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Summer 2006 Table of Contents
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The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Museum

Kristi Sprinkle, Intranet Administrator, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: the author describes the research and development behind the establishment of the new Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired museum, currently open on campus. A brief overview of braille writers on display is also included.

Keywords: braille, braille writers, blindness education, history of blindness, residential schools.

The idea for creating a museum of the history of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has always been on the back burner, but people have known the school should have a museum and would, eventually. For example, our librarian, Diane Nousanen, saved several items in archiving boxes that otherwise would have been tossed. Our head of maintenance kept discarded antique furniture from the turn of the century. A sheet music holder, a trophy case and other items have all been found in storage on the TSBVI campus. But a museum is more than things, more than just what we saved from history. The museum is our connection to the past and to the future.

A copy of Helen Keller’s handwriting in the archive of the
TSBVI Learning Resources Center.

While talking to Dr. Hatlen one day, I discovered that the idea of a museum of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired history was being discussed. Since I was interested in our roots, I explored this a little more and we put together a museum “team” (because the word “committee” flummoxes me every time I think about it). After the team was assembled, I was put in charge of it. And being in charge means the first thing I would need is some help. I asked the Austin Museum Partnership for assistance and received some excellent advice and someone to help guide me through the process of opening a museum.

The space delegated for the museum was in former Dormitory A. I was given the “apartment” and the common room, a space equalling a little over a thousand square feet. So now what to do about displays? I visited many museums, to steal ideas and to get a feel for what we could do. I did a lot of research on the types of museums and found that there were many “under glass” museums, a non-tactile, untouchable, look-only approach. Most museums for the blind are this way. I found out there are only a handful of truly accessible museums in the entire world. Our goal is to develop additional displays to make the TSBVI museum more accessible by including features like a listening station, self-guided tours, computer kiosks, etc. But we had to start somewhere.

So that was the first problem. How do I make the museum accessible without the public destroying the artifacts that we have? I asked Teresa, our receptionist who is blind, if putting Braille on the wall was the way to go. She told me that it is hard to read with the fingers, and if there are many people in the museum who are blind, it would create somewhat of a traffic jam. So what did I do? I put in floor cues. If a cane touched the square on the floor, the holder of the cane will know to feel for something on the wall at that point. This item is a small square that defines which wall they are touching. Then, I have the materials corresponding to each of the walls in a notebook.

But there are still many items to touch and to experience that speak for themselves: An old school bell from before the electronic system came along, six different Braillewriters, trophies of old glory days, slate and stylus (including a nice New York Point one) and various other things that can be picked up and felt. For sighted kids and adults, I set up a Braille station with an explanation of what a Braille cell is as well as the alphabet with a loaded Perkins Brailler. KC Dignan at the school has given me cards from NFB that have a saying on it in Braille that can be “decoded” with the alphabet right on the card. There will be other activities during “Museum Day” in Austin (September 10th) when many of the public museums are open for free or for a reduced price. The TSBVI museum is always free.

Perkins Brailer at an  accessible learning center.

Dr. Hatlen’s Expanded Core Curriculum concepts were stenciled on the walls with a visual Braille display of them directly underneath (all uncontracted Braille) as well as the tactile Braille. Patti Robinson, our local artist who has designed a huge number of our summer school shirts at TSBVI, did the artistic part. Diane, our librarian, figured out a way to put dots on the wall. It has been a real collaborative effort, with many at the school jumping in and participating.

Boys at TSBVI making brooms.

We have history that extends back to a time when Austin only had about 1500 people – a history rich with board members right out of the days of the Texas Revolution, superintendents who were physicians and leaders in Texas History (one of which was the governor’s personal physician), and many other characters that started in Austin, but really were Texas heroes. Our heroes.

Many staff say “it’s about time!” because we lost a lot of our artifacts and historical items in the 1980s with a great purging; I bite my lip every time I hear, “Oh, we gave that away to the Salvation Army years ago”. Ouch. Most of the artifacts in the museum came from our campus somewhere and I know there are more things to discover, closets to explore. I found basket-weaving material in a classroom closet, an old watch in a box in an old bathroom-turned-storage room. Other items came to me through many of the generous folks on campus who were willing to donate them. What we have still tells a rich and valuable story not only for the employees here, but for Austinites and for the blindness community here and all over the world.

Girls at TSBVI weaving baskets.

The museum is open Saturdays from 10am until 2pm, at least for our sesquicentennial year, and hopefully we will find enough volunteers or student help to keep it open several hours during the week. If you have a large group who would like a guided tour, please call the school at 512-454-8631 and we’ll be more than happy to help you. Better yet, if you were a TSBVI student or employee who might have taken a “keepsake” at home, what better time to return it during our extended amnesty period, which will continue for as long as the museum is open!

A Tour of Braille Writers Through the Years At the TSBVI Museum with Holly Cooper

Advertised as the “first successful Braille
writer” in Outlook for the Blind, the Hall
Braille Typewriter was widely produced in
the 1930’s and 1940’s

The Andersson and Sorenson Braille writer
was made in Copenhagen, Denmark in the 1950’s

This Braille writer was known as the Blista
and made in the 1960’s in Germany.

This modern style braillewriter was made in
Japan from 1962 to 1982 and was called the
Lavendar Braille writer. Since it had many plastic
parts, it was lightweight and portable, but the
plastic ecame brittle with age and parts broke easily.

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010