The National Braille Association Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to one person each year at the time of our professional development conference. Anyone may nominate an individual for this award by completing and submitting an application form and a two page narrative, which can be found below. The only criterion for nominees is that they work or have worked in the field of braille transcription (nominees can be living or deceased).
The recipient, if living, will be invited to attend the banquet at our professional development conference. Along with an award, recipients’ biographies will be forever imprinted on our page of honor at the NBA website.
This is an opportunity for you to recognize that special person who has provided you with inspiration. This is a way for you to give back to someone who has provided you with support. This is a means to recognize someone who may otherwise never be publicly acknowledged for his or her accomplishments.
Thanks to all those who have submitted such worthy applications celebrating the work of so many great transcribers around the country!
Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients
Listed below are the past recipients of the NBA Lifetime Achievement Award and the nomination letters that were received on their behalf.
The following are words spoken by Robert Stepp the night of his acceptance at the 2019 Professional Development Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
I want to thank the Board and the members of NBA for honoring me with this award. I am aware of the previous recipients—most of them are people I know or knew well, and it is indeed a distinguished crowd. Thank you all, I do feel appreciated.
Given that most of you only hear me talk when I'm doing a workshop, and always wrestling with the clock, I thought I would say a few brief words about things you would not know about me as it relates to friends you know. My remarks today are all about people—talented and dedicated people.
As some of you know, I have a younger brother who is cerebral palsy deaf. Nobody in my family is blind. So how did I get here?
Everything pivots around past president Bettye Krolick (president 1987-1989, board member before and after)—there may be a few of you who remember her. You might not have known that she was an accomplished violinist, and that that fact is a key ingredient in my story. It turns out that my father taught music at the University of Nebraska, taking his first job there after graduate school in 1946. He taught french horn and bassoon and music theory and orchestration. My mother was a church organist and also played violin a bit. The result of that was piano lessons at 11 and double bass lessons at 13. My interests were mainly science—chemistry and physics, A.B. degree in physics, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer science—but I spent thirty years playing double bass in a variety of high quality community (part-time) orchestras, in Lincoln, Omaha, Urbana-Champaign, Bloomington-Normal, and Springfield. My teacher in Nebraska was a civil engineer who happened to have a music degree from Eastman.
The magic link is that Bettye had a music degree from Eastman and that she met her husband Ed at Eastman where he was a double bass major, along with my teacher in Nebraska. Upon choosing to return to graduate school at U of I in 1976, my teacher told me to introduce myself to his friend Ed who was Professor of Double Bass. I did that and also arranged to take advanced lessons from him, and through his kindness it was as if I were a double bass major, i.e., my lessons were covered by my tuition and fees waiver—they didn't cost me a cent and he was a terrific teacher. Bettye taught violin in her home and was a principal violinist in the central Illinois community orchestras; Ed was principal bassist until he retired in 1986 and they moved to Fort Collins. Then I became principal bassist for a time.
I arrived in Illinois in the fall of 1976. The braille moment happened in 1977 when events led me to dinner at the Krolick residence after which Bettye explained music braille to me just because she thought I would find it interesting. I had been tinkering with an Apple II computer, merely a "toy" but the only personal computer of any merit available. Bettye explained the complexity of bar-over-bar notation and how there could be occasional nasty surprises when the bass clef notation would not fit below the treble clef notation and that lacking "erase" on the Perkins, the whole page was ruined. I immediately noticed the similarity between braille page size (40x25) and the Apple TV screen resolution (40x24) and thought about how much more productive she would be if tactical layout surprises did not ruin a whole page—if only the braille could be edited.
That era was way before the PC, before the Mac, before Windows, before software fonts. To get my Apple II to show dots on the screen I had to rebuild part of its circuit board—font data was in a memory chip. I had fun figuring that out and making a piggyback replacement circuit board to change the way the Apple II worked. I didn't say a word to Bettye… I didn't know it would succeed… but it did. That led to Bettye buying an Apple II and doing all her braille on it. Bettye was on the board at NBA and had become an authority on music braille. She began telling colleagues that she was doing braille by computer and word spread.
Meanwhile, I had figured out an esoteric software technique by which the braille display could be generated by software alone—no more special circuit boards. It was Elinor Savage who was first to call and say she wanted the software. Because of school, I could only handle braille stuff on weekends—I needed to send her a diskette—to my very first client—and my product had no name. In desperation, I named it ED-IT (I thought to myself "what a stupid name"). But I had to get it in the mail.
