Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, June 12, two guide dogs and 14 tired and sleepy, but excited members of CVI’s braille club boarded a bus heading to Louisville, Kentucky. The group was on a trip to visit the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), the world’s largest nonprofit that creates independent living products and services for people with visual impairments. Established in 1958, APH is also the oldest organization of its kind.
Since we were leaving so late at night I had naively assumed that we would get some sleep, but I was sadly mistaken. As we traveled to Kentucky the bus was full of buzzing conversation as people laughed, talked and shared snacks. We arrived in Louisville in the early morning and made a breakfast stop at the Waffle House. My pecan waffle was hot and delicious! If anyone knows what hash browns in a ring are let me know. Next we headed over to the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) were we were to lodge during our trip. Once we arrived at the school, the house keeper showed us to our rooms and helped us get settled. The staff offered us a tour of the school which I thought was nice but I declined. I was too tired from the road trip and opted for a short nap instead.
Later in the afternoon, after some rest and relaxation, we all walked next door to APH for our tour. One of the first things we learned is that APH was originally housed in the basement of the KSB until they were able to acquire their own building. Our tour guide told us that over the years APH has made 14 additions to the building as they have expanded their products and services.
On the tour, we saw how braille books were manufactured in their plant. We were able to observe blind proofreaders review braille books for accuracy by reading the book out loud to a sighted person, called a copyholder, who followed from a printed copy. Our tour guide told us that APH started off with embossed books and later moved to braille books.
The first book that was created was Fables and Tales for Children in 1866. We also got to observe talking book readers record books in the studio. One of the readers, Ray Foushee, was recording while we were there. He stopped to talk and take pictures with us. He shared that he has been recording audio books for APH for about 30 years and really enjoys the work. We also toured the factory where the recorded books are duplicated and prepared to be mailed. We were told that hundreds of copies of one book can be duplicated in one afternoon. They are then placed in very large bends going to libraries for the blind all over the country.
Our last stop on the tour was the museum which gave the history of education of people who are blind and visually impaired. It was an interactive experience with audio output devices for the items on display. We got to actually touch an older model of a Perkins Brailler and a slate that was created when New York Point braille was used. New York Point braille is made of eight dot cells instead of the six dot cell that is used today. While in the museum I listened to one of those old real-to-real films discussing how blind children received an education.
Before leaving APH we all made a stop to purchase souvenirs at the gift shop and take pictures. In the front of the APH building is a beautiful hand-carved sculpture inside a water fountain. The sculpture has a book flipped open with print on one page and braille on the other. Our tour guide told us that the sculpture was done by a local artist and was erected to celebrate APH’s 150th anniversary in 2008. After the tour, we all headed back to the KSB to get ready for a relaxing dinner and conversation about all we learned and observed.
Logo courtesy of the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.