Why making these braille books is the best thing I've ever done

Published on: 04 January 2017 Author: Alex Strick

Fleur Star, senior editor at Dorling Kindersley, shares the story behind the DK Braille series - and explains why these books are so important.

A personal intro and shocking statistic

I'm not a blogger. I'm not on Facetube and wouldn't know how to twit. Give me a book over an e-reader any day - I'm a bibliophile and proud of it.

But what if one day, my eyesight fails? After all, I've been wearing glasses since the age of five and had an eye op at 16. I'd have to rely on large print books, audio books or braille, but I'd be sorely disappointed. 

Only 7 per cent of published books are available in formats that help visually impaired readers - and less than 2 per cent are braille.

The build-up to DK Braille

It was this statistic that set one of our book developers on her mission. As a senior producer, Charlotte Oliver knows the ins and outs of print publishing. She felt there had to be a way to make braille books more available. 

She had no idea that just along the corridor, I'd been having a similar conversation with Jemma Westing, designer and paper engineer. We both asked: why couldn't we make braille books?

That was back in 2011. Now we've launched the DK Braille series - just a few years in the making!

We've had some sticky moments and learned a lot along the way - especially through our partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). 

They were invaluable in their advice, checking the braille and making sure the images were easy to understand.

Back up a bit… Did you say images?

Why, yes, I did. DK is a visual reference publisher. Pictures help readers understand concepts. Why should people miss out on that just because they can't see? We've taken our principles ('better by design') and applied them to tactile reference books.

There's printed text alongside braille, and photographs or graphics with a variety of tactile textures that include embossing, flocking, gloss, and my personal favourite: the sticky worms in Counting!

These books are a shared learning experience. It sounds a corny line, but it's actually important. Visually impaired children often feel isolated, but they can share these books with friends and family.

Amazing facts at any age

Counting and Shapes are just as valuable for visually impaired parents to read along with their sighted pre-schoolers, as for visually impaired children themselves. 

Meanwhile, the subjects of the older books are perennial favourites: animals, transport and amazing facts.

Having referred to 'preschool' and 'older' books above, I must explain: we were advised not to put age limits on the books. 

Sadly, visual impairment often comes with additional learning difficulties, and the last thing we want to do is stop an older child reading a book because they're told it's for a five-year-old. 

But we also appreciate that general readers and booksellers like a bit of guidance. So we're suggesting that Counting and Shapes are aimed at preschool readers. Similarly, Animals and On the Move are suitable for younger braille readers, akin to the 7+ titles we produce. It Can't Be True! was adapted from an existing 9+ title, so it is better for confident braille readers.

Heartwarming feedback

We've received such positive feedback from our readers. It's been heart-melting to know that something you've created has truly made a difference to someone. 

When we announced the books via The Bookseller in February 2016, even other publishers were tweeting that it's a 'lovely idea' and an 'incredible initiative'.

Please excuse my showing off (terribly un-British of me, I know), but in the thirteen-and-a-half years at DK, this is the project I'm most proud of (and my family is, too!). 

I'd join the masses to say as much on Twitter, but I can't do it on my 1999 Nokia 8310 mobile.* Pass me that quill and parchment and braille embosser…

*Yes, that really is my phone. 

This article was originally published on 10 March 2016.
The DK Braille series was released 10 March 2016, with five books: including DK Braille: Counting and DK Braille: Shapes (pre-school and toddler, £9.99), DK Braille: On the Move and DK Braille: Animals (young independent braille readers, £15.99), and DK Braille: It Can't Be True!(independent braille readers, £19.99). The books will be available from the RNIB online bookshop and instore, Amazon and all good bookshops. Visit DK.com and RNIB.org.uk for more information. 

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