During the 80s I finished my Ph.D. degree and joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. I handled requests for ED-IT on weekends—about 500 copies were sent out. By the middle 80s IBM had begun delivering the IBM PC and later Apple invented the Mac. I had no notion of doing any further braille software, but by the end of the 80s the Apple II was quite obsolete and repair parts were becoming hard to get. In the early 90s I was doing some educational consulting at the University of Trento in Italy. In 1993, the State of Florida, a big consumer of ED-IT, contacted me to commission a replacement for the old software… they wanted something for the PC, and at that time the best platform was Windows 3. I started working on it while in Italy… I created ED-IT PC as a "what you see is what you get" braille editing tool for Windows 3.1.
I joined NBA in 1985. The first conference I remember was the joint NBA/CTEVH affair at the Red Roof Inn in Irvine CA in 1989. My friends Bettye and Elinor were there along with a number of transcribers who used ED-IT. It was there where I met folks like Ken and Dianne Smith—Ken had arranged to borrow a number of PCs and Apples so Dianne could teach Microbraille and Elinor could teach ED-IT. I also met Norman and Lou Ellen Blessum—the creators of Microbraille. Bettye had become acquainted with David Holladay and I had met him in Champaign a few years earlier—I think he was there too with Megadots, along with his wife Karen Navy and their associate Aaron Leventhal. To me it was an eye-opening experience—there were so many interesting people working so hard to explore novel ways to produce braille.
That period was the time of Rod Brawley and CSMT and Ann Kelt—many transcribers were volunteers and between Rod and Ann there was much to do and to my observations, transcribers were happy and very productive. A similar thing was happening with Suzanne Dalton and FIMC in Florida and in Texas and other big states. And then federal money started to flow, and volunteerism was replaced with bidding and contracts, and volunteer groups could not figure out how to bid nor how to be paid as a non-profit enterprise. Some braille production shifted to correctional institutions. I have visited many amazing facilities. A few visits were behind bars, a few visits were to braille production centers such as the Johanna Bureau under the auspices of Alice Mann and Sally Hering and the Minnesota Communication Center under the auspices of Mary Archer, folks that were inspiring and devoted to NBA. There were so many interesting site visits and so many other inspiring people.
I mostly met people at NBA and CTEVH conferences. I will mention just a few special folks that pop into my mind. First of all there was Angela Coffaro, a fixture of every NBA conference of that era. Her work was behind the scenes but everybody I knew told me she was indispensable—I couldn't help but notice that while members were having the luncheon, she remained at the registration desk grabbing a sandwich. Bettye and I visited Rochester together and I saw the braille production center in action.
Then there was Georgia Griffith, an NBA board member who happened to be deaf-blind. I met her at the Krolick residence on two occasions and also visited her at her home when passing through Lancaster Ohio. There was a time when she was the highest paid forum moderator at AOL, going on-line with her Versabraille P4. I believe she was the only certified music braille proofreader at that time.
I remember having lunch in downtown San Francisco with both Elinor Savage and Joanna Venneri. Joanna was really very special. She had retired as a special ed teacher dealing with young physically and mentally handicapped children, addressing one challenging situation after another. She was good at finding bugs in my software and I learned very quickly to pay attention to her, except when she talked politics. In 2005 in Seattle I had a severe gallbladder attack (my first) in the middle of the night before my workshop. I wound up in the ER for half a day… Joanna presented my workshop with essentially no notice. I was impressed. In recent times, she announced that she hated UEB, but nevertheless was eager to help others learn it. She loved music and knowing that, I would occasionally get symphony tickets at the workshop venue… we enjoyed hearing the St. Louis Symphony and the Boston Symphony.
And then there was Abraham Nemeth. I met him only at various conferences—we sometimes had dinner together—a couple times I had a rental car and we went out to Popeye's chicken—his favorite. As he was furiously trying to head off UEB, he and my friend Joyce Hull and I worked together to help him complete the specification of NUBS. It was a lovely system that got the political heave ho. As it happens, today is Joyce's 94th birthday—she is in good health in Orlando—I spoke to her this morning—I always call her on her birthday. Abe would have been 101 last October 16. I happen to be the President of the Alliance for Braille Literacy, a group devoted to preserving Dr. Nemeth's work, and we had our Annual Meeting on his birthday and we all sang Happy Birthday to him in his honor. For those of you who never met him, you missed something very special. (Sorry to report that Joyce Hull has since passed away.)
