Volume 8, Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2006




The purpose of Wisconsin Braille Inc. is to advance communication and coordinate the efforts of all persons concerned with the availability, quality, and distribution of brailled materials in the state of Wisconsin thereby encouraging braille literacy.


Bad Braille — better than nothing?

Wisconsin Braille Teacher Survey Results

By Dawn E. Soto


"Bad braille is better than no braille at all." It's an adage sometimes heard in connection with the education of visually impaired children. But is it true? Perhaps not. Imagine yourself sitting in a classroom with a four page rough draft of a worksheet written in longhand while all the other students have the same material clearly printed on one page that has colorful boxes of information located around the edges of the page and headings clearly outlining the material. When the teacher refers to the "blue box" or "the next-to-the-last paragraph," the readers of the printed page quickly follow along. In the meantime, you, with the longhand draft, are searching, turning pages this way and that, unable to keep up with the classroom conversation. Perhaps you would have gotten more out of the conversation if you had just listened rather than scrambling through pages trying to see what the others were talking about. Of course, when test time came, having had no printed study materials, you might not be nearly so well prepared as the others.


My name is Dawn E. Soto, Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVI). I serve CESA 7 and Calumet and Manitowoc Counties, and I know that this is a dilemma similar to that faced by teachers and braille-reading students all over the state. Is computer translated braille, produced without the input of a person knowledgeable in braille, sufficient for a blind student in competition with sighted students? Or, might it be, because such material without editing is like the longhand draft mentioned above, worse than having no braille at all?

In a perfect world, every school with a braille-reading student would employ a certified braille transcriber to prepare the needed daily work. Why, when you have computer translation programs, you might wonder, is it so important to have a "certified" transcriber? Can't the teacher do it, or train an aide? Teachers are taught braille, but with emphasis on reading, not writing or producing. And, even if they had the training, heavy case loads make it impossible for most teachers to produce daily braille. Transcribers who have studied the transcription course and passed the Library of Congress—National Library Service (NLS) certification examination are specially trained to work with the complex instructional materials, visual diagrams, and tables that characterize modern textbooks. If the teacher or teaching aide lacks the braille competency to do this, the student must puzzle it out alone, while falling behind the sighted members of the class.


I am fortunate to have a certified braille transcriber producing the daily braille for my brilliant 6th grade braille student. [See following story.] I believe wholeheartedly that his academic success is due to having a certified transcriber providing well-prepared desk top copies of braille materials at the same time his sighted peers are "seeing" printed information throughout the school day.


Concerned about the quality and quantity of braille in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin State Superintendent's Council on Blindness asked me, a member of the council, to do a survey among teachers of the blind and visually impaired to determine who is producing classroom materials in braille. A total of 27 teachers responded to the survey, having in their care 68 visually impaired children. Some of the results of the survey are given below, and they speak for themselves. Visually handicapped children are currently not being given the help they need for academic achievement and success in life. If you would like to learn more about the survey results contact me at sotod@chilton.k12.wi.us.



total teachers participating: 27


1.     Number of braille students:

·  Pre-braille:  12

·  Braille:  56

2.     Who produces the daily braille?

·  TVI (Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired):  21

·  NLS (National Library Service – Library of Congress)

Certified Braille Transcriber:  4

·  TVI who is NLS certified:  3

·  Aide (working on NLS certification):  1

·  Aide (with instruction from Hadley):  1

·  Aide (with instruction from the TVI):  4

·  Aide (no Braille instruction):  2

3. Conclusion:

Of the 36 individuals reported to be creating the daily braille for the identified braille students from this survey, 29 of them are not NLS certified braille transcribers.


    This means that 80.5% of the daily braille prepared for Wisconsin’s braille students (identified in this braille survey) is not prepared by a certified braille transcriber.


                                           (continued on next page)

The survey also included an opportunity for teachers to add comments. One teacher wrote:  


Text Box: "I think that if we are really going to look at the quality of braille materials for blind students, then we need to be looking at the braille books our students are reading. I go through page by page everyday comparing the braille to the print because there are so many errors (i.e., math problems brailled wrong or omitted, text left out, pages out of order, upside down, missing). I could go on for days. I think professionals would be really shocked if they compared the braille to print more often and saw the errors. I have had math books where 9 was brailled for 5 almost once in every lesson. Imagine the grade the student would get if this was not caught."




