quicker/easier, so why use braille?
B124. Speed of technological advancement
B201. Braille is not ubiquitous
B202. All print should have braille equivalent present
B204. Braille on Sesame Street
B211. Increased federal funding
B237. Braille producers reluctant to change/advance
B314. Consumer products do not include braille
B317. More speaking traffic lights
B318. Not enough fun in braille
B355. Availability of braille does not affect linguistic diversity
B410. Access to information quickly
B412. Explosion of information in general
B413. Availability of content
L206. NLS should be government printing house for braille
L219. Give equal time to developments in braille at national conferences
L315. All libraries dust off image and reinvent themselves as modern information-access centers; more electronic
P116. Apply for government grant for technology school grant for solving this problem; need a good grant writer. Find the people who want to spend their time solving the problem.
P117. Need to have those who will use it providing the requirements
P203. More government funding
P214. Better utilize systems already in place (e.g., education)
P217. Raise funds from corporate sector
P326. Flexible distribution
P403. Build a braille endowment to start
P413. Get rid of paperwork for NLS
P429. One cent for every book sold goes to NLS
S102. Consumer involvement
S103. Opportunity for feedback
S206. Easy to contact NLS staff
S301. We have books
S302. We have Web-Braille
S320. Provide mutual database—one large database for all
S410. Braille Book Review/Talking Book Topics and consumer input
T107. NLS should partner with video-game producers for software and hardware development
T301. NLS circulate list of requirements for technology labs in libraries serving blind and visually impaired people to include accessible PCs, CCTVs
T310. Link libraries for the blind to access more community library services to all using technology
T412. Pool investment resources
- Conference website:
- Archive of conference video recordings:
- World Braille Usage can be found at www.perkins.org/worldbraille/.
- The conference on Twitter:
- U.S. Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter on braille: www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/brailledcl-6-19-13.pdf [PDF: 2.64KB / 6p.]
To improve the local braille-production process at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, the following survey was conducted by telephone to active braille borrowers in April 2013.
Statistics (April 2013)
Number of braille users represented: 334
Number of patrons reached (6/10/2013): 115
Number of patrons on survey suspended: 52
Number of patrons that declined to participate: 5
Number of voicemail messages: 102
Number of bad phone numbers: 42
Questions and answers:
- How do you use braille in your daily life? (115 participants)
- Hard copy mentioned: 67 times
- Downloads or Web-Braille: 23 times
- Labeling or Notes: 35
- Doesn’t use (much): 8
- How often do you read books or materials in braille? (113 participants)
- Daily: 55
- Weekly: 19
- Monthly: 24
- Never or not much at all: 5
- Prefers audio: 2
- What sorts of books do you prefer to read in braille? (89 participants)
- Nonfiction mentioned: 26 times
- Nonfiction; books that provide information
- Braille allows for better learning and seeing numbers and how things are spelled
- Fiction and nonfiction. Read braille for enjoyment.
- Fiction and nonfiction
- The Bible; shorter books
- Mostly fiction; mysteries, Christian books, history
- Both fiction and nonfiction; metaphysical, psychology, inspirational
- Biblical books, both fiction and nonfiction
- Nonfiction; recipes. Reads in a variety of genres—mystery, romance inspirational.
- Prefers fiction, science fiction
- Knitting and crochet patterns
- Fiction. The reading goes quicker.
- Technical materials—anything with difficult language/something that needs to be absorbed
- Short fiction, or grade 3 manual he owns. Fiction is easier to read as he reads slowly.
- History, Native American tribes, animals, Jewish concerns
- Magazines, sports or diabetes books
- Information, cookbooks
- Thrillers, crime; fiction. Biography.
- Mostly fiction
- Romances, adventure; fiction
- Fiction preferred, but either is interesting. She reads braille for relaxation, and fiction is more relaxing.