As I said, it is all about people—marvelous people—some of whom I have mentioned and others that you know. In the business world, you deal with all kinds of folks, and you are bound to have a few problems, such as bounced checks, or credit card disputes, or occasional deception. I started my little business in 1995 and so far, in nearly 25 years of service, there has never been a single bounced check nor a single dispute, and it can only be because my clients—transcribers, school systems, special education units, braille production centers—are all people of devotion and honor.
Look to either side of where you are sitting—I'm sure you will find a bona fide personal friend, a person of integrity, a person on a mission, a person of dedication, a person who would fit gracefully into your own family. The world of braille producers is indeed a special place. The members of NBA are indeed special people and I'm grateful that I happened to fall into your world. Thank you all.
I began working with my first visually impaired student in 2001. Previous to the first day of school I learned the braille alphabet and thought I was ready for this new career. However, I learned within one short week that the grade one alphabet was far from what I needed to know to assist this student properly. With the help of the VI teacher and my persistence I self-taught myself braille in 3 short months. In 2010 I received my Braille Transcriber Certification from The Library of Congress and NFB.
From 2001-2018 I worked with several visually impaired students in two different school systems located in Georgia. I also worked with Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (NE GA RESA) grading braille assignments completed by adult students and teaching the “Introduction to Braille” Course to adults seeking PLU Credits.
In 2013 I received my first contract job to do braille transcription remotely for a school system in Georgia. Since then I have performed braille transcription from my home in Georgia for different school systems located in North Carolina, Virginia, California and Georgia.
In 2016 I received my Letter of Proficiency in Unified English Braille from The Library of Congress and NFB. I have also taken several other braille courses to broaden my knowledge in braille.
Over the years braille became my passion. It has been a wonderful and rewarding career. Learning braille has been a blessing to me personally in more ways than one. My greatest sense of accomplishment is that I can assist the visually-impaired students with braille materials that they need to succeed in the classroom.
This past October I received a phone call from The National Braille Association informing me that I had been nominated and chosen to receive the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award for my involvement in braille. I was in shock and I cried over the phone after receiving such wonderful news. I was overwhelmed with excitement to receive such a prestigious award. I felt as though I had won the Nobel Prize.
I attended the annual NBA Professional Development Conference this past October for the first time. It was a wonderful experience. The classes were very informative, and I gained some great knowledge. I met so many nice people and made some new life-long friends. It was amazing to be in a room surrounded by so many others who share the same career of being involved in braille. It was an experience I will never forget!
There are so many people I am grateful to for my career in braille. I have worked with 5 vision teachers over the years that were very supportive of me. In particular, one vision teacher persuaded me to pursue my braille Certification and another helped me acquire my first remote contract job. I also want to thank NE GA RESA, Sunbelt Staffing in Florida and my personal recruiter for their support in my braille career.
In May 2018 I retired from the school system however I plan to continue to braille for students remotely as long as I am physically able. During my Award Speech at the NBA Conference I referred to the quote made by Marc Anthony “If you do what you love, then you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is exactly how I feel concerning my career in braille of 18 years.
As a little girl I always admired Helen Keller. She was my childhood idol. As an adult I can’t imagine the struggles she endured being both deaf and blind. Her outstanding character and energizing persuasion to reach out and support others like herself always intrigued and encouraged me as a child and now as an adult. I have taken several courses in American Sign Language due to my interest in Helen Keller and the deaf community. However, once I was introduced to braille it became my priority to focus on braille as my career. I dedicated myself to learning braille and to succeed in helping those with visual impairments. As a tribute to my childhood idol, Helen Keller, I use one of her quotes on my email correspondences that states exactly how I feel. “There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.”
I would like to thank all of those who sent in nominations on my behalf for such a prestigious award. Special thanks to the National Braille Association for choosing me as the recipient of the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award. I am sincerely grateful and honored.
The following is reprinted from a nomination application submitted on Lynnette’s behalf.
I would like to nominate Lynnette Taylor for the Lifetime Achievement Award. If she ever stops brailling, it will take 4 people to replace her, especially at the Temple Sisterhood Braille Group (TSBG) in Jacksonville, Florida. She is our Formats expert, Braille2000 expert, Assignment Chair, and Co-Equipment Chair. She also has decades of service with the Visual Aid Volunteers of Florida, Inc. (VAVF), National Braille Association, Inc. (NBA), Braille Authority of North America (BANA), and California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (now simply CTEBVI).
