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Saskatoon Public Schools
Inspiring Learning

Donation boosts access to braille books for visually impaired students

October 10, 2019

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From Katniss Everdeen and Percy Jackson, to Junie B. Jones and a Jedi apprentice — the adventures of all of these book characters will now be available in braille for students to discover thanks to support from the Canada Post Community Foundation.

The foundation's recent $12,000 donation to the Saskatchewan Alternate Format Materials (SAFM) Library will be spent exclusively on pleasure-reading books in braille for students with visual impairments.

"This grant is helping build students love of reading," said Superintendent of Education Donnalee Weinmaster. "There is no substitute for the ability to read and for visually impaired students, braille is an essential tool in the process of becoming literate. Thanks to this grant, visually impaired students will have access to reading materials for enjoyment while building their vocabulary and critical thinking skills.

The SAFM library is operated by Saskatoon Public Schools with funding from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. It provides curricular resources in alternate formats for K-12 visually impaired students across the province. The library offers braille, large print, audio, and e-text resources and serves approximately 250 students with visual impairments across the province.

Sarah Moloney, the library's collection developer, expects to purchase more than 40 braille books for readers ranging from beginners to high school. The cost of transcription means books in braille can cost as little as $30 or as much as of $5,000 and the availability of titles is often limited. For example, the SAFM library will be the only one in Canada to have braille versions of the Star Wars titles it intends to purchase.

SAFM_LOR.jpgThe work involved in producing a braille version of textbooks or popular novels is illustrated on the library's shelves. Lois Lowry's The Giver, a 240-page novel often used in middle years English classes, requires three large, spiral-bound volumes of braille while The Lord of the Rings is 13 volumes. Most Grade 9 students can slide their math textbook in to their backpack, but a student who reads in braille requires a stack of 31 volumes, each accounting for only 15-20 pages of regular text.

"We are so thankful that the Canada Post Community Foundation supported this cause. They knew the time and money involved in producing braille," Moloney said.

"The beautiful thing about getting this grant is it is solely for pleasure reading. It's awesome that the kids will be able to read for pleasure and about the things they are interested in. We'll be buying some expensive items and some cheaper titles because more has become available in the months since applying for the grant."

The library will complete the Hunger Games trilogy by adding the final two volumes and add books from the Divergent series. Popular titles for middle years readers such as Judy Moody and Fudge-a-Mania and books for younger readers such as Paw Patrol are also on the shopping list.

The funding helps the library rebuild its holdings of pleasure-reading books. In 2010, Unified English Braille (UEB) was adopted in Canada. It provides a universal braille code for English-speaking countries but its adoption meant previous braille books were no longer valid and had to be removed from collections.