Abstract: This study investigated the background of personnel who are responsible for transcribing braille in Texas. Most respondents were not certified by the Library of Congress and believed that they had begun their careers less than adequately prepared, yet they rated the quality of the materials that they produced as either excellent or good.
Braille transcribers translate information from a print source into a braille version for persons who are blind or have low vision. Until the mid-1990s, the training of braille transcribers and the materials that they produced received little attention in the research literature. However, the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (Corn, Hatlen, Huebner, Ryan, & Siller, 1995) and the formation of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum (American Foundation for the Blind, 1998) emphasized the importance of gaining access to braille materials. These entities sought to increase the number of qualified braille transcribers, to examine the issues of insufficient instructional materials in braille, and to address the shortage of braille transcribers in the United States. Consequently, the forum commissioned a national survey, and AFB funded two landmark studies on braille transcription.
One of these studies, by Corn and Wall (2002), explored the training and employment of braille transcribers throughout the United States. Surveys were sent to all 50 states, and specialists in the area of visual impairments from 40 (80%) states responded. The results supported anecdotal reports of a shortage of braille transcribers and projected a continued shortage of transcribers in the United States. In that study, 76% of the directors of instructional materials centers, state vision consultants, and superintendents of special schools in 40 states thought that their states did not have a sufficient number of transcribers to meet their needs (Corn & Wall, 2002). Furthermore, the respondents reported that approximately 350 additional transcribers were needed nationally to meet needs for braille of students, particularly those who are competent in both the Nemeth code and tactile diagrams. The study also estimated a continued and perhaps even more critical shortage of braille transcribers within the next 5 to 10 years.
Despite evidence of a nationwide shortage, access to transcribers in the classroom appears to vary from state to state. In a study of 233 teachers of students with visual impairments in Florida, only 37% of the respondents reported that transcribers were available to assist them in preparing materials (Allman & Lewis, 1996). In contrast, in a study of 51 teachers of students with visual impairments in Minnesota (or slightly more than 50% of all teachers of students with visual impairments in that state), all 51 teachers reported that they had access to a braille transcriber (Knowlton & Berger, 1999). A pilot study of 10 highly academic braille-reading high school students found that their teachers used braille transcribers extensively to produce materials for 8 of the students (Leigh & Barclay, 2000). In contrast, a study of 107 teachers of students with visual impairments in 41 states found that only 35% of the teachers had a transcriber available to assist them in preparing materials (Rosenblum & Amato, 2004).
Since the majority of states do not have a sufficient number of certified transcribers, they typically employ a wide variety of alternatively trained personnel. Certified transcribers, noncertified transcribers, volunteers, paraprofessionals, and teachers of students with visual impairments are regularly used to transcribe materials into braille (Allman & Lewis, 1996; Corn & Wall, 2002; Texas Education Agency, 2000; Wall & Corn, 2002). In addition, a variety of options are available across the states for training teachers and other personnel in braille (Corn & Wall, 2002), including a correspondence course from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), locally developed courses, on-the-job training provided by individual employers, college courses, and the independent study of textbooks (Corn & Wall, 2002). …