Lynnette’s involvement with braille began when she took the TSBG Braille Transcriber’s course, becoming certified in 1989. Recognizing the value of further training and access to expert support, she immediately joined VAVF and NBA. She took on these commitments while she and her husband
were building a house, with her putting a nail through every single one of the holes in the rafter braces herself. She was also working as a librarian at various public and university libraries in St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida, having earned her Master of Library Science degree from Florida
State University in 1985.
After becoming certified, she served as TSBG’s Vice President from 1991 to 1993 and President from 1993 to 1995. Due to resignations by VAVF’s President and President-Elect, Lynnette was also unexpectedly bumped up to VAVF’s office of President while already serving as TSBG’s President. As
she traveled to introduce herself to the different braille volunteer groups across the state, the Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired (FIMC-VI) asked her to also provide workshops on Braille formatting. She continued conducting these trainings until 2005. After her
service as VAVF’s President, from 1993 to 1995, Lynnette also served as VAVF’s Treasurer from 1996 to 2006 and Secretary from 2007 to 2017. She has also been an active member of the VAVF Board since 1991, along with serving on the Board of Directors of NBA from 2011 to 2014.
While on the VAVF Board and as an officer, Lynnette helped in the planning of VAVF conferences. Lynnette visited potential conference sites, reviewed contracts, planned conference workshop schedules, and organized the financial and travel arrangements of conference presenters, including
picking them up from the airport. She was also one of the presenters herself. In addition to running as many as three workshops, she was often also responsible for taking over a workshop when the presenter was unable to appear at the last minute. Over the years, I have been responsible for the
evaluations filled out by the VAVF conference attendees and Lynnette consistently receives very positive feedback and is always one of the most requested presenters for future conferences.
Lynnette was certified in Formats around 2005 and leads Formats workshops locally in Jacksonville and nationally, including at conferences for VAVF, NBA, and CTEBVI. BANA didn’t know what they were getting when they made her Chair of the BANA Technical Formats Committee from 1998 to
2011. The original goal was to update the Formats Rules, but Lynnette’s committee ended up re-writing the whole thing. This involved spending an intensive week each year at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. For twelve hours a day, working through bag lunches, they
completed their assignment and gave us the Braille Formats Principles of Print-to- Braille Transcription, 2011.
She also found time in 2000 to take an indexing correspondence course. This training was put to important use in creating the indexes for the Braille2000 Version 1 manual (2005), Braille Formats 2011 (2011), Braille Formats 2016 (2017), and the Braille2000 Version 2 manual (2017).
I almost forgot. In addition to being a national speaker and trainer, active member of local and national Braille organizations, creator of indexes, and planner of conferences, Lynnette also finds time to do graphics, paint shelves for the braille room, move 82 pound thermoform machines, organize a huge
assignment from the National Federation of the Blind for their STEM Camp, and care for her son who has Down syndrome. And, as TSGB’s Assignment Chair, when people call with braille assignments, Lynnette is
typically the one who takes responsibility for the projects that needed to be done yesterday. She makes me feel like a slacker.
Joanna, who was unable to receive her award in person, wrote the following acceptance speech. NBA Board Member Jana Hertz read this speech, on Joanna’s behalf, at the 2016 NBA Professional Development Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.
It seems strange to remember things so clearly that happened so very long ago.
I learned braille on the slate and stylus when I was a 15-year-old high school student. My braille teacher was another high school student, a friend of mine who is a braille reader. Of course, there were no computers back then. The Perkins Braillewriter was still a fairly new thing and most families didn’t have one. So, slate and stylus it was.
I fell in love with the dots. I learned the alphabet and then the contractions and became able to transcribe such things as class notes, homework assignments, class tests and quizzes. I had the experience of putting braille that I had made with my hands directly into the hands of the reader. I never forgot that feeling. I fell in love with the dots and I fell in love with the work.
Later on, I got a Perkins and became certified. By the time I joined NBA in 1980 the Perkins had long been universal, used by both braille readers and transcribers.
Soon after, computers began to appear. At first, and very briefly, they were a rarity and all of a sudden, every transcriber had one.
