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Report of Braille Production Specialist Focus Group Meeting
January 2000

Equal educational opportunity for students who are blind requires timely access to textbooks workbooks and other instructional materials. Adapted textbooks, workbooks, tests, classroom materials, and instructional software are needed by students to master the general curriculum along with sighted peers. Despite a long established Texas system for braille textbook production, critical shortages of trained transcribers and recent changes in the Texas textbook adoption process, have led to concerns about the state's future capacity to produce braille textbooks in the quantity, quality, and timeline needed by students.

In January 2000, the Texas Education Agency convened a Focus Group of national experts to provide input to Texas on strategies to address the ever present but growing state and national shortage of certified braille transcribers with the skills to produce high quality braille textbooks. Members of the Focus Group were chosen for their specialized expertise and experiences in all aspects of braille textbook production. The three major braille production centers within Texas as well as programs in New York, Illinois, California, Washington DC, Louisiana, Florida, Oregon, and Kentucky were represented. In addition, representatives from Northwest Vista Community College in San Antonio, Texas, provided information on the possibility and process for developing a training program within the community college system.

The specific purpose of the meeting was to determine whether a partnership between the Texas Education Agency, Texas braille production centers, and the Texas community college system could lead to an increased supply of skilled transcribers to provide braille state-adopted textbooks in a timely manner for students in grades one through twelve.

The Focus Group was asked to verify the need for an organized training program, to confirm the feasibility of such a program as part of a community college system, and to provide information and recommendations related to implementation of this initiative. The experts were asked to describe the current status of braille production across the country, outline the specialized competencies needed in order to produce quality braille textbooks; and define the scope of a potential community college training program.

The group confirmed the need for new and creative initiatives to recruit and train an adequate supply of personnel for this field. It developed and endorsed a set of braille transcriber competencies that expanded the traditional expectation of knowledge of literary braille, to knowledge of formatting, graphics, braille production, and higher-level braille code skills such as Nemeth (math) and foreign language codes. Experts identified sources of data necessary to establish a viable training system and made recommendations concerning recruitment of new personnel. An action plan was agreed upon to pursue this initiative.

Review of National Issues Related to the Status of Braille Production

The Focus Group identified the following common issues that are related to the current shortage of braille transcribers, both nationally and in Texas. There are many common features of braille production systems across the country, each with subtle differences based on numerous variables.


States address braille transcription in many and varied ways. Several, such as Texas and California, have state-level systems to ensure that their state-adopted textbooks are made available in braille. Some states have statewide instructional material centers that provide braille versions of any textbook for their local districts. Some, including Texas, use their statewide systems only for the state-adopted textbooks, leaving local districts to develop the means to produce or acquire braille versions of state-adopted ancillaries, non-state-adopted textbooks and ancillaries, supplemental novels, and teacher made materials. Others, such as California, provide textbooks for certain grade levels but not all. Many states have no statewide system and accessing materials in braille is the responsibility of the local district. There are several national braille production houses such as the American Printing House for the Blind and the National Braille Association that are available to produce braille for those states and districts that do not have internal systems. State and national systems typically have some competency requirements resulting in transcribers with higher-level skills, while most local districts have few or no standards governing their level of competencies, resulting in transcribers with a wide range of competency. Many are only able to use computerized braille production software, but do not have the skills to ensure the accuracy of the automated braille product.


Historically, volunteer community members, usually women, have been the primary producers of braille. This pool of volunteers has been significantly shrinking in the last decades. A pattern of aging volunteers with few new, younger, replacements is similar across the nation. For example, the average volunteer producing braille for the Helen Keller Services for the Blind/Braille Library in New York, is over 70 years old. Still, in most states, a volunteer workforce produces the majority of braille.

Because of the increasing difficulties in recruiting and successfully training volunteers, there is a growing recognition of the need to consider braille transcription as an occupation or profession and the need to pay the highly skilled individuals commensurate with the technical level of work they perform. (It is estimated that the skills of a transcriber are comparable in degree of difficulty to those of a court reporter.) An increasing number of braille transcribers are being paid. These paid transcribers may work as salaried permanent full-time or part-time employees for large braille production centers, or as paraprofessionals for local school districts. Others work on a contract basis for the large braille production centers and/or for the local districts. Contracted transcribers are paid by the hour, page, or project. There are no national or state guidelines for determining transcriber pay scales.

