The Potted History
There are Carers in all walks of life doing small and large things – sometimes extraordinary and sometimes concerned with the simple, but often challenging, matters of daily living.
In March 1897, seven extraordinary women met in the Telegraph Chambers in Brisbane to form the Queensland Braille Writing Association or QBWA – an organisation with the care and support of blind people and people with low vision at its very core.
The group included the Head Teacher at the School for the Blind, Mrs Sharp, and Lady Lamington, wife of the then Governor of Queensland (pictured below).
These seven women undertook to transcribe twelve books each into braille, forming the beginnings of the QBWA lending library.
QBWA has seen numerous homes over its long life, and in 1954 were able to move into their long-term home in Ipswich Road, Annerley – and Braille House was born.
The original property, a stately Queenslander, has grown substantially over the years to include the Marjorie Taylor and Madeline Bird Wings which have enabled significant expansion of the support they provide, to include teaching spaces and a dedicated area for the embossing machines.
Starting with just 54 books, the lending library now boasts thousands of volumes – from Cooking with the Wiggles, Harry Potter, hundreds of novels, The Womens’ Weekly, Readers Digest and Jamie Oliver’s Cookbooks.
One of the astounding things – and I suppose it’s obvious – is just how much more space braille needs compared with text – Harry Potter’s the Goblets of Fire for example, comprises 12 Volumes of braille, and the volumes themselves are significantly larger than a novel.
And there is a steady stream of books that need to be transcribed into braille – so a steadily increasing need for space to maintain this critical support.
The Grand Tour
Our first stop was the kids’ reading room, and an introduction to the wondrous way in which childrens’ books are presented
The braille is transcribed onto transparent plastic pages, so that a sighted person can read the book to a blind child – fantastic!
After the kids’ and young adult teaching areas, we stepped into the adult lending library where we saw volumes transcribed into braille which is the dominant medium (below right), and into Moon which is a lesser known writing system for the blind (below left)
Holding these old volumes with their Egyptian-like symbol – some transcribed around the turn of the century – gave an extraordinary glimpse of a past I really didn’t know existed.
So how are the words transcribed into braille?
Originally the work was done by hand, dot by dot, using a frame and stylus.
Stainsby or Perkins braille machines brought technology into the mix, and now of course, there are software programs.
Even so, the transcribers we met at Braille House frequently revert to the Perkins machine for certain transcriptions, so it was interesting to see the Perkins machine standing proudly beside its modern counterpart.
This part of our visit took us to the embossing machine room, a dedicated room that is sound-proofed because the noise is quite literally deafening.
Onward and Upward
Braille continues to be the primary means of tactual literacy for people who are blind or have low vision, and Braille House continues to be a busy hub for the vibrant family of people who service the braille and moon needs of people around Queensland and beyond.
More about Braille House
Braille House has just launched the 100th Dickinson Memorial Literary Competition – a National Competition for children and adults who have full sight and for children and adults who are blind or have low vision..
For more information and to enter, please go to https://www.braillehouse.org.au/dickinson-2021/