In the braille community, as everywhere else, computers quickly changed EVERYTHING. We continued to make braille in this new way despite the growing pains of error messages, crashes and lost files. What I remember most about this time of change is the help we gave each other. There was always a transcriber just a phone call, e-mail, conference, or workshop away who understood the problem and could offer a fix. Our Computer-Assisted Transcription Committee was started during this time and it continues today. Computers are now a part of our lives and many of you have always produced braille on a computer.
Once again, we are faced with Change. This change is even more significant than the shift to computers. Once again we are creating resources to help ourselves and to help each other.
I feel so lucky to have spent my life in braille and I welcome all of you who come after me.
And just in case this award really was a mistake—too late. I’M KEEPING IT!
I’m keeping it on behalf of all of you as a remembrance of my good fortune to have been a part of doing braille with you.
Born in Gailsburg, Illinois prior to World War II, Dr. Larry Smith earned his bachelors and master’s degree in music composition from Northwestern University in the mid-1950s. He then went on to the Eastman School of Music to earn his doctorate degree, studying composition with Howard Hanson. Following graduation, he taught at Central Michigan until 1963 and then later became the Chairman of Fine Arts Division at Kalamazoo College 1963 and later retired in 1996.
You and I know this man as Larry Smith. However, the world of music recognizes him by his pseudo name, Dr. Lawrence Rackley. His most famous composition, the “Sarasota Sailor Circus March” is known widely throughout the United States and his reputation reaches worldwide to countries in Europe. His symphonies, concertos, quintets and chamber music have been performed in Spain, the Netherlands, Austria and Italy.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Larry Smith was introduced to a visually-impaired music student who would be taking his class. It was life changing. Fascinated by the challenging mind games of braille dots, Larry soon found himself enrolled in the NLS certification program with Betty Krolick as his mentor. He attended his first NBA conference in 1983 and upon his retirement in 1996, Larry was asked to serve on the Music Braille Committee and became the Chairman two years later. In the same year, Larry was asked to join a committee of distinguished music braillists that would revise the NLS DeGarmo lessons associated with the International Music Braille Code.
From 2003-2005, Larry again volunteered his time and talent to serve NBA as the 28th president of the organization. He currently serves as the Music Braille Representative for the Braille Authority of North America where he is updating and revising the Music Braille Code as it relates to Unified English Braille.
Larry, as the Music Braille Committee Chairman, please accept our sincere congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award. We are each indebted to the many years of service that you have generously given to NBA, and more specifically music braille transcribers. Thank you for your expert advice, keen teaching skills and the endless hours spent answering our questions, correcting our lessons, writing workshop material and submitting Bulletin articles. You will forever hold a special place in our hearts and we are all very, very proud of your accomplishments in the area of music braille.
On behalf of the National Braille Association, it is my honor and privilege to present you with the National Braille Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, along with a gift certificate from the Music Braille Committee.
Abraham Nemeth was born October 16, 1918, and passed away October 2, 2013, just shy of his 95th birthday. He was an American mathematician and inventor. He was Professor of Mathematics at the University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, Michigan. Nemeth was blind and was known for developing a system for blind people to read and write mathematics.
Nemeth was born in New York City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan into a large family of Polish Jewish immigrants who spoke Yiddish. He was blind from birth from a combination of macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
He attended public schools at first but did most of his primary and secondary education at the Jewish Guild for the Blind school in Yonkers, New York. His undergraduate studies were at Brooklyn College where he studied psychology. He earned a Master of Arts degree in Psychology from Columbia University.
Nemeth studied mathematics and physics at Brooklyn College. He did not major in mathematics because his academic advisors discouraged him. However, tired of what he felt were unfulfilling jobs at agencies for the blind, and with the encouragement of his first wife Florence, he decided to continue his education in mathematics.
As the coursework became more advanced, he found that he needed a braille code that would more effectively handle the kinds of math and science material he was tackling. Ultimately, he developed the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, which was published in 1952. The Nemeth Code has gone through four revisions since its initial development and continues to be widely used today.
Nemeth was instrumental in the development of Unified English Braille (UEB) from 1991 to at least 2001, though he eventually parted ways with others developing that code and instead worked on a parallel effort called the Universal Braille System (sometimes abbreviated as NUBS with his name appended to the front).
For me, Abe was the modern day Louis Braille who envisioned what he needed for tactile reading to accomplish his educational career in physics. He did this by developing a braille code for mathematics and scientific notation that has proven to be effective for half a century.