A few local school districts in the country have tied pay scales for paraprofessionals producing braille, to experience and levels of the Library of Congress National Library Service braille transcriber certifications. (The National Library Service is the only recognized braille transcriber certification entity in the country.) In California, a 1997 survey indicated that those with National Library Service certification earned an average of $12.73 per hour compared to those without certification, whose average was $12.58 per hour. San Diego ISD established three levels of paraprofessional positions related to serving students with visual impairments. The salaries increase with higher training and skill levels: paraprofessional, braille specialists, and certified braille transcribers. This is not typical, nationally. For example, in Texas, paraprofessionals employed by local school districts generally do not receive additional compensation for successfully completing training for National Library Service certification in braille transcription.

Braille production is more than transcription. It includes transcribing, proofreading, embossing, and binding. Frequently, the transcriber will perform all of these functions. In the large braille production centers, braille production is a team process, with different personnel trained to carry out the different steps of the process. For example, the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc., has established the following four job levels related to braille production, with different pay scales associated with each level.

  • Level One: collating, binding, shipping

  • Level Two: machine operators: braille presses and printers

  • Level Three: proofreading and copy holding

  • Level Four: transcribing and editing

(See Attachment B for selected examples of current transcriber pay scales.)

Recruitment Strategies

It has been difficult to recruit new braille transcribers for training (even for paid positions) partly because the financial incentive is minimal. For example, local school districts train existing paraprofessional aides to become transcribers but, despite the complexity of the training and high level of skills required, transcribing is frequently assigned as an additional job duty with no increase in pay.

Recruitment to this profession is also difficult because there is no guarantee of consistent paid employment. The state and local district textbook adoption processes are cyclical and seasonal. Usually, during the spring and summer there are more books to be transcribed than there are transcribers, but later in the school year, transcribers may not have work. There is no system to facilitate an efficient, consistent distribution of work among transcribers. While there may be a glut of books to be transcribed in one state, there may be transcribers in other states without assignments. In Texas, braille textbook production centers are able to support year-round work for a limited number of permanent employees, while supplementing their efforts by contracting in- and out-of-state for services during peak periods. However, even with permanent positions available, it is difficult to find applicants for those positions with the prerequisite skills.

It is also difficult to recruit individuals because the general population is unaware that there is such a job as braille transcription. This is not a profession listed in any career resource or database on available jobs.

Use of Certification Standards

State-level braille textbook production efforts usually require National Library Service certification. The large braille production centers typically hire untrained staff and provide in-house training leading to mastery of the National Library Service competencies.

The competencies for National Library Service certification are currently based upon what many consider to be the somewhat obsolete six-key entry method. The National Library Service is currently developing new competencies for transcribers that reflect the more sophisticated and common practice of using packaged software translation programs that use the standard computer keyboard, rather than modifying the keyboard to resemble a manual braillewriter.

Most local school districts that employ paraprofessionals to produce braille for their students do not require or recognize or compensate for National Library Service certification or other training. As a result, there is a pool of individuals with at least basic, and sometimes excellent transcription skills that are unavailable to the large braille producers during the heavy brailling seasons because they do not have the required certification. This is particularly frustrating since the local transcribers typically do not work during summers and could otherwise be available when the majority of state-level textbook brailling occurs. Those few districts that do provide competency-based training typically use the National Library Service standard.

In both local and statewide braille production, uniform standards regarding job description, personnel classification titles, and salary ranges do not exist for personnel who produce educational materials for blind students.

Training Strategies

Many states offer refresher courses for transcribers, using training resources from the National Braille Association (NBA), or California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped (CTEVH), but none currently provide or require basic skills training for new transcribers in a systematic fashion.

Across the country, training is provided primarily through an apprenticeship, on-the-job training model. Many local school districts pair a teacher of the visually impaired with a paraprofessional for informal instruction. In large braille production centers, seasoned transcribers mentor and supervise incoming personnel, usually using National Library Service training materials as well as on-the-job coaching.

