How Our Volunteers Help Us
Look below to see all the various ways in which you can help us produce Braille material in the Kirkwood Office.

Preparing the Source

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) requires that publishers provide textbooks to organizations, such as ours, to make Braille copies available to visually impaired students.mbvol020

This act also created a new standard file format, National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), to be used by all parties involved in producing material for the disabled. However, this new standard takes time to implement, so many of our books still come to us in the hard bound copies used in the classroom.

We cut the spine off of the book and scan each individual page into the computer using a sheet-feed document scanner. We use an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) application to highlight and move only the text content of each page to a computer file which is then used by the transcriber to create the Braille copy.

Sometimes a publisher will provide a book on computer files of various formats (html, pdf) which we also pre-edit to isolate text content for the transcriber.

Transcribing Text into Braille

The Braille Transcriber is the true star of our show. The rest of us are supporting actors.

These dedicated individuals have quite a challenge to determine how to best represent the context of today’s highly visual textbooks in a text-only format. They must adhere to strict rules and standards so that the blind reader is presented with dependable and consistent Braille reading material.

Most of our transcribers work from their homes. They use computer programs to layout and edit the Braille pages and send the finshed product back to the office via email where it will be embossed onto paper for proofreading. *OFFSITE

Preparing Tactile Graphics

In some cases, a tactile graphic can be produced to convey the ideas to the blind reader by touch that are being presented visually to the sighted in maps, charts and other illustrations.

We carefully study the illustration to determine what message is being presented to the sighted student and decide if it can be conveyed by touch in a simple straight forward way.

We employ two methods of preparing tactile graphics at Midwestern Braille Volunteers.

The Collage Method

If you like to cut and paste (not just with your keyboard) you will love creating collage tactile graphics. We use any material that is unique to the touch: sandpaper, string, canvas, cloth, cardboard cut-out shapes and glue them into a collage.

There is always an accompanying key page to explain in Braille the meaning of each texture being felt. We may also attach braille labels directly onto the illustration where space permits. The finished collage will become the template for the thermoform (plastic sheet) page for the Braille book.

The Foil Method

Also known as tooling, is a process where raised impressions are made from tracing illustrations on the back side of heavy sheets of aluminum foil. Special tools are used to imprint shapes and textures into the foil. We also emboss Braille symbols from the back side of the foil by using a Braille slate and stylus to poke a dent for each dot of the braille letter into the foil. Lettering can be a confusing to perform as it must be done backwards and from right to left to appear correct on the front side.

The greatest challenge to preparing tactile graphics is to allow the student to perceive the differences in the various textures and symbols without appearing too noisy. Like the collages, the foil graphics are used as a template to create the thermoform (plastic sheet) page of the Braille book.

Finished Foil

Creating Thermoform

The Thermoform machine transfers the tactile image from the collage or foil template onto a plastic sheet using vacuum and heat. Although it operates much like a copy machine, there are a few tricks to learn to make your best impression.Thermoform Tactile Graphic

Small holes must be punched into the template to allow the vacuum process to draw the material as close a possible to the plastic. With a little practice you develop a feel for the right balance between temperature and time in creating the perfect Thermoform tactile graphic book page.



Braille embossers are machines attached to computers in much the same way printers are operated by computers. But since we do not use ink to print Braille, these machines use pins to dent the paper from the back side to create the raised Braille dot patterns capable of being felt from the front.

We have embossers that produce standard one-sided braille documents and machines that produce our textbooks in double-sided Braille known as interpoint.

Operating the Embossers is as easy to learn as operating a printer. Keep them full of properly aligned paper and run the text editing application on the computer to select the files to be embossed.

Our embossing volunteers also burst, collate and label the finished documents. You quickly become familiar with some common Braille symbols, especially page numbers, since there is no printed text appearing on the pages for the sighted.


Once the embossing of the text pages is complete and the Thermoform tactile graphic pages have been created, our binding volunteers marry the two into the many bound volumes of the Braille textbook.

We use plastic comb binding that allows full flat opening of the each page, not restricted by the glued spine binding of a traditional book. Like our embossing volunteers, the binder becomes quite familiar with the Braille symbols in order to properly organize the book.


One of the jobs of vital importance in the production of quality Braille material is that of the Braille Proofreader. It would be unthinkable not to expect that a sighted child’s reading material be readable and free of errors. Publishers are naturally expected to edit and proofread their textbooks.

Proofreading Braille copy is even more important. Our Proofreaders not only insure that we have accurately depicted the context of the textbook, but also insure that our book is presented to the blind student in a predictable, “readable” standardized Braille format.



Once the Braille book has been bound into multiple volumes, our volunteers carefully pack them into shipping boxes to avoid crushing the embossed pages. Our volunteers transport the shipment to the local post office for delivery into the waiting hands of a blind reader.

General Office Duties

Like any office we have phones to be answered, faxes to be sent, errands to run, people to greet, reports to prepare and an endless flow of documents to be edited, filed, sorted, stapled and copied.

Website Maintenance – If you are a tech savvy individual with experience in web design or just willing to learn, we can always use help in maintaining and enhancing our website. We must be using the internet effectively to reach as many people in need of Braille material as possible and to reach out and recruit as many people as we can who are willing to volunteer to help us help the blind. *Offsite


Since our work for the blind is supported through donations, we extend a warm welcome to new volunteers with fundraising ideas or expertise. *Offsite

We welcome any amount of time, temporary or permanent, no special skill required, we will train young, old and in-between.

Our office hours are Monday – Friday 8:00AM – 1:00PM.

We also have opportunities to help from your home computer. Offsite opportunities are indicated below by *Offsite