In my own career, I have had the opportunity to speak with and hire Abraham Nemeth as a transcriber of Hebrew. During the 90’s I was asked to prepare the Lord’s Prayer in several languages for the prayer wall in Israel. Who better to do the Hebrew version than Abe himself? He did this as a volunteer and that transcription on metal appears on that prayer wall today.
The following is the speech given by Barbara Taffet while accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2013 Professional Development Conference.
In accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Braille Association, Barbara Taffet first thanked the board of NBA and her husband, Bert (for nominating her). She then paid tribute to five teachers and mentors she worked with in the 1960s and 1970s when she was in her 20s and 30s. Here is a summary of her remarks.
Adele Bachrach was my English Braille teacher. She worked for the Industrial Home for the Blind (later Helen Keller Services for the Blind) as a volunteer transcriber. In the first hour of the first lesson, she taught me the first rule of Braille transcribing – “Do it right or do it over”. This was in 1965 and we were using slates and styluses, writing and reading in two directions. Any slip of the stylus meant “start over”.
Virginia Scharoff, was my supervisor at the IHB Braille Library. Virginia was active in the NBA and was a Past President. In the 11 years I worked for Virginia, I learned many things. But the most valuable lesson was to always keep in mind the braille-reading blind person who either needs this book, wants this book, or whose academic success this year depends on this book.
Helen Roberts, was my Nemeth teacher. Helen was also a volunteer at the IHB Braille Library. When the first release of the Nemeth Code came out in 1965, Helen made it her task to unravel it and prepare a series of lessons for IHB transcribers. I met Helen in 1967 in that Nemeth Code class. Of the many things I learned from Helen, perhaps the most important had to do with reading braille rules. She forced me to figure out what the rule really means (not what you would like it to mean). And she walked me through situations where 4, 5, or more braille rules and principles are involved in one math expression. Helen was part of a 3-person committee which revised the Nemeth Code (the 1972 Revision – still in use today), and was asked by the Library of Congress to write an instruction manual of 16 lessons – with copious examples and homework material – for the purpose of certification. Helen died too soon, in her 50s. She had only completed 7 lessons in her book. But she had designated me as her successor author. Luckily for me, there was a co-author.
Bernard Krebs, was my very distinguished collaborator. Bernard Krebs was known as Mr. Braille. He had been one of the founders of the Braille Club, which was the forerunner of the NBA and he was its first president. He was known throughout the field for his manuals, transcriber aids, lesson plans and workshops. Although not an expert in the Nemeth Code, he was definitely an expert in technical writing. When I completed a lesson, he would examine everything about it, from proofreading, to sequence, clarity, and examples. From Mr. Krebs, I got a real education in technical writing. It was because of my work with Helen and Bernard Krebs that my name is listed along with theirs on the title page of “An Introduction to Braille Mathematics”.
I would like to digress long enough to give you my opinion that our braille codes, manuals, and other written material are written in a clear and jargon-free style which, I believe, was initially laid down by the early manuals of Bernard Krebs.
Abraham Nemeth, changed my professional life. In 1976, Dr. Nemeth and I were together for one week at an international conference in Moscow concerning various national codes for mathematical braille. Dr. Nemeth had 1 ½ hours to present everything he wanted to say about the code, and then the same amount of time was allowed for questions. He informed me that, contrary to the practice of the other senior delegates, he was asking me to answer all the questions. Then, for the first 15 minutes of his talk, he talked, not about the Nemeth Code, but about the rigorous system of training and certification for American braille transcribers – most of whom were volunteers. Other countries had only paid transcribers and seemed dubious that the quality of American braille could be excellent. At the end of his description of training and ongoing education – including the activities of the NBA – he held me up as an example of this system of excellence in training.
At that moment, I stopped thinking of myself as a stay-at-home mom who did braille in her spare time. I realized that I was a highly trained professional in an extremely complex field who had completed thousands of pages of braille, and co-authored a major instruction manual, and the fact that I was not paid HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
In 1977, I entered Corporate America in order to earn a salary. Although I went into an industry and field about which I knew very little, I built a successful career. I did this partly because of the lessons about accuracy, the end-user, analysis, technical writing, and professional self-awareness which I learned from my teachers and mentors. I returned to braille in the early 1990s.