Periodically, agencies such as braille production centers, local school districts, or regional centers will sponsor group National Library Service certification programs. Individuals may independently acquire the National Library Service training materials and begin the self-pace training alone. However, only a very small percentage of those who begin a certification program actually complete it. The National Library Service program is designed for independent study and is a very demanding course. Many of the trainees are attracted to the program because of an idealized image of helping blind people, but are not aware of the degree of detail, hard work, and time required to complete the training. The Focus Group estimates that there is only one successful certification out of 20 initial participants in this training program.

The Focus Group agreed that to increase the success rate of trainees, a training program should incorporate the following characteristics.

  • Train with a mentor/supervisor and on-site support

  • Use the NBA training materials now offered through the Internet

  • Design "fun" training strategies

  • If the trainee is to work for a local district, provide software and equipment in the local school districts during and after training

  • Include formatting and editing skills in addition to the basic literacy skills

Current Supply of Certified Transcribers

There are no reliable numbers currently available to identify how many active transcribers are available nationally. The National Library Service has statistics for those who have passed the certification tests, but these do not reflect those transcribers who braille but do not have certification. Nor does it indicate whether these individuals are actively working in this profession. One indication that there is a severe shortage is the American Printing House for the Blind estimate that of the 3000 new textbook titles published last year, only 78 are now available in braille nationwide.

The shortage of certified literary braille transcribers is severe, but the shortage is even more pronounced for transcribers with the specialized certifications needed for the more technical subjects such as math, science and computer literacy. Different types of textbooks require different levels of skilled transcribers. Textbooks without math, computer, or scientific notation require skill in the braille literary code. These have become relatively fast (weeks/months) to transcribe into braille using computer translation software and high-speed braille embossing machines, if publishers provide appropriately formatted electronic files to work from. However, math and higher-level science textbooks require an additional special braille code, Nemeth Code, and can take twelve to eighteen months to complete. Translation software does not currently work with math-based subjects. The Texas Education Agency estimated that to braille all of its new math adoptions for the 1998-1999 adoption year, on time, would have required more than the total number of Nemeth certified braille transcribers in the nation, working full time only on those texts.

The American Foundation for the Blind is currently developing a set of three national surveys that are designed to provide in-depth data about braille transcribers. The report is projected to be available by August 2000.

The Texas Braille Production System for State-Adopted Textbooks

The Texas Education Agency contracts with braille producers through a bidding process for braille transcription of newly adopted textbooks. There are currently three major braille textbook producers in Texas, based at Educational Service Center Region IV in Houston, Education Service Center Region 20 in San Antonio, and at Visual Aide Volunteers in Garland, Texas. These entities employ permanent transcribers and contract with independent transcribers in Texas and in other states. The Texas Education Agency publishes a request for bids for braille transcription of new textbooks. The producers receive publisher's electronic files for all but the high school math, science, and music textbooks. A single transcriber brailles an entire textbook to ensure formatting consistency. (Other production centers may use several transcribers to braille one book.)

Historically, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted a limited number of textbooks in each subject area for districts to choose for local adoptions. Each of the books was transcribed the year of the adoption and over the six-year adoption cycle period, each title was requested in braille. In recent years, the SBOE began a new adoption process that greatly expanded the list of adopted books, resulting in a tremendous strain on the braille production system. In response, the state's braille textbook production process is being analyzed and modified. Obviously, it will take more transcribers to produce the increased number of adopted textbooks in a timely manner.

As in many other states, the timelines for the textbook adoption process hinders the timely production of braille texts. Currently, in Texas, there is a November state adoption date, and a deadline for local school districts to notify the Texas Education Agency of required texts for the next school year is April 1. However, there is not enough time between April and the beginning of school in August to produce the books. This is especially true for math and science books. As a result, the braille producers must begin transcribing before they know which books will be ordered the first year. Without sufficient numbers of transcribers to braille all of the books within the first year of an adoption, it may be necessary to develop a prioritization system to determine which of the books will be needed first.

Urgent Need for Transcriber Training Program

Following the discussion of the current national issues related to braille production and the Texas system, the Focus Group verified that there is an urgent national as well as statewide need for a training program to prepare the number of transcribers needed to meet the current and future demands for braille production.

