Future Reflections Winter 1993, Vol. 12 No. 1

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VBTI'S STORYBOOK PROJECT
by Mary Ann Damm

From the Editor: Over ten years ago when the Parents of Blind Children Division and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille were discussing the possibility of co-sponsoring a national Braille reading contest, one problem was raised: the lack of reading material for very young blind children. The board debated whether, for this reason, children in kindergarten through second grade should be included in the contest. We finally decided that we had to include them. We knew getting books would be a problem, but perhaps this would help educate parents, teachers, and others about the urgent need for more Braille books for beginning readers. If more people in the right places were made aware of the problem, perhaps we could get more Braille books for youngsters.  Today, thanks to a number of public and private national programs and dozens of state and local efforts, we do have more Braille books for beginning Braille readers than ever before. I believe that our contest has helped make that possible, but the connection is not always direct or easily identified. I was delighted, then, when I came across this article in the Fall, 1992, (volume 28, number 3) NBA Bulletin, a publication of the National Braille Association, Inc. No longer do we need to speculate about the impact the Braille contest has had on the increase of Braille books for children, not in Wisconsin anyway. Here is the article:

     Three factors led to the initiation of The Storybook Project at Volunteer Braillists and Tapists, Inc., (VBTI) Madison, Wisconsin. First, while working as a Braillist in the public schools, I observed the difficulty that the students encountered in getting books while competing in the National Federation of the Blind's (NFB) annual reading contest. Second, Connie Risjord and I attended a meeting at the State's Department of Public Instruction (DPI) where we learned that there were over 200 visually impaired pre-schoolers in Wisconsin. Finally, while at the NBA meetings in Atlanta and Lansing, I attended Susan Christensen's storybook workshops.

     Since VBTI already had a lending library, I went through our files to see what children's books were available. To my surprise, there were over 250 titles. Unfortunately, they seemed to be a secret not only to me, but also to parents and teachers. I updated the list, dividing it into categories of children's fiction, children's non-fiction, and teenager's books. New descriptions were written, and a catalog was compiled. DPI was contacted, and agreed to copy and send the catalog to parents of visually impaired students in Wisconsin.

     I also attended a meeting of the Wisconsin chapter of AER (Association for Eduction and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired) in order to reach the teachers to tell them about our lending library and about our willingness to put their materials into Braille and/or tape. The Wisconsin Council for the Blind, as well as the National Library Service Regional Library in Milwaukee and the state school in Janesville publicized our efforts, as did the local TV stations.

     Our group set a goal of putting 100 new titles into Braille and tape in the first year. Print/Braille and Braille/tape books were to be given priority. I held workshops using Susan's handouts. Many of the Braillists who had "burned out" or found other interests eagerly returned to transcribe the children's books. A monthly Library Hour, when visually impaired children could visit our offices for a morning of reading and games, was suggested and implemented. This became an excellent way to see what the children were reading and what they wanted to read.

     Since its beginning in the fall of 1990, almost 200 books have been added to the library. At Christmas, we offer fifteen to twenty books for sale at minimal cost. And if parents bring in a print book of their own, we will add the Braille labels to the book for only the cost of the labeling material.

     Although initially set up for children who are Braille readers or potential Braille readers, another group that really appreciates the service is blind parents of pre-school children. They want to read to their children as early as sighted parents do.  As one parent wrote: "As a blind parent, I am always on the lookout for read-aloud books...the idea of Braille books to accompany recorded tapes is a terrific idea for beginning Braille readers. Kids who read print have had tapes and books for years." An attorney in New York City wanted One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish done quickly so that she could take it with her when she visited her godson in Alabama. (In fact, we had to send it to Alabama so it would be there when she arrived.)

     These personal contacts have energized our organization. These books are great short-term projects--a welcome respite from longer and heavier assignments. It is gratifying to be able to finish a book in an evening, especially when one knows a child is eagerly awaiting its completion.

     Besides these psychological benefits, there are others. Our recruitment numbers are up dramatically. Twelve students are currently working on their manuscripts, and twenty-one are signed up for the fall class. We have also trained twenty more tapists. We attribute this increase to the fact that we are better known in the community because of the publicity that this project has generated. There are even financial rewards. The local chapter of the Telephone Pioneers has "adopted" us and started by giving us $1,000 to buy print books. They also purchased Hot Dots software to be used with their word processors at work. During their breaks and lunch hours, several volunteers type/transcribe books for older children, ages ten and up. Other groups have donated computers and even a used thermofax machine so that we can make encapsulated paper tactile graphics.

     Certainly the greatest benefit of all is the contact with the children themselves. The Library Hour is very popular. We have made three books of our own with original tactiles done by the children--Christmas trees, creepy critters, and activities for the summer. And, one of our "regulars" won the national NFB reading contest this year.

     I personally hate to tear myself away from the children's books in order to do my Nemeth assignments. Actually, one of these assignments--a kindergarten math workbook--was easier to structure because of my experience with the tactile graphics done for the children's books.

     As you can see, The Storybook Project has been a success for our organization. Thanks, Susan and NBA for your help in getting it off the ground!

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