California volunteer gives visually impaired photographers new perspectives

On the surface, volunteer Marshall LaPlante provides a service that might seem paradoxical or even slightly impossible: he teaches photography to blind and visually impaired students at Braille Institute in Los Angeles, California. A professional photographer whose work has graced national publications such as the Smithsonian, the New York Times, Maxim, and Runner’s World, LaPlante helps people with visual disabilities express themselves artistically through the medium of photography.

Marshall LaPlante smiles as he stands over Braille institute students, one pointing camera at other.
Volunteer Marshall LaPlante (standing) looks on as Braille Institute student Leonard Sanchez (right) photographs his fellow student Steve Moore. Photo credit: Matt Schreiber

The idea of offering a photography course to visually impaired adults was first conceived in the late 1990s by world famous Life magazine photographer Jack Birns, who approached the Braille Institute volunteer services director. Michelle Sheridan, the current volunteer services director, explained, “Jack was beginning to feel the effects of macular degeneration himself and felt confident he could help others who were dealing with similar issues use their residual vision to take photographs. His class was amazingly successful.”

Birns saw himself as a pictorial historian and was renowned for his coverage of the civil war in China from 1947 to 1949. He applied his creativity and discerning perspective to help people communicate their artistic vision even as they lost their sight. “His class was always among the most popular at the institute,” said Sheridan. “After he passed away, Marshall LaPlante came to us and wanted to continue the class.”

Photo of spoon covered in condensation.

Photo of shadows that resemble a four-legged robot.

Photo of upward view of a tree.

Student Matt Schreiber’s photos; Spoonful of Zen; Robot’s Repose; Long View

LaPlante, a volunteer for more than two years, said, “I think volunteering is important for everyone, for people to help out when they can. I have tremendous respect for visually impaired people, and I knew about Braille Institute. It was just a matter of time before I ended up there.”

LaPlante’s class is focused on fundamentals. “I teach basic photography skills:how to handle the camera, composition—nothing too intense or difficult,” he said. “The class is supposed to be fun and it usually is!”

Five of his students studied with Birns. “I have a few advanced students who photograph on their own time and then share their work with me. These students get a little more instruction because they are putting extra time into the class,” LaPlante said. “If I have time I try to meet my students outside of class for one-on-one instruction. There’s no way to give enough individual instruction in class. This definitely helps them out with their skills.”

Though it is a visual art class, LaPlante tries to impart the transferable skill of resourceful adaption in his teaching. “One of the most important things I stress to my students is to be different. If they are taking a picture of the front yard, why not lie down and tilt the camera? I want them to come up with unusual creative images. We had a pro skateboarder do a demo for us last semester. A few of my students jumped right to the ground and lay on their bellies to get an unusual angle. That’s what I’m looking for—a little creativity.”

Outside of his volunteer work at Braille Institute, LaPlante’s lifestyle is fast-paced—he specializes in aerial landscapes and extreme-sports photography. During a spate of 115-degree days in Los Angeles, LaPlante was in a helicopter taking aerial portraits of people in their Southern California swimming pools. He believes he’s learned something invaluable at Braille Institute: “Patience,” said LaPlante. “It’s a skill I lack sometimes. Patience to appreciate all the good things in my life and to make sure that if I get upset it’s for a good reason—and so I can teach!”

For students the class itself is literally an eye-opening experience. “Our students are reaching new levels of independence through this class,” said Michelle Sheridan. “They are accomplishing things they never dreamed possible.”

Fifty-year-old Mathew Schreiber, a professional piano tuner from Grant Hills, California, regularly attends the photography course. Schreiber was born with a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, in which the light-sensitive parts of the eye progressively deteriorate. “My vision is really limited,” said Schreiber. “I can only see the details in the very center of my eye called the macular.” The class allows Schreiber to take a second look at things that interest him. “My vision is focused on small points. So I take the picture and bring it back to my computer. This allows me to scan around and see what else is hiding in my surroundings. If I can preserve the moment, I can use the limited vision I have to see a wider, bigger field.”

Schreiber described LaPlante as “a very relaxed, fun guy, very encouraging, very conscious of everyone’s needs. He’s a radical action-sports photographer, but with us he’s very sensitive.” Like some of his fellow students, Schreiber has had success with his photography and currently has three images in touring exhibitions. His picture Spoonful of Zen (see left column), an image of light reflecting on a spoon covered with condensation, is on exhibit at the American Printing House for the Blind. On exhibit with the Southern California College of Optometry are his works Robot’s Repose, which captures a shadow that looks like a reclining android, and Long View, which shows a squirrel’s view of a tree.