Community College System in Texas

Community colleges train new workers in a growing number of technical professions. Representatives from the Northwest Vista Community College in San Antonio were invited to participate in the Focus Group to provide insight into the Texas community college system and to describe the process that must be implemented to develop a new training program that would result in highly qualified braille transcribers.

In Texas, community colleges have the flexibility to work with community employers to create programs to train the workforce needed by their businesses. The training programs can be designed based on a multitude of models that meet the unique need of the specific industry. Such programs can address €œemerging occupations.€ If the training program will result in degree status, such as an associate's degree, community colleges must seek approval through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB).

In order to create a training program that fits the unique need of a specific profession, the community college develops a job profile, identifies required entry-level competencies, develops appropriate curriculum, and aligns courses and instructional delivery design. There must be an outside source of funding (approximately $40,000) to initiate and complete the job profiling process. Once the job profiling is completed, the remaining costs of developing and implementing the program are provided by the community college.

Job Profiling

Community colleges use the ACT, Inc. Work Keys process to identify skill standards for a profession. (More information is available at For the profession of transcriber, this process would begin by selecting several currently employed transcribers and using the Work Keys system to analyze of all of the task categories in their jobs. Then the process would identify needed academic and computer skills (including computer speed), interpersonal skills, and other needed competencies, and cluster those into entry and proficiency level competencies. Information on potential job markets, estimated pay rates, and other factors are included in the analysis. Through this process, the college defines an appropriate occupational title.

Curriculum Development

The community college provides staff to create the methodology and instructional design needed to provide training in the identified skills.

Training Models

Numerous models for community college-level training exist, such as an associate of applied science degree program (60-66 credit hours, typically a 2-year program), an apprenticeship program (fewer hours with a faster start in a paid position after provisional training), or non-credit training programs (under 60 hours). Once the job profiling is completed and competencies have been fully developed, the specific model that best meets the training needs is identified. . If a credit program is the most appropriate, the college will hire a full-time staff person who must be approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Any of the models can establish entrance prerequisites, such as passing the Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP).

The need for certified transcribers is both a statewide and national problem. The Focus Group recommended developing a training program model that has the capacity to address the shortages in other regions and states. Northwest Vista Community College has distance education capabilities, and can provide outreach services once a program is fully developed. Community colleges also have provisions for sharing credits with other colleges, which may be helpful in serving participants from other parts of Texas and the United States.

There may be funding available to pilot a limited version of this training program from a Texas Workforce Commission "emerging occupations" program.

The Focus Group agreed that the systems outlined by the community college participants would provide an excellent resource for training new certified braille transcribers. The results of the job profiling process would have national benefit beyond its immediate focus for Texas. The information could be used by employers to develop appropriate job descriptions, and would be a primary tool for articulating the highly technical nature of the profession that could lead to appropriate levels of compensation. There was unanimous support for pursuing the development of a training program within the community college system.

Initial Information Needed by Community College

In order for the community college to initiate the work to establish a new training program, the following data is required:

  • Number of program graduates needed each year to meet the demand in Texas

  • Estimated openings for transcriber positions over a 1-3 year period

  • Likelihood that other states will contract with graduates from the program

  • Opportunities for consistent employment for graduates

  • List of potential employers

  • Expected wages for graduates of the program - guidelines or standards

  • Number of braille production centers that would hire certified transcribers

  • Number of local school districts that would hire certified transcribers

  • Number of people who currently have National Library Service literary certification and would want Nemeth Code (math) certification and other higher level certification

Projected Timeline

Northwest Vista Community College estimated that if this information were gathered and a funding source identified by the summer of 2000, the community college could complete the job profiling and program approval process in time to begin a pilot program to train experienced but uncertified transcribers during the summer of 2001, and launch a full new transcriber program by the 2001 academic year.

General Recommendations

  • Promote braille transcription as the highly skilled occupation/profession it is, rather than a volunteer or low-level paraprofessional task.

  • Promote transcriber compensation based on experience, training, certification, and skill, with a career ladder.

  • Seek certification status for braille transcribers in the education system.

  • Establish braille transcription as a special education related service that must be provided by an appropriately trained and certified transcriber.

  • Develop general guidelines for appropriate pay to distribute to potential employers, including local districts.

