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Joe Hodgson posing with a Braille Writer

How old is this Braille Writer?  Does it need new springs, keys or parts? Has it been used much, or has it been in storage somewhere like an attic?

These are some of the questions Joe Hodgson asks each time a Braille Writer is entrusted to his care for repair.  Joe has been servicing Braille Writers in his home workshop as a Council volunteer since 1990.  People bring their machines to us.  Joe returns them, whenever possible, in tip-top condition, and he personally mails them back to their owners, to save the Council this step.  “I don’t dismantle the machines,” he commented, “but I do first echelon maintenance on them.”  That includes cleaning them, replacing parts and testing them out.  All of this is done at no charge to the machine owner. 

Joe is a member of the Telephone Pioneers, a group of individuals who used to work for AT&T and who now repair Braille Writers.  He is the only “pioneer” who repairs braillers in Wisconsin.

Joe is also the regional repair coordinator for the Talking Books program sponsored by National Library Service (NLS).  His area includes Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.  In Wisconsin, there are three shops (including Joe’s home shop in Barneveld) that repair cassette and new digital machines for NLS. “Every cassette machine that comes to the Telephone Pioneers is repaired and reconditioned before it is given to someone else,” Joe remarked of the process.

Typically, Joe spends about an hour on each Braille Writer. He maintains a card file on every Braille Writer on which he has worked, so he has a history of the machines.  He noted, “So far, I have 322 cards since I first started doing this.”

Reflecting on why he volunteers his time and talent, Joe said, “It feels good to work with my hands, and it’s an ideal job for ex-telephone people.  I derive a lot of pleasure doing this.  I just close my eyes and imagine how I’m helping someone.” 

Joe is a member of the 12-member National Audio Equipment Advisory Committee that meets in Washington, DC, every two years.  The group is composed of four Telephone Pioneers, four librarians from NLS regions, and four blind users.  Together, they suggest ways for the NLS to update or use their machines better.

In addition to servicing Braille writers, cassette players and the new digital machines, Joe is the American Legion’s Third District Veterans Affairs and Rehab Chairman and Chaplain.  He is also the Legion Representative at the VA Hospital in Madison.

Brent Perzentka, Sharper Vision Store Manager at the Council, can’t say enough good things about Joe.  “Without Joe’s services, people would have to send their Braille writers to a company on the east coast for a minimum of $50, just to have them looked at.  I keep dreading the day Joe retires from fixing them!”

Thank you, Joe, for the difference you are making in the lives of people who live with vision loss!