- Fantasy books, magazines
- Both fiction and nonfiction
- Fiction; romance, adventure, Christian
- Anything is fine—no time to read books when he is in school
- Nonfiction; cookbooks, easier to read, children’s books to read to her kids
- She likes nonfiction but is happy to read anything
- Nonfiction only
- Does not apply (NOTE: this patron said in Q1 that he reads braille magazines and uses for recipes)
- Religious books; nonfiction
- Didn't have a clear answer. Prefers cartridges for most things, but does read The Daily Word.
- Used to read quite a few westerns
- Anything. Same as listening to audio.
- Nonfiction; mysteries, medical books
- Nonfiction; business
- Braille isn’t that good, so mostly use it for daily use stuff, not for reading
- Christian materials; more fiction than nonfiction.
- Does not read much braille
- I process information well auditory and though I am a fast braille reader by braille standards, I am a faster listener. So the bulk of my reading is auditory. Braille is reserved for important nonfiction; religious, reference, and foreign-language reading.
- Fiction; shorter, more lighthearted books
- Would like to read all materials, especially biographies
- No preference; she especially likes children's books she didn't get to read when she was younger
- No preference; fiction slightly preferred, does not read books in braille presently
- Does not read books in braille
- Fiction; her reading is all fiction
- She will read anything, even dictionary and encyclopedia!
- Reference materials, the Bible, sci-fi or fantasy or books recommended if not in other formats
- Likes a variety
- Magazines, the Bible
- Fiction; history. Will read any way he can.
- Likes both; mysteries, biographies, informational books, plays
- Inspirational books, maybe read the Bible
- Fiction; fun to follow a story. Doesn’t want to read serious material when she’s not at work
- Does not read books, likes to read the Mariners schedule in braille
- Does not read books, but he would read nonfiction if he did
- Biographies of classical musicians
- Both fiction and nonfiction; definitely would read more technical things, like computer magazines
- Short stories. Not much time to sit and read a novel, so short stories are easier to get through
- Does not read books in braille
- A wide variety. Religious, conservative Christian, Western (Louis L ‘Amour) sci-fi, fantasy.
- Does not read books; Just not fast enough. Would like more religious texts, Bible commentaries.
- Science fiction, adventure stories
- Fiction; interesting books
- Anything that looks good
- Fiction; mysteries, classics, romance novels
- Nonfiction; Christian books, history
- Fiction; adult books that are short
- Does not read books in braille
- Study materials, legal briefs, legislative drafts
- Nonfiction; biography, how-to books, computer reference
- Both fiction and nonfiction; metaphysical, psychology, inspirational
- Nonfiction preferred, but has purchased many children’s books lately, mainly classics
- Does not read books
- Fiction; interesting books
- Magazines, sports, or diabetes books
- Whatever is not in cartridge or tapes. Both fiction and nonfiction.
- Romances, fantasy; nonfiction, some general fiction
- Novels, whatever is of interest
- Mainly novels or other fiction
- Fiction; interesting books
- Magazines, short stories
- Nonfiction and science fiction
- Children's books
- Braille is her preferred medium for books of any sort; nonfiction is her main interest
- The Bible, magazines
- Almost anything that’s available; has a wide range of interests
- Cookbooks, how-to books
- Both fiction and nonfiction
- Nonfiction; technical, do-it-yourself books
- Still learning
- Short fiction or nonfiction; also reads the Bible
- Inspirational, Bible, study books, magazines
- Medieval, historical, mystery
- Any book I'm interested in; romance, medical books
- Libertarian philosophy, politics, music, biographies
- Short stories
- Nonfiction; self-help, cooking, spirituality
- Prefers nonfiction; recipes, magazines, poetry
- Does not read braille books
- Prefers nonfiction; animal stories, religion, inspirational biography; likes nonfiction reading generally; also reads braille music
- Anything; preference is nonfiction because it’s better for retention
- Nonfiction; recipes. Reads in a variety of genres—mystery, romance, inspirational
- Nonfiction; biographies, history, religion, personal growth
- Fiction; science fiction, mysteries, westerns
- Craft books, cookbooks, politics
- When the library is choosing material to transcribe into braille, what do you wish they would concentrate on (107 P)?
