By Ainslie Cromar – Life Editor
A Reason to Love Clark: The Disability Support Services office offers free braille transcriptions of textbooks, graphs, pictures, exams and worksheets.
Editor’s note: This article is an extended version of a previous story.
A series of groove-like bubbles dots a piece of thick stock paper. Row after row, the paper pops further out of a machine that looks to be a silver typewriter with missing keys.
A bell dings and Zach Lattin chuckles, reaching for the knob to realign the paper in the machine. He traces his fingertips along the coded paper, defining what each dot means and what letter combination it creates.
“One hundred eighty nine contractions outside of the 26–letter alphabet that you have to learn, and each one has its own usage,” he said, as he pointed to a specific dot, explaining that it’s the letter “n” but also represents the word “not.”
The machine, a brailler, is not as common as it used to be. But Lattin, a Disability Support Services information technology specialist, said he likes transcribing braille the old-fashioned way.
Clark’s Disability Support Services Office offers free transcriptions of textbooks, graphs, pictures, exams, quizzes and worksheets to braille reading students. Though Lattin sometimes transcribes last-minute quizzes using his personal brailler, most transcriptions are printed through the Ogden Resource Center at the Washington School for the Blind a few blocks away.
The resource center transcribes braille, provides braille materials and has an enlarging service. With only a few staff members on site, most transcriptions are completed by prisoners from the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor.
“If you become incarcerated you can either learn how to groom dogs or you can make license plates or you can transcribe braille textbooks,” Lattin said. He said the program is inspiring because there are few in the country and braille is a difficult code to learn.
“The amount of expertise that you have to have to transcribe braille is oftentimes comparable to a master’s degree or a Ph. D.,” Lattin said.
The resource center’s braille coordinator, Kandi Lukowski, said it’s the most sought after job in the prison because it’s the highest paying. She said the resource center hires 20 women from the prison every seven years and gives them a year to learn the literacy braille code before starting their positions.
To become certified, Lukowski said, they must pass a state test and transcribe 35 braille pages of a novel using a brailler.
Since the resource center is near Clark’s main campus, students receive a faster turnaround, Lattin said. “We really try to make sure that if braille is their way of thinking and processing, then we want them to have that on their exams too,” he said.
Lattin said there are eight to 10 braille-reading students this quarter, but he has been up to 25. Most request transcriptions for STEM classes using a form of braille called Nemeth Code used for mathematics.
Lattin said braille comes in print volumes, so 131 braille pages of the Elementary and Intermediate Algebra textbook is only 15 typical print pages. A full novel may be eight to 10 braille volumes.
One page of braille for STEM classes, Lattin said, costs the college $5 and literary braille for novels and textbooks cost $3 a page. He said it’s not uncommon to have a $3,000 textbook transcription, which disability services pays for.
At the end of one quarter, Lattin said a student had so many transcribed pages that they had to “bring garbage bags full of braille” to him in order to return it. He said he dumped it onto his office floor and spent that whole afternoon counting inventory.
Lattin said his passion for braille strengthened after spending two years teaching braille in South America and realizing how low braille literacy is in the U.S. The American Printing House for the Blind states that 8.5 percent of blind students report being able to read braille.
With disabilities services having braille accomodations in place, Lattin said the college does well to combat this issue. He said Clark’s program is unique in taking the code seriously by not making shortcuts in transcription and offering varied transcriptions, because a small mistake could lead a student to having a wrong answer.
Lattin said there’s discussion of partnering with the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute to pay for braille menus.
When Lattin goes out to eat, he said, he asks waiters for a braille menu and most places are apologetic for not having one.
He said during a date with his fiance at a restaurant in Jantzen Beach Center, he received a braille menu and told her “I’m going to read the menu to you tonight.”
In high school, Lattin only had access to a few things to read, like braille editions of Seventeen Magazine. As a kid, he said, his options were more limited.
“When I was little I had a Goosebumps book and ‘Jurassic park,’” he said. “I read them over and over again.”
He said when he began college at the University of Washington he was surprised at how little their braille program did to ensure accuracy. After approaching them about it, he said he was hired as a student worker in their Disability Resources for Students department to proofread braille transcriptions of his own homework assignments.
At Clark, Lattin said there are more resources, but he usually hears from students when they’re stressed over classes or need help troubleshooting a problem.
“I think there’s some ecstasy in their hearts but it kinda gets balanced out by ‘oh my god I’m taking this really hard math class,’” he said.
Yet, he said, he notices their excitement when they arrive at disabilities services to pick up transcriptions.
“It’s an event,” he said. “I’m sure that students go back to their apartments and they’re like ‘sweet, I got this braille, I’m going to [lie] in bed and study.’”
Lattin said he can’t stress how important and necessary it is to know braille and he’s pleased by the support Clark offers.
“It’s very common practice for other institutions of higher [education] to just press a button and get braille,” Lattin said. “We are pretty unique in the sense that we provide really quality braille to our students.”