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The Braillist

The Braillist
Posted on 04/24/2018
Jeffco braillist Gwen Yee makes some adjustments to a math illustration at her office inside the district’s Building #1 on Quail Street in Lakewood.She is perhaps one of Jeffco’s best-kept secrets, and on any given morning, you’ll find her at the school district’s Building One on Quail Street in Lakewood, opening worlds of learning for Jeffco students who are blind or partially sighted. Gwen Yee is brilliant.

“I do anything they need to touch, that has to be raised in some way. So, I do maps, science pictures, and that sort of stuff. I also started doing pictures so the little kids at Fletcher-Miller can go to coloring classes and color – just a variety of things,” explained Yee.

For some of her work, Yee depends on a scanner, computer, and other equipment that allows her to translate and print pages into braille on specially produced paper that students can read by moving their fingertips from left to right across lines of textured dots. Sometimes tweaks are needed, but Yee is an expert at fixing any glitches by hand.

Like everything else, technology has changed Yee’s role, especially computer assistive technology for the blind and visually impaired. However, there are still key components of a student’s academic needs that can only be met with Yee’s experience, ability and attention to detail.

“In the past five years, I’ve started doing the assessment test, and that is given three times a year, and there are a lot of them. I don’t get the list until, maybe, about a week before the test. So, I sit there and try to do a whole bunch of them in advance,” said Yee. “A math test can take 20 hours. Then there’s language and reading; those take probably about five to six hours each, so I do that continuously.”

Golden High School’s Paul Seigneur is one of the Jeffco students on the receiving end of Yee’s hard work, as well as that of his vision tutor, Donna Reagan, who, like Yee, produces braille on demand. He also partners with visual disability teacher Leslie Kelley.

“At the beginning of the year, we sit down with the teachers, we tell them our expectations for Paul to access the curriculum, and we also let the teachers know they need to have very high expectations for Paul,” explained Kelley. “It can’t be ‘oh you know we’ll get that for you in two days or next week,’ or, ‘don’t worry about that Paul.’ I rely mostly on our in-house vision tutor. She’s here six and a half hours a day just producing braille nonstop.”

“Sometimes we’ll send it out, but I do his braille for all his classes, and then statistics is where the braille comes more into play,” added Reagan.

Additionally, Paul’s braille team has to make notes from teacher websites and other electronic documents available for Paul in braille.

“They email them and put them in a digital format that Paul can read in braille. Or, if it’s something like a Powerpoint, those are a mix of braille and digital text that he reads on his BrailleNote,” explained Kelley.

“I would be able to open my textbook to a certain page and read everything from there; I can work on problems. Let’s say we’re on quiz day or test day, usually my vision tutor brings in the quiz, which is all in braille, and it is on my desk, and that works kind of like a braille textbook would; I read the problems and then I interpret them into braille and then I email what I have to my teacher,” added Seigneur.

Seigneur and his team have had to work through a few frustrations along the way, including finding more effective and efficient ways to translate material displayed on classroom smart boards. However, overall, Jeffco’s braillist and her colleagues say there are few jobs as rewarding.

“You have to be willing to give all of your time and more. You get started on it, and you want the student to have it, and that’s the driving force, said Yee. “So, you say, ‘oh well I’ll stay late,’ or, ‘I’ll take this home. I’ll do whatever because you want that student to have it.”

“I think it’s fantastic,” added Seigneur.

See the JPS-TV version of this story here.

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