I accept this award in honor of Adele Bachrach of blessed memory, of Virginia Brooks Scharoff of blessed memory, of Helen Roberts of blessed memory, of Bernard Krebs of blessed memory, of Abraham Nemeth – may he live long and prosper, going from strength to strength – and in honor of all of you who are carrying our important work forward into the 21st century.
Ann Kelt has been a transcriber for over 40 years, she has presented workshops in California (CTEVH before the name change) and in Florida (VAVF) on textbook format and foreign language format. She is a tireless promoter of quality braille both in her personal transcribing duties and in the work of others. Ann has been a member of at least two of BANA’s technical committees. I requested comments from several people who have known and worked with Ann for years and got an immediate response from all of them.
BANA Formats Technical Committee
Ann has been a member of the BANA Formats Technical Committee for several years and has committed time and effort toward the work of the committee. She has been a voice of caution and reason when the committee was going too far, too fast.
Sandy Smith, another committee member said, “Ann is unique addition to the committee. She brings talent and experience that helps balance the discussions and decision making in shaping the future. The list of her qualities is longer that I can think. Personally, I find her an amazing person and appreciate having the opportunity to work with her.”
BANA Foreign Language Technical Committee
Joanna Venneri sent the following comments on Ann’s work on the Foreign Language Manual.
Ann Kelt has been the chair of the BANA Ad Hoc Technical Committee on Foreign Language Materials virtually since its inception, some ten years ago. She has organized and coordinated the work of this committee as it prepares the new BANA Foreign Language Guidelines for Braille Transcription. This document is now in the final preparation stages.
The tasks of this committee have been many. The foundation of rules and guidelines had to be built from scratch using legacy documents. These early documents were often had limited accessibility for current technology and had many technical issues related to the special print needed for such languages as Greek, Russian, Hebrew and even Turkish. Throughout it all, as the committee worked on the technical issues, Ann was a paragon of patience. As documents became available, Ann applied knowledge of language issues and braille scholarship to build the foundation of the document that will become the official BANA Foreign Language Guidelines. There is simply no one else with such knowledge in both braille and foreign languages who could have done this.
Contra Costa Braille Transcribers
Patti Biasca responded with information about the Contra Costa Braille Transcribers group and about Ann’s work with CTEBVI.
Ann Kelt has been a member of Contra Costa Braille Transcribers for approximately 40 years. She was chair for many, many years and taught a number of transcribing classes to volunteers.
Ann served a two-year term as the president of CTEBVI (then CTEVH) and also chaired a very successful conference. She has presented many, many workshops and still continues to do so.
Rod Brawley sent me the following email about Ann’s work with CSMT.
Ann Kelt was pivotal in helping the California Department of Education’s Clearinghouse for Specialized Media and Technology (CSMT) increase the quantity and quality of braille instructional materials available to students statewide. In many ways, Ann and I were in the eye of a perfect braille storm. At a time when the number of textbooks being developed by publishers and adopted by the State Board of Education was skyrocketing, the number of volunteer braille transcribers was dwindling. While textbooks were becoming increasingly complex, the demand for timely delivery of braille by parents and teachers was surging. While the value of braille was being questioned in some circles, the capacity of computer technology to facilitate transcription and embossing was incredible. To address these issues, the CSMT reached out to a number of organizations, agencies, and experts with whom we could collaborate to stitch together a service delivery model that would meet the needs of all concerned, most importantly, the students.
Ann was one of the first people we looked to for help. Her knowledge and experience in formatting textbooks and ancillary materials helped CSMT embark on a strategy to ensure that each title in a given adoption would be produced in accordance with the principles of print to braille transcription. Pre-formatting was a key concept to improving the quality of braille produced for students in California.
Ann’s keen insight into barriers that prevented braille from being delivered to students in a timely manner contributed greatly to increasing the quantity of braille produced for California students. With Ann’s guiding touch, CSMT was able to continue relying on volunteer organizations while expanding opportunities for those transcribers who wished to be paid for their work. Though there were conflicts, most were resolved. Some transcribers remained volunteers, some received remuneration, and some did both. New transcribers were recruited, trained, and received their certifications and many were contracted by the California Department of Education and other agencies nationwide. Some organizations closed their doors, others were contracted to emboss and bind textbooks, and still other, new organizations and private businesses came into being.
The list of new transcribing organizations included a cadre of skilled inmates at Folsom State Prison. As a valued mentor, Ann’s students earned certifications in literary, music, and math transcribing and proofreading. Large numbers of state-adopted textbooks in all subject areas have been transcribed by the Folsom Project for the Visually Impaired.
