By Brian Fischler
After a project with pit bulls and blind children inspired Bernadette Peters and Charlene Sloan of Broadway Barks to join forces with Bill Smith of Main Line Animal Rescue and provide books in braille, the program quickly expanded.
“I was stunned to learn that 90% of children who are blind can’t read,” says Bernadette Peters. “With the initial success at Royer-Greaves [School], Bill [Smith] and Charlene [Sloan] said let’s do this.”
Smith and Sloan began researching how many schools there are for blind children in the United States, and what it would take to get them all books.
“We wanted to try and get Bernadette’s books out to all of the schools. We thought it was ridiculous that these kids don’t have the options other kids have,” says Sloan.
They started by getting out Peters’s two books to 65 schools. “The response was amazing. We got so many letters thanking us that it inspired us to do more books,” says Sloan.
With the initial success of getting the books out to 65 schools, Braille Tails is now producing a book a month for 85 schools and libraries. With that much of a workload, though, the trio were no longer able to put the books together themselves.
“The books need to be assembled with care, as they are accessible to both blind and sighted children. They are comprised of a thin sturdy plastic with adhesive, embossed like braille paper. That way you can still see the graphics underneath the braille,” explains Sloan.
It takes about forty-five minutes to properly put one book together. “We got a little too big to transcribe all the books on our own… A lot of minimum security prisons have print shops. Our books are being produced at prisons in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska.”
“Most prisons will have a supervisor who is accredited in braille. The prisoners are taught enough braille to know not to put pages upside down and where a period is.” This unique work force must take a lot of pride in their work, as the books need to be put together perfectly to be approved. “There can’t be any bubbles or wrinkles in the final books, if there are we can’t use them.”
The prisoners who are putting the books together for Braille Tails are state employees. “A lot of the prisoners who are putting the books together never had a job or worked as a member of a team.
Braille Tails is a total team effort. Some of the prisoners have been so inspired by the work that they are going through the braille transcription course so they can be accredited,” says Sloan. It’s not only the prisons that are helping to make Braille Tails a success, as Braille Tails makes use of a blind transcribing service out of Oregon to transcribe some of the books.
Considering Braille Tails was only started in May of last year, it has already accomplished a lot “I feel it is very important for these kids to be able to read braille. Many people can’t afford a computer that talks to them,” says Peters.
“It’s heartbreaking that these kids fall through the cracks. Reading is so pleasurable. I am very happy that we can do a little to help. I wish we could do more,” adds Peters.
“It’s crucial for these kids to be able to read braille,” says Smith, “It’s interesting as we built a new facility in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, and we couldn’t move our animals in right away, as our exit signs weren’t in braille. It made me realize how important it is for the blind to be able to read braille, as all the emergency signs are in braille.
“When we started Braille Tails, we didn’t know if there was much of a need for it, as so many books are provided in audio format,” says Smith, “We were surprised to learn that only five percent of books are actually published in braille. We thought we need to reach these kids when they’re young and it is easier to learn braille.”
All of the Braille Tails books have a common theme — animals and teaching children valuable life lessons. “When you look at books for kids, they are all about teaching them teamwork and individuality,” says Smith.
Stay tuned for the final installment of our Bernadette Peters story next week.