How dedicated city team keep blind readers in touch

FOR one part of the population, keeping up with their reading isn't as easy as popping out to buy the latest best-seller.

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RNIB Scotland transcription officer Joyce Quinn translates a book into Braille
RNIB Scotland transcription officer Joyce Quinn translates a book into Braille

People who are blind or partially sighted often rely on Braille and audio books to read for pleasure and to access information sighted people take for granted.

As part of Book Week Scotland, sight loss charity the Royal National Insitute for the Blind Scotland wants to raise awareness by opening the doors of its Braille Transcription Centre in Partick, Glasgow.

Through this, they want to highlight the dedication and skill which goes into bringing these specialist texts to life.

Centre manager Pamela Chater said: "We're having the workshops to raise awareness of what happens here.

"We want to show the lack of information that's in alternative formats and show the technical skill behind everything we do."

The RNIB Transcription Centre has been based in Partick for 15 years and has seven staff. The service is available to 188,000 people with significant sight problems in Scotland.

The centre takes in around 770 jobs a year, which amount to 35,000 pages needing to be processed.

Requests can range from novels and poetry to car manuals, recipe books and knitting patterns.

Jennifer Murray, from Knightswood, had university notes converted into Braille at the centre.

Born three months prematurely, Jennifer was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which rendered her blind at birth.

She has just completed her third year at the University of West of Scotland, studying French and Spanish, including a year abroad in Murcia, Spain.

The 22-year-old said: "What the transcription centre does for me is that the lecturers send a copy of my handouts and it gets transcribed into Braille and sent directly to me at my house, so I have a chance to read it before the class.

"I didn't find out about it until I went to university, otherwise I would have definitely used their services much earlier than this.

"The centre really helps people get access to things they need to read."

As well as individual projects, the centre also processes work for organisations such as ScottishPower and Glasgow Housing Association, who need their bills and documents to be accessible to people who are visually impaired.

Once texts are received they can go through many different processes.

They can be formatted to make the type size larger, helping those who are partially sighted.

Volunteers can read individual works, in any of the six recording studios which are available, while actors are used to read the RNIB Talking Books.

OTHERWISE, texts have to be proof-read and formatted so they can be read by a Braille translation software programme, called Megadots.

Only then can they be printed out from a specialist machine into the characteristic raised bumps.

Ms Chater said each process requires a certain skill and would not work without the efforts of the 45 volunteers who devote their time to the centre.

She added: "We wouldn't be able to run our service without our volunteers, who all go through rigorous training. They all have to pass a test and then all go through a training programme, so they must be IT literate and must bring a certain skill, such as editing, typing, language or medical terminology.

"They're then matched to the preparation of different texts which come in to us."

Heather Lloyd, 65, from Broomhill, is one such volunteer and has been helping out at the centre for a year.

As a retired lecturer from Glasgow University, she brings a specialist knowledge of French and German.

She said: "We get a huge, eclectic range of things to read. I've done a textbook on German philosophy, Alexander McCall Smith books and some things for the local authority.

"I wanted to do something useful when I retired, and I've found it very interesting."

Despite their best efforts, there is still limited access to written material for the visually impaired.

Only 7% of books published ever make it into these specially prepared texts. To help tackle this, since April the Trans-cription Centre has been offering RNIB members 300 free printed pages a year.

Otherwise, the service has to charge a fee, as it takes fives days on average to record an RNIB Talking Book and costs £2500, and £1500 to produce a book in Braille.

Ms Chater added: "We want to raise the awareness of our service as there's a huge amount of people who aren't even registered and don't know about us.

YOU could have people who have sight problems and won't have their eyes tested because they're functioning alright.

"They could be bumping into things, but just think they're getting a bit old, or have glaucoma, where their peripheral vision is deteriorating, but wouldn't know it because they move their heads to see.

"It's not until you get your eyes tested that you realise that you could have a problem, so it's really important that people maintain healthy sight."

"Then they can get access to support and what we can offer them here."

JENNIFER MURRAY

Arts and Entertainment

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