July 22, 2014

Presentations/Outcomes From National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped “Future of Braille” Summit Now Available Online

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Proceedings/outcomes from the The Future of Braille summit held last month and sponsored by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), an organization that’s part of the Library of Congress, were released on Friday.

From the Announcement:

The Future of Braille: NLS Braille Summit Presentations and Outcomes details the proceedings of a conference held by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in partnership with the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19–22, 2013. It was attended by more than 100 librarians, instructors, producers, and other experts in the field of braille.

NLS director Karen Keninger said, “This was the first gathering of its type since the early 20th century. People were eager to share their experiences and to contribute their ideas to help shape the course of this important literacy tool.”

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“The Library of Congress has been providing braille books since it was authorized by law to provide free library service for people who are blind or have low vision,” Dizard explained. “This program, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, has recently expanded to include electronic braille, which is downloaded over the Internet from the Braille and Audio Reading Download site (known as BARD) and read using braille embossers or note-takers with a Bluetooth connection.

 “The Braille Summit is a product of our effort to keep this medium at the forefront of library service,” Dizard said.

From the Executive Summary

The objective of this summit was to determine the mix of NLS products and services that best meets the needs of today’s braille readers and supports an increase in braille literacy. Stakeholders discussed, debated, and recommended braille policies, products, and services in future program operations. The emerging concerns were the high cost of braille production, the availability of skilled braille instructors, the need for improved technology, and the necessity of improving the public perception of braille.

Participants looked to NLS for leadership in the area of library service as it has been the major provider of braille reading materials since its establishment by an Act of Congress, signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in 1931. They commended NLS for its foresight in convening the meeting and recommended that NLS could address the concerns raised by:

  • providing a refreshable-braille display at no cost to patrons,
  • varying the quality and/or publication medium of books depending on their use and expected shelf life,
  • working with publishers to acquire source texts,
  • expanding the use of tactile graphics in its books, and
  • building support for efforts to update braille technology, specifications, and methods for selection, production, and distribution, including production on demand.

Conference participants also suggested that NLS mount a public education campaign to raise awareness of the value of braille. These recommendations will be considered as NLS plans for the next generation of braille services.

The Braille Summit also highlighted developments proffered by other organizational leaders in the field, many of whom were represented on the program. The U.S. Department of Education—which recently issued its “Dear Colleague” letter advising educators that braille instruction be provided for students as needed and included in their individual education plans—is working to ensure that the next generation of blind individuals will be equipped with the invaluable literacy skills braille provides. The National Braille Press Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) and the Daisy Consortium Transforming Braille Group are working on developing a cost-efficient braille display to make braille more affordable, portable, and thereby, available. In addition, the Braille Authority of North America has just adopted the Unified English Braille code, which will help to simplify the learning and usage of the code. Working together, all stakeholders of the braille-support community will help overcome the challenges of ensuring braille literacy for future generations.

Direct to Full Text Proceedings

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.