As computer-assisted braille transcription and translation software emerged, reliability improved, and potential escalated, Ann worked tirelessly with publishers to help CSMT figure out ways to increase the efficiency of these new tools. Simultaneously, technology was impacting the textbook publishing companies. The potential of publishers’ computer files facilitating the production of braille was exciting. Publishers are now required by California Education Code to provide computer files compatible with commonly used braille translation software. Without Ann’s valuable work, perhaps this would not have been adequately justified.
In conclusion, for many years I had the pleasure of leading the California Department of Education’s effort to make learning resources more accessible to students who are blind or visually impaired … Ann Kelt was a valued member of the CSMT team. She helped us lay the foundation for a service delivery system with increased capacity to distribute more high quality learning resources to more students in less time. Ann Kelt is golden in my heart and soul… for she contributed greatly to innovations in education of which I am very proud.
I have known Ann for many years and was aware of many of the braille fields in which she participated. However the depth and width of the responses from her friends and colleagues was amazing. I am honored and privileged to know and work with Ann and she most highly deserves this honor.
Shortly after receiving her NLS literary certification in 1983, Mary Ann began working for Madison (WI) Metropolitan School District as a transcriber. Her students went on to achieve much success in college and later in the job market. She has also affected the lives of the transcribers who followed her by promoting the importance of employing certified transcribers and advocating for a fair salary, thus achieving a pay scale for transcribers equivalent to that of interpreters for the hearing impaired and other service providers.
In 1990, Mary Ann became president of Volunteer Braillists and Tapists, Inc. (VBTI). She served as president for five years. During that time, she worked to expand the children’s library (part of VBTI’s Lending Library) and established a monthly Braille Story Hour for children aged 4-10. This story hour later evolved into a braille club for older children. Recently, Mary Ann has served on the board of VBTI and again is working on expanding the library’s collection by concentrating on the production of braille/print books for pre-schoolers. She has enlisted the assistance of “retired” transcribers who have been inactive for some time.
In 1999, Mary Ann became one of the founders of Wisconsin Braille Inc. (WisBrl), a networking organization of all those interested in promoting braille literacy in the state. One of WisBrl’s projects is to work with the braille transcribing service and production unit at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution (OSCI). Mary Ann visits the prison monthly to teach classes there. She gives workshops and encourages the inmates to secure advanced certifications in Nemeth code, music, and textbook formatting. OSCI has become one of the most successful programs in the country with several of its transcribers having at least one advanced certification.
Editor’s Note: OSCI transcribes the braille edition of the NBA Bulletin and provides tactile graphics to accompany the Tactile Graphics skills articles. One of its members is also an assistant editor of the NBA Bulletin.
Another project of WisBrl that Mary Ann began when she was president of the organization was the providing of free braille books to Wisconsin school libraries. With the help of OSCI, ten to twelve books are added to the list each year. Since the beginning, over 2000 books have been made available to Wisconsin’s school children.
In addition, Mary Ann serves as a member of the State Superintendent’s Blind and Visual Impairment Education Council. In this capacity, she continues to advocate for the recognition of school transcribers, the importance of certification, and a pay scale that recognizes the unique qualifications of certified transcribers.
Recently, Mary Ann presented two workshops at the 12 State Vision Midwest Conference—one for teachers of the visually impaired and one for parents of blind children.
Mary Ann joined the National Braille Association as soon as she was certified. After serving on the board for four years, she became President of NBA in 2000. Her legacy was the production of the NBA Braille Formats Course and eventually the NBA Certification in Textbook Transcribing.
Mary Ann served as the chair of many NBA committees—among them were Fund Development, Transcriber and Educator Services, Publications, Literary Braille, Braille Formats/Textbook, and the Braille Formats Course (including the Certification Test). She is the co-author of the NBA Braille Formats Course and one of the developers of the tests presently being used for the NBA Certification in Textbook Transcribing. She has written many articles for the NBA Bulletin and presented workshops at national conferences for over ten years.
She has the NBA Certification in Textbook Transcribing.
Perhaps the most astounding fact about Mary Ann is the number of volunteer hours that she has contributed over the years—locally, statewide, and nationally. Even using a conservative estimate (an average of twenty hours per week for fifty weeks), this means that she contributes a thousand hours a year!