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Dots That Change Lives

Dots That Change Lives

OCTOBER 1, 2021

 “Probably many of our readers are acquainted with those who are blind,” stated the June 1, 1912, issue of The Watch Tower. “They can obtain free reading matter . . . . This literature for the blind is printed in raised characters which the blind can read.” The Watch Tower added: “Many of the blind are deeply appreciative of the message that a glorious day of blessing is coming to the world.”

 When those words were written, a universal English braille system had not yet been adopted. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses were already making Bible truth available “in raised characters”—that is, in braille. And we still do! We now have braille literature available in more than 50 languages. How is it produced?

Groups of one to six raised dots represent characters. The raised dots are arranged in a six-position cell or matrix

Transcribing and Embossing

 The first step in producing braille is to transcribe the text into braille characters. “In the past, we used commercial software for braille transcription, but it did not support all the languages we needed,” explains Michael Millen, who works with Text Processing Services in Patterson, New York. “Now we use the Watchtower Translation System, which supports braille transcription into most of the world’s languages. I believe there’s nothing like it anywhere else.”

 Braille literature includes not only the text of the publication but also descriptions of the artwork. For example, the image on the cover of the braille edition of Enjoy Life Forever! is described this way: “A man starting to walk down a winding path surrounded by beautiful vegetation, hills, and mountains.” Jamshed, a ministerial servant and pioneer who is blind, says, “These picture descriptions are invaluable to me.”

 After transcription, files are sent to branch offices that emboss braille publications. There, the publication is embossed onto durable paper that will neither puncture during embossing nor lose its shape after repeated use. Next, the pages are collated, spiral-bound, and shipped either with regular congregation literature shipments or as “free matter for the blind” if the post office has that service. When necessary, branches will even arrange for expedited shipping so that brothers who are blind or visually impaired have the publications they need for congregation meetings.

 All this work requires a considerable amount of time and money. In fact, our printery at Wallkill, New York, makes 50,000 standard Bibles in the same amount of time it takes to emboss only 2 braille Bibles. Each Bible in grade-two English braille comprises 25 volumes, and the materials needed to produce those volumes cost 123 times more than those needed to produce a standard Bible. a Just the covers for one set of 25 volumes cost about $150 (U.S.)!

The New World Translation in grade-two English braille comprises 25 volumes!

 How do those who help produce braille publications feel about their work? Nadia, who serves at the South Africa branch, says: “Our brothers and sisters who are blind or visually impaired do not have an easy life, so I view it as a blessing to make something that helps them. It is evident that Jehovah loves them very much.”

Learn to Read Braille

 But what if a person who is blind cannot read braille? A few years ago, we released Learn to Read Braille, a workbook that contains both braille and printed text. It is designed for a sighted person and a blind person to use together. The brochure is part of a kit that includes a positive slate and a stylus. The braille learner uses these tools to emboss each braille character for himself. These embossing exercises make each character more memorable to the learner and help him to identify it by touch.

“I’m Totally ‘Addicted’”

 How have brothers and sisters who are blind or visually impaired benefited from these publications? Ernst, who lives in Haiti, used to attend congregation meetings, but he did not have any braille publications. As a result, he had to rely heavily on his memory in order to handle student speaking assignments and give comments during question-and-answer parts. “But now,” he says, “I can raise my hand and give comments at any time. I truly feel at one with my brothers and sisters. We are all receiving the same spiritual food!”

 “Our publications are much clearer than other braille publications I have read,” says Jan, a visually impaired elder in Austria who conducts the Watchtower Study and Congregation Bible Study. “For example, we have page numbers, footnotes that are easy to find, and precise picture descriptions.”

 Seon-ok, a pioneer in South Korea, is blind and deaf. In the past she depended on tactile signing at the meetings, but she is now able to read braille Bible study aids herself. “Other braille publications can be difficult to read because dots are missing, the lines are crooked, or the paper is too thin,” she says. “But Jehovah’s Witnesses use better quality paper and make the dots more prominent, making it easier for me to read.” She adds: “In the past, I could study Bible-based publications only with the help of other people. Now, however, I can study by myself. It makes me happy to be able to prepare for our weekly Christian meetings and to participate fully in them. I read all our braille publications. You could say that I’m totally ‘addicted’ to them.”

 Like our printed literature, our braille publications include the following statement: “This publication is not for sale. It is provided as part of a worldwide Bible educational work supported by voluntary donations.” Thank you for making such donations through the methods described at Your generosity helps make spiritual food available to all, including the blind and the visually impaired.

a In some braille systems, words are shortened to save space. In grade-two braille, for example, common words and letter combinations are abbreviated. Therefore, a book in grade-two braille is smaller than the same book in grade-one braille.