Get Braille Books Fast

Person reading braille from book.

Written By Cody Laplante

Cody M. Laplante is a certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments located in the capital region of the United States. With a Master’s Degree and Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology, Cody founded eye.t to provide live and asynchronous training options to children, adults, professionals and parents to ensure that all people with visual impairments can have access to a computer.

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Published on

September 11, 2023

Back to school season is here! If you’re a TVI, that means a couple of standard stressors: new teachers getting used to the routine of having a blind student (check out our Letter to General Ed teachers), finding a consistent space to work, and… waiting on braille textbooks.

Why Braille Textbooks Do Not Work

Here’s the thing. Braille is great! Even in the age of technology, nothing beats the organization, and simplicity of a regular, hard-copy braille book. The only problem….

They take MONTHS to create! Meaning that as great and simple and intuitive as athey are to read, our students usually don’t get their textbooks until well past the beginning of the school year.

Today, I’m going to teach you a frutstratingly simple process to get a hard-copy braille textbook in your students hands by TOMORROW AFTERNOON!

The Solution

When it comes to textbooks, TVIs always seem to get fixated on the fact that hard-copy braille books ALWAYS either come from a state library, APH or a braille transcriber.

But… there is one resource that is often forgetten, one that most of us already have acess to and that is… Bookshare.

Now, you may know that you can download digital books using Bookshare’s library, but today, I’m going to walk you through how to create a professionally transcribed, hard-copy braille book for FREE that will only take you an hour of your time.

What is Bookshare

If you do not already know, Bookshare, is an online digital library that provides people with reading disabilities (blindness, low vision, dyslexia etc.) access to accessibile books in a variety of formats. You can download books as Microsoft Word files, daisy files, audio files or (for the purposes of today’s solution), a brf!

Side Note: With Bookshare, you can sign up as an Individual, if you are the student or parent. However, if you are a service provider, you’ll sign up with an Organizational Account. For the remainder of this article, we will be assuming you’ll be using an Organizaitonal Account. 

So Wait… What is a BRF?

A brf or Braille Ready File is the standard braille file accessed in the United States. These brf files are small text files that are meant to show braille exactly as the transcriber meant for it to be shown.

With a brf file, you can either:

  1. Read the file using a braille display OR
  2. Emboss the file on a braille embosser to get hard copy braille.

In this article, we will be focusing on the second option, downloading a brf and embossing it as a hard-copy braille book.

Now, here is the only problem… brf’s are kind of…. dumb. What do I mean by that? Well, notice how I said that a brf is meant to show braille exactly as the transcriber meant for it to be shown? Yeah, well, when I say exactly, I mean  EXACTLY. This means that you CANNOT CHANGE ANYTHING. 

You cannot change the formatting, the document size, the spacing… nothing. When you download a brf file, what you got is what you got.

Side note, this may be changing soon with a consortium of organizations (lead by APH) working together to create an eBRF (or smart brf file format) but for the time being, the regular brf is what we have. Read More about the eBRF Project.

No worries though, what I’ll be showing you today will still revolutionize how you think about braille textbooks.

So What Are We Doing?

Today, I’ll be showing you, step by step, how to search for, download and emboss a completed, transcribed textbook using Bookshare and this “brf” format. 

Let’s get started!

What You will Need

Before starting, make sure you have the following items within reach

Step 1: Set Reading Preferences

The rest of the article is replicated in the video linked above. If you’d like to watch the video instead of reading more of my rambling, stop here and click on the link.

Before we look for any book, we need to make sure that our student’s reading preferences are set correctly. This is often the most overlooked step of the process but will save you a TON of time later.

Frome the Bookshare homepage, make sure you are logged in, then:

  • Go to “My Bookshare”
  • On the left side of the page go to “Members”
  • Select the student you are wokring with. If you do not see their name, you’ll need to click “Add Member” and Add your student as a member of your organization.
  • On your student’s account, select the “Edit” button. 
  • Under “Reading Preferences” take a look at the “BRF Size and Format” dropdown menu. Select the format that your student will be reading with. If you are using a Braille Display, select the size of that display or if you are planning to emboss this as a hard-copy book, select either 40 cells by 25 lines 11.5 by 11 inch paper or 28 cells by 25 lines for 8.5 by 11 inch paper. Remember which one you pick. It will be important when we get to step 4.
  • Click “Save”

Step 2: Find the Books

Let’s first locate the book on Bookshare. Make sure you are logged in and conduct a search for the book using the search bar. You can also do an advnaced search by title, author or ISBN. Most popular novels are already in the database. Literature textbooks are tough to find, and honestly, when it comes to anything math or science, this solution may not be the best.

If you cannot find the book that you are looking for, you can fille out a “Request Form”. If you check the box that says “Needed for schoo” they are usually really good about geting that book done and ready in a couple of weeks.

Step 2. Download as BRF

  • Once you find the book in question, click the “Download” button
  • Mark the checkbox next to the student for whom you are downloading the book. If you do not see their name in the list, you’ll need to Add the student as a Member and start from step 1 again.
  • Next to thei rname in the far right column you’ll see a combo box (dropdown menu) that says “Download Format”. In that combo box, select “BRF”. 
  • Scroll to the botton of the list and click “Prepare Books”
  • You will be taken to a page in which you will see the book in a table. In the far right column, you’ll see the “status” will say “In Progress”. Once that status changes to a link that says “Available” you can click that link, and your book will begin to download.

Step 3: Prepare to Emboss

  1. Open your braille editor. Your options are Braille Blaster or Duxbury.
  2. Ensure the document size matches the size you selected in Step 1. Either you selected 40 cells by 25 lines or 28 cells by 25 lines. In Duxbury, you can find those settings under “Global”, then Embosser Setup as shown below.

And in BrailleBlaster, you’ll find it in the “Settings” Menu, then “Page Properties”.

  1. Open the file you downloaded from Bookshare.
  2. And emboss.

Step 4: Organize

At this point all you need to do is separate the pages, blind and label your student’s new book. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. 

When Will I Have Time?

I know this is a bit of a long process, and if this is your first time, it may seem daunting but, here are some times that you can utilize to learn how to do this process:

  1. Your student is absent: If you have a braille reader, you know this might open up an entire morning or afternoon that you had scheduled with them. When my students are absent, I use that time to make them a few of their books.
  2. Professional Development Days: We all know our district’s professional development rarely relates to us. If you make the case to your supervisor, they might allow you to skip the workshop on “Trans-disciplinary Teams” so you can learn how to make braille books for your student.
  3. End of the Quarter: When classroom teachers are holed up in their classrooms trying to pump our grades, you can sneak over to the copy room and make a few books.

The Point

At the end of the day, braille readers NEED Braille. It’s non-negotiable. Yes, I know the book is on the way, but sometimes we need to cut our losses and have a couple of backups. 

Is this the most efficient way to get our learners braille? No. But it can definitely be a solid backup.

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