There is a significant shortage of braille transcribers throughout
North America. This shortage will create career opportunities for good transcribers
willing to seek out work.
Basically, braille transcribers -- also called braille transcriptionists
or braillists -- convert anything in print form into braille for use by those
who are trained to read it. A transcriber uses several ways to do this, from
manual methods to computer software-based conversions.
In earlier years, braille was mainly transcribed by volunteers, many of
whom are now elderly and have either retired or passed away, says Randolph
Cabral. He is president of the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute in Wichita.
"Many preferred braille readers are forced to rely on personal readers
and audiotapes, or simply do without braille," Cabral says. "Lack of information,
especially timely and in a preferred format, causes blind people to fall woefully
behind their sighted peers."
It's currently estimated that there are more than 10 million blind Americans,
states Cabral. The number is increasing rapidly, in large part, due to people
living longer. Age-related illnesses, such as diabetes, can often lead to
vision loss and blindness.
"Volunteerism is a much less viable option for many people than in the
past," says Davey Hulse. Hulse is chief executive officer of Braille Plus
Inc. in Salem, Oregon. "Thousands of young housewives became volunteer braille
transcribers through the churches, schools and social consciousness organizations
like the Jewish Braille League.
"In a day of needing two incomes to support a household of growing children,
the volunteer base depended on for decades is not being replenished. And the
women who moved into the volunteer situations are retiring or dying."
Karen Taylor is director of production and technical services at a library
for the blind. She says that most of their transcribers are volunteer.
"We currently have three paid braille transcribers on staff, and we also
use contract braillists," Taylor says.
"The rest -- over 100 -- are volunteers. We realize there may not be an
unending pool of those wishing to learn braille and volunteer, so I am always
very interested in initiatives that might support a good braille transcribing
course at the college level."
Taylor points out that the educational community does pay for transcribers.
"Often the lure of computer-generated speech has led many to believe that
learning braille may decrease in significance," says Taylor.
"This is not the case, as a student needs braille, the equivalent of print,
to become literate. One does not learn spelling and grammar listening to computer-generated
speech. And more complex subjects such as math are poorly handled this way."
The political landscape has also created a need for more braille transcribers,
Hulse explains. Government agencies and businesses have an urgent need for
transcribers to prepare brailled materials for their visually impaired clients
Obstacles to Overcome
Taking on the study of braille is a "tough journey to mastery," says Hulse.
Students must learn and execute complex and distinct codes, rules and formats
to produce error-free materials.
Until now, the Library of Congress, National Library Service (NLS) for
the Blind and Physically Handicapped has trained and certified braille transcribers.
This training is usually through a self-study correspondence course.
That program itself creates many barriers, Hulse says. Statistics show
the dropout rate is high for the program.
With the time it takes between completing lessons and mailing lessons to
the NLS, most students lose interest and find other ways to jump-start their
career, Hulse explains.
More schools are providing more structure and a better learning environment
for those studying to become braille transcribers. These include the Kansas
Braille Technical Institute and the American Braille Career School.
Cabral says that until recently, braille transcribers were regarded as
volunteers and not paid professionals. This trend will continue to take time
to evolve to guarantee good jobs for transcribers.
"However, due to the overwhelming need for braille transcribers, and federal
mandates requiring braille, a 'good' transcriber should not have problems
bidding on braille contracts," says Cabral.
Braille Textbooks Needed
Students from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary level education critically
need braille, according to Cabral. Blind and visually impaired students don't
always receive their textbooks on time. And at times, they don't receive them
Students need mathematical and science textbooks in particular, says Hulse.
"There are few folks who are skilled in the preparation of these texts," he
explains. "And getting through a course of study of this nature without braille
can kill certain career paths."
Many braille transcribers work on a contract basis. A school district,
for example, may need transcribers from April through August to provide materials
for students in the fall. Schools may need other transcribers to do worksheets
and tests off and on throughout an academic year, Hulse says.
Most braille transcribers work in their homes or in small offices. A small
number of employers have several transcribers working in a facility at the
same time, but this is uncommon.
Those seeking steady employment as braille transcribers must turn to major
institutions, such as school districts, universities and corporations.
To guarantee a steady income, Hulse predicts that many transcribers will
need to become entrepreneurs. They will need to find niches, develop long-term
relationships and collect potential sources of work over time as contract-type
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
Find information on research, events and advocacy
National Braille Association
Provides transcriber support, information on continuing education
and other resources
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)
Contains a braille alphabet card, facts about braille, and information
on transcription courses
The Kansas Braille Transcription Institute (KBTI)
Find information on training, active transcription and production
See your name in braille and try some trivia