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Helping the blind one page at a time

Pam and Dave in Much Ado About Nothing, Readers Theater, 2013
Pam and Dave in Much Ado About Nothing, Readers Theater, 2013
courtesy of APH

The American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville has been creating products for people who are blind or visually impaired since 1858, and is the oldest organization of its kind in the United States. Are you one of hundreds of people driving on Frankfort Avenue passing a beautifully landscaped campus, home to APH and the Kentucky School for the Blind, and don’t have a clue what they do there? You are not alone, but free guided tours of the plant and museum are given twice a day to educate the public of their mission, and events are held throughout the year, such as the braille Readers Theater performance of The Curious Savage this weekend.

map in braille, one of products made by APH
Debbie Chartoff

In a comical, yet touching story, the Museum will present its third production as Readers Theater performs on Friday, February 28 at 7 PM and Saturday, March 1 at 1 PM. Written by Louisville-born playwright, John Patrick, The Curious Savage has blind or visually impaired actors who read from embossed braille scripts. Reservations are necessary for this amazing event.

With the world’s largest nonprofit organization helping people who are blind and visually impaired located right in my town, I decided it was time to stop by and check out this massive, historical site. Our guide, Rob Guillen, Administrative Assistant, Public Affairs, is not only enthusiastic about the products and services offered by APH, but is passionate about providing a better quality of life for others.

My tour of the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind highlighted the transformation of APH before and after the Civil War. The Act to Promote the Education of the Blind in 1879 by Congress designated APH as the official supplier of educational materials for students in the United States. The hands-on tour included an introduction to the fascinating braille system developed by Louis Braille and to the slate and stylus used. It’s hard to imagine an entire alphabet created with just six raised dots!

The tour extended into the plant where I witnessed some of the amazing products created by APH. Educators now have access to cutting-edge tools to assist with their teaching methods. APH’s research department is constantly developing products to parallel the technology of the 21st century. The plant produced 24 million pages of braille last year and an equal number in large print. APH also creates menus in braille for McDonalds® and Subway®.

The most interesting part of the tour for me was to see the studios where Talking Books are made. Narrators, who have auditioned with APH and the Library of Congress, read books in two-hour shifts as monitors listen and proofread for accuracy. A book of 300 pages takes an average of 670 minutes to read. APH, who has been making Talking Books for the National Library Service since 1936, produced 600 books last year.

APH employs approximately 300 people, with 10 to 11 percent being visually impaired. While APH receives funding from the government, donations, and contracts, continued financial support is necessary so they may continue their research, development, and product demand. I wish everyone could take the hour-and-a-half tour of APH. The realization of the APH mission will open your own eyes and make you see things like you never have before.

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