Blind Faith (The Sunday Mail, 24 October 1999, P6)
Volunteers are keeping the world of books alive for the blind, writes Frances Whiting. Pictures: David Kelly
Mercy Dickenson guides her friend John’s fingers gently over the letters, each bump on the crisp, white page weaving its story and transporting the reader into another world.
For more than 100 years people such as Mercy have been sharing the gift of literature at Braille House, a volunteer-run Brisbane organisation dedicated to bringing books, thus much joy, to the blind. Secretary Narelle McFarlane says Mercy (who is blind) and the other 140 or so volunteers who quietly keep this service going understand the pleasure books can bring and the doors they can open.
“We have volunteers who do the actual transcribing of the books into braille at home for us,” Narelle said.
“When they are finished, they bring or send the sheets in and then we have volunteers here who come in to proof-read the sheets and shellac the braille for protection.”
The pages are painstakingly hand-sewn together and hand-bound, a slow process which has been passed on through the decades.
“Originally volunteers were shown how to do it by the old Government Printing Office, but today it’s just a skill and an art that has been passed on from volunteer to volunteer over the years.”
The education section, among other services, also transcribes everyday items into braille, things like bus timetables, bank statements or instructions for household appliances, helping bring independence into people’s lives and making complex tasks easier.
The braille library does not charge for its services and relies instead on grants, bequests and donations to keep it going.
It can be tough but everyone who works there is determined to continue the service, which has been going since 1897.
Thousands of books, fiction and non-fiction, have been sewn and bound in that time.
“There are, of course, talking books,” Narelle says, “and they are really great too.”
“But there’s nothing like getting a good book in your hands, is there?”
Braille House is at 507 Ipswich Rd, Annerley, phone 3848 5257