Future Reflections Fall 1992, Vol. 11 No. 4
BRAILLE TEAM NEARS DIPLOMA
From the Editor: Although we tend (with good cause) to focus on the importance of skilled Braille teachers, there is another professional—the Braille transcriber—who is vital to the academic success of the Braille reading student. Although the Braille teacher often doubles up in the capacity of teacher and Braillist, this is not an ideal arrangement unless the teacher has an unusually low caseload and is also a certified Braille transcriptionist. The following article by Cindy Carson, reprinted from the Muncie Indiana Star, February 20, 1989, demonstrates how this professional contributes to the educational success of blind youth. (The reader should note, however, that the kind of close, personal relationship described in this article is by no means necessary for a successful Braille transcription service. It does highlight, however, the kind of commitment many transcribers have toward Braille and the people they serve.)
Christine Foy and Ann Oliver have proven that a good team can accomplish almost anything. For 10 years, Foy has been instrumental in helping Ann demonstrate that a blind student can be a top student in the Muncie school system. Foy, 46, is a Braille transcriber.
She and her husband, Douglas, and children, Brent and Amy, came to Muncie from Michigan about 16 years ago. Foy's work as a transcriber began almost 20 years ago when members of a women's group at her church in Michigan were asked to help blind students in the local school system. Foy signed up to take a class in Braille taught by a certified teacher. To pass the year-long course and become a certified transcriber, Foy had to transcribe a manuscript into Braille without error. The manuscript was registered with the Library of Congress.
"When we moved to Muncie," Foy said, "I called Ball State and Muncie schools and asked if there was anything I could help them with. They really did not know what I was talking about." So Foy packed away her materials and her Braille machine.
Meanwhile, Ann and her parents, Gay and Julie, were set on a course that would bring Foy into their lives. When Ann was 2 years old, she was found to have a rare malignant cancer of the eyes. Treatment put the disease in remission but left the girl blind.
"My parents went through a lot," Ann said. "At first they were told, 'No problem. Send her down to the blind school.'"
Although that was not necessarily a bad suggestion, Ann said, her parents decided to fight for a place for their only child in the Muncie school system.
"They started to work when I was 3 to make sure there was a program here for me when I was ready for kindergarten," she said. "I certainly think a lot of people have benefited because they were willing to stand up."
When Ann started school, there was a teacher at West View Elementary trained to work with the visually impaired. But the teacher left the school system as Ann was entering the third grade. It was then that Foy heard about a newspaper article concerning Ann's need for a transcriber.
"It's kind of funny. When this all first started, I was kind of floundering, looking for something. And when it was there....well, I knew I was supposed to do this. It was kind of like a brass ring. You'd better grab it right now because if you don't, you're going to miss something really important.
Muncie Community Schools hired Foy, and together she and Ann moved from West View Elementary to Storer Middle School to Northside High School to Central. Although Foy worked with another blind student for 2 or 3 years, it was her relationship with the Olivers that became increasingly important. Foy's job was to transcribe from English to Braille all classroom assignments, parts of textbooks not available in Braille, and tests for Ann to take with other students. She and Ann's teachers developed a system: Ann learned to print the letters A, B, C, and D so that she could take multiple choice tests.
For the Olivers, an education for their daughter did not end at the schoolhouse door. Music lessons and horseback riding lessons were part of her curriculum. During one summer, Foy transcribed musical notes to Braille.
In the seventh grade, the cancer reappeared, and Ann again fought and beat the disease. During the long months that she was hospitalized for treatment, Foy carried her classroom assignments to the hospital in Indianapolis. But Foy is reluctant to take credit for any part of Ann's success. Foy said Ann received a lot of help from teachers who accepted the challenge with enthusiasm once they realized how hard their pupil was willing to work.
"We have some really great teachers in this system," Foy said. "We have had nothing but the best of help."
And not just from teachers, Foy added. Custodians who were on hand when Ann occasionally got lost in the building, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, "and administrators who always found the money needed for the materials we needed" all helped give Ann her chance to shine.
Foy's "public relations work" to show that a blind student could compete has paid off for Muncie schools. Two years ago, officials at the Indianapolis public school system called Muncie asking for advice on how to integrate blind students into regular classrooms.
Foy and Ann reminisced about their years together during an interview in Foy's "office," a small storage room off the library where Foy has space for a tiny desk and a stand for her coffee pot. At one point, a Central High School teacher walked into the room with a copy of a test to be translated into Braille.
"They know where I am, and they come in here and bring me the assignments," Foy said. "Working this way means extra work for the teachers. They have to be prepared, and they have to give me tests and assignments ahead of time so that I have enough time to get it back to them. There have been a lot of parts to the team. That's what I've been talking about."
That Foy was unwilling to take much credit for her work with Ann came as no surprise. Ruth Danglade, assistant director of special education, called Foy an unsung heroine, but she warned that Foy would not be comfortable in the spotlight.
"Every day, all day long, she sits in a little back room with a Braille machine and types anything that is necessary for Ann to have that day or the next," Danglade said. "Think of a blind person's taking geometry—translating that into something a blind person could read.
"Well, we could not get the Braille textbook," Danglade said. "Chris had to literally redo the geometry textbook. She had special instruments that we had to get so that she could do the lines and the angles and the special symbols."
For biology classes, Foy became an artist. The stiff sheets filled with Braille included Foy's detailed line drawings of flowers and stems and leaves with a tracing of dots laid along the lines for Ann to study with her fingertips. Fortunately, textbooks usually are available in Braille. A single text for English or math, Foy said, requires Braille translations filling 35 volumes.
Had Ann been an average student, Foy said, her job would have been easier, although less fulfilling. Ann has taken German for 4 years, Spanish for 2 years, and French for a year. Her scores on college-equivalency tests in English and German were so high that she would require few college classes to earn a degree in German.
Ann has been accepted by several universities, including Indiana University and Carleton College in Minnesota, a school Foy called "the Harvard of the Midwest." Ann's acceptance as a Carleton scholar came just last week.
The teacher and student view the end of their partnership with mixed emotions. Without Foy, Ann said, her academic success would not have been possible—even though having two mothers was often a pain in a young neck. But the future beckons, and Ann is excited about the chance to test her wings at Carleton.
For Foy, pride is mingled with grief at the thought of parting. Her children are grown and away from home. Ann, Foy said, has been a second daughter. When Ann graduates from Central, Foy's job with Muncie schools will end.
"It wasn't a job," Foy said. "There is just too much that I've gotten out of it to think of it as anything like a job. I don't know what I'll do. I'll probably always keep my fingers in Braille."