LaPlante said of his students: “These people have become my good friends and I really enjoy hanging out with them. I must say it makes me happy when they are laughing, especially at my bad stand-up comedy. I am usually smiling when I leave Braille Institute.”

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Idaho residents make volunteering a way of life

Everyday Heroes was the theme of the luncheon hosted by the Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL) Talking Book Service (TBS) in April 2011 for its more than 95 volunteers. ICfL’s everyday heroes were treated to hero sandwiches and a presentation showcasing their work. In honor of their service, ICfL presented each volunteer with a certificate of appreciation. More than 13 individuals received 5-, 10-, or 15-year service-milestone pins, signifying that they have provided at least 1,000 hours of service.

“Though I’ve been an ICfL volunteer services coordinator for nearly 20 years, I’ve never ceased to be amazed at the generosity and creative solutions our volunteers bring to our agency every day,” said Sheila Winther. “With volunteerism, our library can extend the bounds of our service to not only TBS readers, but to libraries all across the state.”

ICfL volunteers also feel that they benefit personally from the volunteer experience. June Ryther, cassette-duplication volunteer and recipient of a 15-year service certificate, said, “When we retire, we always think ‘how wonderful to kick back and relax.’ Boring, to say the least. I have loved giving a hand.”

Fred Riddle, machine-repair volunteer and recipient of a 4,000-hour award, agreed. “What a pleasure to be able to do something to help my fellow man. What makes it really good is to work with such fine people.”

Statistically Idaho residents are well above the national average for volunteerism. In 2010, 26.3 percent of the United States population volunteered while 34.1 percent of Idaho residents did, ranking the state tenth for volunteers in the country. Idahoans provided 60.2 million hours of service worth $1.3 billion to the state.

Also during 2010, ICfL volunteers checked 2,004 digital machines; mailed, received, inspected, and reshelved 164,617 digital and cassette books; recorded 54 titles (417 hours of recording time); and converted 89 analog books to digital. These services are all critical and fundamental to the day-to-day functioning of the library.

Winther feels that the dedicated work of the volunteers elevates the quality of the library’s services: “Thanks to our volunteers, ICfL helps to make all of Idaho’s libraries, including TBS, valuable and cherished resources.”


California Transcribers and Educators of the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEBVI)

Annual conference: March 15–18, 2012, Los Angeles Airport Marriott, 5855 West Century Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045; hotel phone: (310) 641-5700
Contact: CTEBVI, 741 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029-3594; (323) 666-2211 (messages only); External link symbol

National Braille Association (NBA)

Professional development conference: April 26–28, 2012, Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, 1335 South Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63131; hotel phone: (314) 993-1100
Contact: National Braille Association, 95 Allen Creek Road, Building 1, Suite 202, Rochester, NY 14618; (585) 427-8260; [email protected]; External link symbol

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Volunteers master new skills

Between January and June 2011, 93 people were certified as literary braille transcribers.