  • Partner with a community college to develop a job profile, needed competencies, occupational title, and curriculum; and to implement a training program for transcribers.

  • Develop a model that is transportable to other regions of Texas and the nation.

  • Rather than a broad based "braille production specialist", focus training on braille transcription, formatting, and editing with some awareness level training of other aspects of braille production. These other skills can be learned on the job.

  • Recruit, screen, and support appropriate students with a high likelihood of completing the training, becoming certified, and being employed as a professional transcriber. Base recruitment strategies on the required initial skills, and competencies, and personal profiles identified in the job analysis process.

  • Build initial training program to focus on literary braille along with formatting and editing skills. Develop "post-graduate" training courses for higher-level certifications such as in Nemeth, music, or foreign language.

  • Provide strong mentoring of students.

  • Produce program graduates that have the skills to work as independent contractors, local district transcribers, employees of braille production centers or a combination of these.

  • Encourage certified local district transcribers to work as contracted transcribers for braille production centers when district needs are low, such as during the summer months.

Recommendations for Certified Braille Transcriber Competencies

The Focus Group identified competencies graduates of a training program should possess in order to meet entry-level requirements for three potential job markets: braille production centers, local school districts, and independent entrepreneurs who solicit work statewide and nationally. Graduates must demonstrate:

The ability to perform basic computer skills (e.g. word processing, internet, importing and exporting files, etc.)

  • A basic awareness of the needs of students who are braille readers including an awareness of how students who are blind learn and how vision teachers will use the materials that are brailled in order to make appropriate formatting decisions.

  • The ability to understand the purpose of pictures and other graphics in a print book in order to write meaningful descriptions or to create meaningful tactile graphics

  • The ability to use braille translation software

  • The ability to produce braille through direct entry (6-key or ASCII braille)

  • Skill with scanning software

  • Awareness of production equipment such as thermoform machines, and embossers

  • The ability to import and manage source files

  • An awareness of the overall braille production process and quality controls

  • A competitive level of production speed and quality based on established training goals for specific brailling tasks

  • Problem-solving skills that result in meaningful braille translations of textbooks

  • Skills in administering a small business

  • National Library Service certification in literary braille

  • Awareness of Nemeth, foreign language, music, and computer braille codes (training in these codes would be post-graduate courses)

  • Proofreading skills

  • Skill in textbook formatting perhaps using the National Library Service certification in formatting when the certification standards are completed

  • Knowledge of pertinent national resources related to braille production

  • Basic tactile graphics production skills

The Focus Group acknowledged the rapid advances in computerized and other automated braille production technology. However, even with the most advanced systems anticipated in the distant future, the group emphasized that those responsible for braille production must be very knowledgeable of the braille codes. It is not anticipated that there will be a time in the foreseeable future that braille could be produced without this expertise. However, transcribers must have the skills to use a variety of technology and be willing and able to update those skills as the new technology evolves.

Recommendations to Support Recruitment Efforts

The Focus Group suggested a variety of strategies that may lead to successful recruitment of appropriate students into and retention in a transcriber program.

  • Use national organizations to advertise the availability of the training programs.

  • Target individuals in the welfare-to-work programs, especially those who might need a career that can be implemented at home.

  • Look at typesetting programs for the deaf as a source of recruits.

  • Develop a career ladder, with more pay for higher-level skills.

  • Maintain an active apprenticeship system.

  • Hire instructors with charisma!

  • Investigate the use of state dollars for supplementing transcriber salaries.

  • Create systems for increased compensation as a training outcome.

  • Include the provision of a trained braille transcriber as a related service in student's individualized education program (IEP).

  • Teach braille as a high school general education elective to encourage early interest.

  • Develop a scout badge to develop early interest.

The Focus Group agreed that transcriber training should be made accessible to blind applicants as appropriate, as well as for people with other disabilities. Proofreading is a critical component of braille production and is particularly well suited to skilled braille readers.

Action Steps

  1. Gather current statewide and national data on the status of braille transcription personnel in local school districts and braille production centers in salary, training, recruitment, and existing job descriptions.

