Braille Monitor                                                   May 2010

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Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library

Drawing & the Blind: Pictures to Touch by John M. Kennedy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993.

by Ed Morman

In this woodcut two blind students of the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, the Parisian school with which Louis Braille was associated, are depicted operating a printing press. Printing was one of the professions blind people in France were often trained in during the early nineteenth century.From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman's description of a recent acquisition:

Our last featured book was the biography of a blind person who distinguished himself as a musician. This month we take a look at something more problematic for blind people regardless of their talents: the visual arts and information presented in visual form.

John M. Kennedy is an emeritus professor at the University of Toronto specializing in the psychology of perception. From the time he was a graduate student in the 1960s, he has been intrigued by the universal human ability to represent what we perceive in the world around us. Improved techniques for tactile drawing allowed Kennedy to investigate the commonalities and differences in the way blind and sighted people represent, on a two-dimensional surface, the three-dimensional world in which we all live.

In this book Kennedy wastes no time in summarizing his most significant finding. The third paragraph of the preface tells us: “Raised drawings by blind people sketching pictures for the first time are much like drawings by sighted people who are also novices at drawing. And blind people can often identify a raised picture without any instruction in how to do so.”

Central to Kennedy’s argument is that spatial perception is not limited to vision and the blind can both understand perspective and represent aspects of it in their drawings. Kennedy understands that representations in any medium or format are distinct from the object or scene they are intended to represent. He has found that drawings by the blind often deliberately incorporate incorrect features in order to represent properties that cannot be shown in a picture. For Kennedy this is an extension of the metaphorical quality of any representation.

Although this book is almost twenty years old, its findings and point of view remain fresh. Drawing & the Blind will continue for some time to provide intellectual nourishment and inspiration for those interested in accessible graphs and pictures.

This book is available from RFB&D in audio MP3 and audio DAISY formats and from Bookshare in electronic Braille and DAISY versions. Professor Kennedy’s Website <http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~kennedy/> provides links to several of his other works and to the Websites of two blind visual artists.

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