Literary braille transcribers

Kirk Douglass Ball, Phoenix
Charles A. Crawford, Phoenix
Susan Creech Fowls, Paradise Valley
Jearld A. Pryett, Tuscon
Carl Lee Buchanan, Wrightsville
Kevin Lee Buckner, Wrightsville
Dennis Calvin Warren, Wrightsville
Arvin Cecilio Cambal, Blyth
Eli A. Drumm, Represa
Eric Nathaniel Marcum, Ventura
Timothy Curtis Polston, Crestline
Kathleen Joan Walker, Ventura
Paula H. Becton, Orlando
Nancy Patricia Drenning, Orlando
Rebecca Fountain Goodenough, Niceville
Laurie Jean Hauptman, Orlando
Mayling De Los Angeles Reyes, Jacksonville
Gail Ann Packard, Jackson
Alicia Lee Ann Barneycastle, East Ellijay
Warren Reid Hall, Macon
Robert Larry Schneider, Macon
Ahman J. Garth, Bunker Hill
Dontel Keys, Bunker Hill
Wayne Sinn, Bunker Hill
Karen Jean Cunningham, Des Moines
David Eugean Gray, Anamosa
Michael D. Keary, Anamosa
Larry Nathaniel Kennedy, Anamosa
Andrea Darnell Roberts, Anamosa
Verona Julie-Alphonda Brinegar,
Susan Harris-Moore, Louisville
Marshall Kelly, Lexington
Laura Marie Myers, Louisville
John William Rippy, Lexington
Serin Linnea Hale, Quincy
Julia Lord Parmelee, Concord
Colleen Rosenberg, East Bridgewater
Elaine R. Spinale, Acushnet
Rachel Juliann Tyler, Sudbury
Karen Lyn Allen, Fraser
Eric Alexander Faber, Jefferson City
Donald Brett Moser, St. Louis
Kurt Joseph Geilenkirchen, Lincoln
Scott Anthony Brooks, Las Vegas
Brian Thomas Chance, Las Vegas
Mitchell Adam Chirchick, Las Vegas
John Luna Coronado, Las Vegas
Perry Jay Duncan, Las Vegas
Barry Jay Fehler, Las Vegas
Deborah Jean Hamilton, Mesquite
Dee Val Towles, Las Vegas
New York
Jacquelyn Lee Galle, Hilton
Kathleen Ellen Scarborough, Middleport
Laurie Anne Swift, South Farmingdale
Benjamin Johnson, Grafton
Susan P. Mertz, Tallmadge
Olyn Miguel Santos, Grafton
Debbie Ann Schindler, Mentor
Javier H. Carrazco, Sayre
Gabriel Garcia, Sayre
Rogelio R. Silva, Sayre
South Carolina
Tracey Angela Medlock, Greenwood
South Dakota
Diane Agnitsch, Aberdeen
Benjamin Hernandez III, Nashville
Diane M. Peterson, Spring Hill
Christopher Bischof, New Braunfels
Frances Suet Fong Chong, Missouri City
Teresa Gail Cruz (Fenton), Gatesville
Marcia Gayle Kelly, Gatesville
Judy Lynne Knipe, Gatesville
Charleen Rene Stephens, Gatesville
Joyce Evelyn Turner, Gatesville
Cynthia Young, Cypress
Deborah Clare Adams, Troy
Hana Abdullah Al-Omar, Troy
Faith Elizabeth Cummings, Waynesboro
Courtney Sue Joshua, Lynchburg
Sheila Simmons, Huttonsville
Linda Marie Whitworth, Troy
Julie Marie-Wright Anderson, Seattle
La’Keisha Hamilton, Vancouver
Pamela Lohse, Seattle
Patricia N. Word, Seattle
West Virginia
Chanin Clark, Huttonsville
Kenneth Veon Davis, Huttonsville
Frederick Wayne Fly, Huttonsville
Tyrone Rogers Jr., Huttonsville
William Robert Wiley, Huttonsville
Claire Patricia Egan, Pewaukee
Joshua M. Frohmader, Oshkosh
Ronald W. Lueck, Oshkosh
Chad J. Olm, Oshkosh
Ray M. Fender, Torrington

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Braille student-instructor dialog

Under a contract with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Jernigan Institute administers the courses leading to Library of Congress certification of braille transcribers and proofreaders. NFB receives numerous questions concerning a variety of problems in braille transcribing. This article addresses some of them. The question-and-answer format is intended to provide clarity.

Student: My question concerns the new Formats textbook course and certification that is being revised. I have heard that this new revision of Formats will make the literary braille certification obsolete and that the only rules will be the textbook rules. Does this mean that the literary course and literary certification will be no more?

Instructor: Absolutely not. There are no plans to eliminate a course or certification in literary braille. The new publication Braille Formats 2011 has been approved by the Braille Authority of North America as of the time of this writing, but publication is expected to take several months. These revised guidelines will update and streamline the way in which textbooks are transcribed. The effects of these updates on what we think of as “literary braille” will be clarified when Braille Formats 2011 is published.

There is an effort to eliminate conflicts between the rules of textbook formatting and the rules of literary braille, but it should be kept in mind that literary braille refers to the code itself—that is, the symbols (letters, punctuation, numbers, contractions, other signs and indicators). Formats pertains to the layout of these symbols on the page.

An ultimate goal is to define these spheres more clearly and reduce differences between them. As you know, in the literary Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing, Fifth Edition, 2009, the student is frequently referred to Braille Formats. However, just as is the case in the 1997 edition of Braille Formats, the new 2011 edition will not encompass all of the information that a transcriber needs to know for transcribing braille. Although updates are also being considered for the literary course, the course itself will not be going away for the foreseeable future, and implementation of any of the changes to formats and literary braille transcribing will take time even after the new Formats book is published. Therefore, your literary certification will continue to have value.