    • The Texas Education Agency will modify the national survey developed by the AFB Solutions Forum to include specific questions needed for development of a proposal for a new community college training program.
    • The Texas Education Agency will send the modified surveys out in early March to regional education service centers for distribution to local school districts, to Texas braille production centers, and to other national braille production centers.
  2. Pursue development of a new personnel preparation program at the Northwest Vista Community College.

    • The Texas Education Agency will explore funding resources. An estimate $30,000-40,000 is needed to perform the Work Keys job profiling process.
    • Focus Group members will send names of transcribers and proof readers that may be used in the job profiling process to Marty Murrell at the Texas Education Agency by the end of February 2000
    • Northwest Vista Community College will explore funding available in an "emerging occupations program" through the Texas Workforce Commission to pilot a limited version of this program.
  3. Develop uniform job descriptions and certification standards for braille transcribers.

    • The Texas Education Agency will contact the Texas State Board of Educator Certification to pursue state level recognition of new levels of VI paraprofessionals
    • The Texas Education Agency will contact the regional education service center special education directors to start building awareness of the need for trained braille producers.
    • The Texas Education Agency and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired will make presentations to teachers of the visually impaired in Texas to educate them to the need for higher levels of training for braille transcribers in local school districts.
    • For the future, explore making braille transcription a Medicaid reimbursable expense, as is sign language interpreting.
  4. Develop a training program to certify current experienced braillests through an intensive summer certification program at the community college level.

    • Using products and information from the process to develop the general transcriber program, develop a short-term summer certification program designed for individuals who have experience as braillests but have not obtained NLS certification.

Attachment A


Jim Allan, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Austin, Texas

Larry Brown, Oregon Instructional Materials Center, Portland, Oregon

Emily Calvert, Alief ISD, Houston, Texas

Judith Cardenas, Northwest Vista Community College, San Antonio, Texas

Suzanne Dalton, Florida Instructional Materials Center,

Jo-Carol Fabianke, Northwest Vista Community College, San Antonio, Texas

Warren Figueiredo, Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Elizabeth Gross, Visual Aid Volunteers, Garland, Texas

Phil Hatlen, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Austin, Texas

Deanna Marotz, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas

Chuck Mayo, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas

Cyral Miller, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Austin, Texas

Marty Murrell, Texas Education Agency, Austin Texas

Alice Post, Illinois Instructional Materials Center, Springfield, Illinois

Sue Reilly, San Diego ISD, San Diego, California

Mary Anne Siller, American Foundation for the Blind, Dallas, Texas

Diane Spence, Education Service Center Region IV Braille Production Center, Houston, Texas

Mary Lou Stark, National Library Service, Washington, DC

Tuck Tinsely, American Printing House for the Blind, Inc., Louisville, Kentucky.

Bob Walling, Education Service Center Region 20 Braille Production Center, San Antonio, Texas

Gerry Zuzze, Helen Keller Services for the Blind/Braille Library, Hempstead, New York

Facilitators: Amie Young, Marge Sanford, Education Service Center Region XIII, Austin, Texas?

Attachment B

Salary Scales for Braille Transcribers

Three examples of salary structures for braille transcribers and braille production workers were shared with the group:

San Diego School District, California, 1999
Level Certification Competencies Salary Range

Level One



$8.35 - $11.40/hour

Level Two

National Library Service Literary

Grade II braille, textbook formatting

$12.00 - $15.25/hour

Level Three

National Library Service Literary and Nemeth


$15.00 - $18.00


American Printing House for the Blind
Level Certification Job Description Salary Range

Level One


Collating, binding, shipping


Level Two


Machine operators of Braille presses and printers


Level Three












Special Proofreader


Special Proofreader


Level Four




Transcribing I




Transcribing II




Transcribing III




Transcribing IV







$11.62 to $16.70/hour


San Antonio Education Service Center Region 20
Level Certification Job Description Salary Range

Braille Production 


Operate machinery, assembly

$8.13 - $9.98/hour

Braille computer 

Certified for Text


$11.91 - $14.62/hour

Braille Specialist

National Library Service Certified


$11.91 - $14.62/hour

Attachment C



American Foundation for the Blind


American Printing House for the Blind


Braille Authority of North America


California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped


Independent School District


Local Education Agency


National Braille Association


Special Braille code for math


National Library Service


Texas Education Agency


Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired