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Friday, December 12, 2008

How to find or become a Braille Transcriber

Computers equipped with speech synthesizers and screen enlargement features have given people who are blind and visually impaired access to vast libraries of printed materials that might otherwise be inaccessible. Yet many people either don't have access to these technologies or else prefer the act of reading with paper in hand. And as vast as the World Wide Web is, there remains a mountain of printed materials--such as textbooks, brochures, sheet music, government documents, records and manuals--that have yet to cross the digital divide.

It's the job of braille transcribers to make these materials available to people who are braille readers.

A braille transcriber turns print, sound, computer file and other materials into braille. The transcriber does this using a slate and stylus or a mechanical device called a braillewriter (such as the Perkins Brailler). Some transcribers use software programs (such as Duxbury, MegaDots and ED-IT PC) to translate printed and electronic materials into media that can be printed using a braille embosser. The advantage of using a software program is that the braillist can save his or her work as a data file from which multiple-embossings can be made.

Braille transcribers work in a variety of environments. They may work as independent contractors, for a school system, non-profit associations and organizations and for government agencies. Many braillists choose to work as volunteers, transcribing materials for friends, community groups or family members.

Anyone with the desire and inclination can become a braille transcriber. According to the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), an association that advocates for braille standardization, some 23,000 braillists have chosen to become "certified" transcribers. This means that they have submitted work for review and received accredition from the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a department of the Library of Congress (LOC).

Having certification means that the braillist will provide transcription that meets LOC standards for formatting and adheres to the rules for the use of braille letters, contractions and other braille signs. The NLS offers certification in three distinct areas: Literary Braille, Mathematics Braille, and Music Braille. Each course is composed of at least sixteen lessons and a final exam. It's a graduated system: the student must pass and receive certification in the previous area before applying for certification in the next.

The Braille Development Section of the NLS administers the braille transcriber certification courses through a network of volunteer groups across the United States, and via correspondence courses for people who live in rural areas, have difficulty travelling or prefer this method of study.

Braille Proofreaders

Another role in the process of transcribing printed materials to braille is held by the braille proofreader. Proofreaders carefully compare the braille manuscript against the original printed material, checking for accuracy, adherence to pre-established format conventions, and errors. They note any irregularities, and report these to the transcriber so that he or she can make the necessary changes. The proofreader's job is an important one: he or she is "last line of defense" before the braille manuscript is made available to the public.

The NLS also offers certification programs for proofreaders. The NLS Literary Braille Proofreading course is a five-lesson program that provides instruction in the techniques and rules needed to proofread literary braille transcriptions. The NLS Mathematics Braille Proofreading program is a 16-lesson course focusing on the unique signs, rules and concepts used in Mathematics braille transcriptions. A person interested in becoming a certified proofreader must meet NLS eligibility requirements. For more information about these requirements, visit the NLS web site (see contact information below).

Resources for Additional Information

Want to learn more about finding or becoming a braille transcriber? Start with the following resources. They have been organized into categories: Courses and Certification Resources, Professional Organizations, and Sources for Finding a Braille Transcriber.

Courses and Certification Resources

  • Braille Development Section, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

    The Braille Development Section of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped offers programs leading to certification in braille transcribing and proofreading. They offer the programs through a network of volunteer agencies and groups across the country, and by correspondence courses for individuals in remote areas or who have need for this service. The program for Braille Transcribers includes courses in Literary braille, Mathematics Braille, Music Braille. Courses in Literary and Mathematics Braille are offered for proofreaders.

    There are prerequisite requirements for all courses. And because these courses are designed to prepare students for the "Certificate of Braille Competency", people who are interested in learning braille reading and writing strictly for personal use are encouraged to contact their state's rehabilitation agency.

    Contact Info:
    Braille Development Section
    National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
    The Library of Congress
    Address: 1291 Taylor Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20542
    Phone: (202) 707-5100
    Email: braille@loc.gov
    Web: National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped: http://lcweb.loc.gov/nls/bds.html

  • Braille Through Remote Learning (BRL):

    BRL offers three online, self-paced instructional programs for people interested in learning braille and braille transcription. The courses are: Introduction to Braille, Braille Transcribers (which emphasizes brailling of textbooks), and Specialized Codes. As of April 2000, the BRL courses are being offered free of charge pending additional funding. However, the courses are unsupported: there are no instructors to grade or assess students' work. To register, complete the online form provided at the BRL website.

    Contact Info:
    Braille Through Remote Learning
    Email: gotwals@shodor.org
    Web: Braille Through Remote Learning: http://www.brl.org

  • Hadley School for the Blind:

    The Hadley School offers more than 90 distance education courses free of charge to eligible students. The Hadley catalog of courses includes a lengthy list of braille courses, from introductory reading and writing to more advanced courses in musical notation and Mathematic codes.

    Course materials are sent on cassette tape to students via mail. According to the school, the courses are meant to give students a solid foundation for reading and writing braille. Those students who are interested in becoming professional or certified transcribers are then encouraged to take the NLS transcribers course. For eligibility requirements, visit the Hadley website or use the following contact information:

    Contact Info:
    The Hadley School for the Blind
    Address: 700 Elm Street, Winnetka, IL 60093-0299
    Phone: 1-800-323-4238
    Fax: 847-446-0855
    Email: info@hadley.edu
    Web: Hadley School for the Blind: http://www.hadley.edu/
Professional Organizations

These professional organizations provide career and guidance services for certified and volunteer braillists.
  • The National Braille Association has a twofold mission: to provide continuing education to people who prepare braille, and to make braille materials available to persons who are visually impaired.

    The NBA offers braille transcription services: it finds qualified volunteer braillists to fill requests for textbooks and other technical materials. These transcriptions are kept in the NBA's Braille Book Bank and Braille Technical Tables Bank for use by other transcribers and braille readers. The NBA holds regional and national training meetings to help transcribers develop and improve their skills.

    Contact Info:
    National Braille Association
    Address: 3 Townline Circle, Rochester, NY 14623-2513
    Phone: 716-427-8260
    Fax: 716-427-0263
    Email: nbaoffice@nationalbraille.org
    Web: National Braille Association: http://www.nationalbraille.org/index.htm

  • Braille Authority of North America (BANA)

    The Braille Authority of North America promotes the standardization of braille, its use, teaching and production. It publishes rules, interprets and renders opinions pertaining to braille in all existing and future codes. The board of directors of the BANA includes representatives from various organizations that serve people who are blind and visually impaired, such as the American Council of the Blind, the American Federation of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and APH.

    Contact Info:
    Braille Authority of North America
    Contact: Eileen Curran
    National Braille Press
    Address: 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115
    Phone: 888-965-8965, ext. 17
    Fax: 617-437-0456
    Email: ecurran@abp.org
    Web: Braille Authority of North America: http://www.brailleauthority.org/
Sources for Finding a Braille Transcriber

  • American Printing House for the Blind

    APH manages two online databases that can be consulted to find individuals and groups who transcribe materials into braille.

    • Accessible Media Producers Database (AMP)

      The AMP database includes the names, locations, and qualifications of producers of accessible materials for visually impaired and blind individuals.

      Contact Info:
      Accessible Media Producers Database (AMP)
      American Printing House for the Blind
      Address: 1839 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206
      Phone: 502-895-2405
      Fax: 502-899-2274
      Email: resource@aph.org
      Web: Accessible Media Producers Database: http://www.aph.org/ampdb.htm

    • Louis Database of Accessible Materials

      A List of Contributing Agencies to The Louis Database of Accessible Materials, many of which produce materials in braille, can be accessed via the APH web site.

      Contact Info:
      Louis Database of Accessible Materials
      American Printing House for the Blind
      Address: 1839 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206
      Phone: 502-895-2405
      Fax: 502-899-2274
      Email: resource@aph.org
      Web: Louis Database: http://louis.aph.org

  • Accessible Textbook Initiative and Collaboration Project (ATIC)

    The goal of ATIC is to provide accessible textbooks in braille and other media to students who are visually impaired in as efficient manner as possible.

    Contact Info:
    Accessible Textbook Initiative and Collaboration Project (ATIC)
    American Printing House for the Blind
    Address: 1839 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206
    Phone: 502-895-2405
    Fax: 502-899-2274
    Email: atic@aph.org
    Web: ATIC: http://www.aph.org/atic/index.html

  • Volunteers Who Produce Books

  • Braille-Trans

    Braille-Trans is a listserv for people interested in discussing issues relating to braille transcription. For more info, visit the group's web site at Braille-Trans: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/braille-trans or join the group today by sending an email to braille-trans-subscribe@yahoogroups.com .


American Foundation for the Blind and Verizon Communications' Braille Textbook Transcriber Program

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Verizon Communications are partners to develop and promote the careers of Braille Textbook Transcribers, and improve literacy for America's blind and low-vision schoolchildren.

The $200,000 grant from Verizon Reads assists AFB in the continued development and launch of the online community college-level courses designed to train transcribers to produce textbooks and instructional materials in braille. AFB is working on this effort in collaboration with Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, Texas, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and 35 of the leading national organizations and associations in education, literacy and service to the blind and visually impaired U.S. population. Northwest Vista College is the first campus in the nation to offer its students the opportunity to achieve the credentials and certification for this career. The classes will be available by the end of 2006.

It is estimated that the U.S. needs 380 full-time transcribers now, will need 735 additional transcribers in five years, and 1,020 additional transcribers in 10 years. Because of this national shortage, blind and visually impaired schoolchildren go weeks and sometimes months, without textbooks that their sighted peers have for their core and elective classes.

Since 2002, AFB's partnership with Verizon has propelled the lack of timely and appropriate textbooks and instructional materials for schoolchildren with vision loss into the forefront of education and policy discussion. Current transcribers are dedicated but unpaid volunteers who cannot meet the current demand for brailled textbooks and learning materials. This national effort has forced policymakers to look at what access truly means for students with visual impairments.

Verizon, through its national literacy program Verizon Reads, works with literacy organizations to create programs that promote the need for a more literate America, with a cadre of noted celebrities serving pro-bono as Literacy Champions for these programs. Erik Weihenmayer has served as pro-bono spokesperson for the past three years, and will continue to promote the new career of Braille Textbook Transcriber, and improving literacy for blind schoolchildren across America.

Verizon Reads is a national campaign to increase community awareness and to generate additional funding and support of literacy programs for adults, children and families. In 2004, Verizon Reads awarded 900 grants totaling more than $18 million to such programs as Reach Out and Read, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and LULAC National Education Service Centers. In addition, through a company incentive program, Verizon Volunteers, employees are encouraged to volunteer for literacy efforts in their communities.

For more information on this career opportunity contact:

Dawson duncan, Dallas
Anna Marie Johnson Teague, 214-520-7550
amteague@dawsonduncan.com

or

American Foundation for the Blind
Carrie Fernandez, 212-502-7674
cfernandez@afb.net

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