Student: I am preparing my thirty-five page trial manuscript for Library of Congress certification. Is it permissible to submit my trial manuscript in interpoint (braille on both sides of the page)?

Instructor: No. All trial manuscripts must be submitted in single-sided embossed form. Interpoint will not be accepted. There are specific rules for producing braille books in interpoint that are not addressed in the Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing, Fifth Edition, 2009.

Student: Sometimes the publisher’s entire address (including the street name) is given on the title page. Should this be included on the braille title page?

Instructor: No. Section 19.2b(6) of the 2009 edition of the instruction manual clearly states that only the publisher’s city and state should appear on a braille title page. If the street name is included on the trial manuscript, points will be deducted from your score.

Student: In the print book that I am transcribing, there is a short poem before chapter one. Should chapter one begin on the same page as the poem or should it be placed on a new page?

Instructor: Very good question. If in print a poem or a prelude appears on a page before the first chapter, then in braille the poem or prelude should be written on a page by itself, and the first chapter should begin a new braille page.

Student: I have a question about Section 20.11 of the instruction manual on scoring the trial manuscript. After reviewing the evaluator’s report on my thirty-five page trial manuscript, I discovered that ten points were deducted for misusing the letter sign five times. Since the same error occurred consistently throughout the trial manuscript, I believe that it should have been counted only once. Is this correct?

Instructor: No. Section 20.11 of the instruction manual says that if the same error in the use or omission of contractions or in word division occurs consistently with respect to the same word, it will be counted only once. Format errors may sometimes be counted together as a single error. Otherwise, each error will be counted separately. Since the misuse of the letter sign does not fall into either of the categories listed above, the ten points were deducted from your score appropriately.

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In Memoriam

NLS volunteer braille-music transcriber Bettye Maxwell Krolick, of Fort Collins, Colorado, died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease on August 5, 2011. She was 85.

An accomplished violinist, Krolick served as president of the National Braille Association in the 1990s and authored the first Dictionary of Braille Music Signs for the Library of Congress. “Bettye Krolick was one of the most influential and productive figures in the world of braille music in the United States and around the globe,” said NLS Music Section head John Hanson. “She transcribed numerous high-quality scores that are now part of the NLS music collection and wrote How to Read Braille Music, updating it in 1998 to reflect the 1997 revision of the Braille Music Code—a revision which she oversaw as chairman of the BANA Music Technical Committee. The NLS Music Section has loaned hundreds of copies of that book over the years, and hundreds are still in circulation today. The Music Section and those who use braille music are deeply indebted to her.”

Bettye was only five years old when she became enthralled with the sound of her next-door neighbor giving violin lessons. She begged her parents for a violin and soon began her musical career.

She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, from which she graduated in 1948. While attending Eastman, she met string bass player Edward Krolick, whom she married in Missouri in 1948. The Krolicks later moved to Champaign, Illinois, where they raised their children and foster children.

At 50, Krolick learned to transcribe music into braille and began doing volunteer work for blind musicians. Realizing there were limited resources available to blind music students, she wrote How to Read Braille Music and worked with school music teachers to help blind students become involved with band, orchestra, and choir.

When she discovered that braille music was not yet standardized, Krolick met with braille music experts around the world and wrote the Dictionary of Braille Music Signs for the Library of Congress. She also served on the Braille Music Subcommittee for the World Blind Union.

Krolick is survived by her husband, daughters Katherine Granas and Nancy von Neumann, sons Philip and Kenneth, two grandchildren, and brother Robert Maxwell.

Colorado Talking Book Library volunteers put health first

Colorado volunteers give health screenings to several people.
Volunteers offer health screenings and information at the 9Health Fair hosted at the Colorado Talking Book Library

On April 12, 2011, the Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) in Denver hosted its 9Health Fair, an annual event that addresses the health needs of Colorado communities.

Since its inception in 1987, 9Health Fair, a nonprofit organization offering free and low-cost health screenings to people throughout Colorado, has helped save thousands of lives. With the support of 19,000 statewide volunteers and endorsements from the Colorado Medical Society, Colorado Nurses Association, and Colorado Hospital Association, the fair has assisted more than 1.7 million individuals.

CTBL has hosted the event for the past five years. For CTBL, the 9Health Fair has provided needed services to the blind community—and greater exposure for the library.

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Issues in 2011

January to June