- No opinion/Did not care/not sure: 14
- Books on metaphysics. Not much of a collection at the moment
- Informative things, local interest, history of the Northwest
- More magazines that are not available elsewhere, foreign language or math textbooks, TV schedules
- Would love to learn to become a braille transcriber
- Even more J.A. Jance books, instruction manuals for devices
- Materials on request, Unity Church materials
- Just love everything—they do a pretty good job
- Science fiction, romances, urban fantasy, paranormal fiction
- More books for the younger people and school children
- Mysteries and espionage, science fiction
- Technical materials, computer magazines—particularly with a more technical bent
- He does not feel braille is of any use now that everything is audio
- Cookbooks. Much easier to navigate and check back
- Informational books, cookbooks
- Series of books, more suspense!
- Really do not know
- No real idea
- No opinion
- More practical how-to guides specifically addressing blindness
- No opinion
- Local restaurant menus
- Bus schedules, menus
- No opinion
- Lists of local restaurants, restaurant menus
- Cookbooks, she is trying to learn to cook on her own; would like to see more braille menus in restaurants
- He would like more cookbooks, especially if he could own a copy for not too high a cost
- Fiction; something to keep me interested. Not much of a nonfiction reader.
- No opinion
- Focus is fine, just likes digital better
- Letters they send out
- Books with tactile graphics
- Biographies, educational books, mysteries
- No preference; reads too slowly and gets easily frustrated
- More stuff for younger patrons
- Lots of Christian fiction, church history, animal books
- Manuals, technical materials
- Locally based nonfiction, particularly sports, alternative health, and radio-related. A word, collection size: Bookshare has 192,000 books and grows rapidly. If I want to buy something, Amazon is now accessible. All this I can read in braille or with
- General interest fiction and non-fiction
- Would like Deepak Chopra books, other health-related materials
- Special-needs requests from individuals, including textbooks
- Anything about nature, geography, cultures of different countries
- No opinion
- More religious and inspirational materials; she likes the WTBBL collection generally, but wishes they would start at the beginning of series
- Fiction, nonfiction; she “inhales books”
- More braille children’s books
- No opinion
- Have not found anything that was not useful
- More magazines, more variety
- Things that are not available from other libraries
- Menus, more books about baseball and other sports, current events, books about what’s happening in Seattle, ads for tours
- Popular current novels, (she would like the latest in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin), menus and local restaurant guides, children’s books should be a priority
- Would like the Women's basketball team schedule, other sports schedules, cookbooks written locally for beginning cooks, braille calendar
- Public information, government documents, chain-restaurant menus, vocational materials such as conference handouts, support materials for meetings, etc.
- More politically conservative books, books about rock music and (Metallica, Alice in Chains!)
- Academic books
- Specialized content
- Educational materials for kids would be important, but that's not relevant to him
- Local publications, primary interest to Northwest
Menus, travel schedules (train, airlines, bus)
- Academic materials, concentrate on higher-education textbooks
- Common lectionary in braille
- No opinion, wishes we had a braille calendar
- History, local interest
- Restaurant menus
- Anything that has to do with the Civil War—the individuals involved, autobiographies and biographies
- Book about the iPhone, other tech manuals
- More sports schedules, notification letters such as the overdue notices
- Cookbooks, technical manuals. Keep doing what they are doing.
- More sports schedules, college football,
- We did a book for her once of instructions for her typewriter; other instruction manuals would be helpful
- No opinion
- Cookbooks—much easier to navigate and check back
- They are doing a fine job. Fashion magazine.
- Medical reports, personal documents
- Locally produced books are awesome—anything by local authors! It is important to support local talent!
- Whatever they have
- Not sure how to answer that
- Classics (To Kill a Mockingbird, Tale of Two Cities)
- More magazines, things that are shorter and more current
- No opinion
- More short children’s books!
- Informational books, how-to, vegan cooking, practical life improving books,
- Just more stuff in hard copy
- Medical books, books that are related to age groups that might be discovering the library
- Current technical information in books and magazines, for instance, books on Windows Eight
- Satisfied with material received
- I would like to see more religious-related materials, books by religious-oriented authors, books that would be used for Bible study
- Local interest, adventure
- Directions, manuals, news and information about the library itself
- Not sure
- Don't care. Needs are being met elsewhere.
- More short stories, easy books for new braille readers
- Local sports schedules, chain-restaurant menus, theater programs, braille opera librettos, information about nutrition
- High-interest/low-vocabulary books for adults to use in teaching, instruction for braille learning, YA literature, books for small children, plays
- No opinion
- More fiction
- Keep focusing on the Northwest stuff, regional authors
- No opinion
- Cookbooks, instruction manuals
- Current bestsellers
- Daily living stuff, crafts, cooking, home repair, and etc. things you can refer back to.
- What would you say keeps you from borrowing braille (108 P)? Reading speed: 29
- Size of braille, storage: 49
- Selection: 12
- Prefer Audio: 26
- How important is accuracy of braille transcription to your reading experience (107 P)?
- Accuracy: 75
- Speed: 18
- Depends on Material: 11
- What improvements or changes in braille do you imagine for the future (106 P)?
- Convert single-sided books to books with braille on both sides of the page
- Adjustable braille that would respond to a sense of touch
- More use of online braille
- Braille should be sharper on the pages
- Braille in danger of dying out, maintaining status quo for costly braille production will be an achievement
- More personal requests
- No opinion, most of the books she wants are in audio a lot sooner than braille, readers should be able to get requests in braille quickly—Bookshare has become very unresponsive to personal requests
- Everything is going digital, becoming more obsolete, which she thinks is unfortunate
- They should concentrate on kids and young adults to encourage them to read
- More print/braille books. Haven’t thought about this.
- More digital, improvements in the BARD site. More reliance on accurate and informative braille.
- He has seen books brailled on Mylar; they are not as thick and bulky as traditional braille on card stock, and he thinks the impressions of the dots were more durable
- More books on computer programming
- More variety
- More magazines, more electronic selection
- Nothing should be changed, things are fine as is
- Hopes we will do more contemporary books; current collection has too many classics
- Putting in more graphics, softcover instead of hardcover. They should bring back thermoform.
- Get material that is current transcribed more quickly
- Braille displays will improve and get cheaper, most braille will be digital; hard copy should not disappear, no batteries required to read it
- He is worried that the new code will make books very inconsistent
- She would like to see more braille literacy, but audio is much more prevalent
- The new braille code will have an effect
- The weight of the jackets on the books; some are heavy. Needs some balance between lightweight jackets and strong bindings. Lighter books would lessen weight for postal carriers.
- Advances in technology means braille could be produced faster, more material readily available for students
- Cannot think of improvements, wishes books were less bulky
- Perfectly happy with the collection as it is
- Braille will become obsolete because of other electronics (iPhone)
- Doesn't want to go to audio, is afraid it might go obsolete
- I imagine it will disappear due to funding constraints, given that it is so small and slow. Some ideas: Librarians could generate a list of books, comparatively unlikely to be produced elsewhere, and ask readers to vote on which one(s) should be added. Dump the transcription model except for rare circumstances, using instead OCR, spell checking, skimming, and intelligent proofing.
- Would love a refreshable-braille display
- Keep the classes going, keep spreading the importance of braille literacy; all WTBBL staff should have knowledge of braille
- No opinion but she hopes braille will survive a long time
- No opinion, mostly uses audio materials, her physical disabilities prevent her from reading more braille
- Books should be produced more quickly in braille in the electronic era; more books produced and brailled more accurately
- Better accessibility
- Not sure. Does acknowledge that Braille is important and will never be obsolete
- She finds lots of fiction she wants in our braille collection, keep them coming! Braille is a good way to get older books by her favorite authors in relatively good condition.
- Don't foresee any changes
- It will be easier to access material; web pages will improve and searches will get better
- Worried about the new braille code; will it make the books even bigger? Will it make braille harder to produce?
- More titles should become available; continue to advocate for braille literacy
- Any book that is available in print should be available in braille; braille displays should be available on loan to patrons
- Faster turnaround for production, more people aware that we have a braille service
- Braille is fine just the way it is!
- More picture books for children
- Lower-cost braille displays, which will rekindle an interest in braille users
- Probably be able to mostly download things, more digital
- Cannot really answer
- Library should consider producing Washington state historical documents
- UEB is being pushed, but he thinks braille should remain the same
- UEB will be a change
- More magazines or current news, newspapers
- UEB might change things
- Will be interesting to see what happens with UEB
- She sees little future in hard-copy braille, but braille is an important reading tool
- More books on history, educational rather than entertainment
- Library should be a leader for advocating for braille—braille is a necessity for employment
- Library could do more to help access material through the state—anything a person can get online should be produced by the library.
- She wants braille to survive as a reading medium and as a writing tool
- Better publicity for the braille service, books that would be more appealing to all patrons
- Not really sure. Service is good as is
- Does not really know
- If they use grade 3, might cut down on space
- More electronic braille, more room to grow in digital
- More kids books with raised pictures, descriptions of pictures
- Maybe improvements in finding out what is available
- It will go digital. It would be cool to get Amazon books translated into braille.
- More books available electronically—it would be cheaper and more portable
- More books should be available, especially for deaf readers
- Blind people, she likes the way Bookshare and other sites have braille as an option for all titles
- Thinks it is excellent, sees no [need for] improvement
- Library should move to trusting volunteers to do the initial data entry and then letting the software do its job. Production process should speed up. Bookshare.org and National Braille Press should be our models.
- More braille access, more books
- Lots of changes in how things are done electronically. Does not want to learn new skills. Not a fan of the UEB code changes.
- Not sure. Does acknowledge that braille is important and will never be obsolete.
- Very satisfied
- More electronic braille, which would save space
- Happy with the library and what they are doing.
- More braille books available
- Nothing is wrong with it
- Hard-copy braille is expensive to produce. We need to take advantage of Bookshare, working out deals with publishers for greater speed in getting books
- More emphasis on simple books for older people learning braille
- Braille on all consumer products—braille should be a standard default choice; all TVIs should be required to teach braille; cost of braille reading and writing devices should come down; better braille support from Apple and Microsoft
- She hopes will we produce more hands-on children’s science books, including kids’ cookbooks
- Make braille available faster; worried about the new code, seems to take up more space
- Not sure. Does acknowledge that braille is important and will never be obsolete.
- Faster production thanks to technology, producing more braille on demand, very little hard-copy braille
- Anything to do with health, “some of that crap they’ve got on PBS”
- We are doing a good job, cannot think of any improvements
- Larger variety of books
- Additional Comments from Patrons
- He really does not like the new braille code; taking away contractions away will make books bigger and more costly, and he thinks they should contract braille more and introduce more contractions
- He really liked the Braille Trail in Boring Oregon, where the braille was embossed on stone
- I hope NLS chooses to put resources into a lendable refreshable-braille display
- She raises and shows Nigerian goats, [does not have] as much time as she would like to read braille
- The library is relevant for everyone from a child learning to read braille to a senior citizen who has lost their vision and thinks they will never be able to read again!
- Loves the library and its services!
- Tries to send books back when she can
- Talking to me inspired her to get back on BARD and learn to download braille
- Mr. ________ is very irritated—he says BARD changed some time last November and now he cannot get books to download