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Behind the Scenes at Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery

an Interview with Barbara Mandelbaum

From the Editor: For blind children, Braille means literacy and learning. Parents and teachers of Braille readers are always hunting for new sources of Braille books. One resource that is too often overlooked is Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery, based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Not long ago I had the chance to speak with Temple Beth El's Barbara Mandelbaum, and here is what she told me.

Deborah Kent Stein: I've only recently heard about the Temple Beth El Braille Bindery. What services do you offer?

A senior volunteer binds a Braille book.Barbara Mandelbaum: We're a nonprofit organization that provides Braille books for children. Right now we have about twelve hundred literary titles in our catalog--that is, we have books children can read for pleasure. We don't transcribe textbooks. We have books for kids of all ages, from beginning readers to teens. If a child wants a book that isn't in our catalog yet, we will transcribe it on request. If you visit our website, you can browse or download our catalog--but I'm afraid the online version isn't totally up-to-date. We can send you our complete list of books by mail.

DKS: Is there any charge for the books?

BM: No. We provide all our books free of charge to families or schools that request them. However, we very much appreciate donations, as we have some costs in running the program. People are welcome to send monetary gifts or boxes of Braille paper. We use continuous sheets of 19-hole, 11x11.5 Braille paper with our Braille printer.

DKS: Are your books in contracted or uncontracted Braille?

BM: The majority of our books are in contracted Braille. We also have about one hundred titles in uncontracted Braille, and most of those are double-spaced to make reading easier for beginners. Unfortunately, our catalog doesn't designate whether a book is contracted or uncontracted. Let us know if you'd like to have the list of uncontracted titles, and we'll send it to you. Incidentally, all of our books are embossed on one side of the page; we don't do any interpoint, or double-sided, embossing.

DKS: How long has Temple Beth El been involved with Braille transcription?

BM: Actually, our program goes back more than fifty years. We got started in 1962. In the 1970s about eight transcribing groups got together and formed the Tricounty Braille Service. Over the years most of the other groups have disbanded, but we're still active.

DKS: Are you all volunteers?

A volunteer uses a Perkins Brailler to transcribe a book.BM: We don't have any paid staff. We're a group of eight volunteers, all of us senior citizens. Right now we range in age from sixty-four to ninety. We have two Braille transcribers and a certified proofreader. The other volunteers do all the rest of the things that need to be done--binding books, packing boxes, and taking shipments to the post office. There's a lot of heavy lifting involved!

DKS: How much time do the volunteers put in?

BM: Our volunteers usually come in one day a week, from nine to twelve. The transcribers and proofreader do most of their work at home. Years ago, our transcribers Brailled the books using the Perkins Brailler, but now we have computers with the Duxbury program. That makes everything faster and easier, but transcribing still takes time and patience.

DKS: How did you get involved in this program?

BM: Back in 1970 I was a stay-at-home mom, looking for something interesting to do. I decided I'd like to study Braille. I learned the Braille code, but then I ended up going back to work. Twenty years later I wanted to do something with my Braille training. I volunteered for a while with one transcribing organization, and then I moved over to the Braille Bindery. I've been here ever since.

DKS: What is the greatest challenge your program faces?

BM: Our biggest challenge right now is getting connected with kids who would enjoy and benefit from our books. We would love to hear from more readers! We're here, and we want to get our books into the hands of kids who can use them.

DKS: How can people get in touch with you to make requests or donations?

BM: We can be reached by email, mail, or phone. Here is our contact information.

Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery
7400 Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301-3876
(248) 865-0634
[email protected]

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