Blind World Magazine

Braille transcribers in touch with those who need to read.

January 29, 2006.
Contra Costa Times - CA,USA.

Jan Knowles dreams of completing the book she's writing on HIV prevention and wants to reach as many people as possible in French-speaking African countries.

To do that, she needed a good English-French dictionary, but a simple bilingual dictionary wouldn't do. The dictionary had to have an HIV-related vocabulary, and it had to be in Braille.

And when Knowles, a blind French teacher, wants literary works transcribed for her, she knows exactly who to call -- the Contra Costa Braille Transcribers.

For years, the Walnut Creek resident has relied on the skills of this group, which has transcribed everything from French grammar textbooks and popular novels to instructions for the George Foreman grill.

Sure enough, the transcribers came through to produce approximately 1,000 pages of an English-French dictionary, complete with up-to-date HIV terms in French.

Braille transcribers fill a critical need: They give the blind the opportunity to be able to read literature themselves, enabling them to take a more active, rather than a passive, approach to reading. "People can just walk into a bookstore, get a book and start reading it right away," Knowles said. "I can't do that. A small percentage of books are on tape, but an even tinier percentage is in Braille." In fact, there is a continual shortage of Braille transcribers, said Ann Kelt, a transcriber for nearly 40 years. "Not having enough to read in Braille limits what a blind person can do," she said. Transcribers must complete a comprehensive training course to be certified, and the group offers such a course. Having more transcribers means more reading material for the blind -- and not just books

There are often requests for transcribing items such as recipes, knitting instructions and bus schedules.

The work of the group of transcribers benefits students even beyond Contra Costa County.

"A majority of our work has been transcribing books for the state, such as kindergarten to eighth-grade health textbooks," Kelt said.

Though learning how to transcribe Braille isn't difficult, it is time consuming, Kelt said. Volunteers need to memorize the Braille alphabet and learn the different configurations of dots that represent letters, words and punctuation marks.

"It's like learning a foreign language in shorthand," said Adrienne Giles, chairwoman of the group.

Janice De Jesus can be reached at 925-682-6440, Ext. 14, or


WHO: Contra Costa Braille Transcribers

WHAT: Seven-month course to prepare for certification by the Library of Congress

WHEN: Begins Tuesday

WHERE: Clubhouse at Brookview Park, 1201 Monument Blvd., Concord

COST: Free

INFORMATION: 925-682-4734.

End of article.

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