What "good" braille means to me — and

why I think it is important to have a Braille Transcriber


by Benny Nolan,

6th grade student at Chilton Middle School


          I think it is important to have a Braille Transcriber because then you can have what you need in braille. Without braille, your peers could get ahead of you in school. You might also have trouble understanding some things.

          My Braille Transcriber has helped me a lot. I haven't fallen behind from my peers, and I get good grades. If I didn't have a Braille Transcriber, I might not be excelling in school at all.

          My Braille Transcriber brailles tests, homework, and other things for me. Without a Braille Transcriber, I would have to listen to all of my tests and homework, or have somebody read it to me. That makes it a lot harder to understand, and the person might have trouble describing things to you which makes doing your tests and homework even harder. For example, in math class we have been doing a lot of line graphs and bar graphs. Without a Braille Transcriber, I wouldn't have the freedom of feeling the graph to see how it looks. If a person were to describe it to me, it would be a lot harder to understand. Also, if you have it in braille, it takes a lot less time. If I had to describe all of the graphs and what all of the things in my homework looked like, it would take a very, very long time. Also, if the visually impaired person didn't have a Braille Transcriber, they might feel discouraged to do their homework and tests. They might feel like they aren't smart because their peers are getting ahead of them.

          Now, if the visually impaired person had a Braille Transcriber, they would have the freedom of being just like everyone else. For example, the visually impaired person would already have their tests and homework with them, and they could understand better what the teacher is trying to teach. Doing your homework and tests would also be less time consuming and, if you get a bad grade and feel discouraged, the Braille Transcriber might motivate you to try again and again. Also, the visually impaired person's peers would have a very, very low chance to get ahead of him or her because they would already have what they needed in braille, and they would have the freedoms that everyone else had.

          That is why I think it is important to have a Braille Transcriber. 


Book Review


Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius

By C. Michael Mellor. (Boston: National Braille Press Inc., 2006). Pp. 144.


          C. Michael Mellor is to be congratulated for a sprightly written and interesting biography of Louis Braille. Among the many strengths of this book Mellor places braille in the context of the time. He shows how the idea of educating blind individuals originated in the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment, with its assumption of the perfectibility of man. In addition to giving us a brief overview of French history in the early 19th century, the book is also beautifully illustrated, often with prints of the activities of blind people taken from 19th century French magazines.


          Louis Braille was born in 1809, the same year of birth as two other giants of the nineteenth century, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. His birthplace was the village of Coupvray, 25 miles east of Paris. His father was a harness-maker, fashioning sturdy ones for draft horses in the fields and highly decorated straps for the slender ponies that pulled carriages. At the age of three Louis was sitting beside his father at his workbench, imitating his father's movements. The youngster accidentally poked himself in the eye with a sharp tool. Although sightless, the eye was not surgically removed, and shortly thereafter, the other eye became inflamed. By the time he was five years old Louis Braille was completely blind.

          Realizing that their son was uncommonly bright and inquisitive, Simon-Rene and Monique Braille asked their parish priest to tutor him in the rudiments of arithmetic, literature, and, of course, Christian beliefs. After a year of private tutoring the priest persuaded the village schoolteacher to let the seven-year-old blind child into his classroom. So impressed was the teacher with Louis' intelligence that after two years he persuaded a local aristocrat to finance the lad's further education at the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris. Founded in 1786, this school was the oldest and most respected institution for the blind in Europe, indeed in the world.

          Valentin Haüy, founder of the school, had devised a way of teaching blind students to read by touching raised letters of the alphabet with their fingers. After experimenting with wooden letters, Haüy invented a reverse printing press that, instead of engraving, raised the letters on a piece of paper. By the time Louis Braille entered the school in 1819, it had a library of more than 2,000 volumes of embossed books. In addition to academic classes and manual workshops (weaving and sewing were common occupations for the blind), the school offered instruction in music. Finding that blind students often had finely tuned ears, professional musicians from around Paris provided voluntary instruction on a variety of instruments. Louis Braille was an apt student of the organ, and in later years supplemented his income as a schoolteacher by playing at Sunday services in some of the city's most prestigious churches.

