Main content

Alert message

Presented to the AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum

Louisville, Kentucky

October 11, 2000

Download RTF version (42k)

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Survey Information

A. Development of Survey

B. Survey respondents

C. Survey acronyms

III. Major Impressions


Recognizing that timely provision of textbooks and instructional materials in the appropriate accessible media continues to be a major problem confronting students who are blind or visually impaired in America's classrooms, the American Foundation for the Blind formed the Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum. The AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum includes representatives of agencies and organizations involved in the production and distribution of textbooks and instructional materials. It's focus is the development of a coordinated action plan for assuring equality of access to instructional materials for students who are blind or visually impaired.

The AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum is directly related to Goal #7 of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (Corn, Hatlen, Huebner, Ryan, & Siller, 1995). This goal is one of eight goals that are being addressed at national, state and local levels. Goal 7 reads:

Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance that instructional materials are available to students in the appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted peers.

The Training and Other Needs Work Group is one of five work groups of the AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum that addresses different issues related to Goal 7. The other work groups include The Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group, Legislative and Policy Making; Production; and Communication and Collaboration. These work groups address:

  • Lack of standardization of electronic file formats provided by textbook publishers
  • Inaccessibility of multimedia textbooks, especially those delivered via the Internet and CD-Rom
  • Variation in state textbook regulations for accessible instructional materials
  • Inconsistent interpretation of copyright law provisions
  • High expense of producing specialized materials and the lack of fiscal incentives to develop new technologies
  • Shortage of qualified Braille transcribers and production resources
  • Communication and collaboration barriers, including duplication of efforts

The Training and Other Needs Work Group seeks to identify the necessary steps required to increase the number of qualified Braille transcribers and identify the skill sets needed for training people associated with the creation and use of textbooks and instructional materials for students with visual impairments.

This Training and Availability of Braille Transcribers Survey was developed to provide a national overview of the numbers of trained Braille transcribers, skill sets necessary for the job tasks they typically perform, and to explore recruitment and retention issues. It was anticipated that data could be used to define new solutions for continuing challenges and to provide information for long range planning.

The Training and Availability of Braille Transcribers Survey focuses on textbooks and instructional materials associated with textbooks rather than teacher-made materials. However, it is understood that Braille transcribers may, as part of their jobs, create day-to-day materials that are used within general education classrooms.

The Training and Availability of Braille Transcribers Survey data are divided into several sections: introductory and general information about the survey; major impressions from the findings; availability of Braille transcribers; funding, salaries and contracted services; current and future needs for Braille transcribers; recruitment; standards and quality of Braille; training; continuing education; and advantages, disadvantages, and recommendations for change.

Data are provided based on the researchers' judgement about whether the number of states, percentage of respondents, or other information would be most useful for readers. When percentages are given, they are given for those respondents who answered the specific question, this would also represent the number of states as one response was provided by each state. When the number of states responding to a particular question is very small or when the number responding is of interest, the exact number is given (e.g., n=5).

Means are provided for many items as they help to illustrate the "picture" of the status and needs for Braille transcribers in the country as a whole. However, the reader should always give due consideration to the range of responses. While all states contribute to overall means, some states' responses may begin with 0. Hence, some states may not have a foundation on which to build training programs for Braille transcribers.

This survey reflects the responses of states. It does not include information pertaining to Braille transcribers hired by the American Printing House for the Blind. Further, this survey does not address the Braille transcribers currently employed, volunteering, and/or needed in U.S. territories, e.g., Puerto Rico.

Certification refers to that provided through examination by the National Library Service.

This is an executive summary, emphasizing the findings of this survey. It is recommended that these data along with data from other surveys of the AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum be considered together for a richer understanding of the status and needs for textbooks and other instructional materials in the U.S. As time and resources are available, the researchers welcome requests for additional data or presentation of data in different formats.

Within the next few months, manuscripts will be developed for submission to professional journals. At that time, a more thorough discussion of the findings will become available.

Survey Information

Development of Surveys

On October 14, 1998 thirty-five stakeholders met in Louisville, KY. They represented textbook publishers; educators; policy makers, access technology specialists; producers of Braille, large print and recorded textbooks; parents of children who are blind or visually impaired; and adults who are blind or visually impaired. At this initial meeting of the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum, attendees discussed many issues, concerns, and challenges relating to textbooks and instructional materials for students with visual impairments.

During the initial meeting, a significant issue was identified concerning the critical shortage of qualified Braille transcribers. In January 1999 a plan of action teleconference was held and the Training and Other Needs Work Group determined the critical shortage of Braille transcribers was an area the work group would address. It became clear to the work group that national information from states was needed. A survey would identify areas of need, especially related to pre-service and in-service training and long range planning.

Larry Brown, representing the Oregon Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Handicapped, was the lead person organizing the survey project. Following is a timeline of how the survey was developed and distributed.

March 6-7, 1999

Through numerous teleconferences, a draft survey was developed by the work group. At the AFB Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (JLTLI) in Washington, D.C., the 125 education participants were asked to respond to the draft. Comments from the JLTLI participants indicated the following data would be of prime importance: numbers of transcribers in each state, current training needs of Braille transcribers including skill sets needed by transcribers, training currently available to transcribers, resources for continued training, and suggestions for recruitment and retention of Braille transcribers.

