Braille Monitor                                                         July 2007

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Take a Closer Look

by Lunzeta Chretien

From the Editor: The following story appeared in the Monroe, Louisiana, News Star on January 21, 2007. Robert Jaquiss is a longtime Federationist and has worked at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at the NFB Jernigan Institute.

When Robert Jaquiss was a little boy, his parents showed him things. He saw historical markers, animals, and houses being built. "When I was a little kid, they'd show me how a house was built," he said. "And I got to see how tools were used. We did that kind of thing. We took trips and looked at all kinds of historical markers. I looked at a dead jack rabbit and porcupine, very carefully."

Even though he couldn't see with his eyes, Jaquiss, who has been blind since he was four months old, used his hands. Other blind children, he said, don't get those opportunities. It is his goal to inform and afford blind children and adults some of the same opportunities he's had. Jaquiss, a West Monroe resident, plans to do this through an organization called View International Foundation.

Jaquiss is the executive director of View—a newly formed nonprofit organization (501C3) with the mission of creating environments in which blind and sighted children and adults can work and learn together. One of the goals of his organization is to make educational material readily available for the blind and provide more hands-on opportunities for them to see the world. "A lot of problems that blind people have is they've never had hands-on experience," he said. "If you're a kid in school reading about sea turtles, great," he said sarcastically. "Your sighted friends see pictures of them. That doesn't work for you, so what you really need is a model of a sea turtle."

With this purpose in mind, Jaquiss organized an eight-day, seven-night cruise for the blind and visually impaired. The cruise ship made stops in Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Costa Maya, and Belize—about eighteen other blind and visually impaired people attended. Cruisers looked at small Mayan ruins, climbed pyramids, visited a sea turtle farm, and got up close and personal with dolphins. "It was an amazing experience," he said of the tour.

Jaquiss, who had gone cruising before, said he thought that this would be a great opportunity for blind people to see. The fifty-three-year-old uses the word "see" to describe something he's felt or touched. Blind people, he said, use the words “look” and “see” the same way sighted people do.

"But of course when we look, we're looking with our hands," he said. "It doesn't make sense for a blind person to say that 'I felt Joe at the store.’ We might say it for a joke, but typically among ourselves."

Another important project Jaquiss is working on through View International is producing tactile graphic books with raised pictures. Jaquiss, who grew up in Oregon but was born in Nebraska, became involved in the book project through his work as a tactile expert for the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore. "Blind people need tactile images for the same reason sighted people need pictures," he said.

In 2002, Jaquiss typeset the Braille for the book Touch the Universe, written by Noreen Grice and sponsored by NASA and the Joseph Henry Press. In 2005 he produced the molds for the book Touch the Sun by using thermoform technology, which was developed in the late '50s and '60s. Jaquiss, who has a thermoform machine in a back room of his home, made 1,377 copies of Touch the Sun, in West Monroe. Some copies have been given away, while 500 were sold on Amazon.com. The books have been shipped all over the world to South Africa, West Africa, and Tibet.

In Touch the Sun the molds for the book were produced using computerized techniques. This technology is important because more information is being presented visually, which causes problems for the blind. "You can't explain with words some information that's presented visually," he said. "Now you have books and a lot of images, and you have to know what the images are to know what's going on in the books."

New technology is helping to explain information visually to members of the blind community. Jaquiss described a rapid prototyping machine that produces plastic models for teaching instruments. For instance, if someone wanted a model of an internal organ, car, or ship, the machine could be used to make the model. "If you're studying Kato Indians in school, the sighted kids have books, but if you have a model you can say this is what an Indian canoe looks like," he said. "If you're a kid studying animals, you can find a stuffed one, but maybe you need a model."

In the future he'd like to purchase a rapid prototyping machine and begin his own tactile lending library. In the next six years Jaquiss hopes to produce a hundred titles, including science, technology, engineering, math, and books on history and art.

"I want to improve the education of blind people," said Jaquiss, who holds a computer science degree and has done postgraduate work. "I have benefited from having an education. We want to facilitate more hands-on opportunities for blind people, kids and adults.”

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