          The problems with the Haüy system of reading were that the embossed books were unwieldy (about nine pounds per volume) and few pupils could master the art of reading embossed letters by touch. Students who could neither follow lines nor see the edge of the paper found writing next to impossible, although Louis Braille did manage to write legibly by stretching a thin wire across the paper to guide his hand.

          The idea of writing by using an embossed dot code, instead of letters of the alphabet, was not originally Louis Braille's. It was conceived instead by a French army officer, Captain Charles Barbier, who wanted to find a way to transmit orders without sound during night maneuvers. When French military authorities showed no interest in his system, he realized that it might benefit the blind, and in 1820 he became an instructor at the Institution des Jeunes Aveugles.  )

          By the time he arrived at the school Barbier had devised a rudimentary slate and stylus for raising dots on a piece of paper by punching from below. Barbier's code was based on a twelve-dot cell--two vertical columns of six dots each. Unfortunately his dot combinations formed sounds of the French language, rather than individual letters, which made it difficult to master. Students at the Institution were nevertheless initially delighted with the new system, for it enabled them to put their own thoughts on paper and communicate secretly with one another. For educational purposes, however, Barbier's system had serious drawbacks: it had no spelling, no grammar, and no way to represent numbers or musical notes. Frustrated by Barbier's ponderous system, Louis Braille at age 15 set out to refine it, and in doing so revolutionized reading and writing for the blind.

          Braille cut Barbier's cell in half, to six dots--two across and three down--which neatly fit a reader's fingertip. With six dots, sixty-three patterns are mathematically possible, sufficient to represent the letters of the alphabet, numbers, and reading signs such as accents and punctuation. The top left-hand dot (dot one) was the letter a; dots one and two (proceeding downward on the left side) composed the letter b; dots one and four the letter c, and so forth. Dots three, four, five, and six constituted a number sign, which converted a in the next cell to the number one, b to a two, etc.

          Braille, now 16 years old, taught his system to his fellow students, and they quickly grasped its advantages for both reading and writing. In 1829 the school published a manual for studying Braille's code with embossed print and brailled examples. By then Louis Braille, recognizing the earnings value of blind musicians, had devised a six-dot music code. Realizing that it would be confusing to the student if the musical note C were the same dot configuration as the letter c, Braille used the seven alphabet letters beginning with d (dots one, four, five) to form the musical scale CDEFGAB (do, re, mi . . . on the vocal scale). Since all of these letters were formed out of the top two rows of the six-dot cell, he could use the bottom row (dots three and six) to designate time: eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes.

          Louis Braille was employed as a teacher at the Institute in 1828. He remained in that position the rest of his life, dying of tuberculosis in 1852. Although his code system had been adopted outside France (Belgium, Switzerland) by the time of his death, it was slow to be accepted in Britain and the United States. Opposition to it in the U.S. was led by Samuel Gridley Howe, influential president of a school for the blind in Boston (now known as the Perkins School for the Blind), who preferred the old embossed-letter system. American schools began using the braille code toward the end of the 19th century, but a uniform braille code was not accepted by the English-speaking world until 1932.        



Meet Karen Majkrzak  (may-zak)

          Executive Director

          Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired


          Thank you for the opportunity to share some information about myself as the new Executive Director of the Council. As the mother of a visually impaired son who now teaches music at Saint Herman Seminary in Alaska, I have a long acquaintance with the Council and its services.

          Personally, I've worked on community programs and services for low-income, homebound elders in Connecticut and Illinois, and in non-profit organizations, including Cardinal Hill Hospital in Lexington, KY, run by the Easter Seal Society. 

          The Council has a long history of advocating for laws that affect the lives of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Our Braille Committee is in place to appear at public hearings and to work toward passage of Assembly Bill 1142 that relates to accessible instructional materials for students with disabilities.

          I invite you to contact me at karen@wcblind.org with your questions, comments, ideas, or concerns!




The Braille Corner


Dear Readers,

In the previous two issues, Ms. Perkins has been discussing the differences between EBAE and FORMATS, and we continue in this issue with more differences.

* * * * *

Ordinal numbers






·                    EBAE: Ap.A.8.a(1),(2)  Italics should be omitted for all stage directions, settings, etc., and the braille parentheses should be substituted for all brackets found in the print copy. Ap.A.8.b(3)  The name of each character should be followed by a period, and the dialogue should begin on the same line.