July 1999

The work group continued developing the core list of questions through e-mail and teleconference and gave their feedback to Larry Brown and Mary Ann Siller, AFB Solutions Forum project coordinator.

August 1999

The work group wanted additional assistance about the appropriate type of questions needing to be included in the survey. AFB's Social Researcher, Dr. Corinne Kirchner, was asked to review the survey. Her comments were sent back to the work group for review.

Another focus at this time was to identify the appropriate stakeholder in each state who would receive the survey. This person would be asked to coordinate his/her state's answers. Larry Brown and Suzanne Dalton from the Florida Instructional Materials Center coordinated the development of a list of people who would receive the survey and the people receiving copies of the cover letter only.

October 21, 1999

At a meeting of the Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Handicapped (AIRCVH), held in concert with the annual meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind, participants were asked to comment on the current list of questions of the draft survey. During the APH Annual Meeting, the Training and Availability of Braille Transcribers Survey was given a high priority for discussion and review during both the Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Handicapped (AIRCVH) meeting and the Association of State Education Consultants for the Visually Impaired. Larry Brown and Mary Ann Siller were the discussion leaders.

November 1, 1999

The work group determined that in most cases the AIRCVH representative would be the lead person asked to coordinate the responses for his or her state. In other states the state consultant for the visually impaired or other individual in a leadership capacity was asked to coordinate the responses for the state. In addition, as appropriate, additional individuals in leadership positions received a copy of the cover letter. Therefore, while one state response was expected for each of the 50 states, it was vital to have input to these responses from key individuals.

A pilot of the survey was initiated and sent to the AIRCVH representative in Arizona, South Dakota, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kansas and Washington.

December 1999

Drs Anne Corn and Robert Wall of Vanderbilt University received a contract to assist with further development of the survey, to conduct the statistical analyses, and to prepare the executive summary.

January 19, 2000

Dr. Corn and Dr. Wall reviewed all information from the pilot surveys and additional ideas from the work group to suggest the appropriate set of questions for the final survey. Using this information they further developed the survey.

March 2, 2000

Prior to the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute in Dallas, Texas, the AFB Solutions Forum met. This national meeting provided yet another opportunity for feedback from the experts in the work group.

A pilot of the revised survey was sent to Colorado, West Virginia, Texas, and Kansas.

Their comments were reviewed by Dr. Corn, Dr. Wall and Mary Ann Siller for inclusion in the survey.

April 10, 2000

The survey and cover letter were sent to the key contact person identified by the work group with copies of the cover letter to people in the state who were involved with the production of textbooks or training of braille transcribers. The return date was May 4.

May - August 2000

Data entry was organized by Dr. Wall as soon as surveys were returned. Calls and email messages to the key contact people who had not returned the survey were made by Larry Brown and Mary Ann Siller. On July 26, 32 states had returned the survey. On August 23, it was determined the analysis must begin and additional calls to states with outstanding surveys would be stopped.

August 10, 2000

As we entered the analysis phase, the AFB Solutions Forum was asked to identify the most critical sets of questions from the survey that must be analyzed for the Training Work Group to better define future strategies for training and recruitment.


40 states responded to this survey.

16 (40%) of those who completed surveys were directors of state IMCs or IRCs. Others completing the surveys included state vision consultants, superintendents of special schools, and coordinators of Braille and Talking Books programs.


AER Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired

AIRCVH Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Handicapped

BANA Braille Authority of North America

IMC Instructional Materials Center

IRC Instructional Resource Center

DOE Department of Education

NBA National Braille Association

NLS National Library Service

TVI Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments

Major Impressions

The following impressions are derived from the data. They are not offered in any significant order. They should be reviewed both individually and with a thorough review of the data presented in this summary report.

  1. Blind children rely more on volunteers to produce their Braille texts and materials than paid employees. For example, 57.7% of the full time transcribers are volunteers.
  2. A low percentage of transcribers are currently certified. For example, of the full time transcribers, employed and volunteer, only 51.8% are certified by the National Library Service.
  3. There is a current and expanding shortage of Braille transcribers to meet needs. For example, it is estimated that the 50 states currently need 380 full time transcribers. Within 5 years the U.S. will need 735 transcribers, and within ten years there will be a need for 1,020 additional transcribers.
  4. There are significant problems associated with recruitment, training and continuing education processes as well as the ways in which proficiency is demonstrated for various areas of Braille production. For example, while use of the National Library Service training program is the predominant approach to preparing Braille transcribers, the overall reported rate of success is 30.7%.
  5. Several states indicate that transcribers' proficiency in specific skill areas (e.g., tactile diagrams and foreign languages) is demonstrated through the National Library Service certification. However, this certification covers only literary and mathematics transcription and proofreading, and music Braille transcription.
  6. The status of Braille transcribers is not clear and/or without recognition. More formal job descriptions, career paths, and professional training needs to be addressed at state an national levels. For example, low pay for transcribers and the difficulty recruiting staff who could receive higher salaries with jobs requiring comparable skill levels were often cited as obstacles to recruitment.
  7. Funding for transcribers, their equipment, and the resources they need for carrying out their job roles need to be addressed. For example, the funding for equipment, computers, training, and even paper were indicated as needs in various states.