School System's Braille Transcriber Translates Textbooks and Other Materials for Visually Impaired Students

February 7, 2000
In an office at Rock Creek Valley Elementary School, Laura Grove pores over textbooks, gathers snippets of felt, wool and other materials, and operates sophisticated equipment and computer software that would mystify most users.

When she has finished, her work goes out to help MCPS students at all grade levels participate fully in the educational program.

As the only braille transcriber in MCPS, and one of the few braillists in the country on the staff of a public school system, Grove translates entire textbooks, worksheets, examinations and other materials into braille for visually impaired students. She scans the pages of text and formats them, conforming to the rigorous standards required by the Braille Authority of North America. Then, using a software package called MegaDots, she translates the pages into braille and prints them out with a braille embosser.

After a careful proofreading--"I'm a perfectionist at heart. I won't let anything go out unless I proof it," she says--her work on some materials finishes here.

Other projects involve several more steps and more equipment. Any designs or diagrams, for example, must be converted into tactile graphics, an often laborious procedure that may involve cutting and assembling wood strips, felt pieces and other materials to create multitextured diagrams, or using a spur wheel to create raised lines. Generally, Grove uses this procedure for "consumable" graphics that students must write on. Even transcribing nonconsumable black-and-white diagrams that don't need a variety of textures, however, is a multistep process.

Finally, Grove binds textbooks and certain other materials, which become part of a library of work that is used repeatedly. Recent projects include a history textbook-a typical 30-page chapter took Grove a full day to transcribe. For just one chapter of a geometry book completed recently, she had to transcribe more than 200 diagrams.

By constantly shifting her priorities, checking with teachers, and alternating between chapters of various textbooks and other materials, Grove tries to stay one step ahead of the students who need the materials. Currently, she is changing gears to resume work on an elementary vocabulary book "because they've caught up to what I previously had translated."

Grove earned certification as a braille transcriber by completing the 18 month course of the Library of Congress. Before her arrival last August, MCPS relied on part-time freelance transcribers. Having Grove "has made a wonderful difference. We're able to provide a much quicker response to requests," says Sheila Doctors, supervisor of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing/Vision Program.

"Our goal is to have all the braille materials available at the same time that sighted children receive their materials," Doctors says. "We're almost there."

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