Preliminary Pages






NOTE: Because of space limitations, I have quoted only parts of each rule in EBAE and FORMATS. Please read the entire rule in order to understand fully the differences that exist between the two formats.



              Ms. Perkins



Ask Mr. #s


Dear Mr. #s,

I notice that often in mathematics texts, a good bit of blank space has been left at the end of a line when it appears to me that material on the next line could have been brailled there. In literary braille, we were told to use as much of the line as possible. What is the reason for this difference in Nemeth Code transcriptions?



Dear Wondering,

An important rule of the Nemeth Code is placed at the end of the Code book, and sometimes gets overlooked. It is §185, Runovers. The first portion of this rule states: "As much of a braille line must be left blank as necessary in order to keep all of a mathematical expression on a single braille line." What you have noticed could well be lengthy equations which should not be divided. They are considered to be

"mathematical expressions." An example could be this equation: 2 + 4 + 6+ ... +2n = n(n+1) + (n‑1) This equation will fit on one braille line, even though it is divided between print lines.

The rule goes on to give examples of other things that should be kept together. "Enclosed lists" ‑‑ such as (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) ‑‑ must not be divided between lines if they will fit on a single line. Abbreviations ‑‑ such as 3 P.M. or Fig. 6.10 or x ft ‑‑ should not be divided from their preceding or following numbers or letters. And hyphenated expressions of which one part is mathematical — for instance 6-inch ruler ‑‑ must not be divided between lines.

The rule goes on to give a priority list of places to divide expressions when they are too long to be kept on one braille line.


                Mr. #s


[Address your questions to Ms. Perkins or Mr. #s

c/o Wisconsin Braille Inc., P.O. Box 45076, Madison, WI 53744-5076]






By Pat Foltz


Have you been ordering braille books from the Special Book Project?  If your students are no longer reading them, they have progressed beyond either the content or the age level and you no longer have younger students “coming up,” storage space may become a problem.


In the event that you no longer need or want to keep the earlier copies of books received from this project, WisBrl is interested in, and willing to begin a book exchange.  Rather than shed them, only to have them reproduced for someone else at a future time, why not save the paper and store them for a while?


If you are interested in participating in a book exchange, pack the books in a “Free Matter” box and send them to me.  I will store them, catalog them and send them out to those who will want them in the future.  I prefer to use the black “Free Matter” boxes, as they are easier to ship from this end, but books can also be passed on to me via TVIs or O&M Instructors at conferences, etc. 


If you would like to send books to me, please email me first, so that I know they are coming.  I would not want them sitting on my door step while I was on vacation.  Please contact me at: 


Pat Foltz      

4005 Old Stone Rd.       

Oregon, WI 53575       

(608) 455-1522      


Happy Recycling!!


The Wisconsin Braille newsletter is published three times a year. Deadlines are: Spring/Summer – May 1, Fall – September 1, Winter – December 15



The purpose of this newsletter is to disperse information. Wisconsin Braille Inc. does not endorse or vouch for the reliability of any of the persons, organizations, or products appearing in this publication.



Wisconsin Braille Inc. welcomes letters from readers on all subjects concerning braille and blindness. Publication of letters will be at the editor’s discretion. Letters must be signed, but names will be withheld upon request.




            Use the following form to join or renew your membership to Wisconsin Braille Inc. Please make checks and money orders payable to: WISCONSIN BRAILLE INC.


Regular membership, annual dues: $10

Sustaining membership, annual dues: $30

Lifetime membership: $200


Please include: your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. Also advise if you wish printed material to be sent to you in regular type, e-mail or braille.


Please answer the following: What is your affiliation with the braille-reading community? (List all that apply.) Teacher, educational assistant, transcriber, proofreader, administrator, producer, parent, user, other (specify).


Return application and payment to: Wisconsin Braille Inc., P.O. Box 45076, Madison, WI 53744-5076.



This version of the Wisconsin Braille newsletter was prepared by the members of the OSCI Braille Program. It has not been proofread. Readers are encouraged to report noted errors to: Wisconsin Braille Newsletter, Editor,  P.O. Box 45076, Madison, WI 53744-5076.


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