A Gift is Making It Easier to Produce Braille Instruction Materials

The braille alphabet

The Council was pleased to add braille instruction to our Vision Services menu last year. Like all our vision services, braille instruction at the Council is tailored to the goals of each individual client.

“We see clients who use braille in a variety of ways,” says Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist Rachel Pavone, who teaches braille at the Council.

For example, basic braille literacy can help with daily living, such as reading braille signs on office doors, elevators and restrooms to get around buildings more easily. A more advanced level of braille proficiency enables the user to take notes in class or at meetings, read braille financial documents, or take on entire novels.

Madison resident Gene Miller, 84, is quick to point out that he doesn’t have high proficiency in braille. However, reading braille has served him well over the years, both in his professional life and his personal activities. Blind since age 14, Gene’s first braille instruction came during his teenage years at the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He graduated from Clinton High School a year early and went on to earn his master’s degree in social work at UW-Madison. He worked with children and families in Madison health care settings before joining the State Department of Public Instruction. Gene says braille was particularly useful when working with patients.

“I kept braille notes for each patient on index cards,” Gene says. “On those cards I had name, address, phone number, family information, as well as the patient number for medical information.”

These days, Gene has a different set of braille cards: playing cards. Gene plays cribbage regularly. After he lost sensitivity in his index fingertips due to neuropathy, he contacted Rachel at the Council. Rachel created a set of large-type braille playing cards that Gene could read with his thumb. Gene says they work great and adds with a laugh that his fellow card players who are sighted don’t mind using his “marked cards” one bit.

But the process of creating braille materials, like the playing cards Rachel made for Gene, can sometimes be cumbersome. Fortunately, there are tools to make it more efficient. Computer software now aids the custom creation of braille materials. For example, Rachel’s clients practice using daily worksheets. Thanks to a generous donation from the Madison South Rotary Foundation, the Council is purchasing a second copy of Duxbury Braille Translation Software. Duxbury, used by most braille publishers, will allow Rachel to make worksheets and other materials for her clients much more efficiently.

“With Duxbury, you can type up the text you want in a Word document, and then copy and paste it into the Duxbury software,” Rachel says. “It’ll format it to fit the braille paper you select.” The software can then send information directly to a braille embosser, which uses pins to punch letters and words into paper – analogous to what a conventional printer does with ink.

“I’ll use Duxbury to make the practice sheets so the client can take them home,” Rachel says. Duxbury even allows her to customize the sheets. “Some people like braille spaced out and some like it closer together. Duxbury allows you to do that.”

The Council is grateful to Madison South Rotary for empowering us to serve our clients better. If you’re interested in enrolling in a braille class, call us at 608-255-1166 or use the Vision Services Request form on our website.

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