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a trip to remember

On Monday, kl1964 and I went with my dad to tour the American Printing House for the Blind. I was there twice in the past: once with a large ACB tour group in 2000 and once in 2006 with read2781, my mom, and another friend. I wrote about the 2006 tour in my journal, and that turns out to be rather interesting. The tour was different this time, in large part because some of the exhibits changed. Here is the 2006 entry for those who are interested...

We set out at 8:30 in the morning, and I intended for the destination to be a surprise for kl1964. He figured it out but didn't let on that he knew until we were nearly there. We arrived a little before noon and had lunch at a bagel place before heading over to APH. We ended up getting to APH early, so we had time to go through the museum before our guided tour at 2:00.

There were a few pieces of technology on display at the museum. I noted that they had a Braille 'n Speak under glass, which I thought was goofy. There is a generation of blind people alive now who have probably never seen a Braille 'n Speak. The display of French lettering is still there. I was able to read the title, but that was all I spent time trying to read. There is also a display of old raised type alongside New York Point. I, of course, cannot read New York Point. I could not read the raised type either--it was too small.

There were a few videos available to watch at the press of a button. Some of them had to do with O&M history. There was an exhibit of various types of canes, including what must have been the first style of white cane: just a support cane painted red and white. There was not extensive information available about this particular exhibit. For those interested, a couple of articles online may shed additional light: O&M Living History by Dona Sauerburger and The History of the White Cane by Philip Strong</a>.

The brailler and slate exhibits are still up. I got a better look at the braillers this time. Each one has a label in front telling the manufacturer, date of manufacture, and other information. This other information sometimes included a description of the machine or materials used. Sometimes there wasn't much additional information at all.

The tour was somewhat customized for us, I think. There was no sit-down presentation on printing methods this time, though we did get to see an embossing plate. Our tour guide explained that APH is moving more toward use of embossers but will use equipment as long as it is usable. We saw some of the newest products. As always, they are very creative though out of the range of most families of young children. This is no surprise--these are products intended for use by teachers in classrooms; and the products are generally funded by government money. They are very durable for handling by numerous little hands...

We visited the braille production room, which was loud but not as loud as I remember. I suspect the new embossers have gotten quieter. We also got to go through the proofreading room, where this time I could hear the person reading allowed to a print proofreader. The reading had to include identification of every capital letter, punctuation mark, etc.

We went through the hallway of the recording studios. The guide was able to press a button and let us listen to a couple of narrators reading. We met the studio director as he was passing through, and I asked a couple of questions. Apparently some narrators can read 90 or so pages in 120 minutes. This is quite amazing to me, though I suppose they get quite good at reading without many errors after many years as a narrator.

There were a few other odds and ends downstairs--we saw the old, old production machines which are no longer in use, and got some information about how the current building includes the original building plus additions. (We got to touch the original limestone wall where the old building ends and the new addition begins.)

A fascinating day, for different reasons than my previous tour... This kind of day makes me realize anew what an amazing time and place I have grown up in and how I need to find a way to document it... I have witnessed so much change in the resources and technology available to people who are blind... Things considered basic necessities now were not even dreamed up when I was a child--even in some cases when I was old enough to think critically about my life and about what blindness meant and how it impacted me. I can remember how things used to be hard and why they are not now... Part of the reason these tours fascinate me so much is that I begin to understand that things that have been part of my life are taking their place in history--not because they are old but because life is becoming so incredibly fast-moving that history is being redefined. It used to be the case that "history" was 50 years old. I suspect that this definition may not be so appropriate anymore. At least, it can't be for me. History is something I must be in dialogue with, something that still lives, just as my own past still lives...


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 28th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
That sounds really cool. Did you get to touch most of the exhibits? I know you mentioned one of them being under glass. Were the descriptions in braille? I want to go sometime. I am so interested in that stuff, old technology and old canes and whatnot.
Oct. 28th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
the exhibits
Most of them were touchable. There were only two, I think that were bheind glass. One was the Braille 'n Speak. The other was an original Seeing Eye harness from the 1930s, and Dad said he could see the leather was cracking. I think they should have a replica made that we could touch...
Oct. 28th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
Re: the exhibits
That would solve the problem. I would love to see what one of those harnesses looked like. I bet they were a lot heavier.
Oct. 31st, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
sounds really neat, I feel the same about stuff advancing when it comes to my Physical needs. there is so much more now to help ppl live independent lives. my first power chair use to Hum quite loudly. In the chair I have now I have sneaked up to ppl on Occasion I love that I can do that! also most places have accessible bathrooms and there is a door I can close. growing up if there was one I could get my chair in I couldnt close the door. Our world has come a long way
Mike Hudson
Jan. 11th, 2011 01:39 pm (UTC)
A Trip to Remember
We try to put as many touchable examples of artifacts out as we can. You're right, it is goofy to find devices made to be used by touch displayed in a way that can't be touched. The Braille 'n Speak and a few of the older things like the early books and the first Seeing Eye harness are among the few things where the Printing House collection only has one example. We have to balance our desire to make our exhibits accessible with our responsibility to protect the past. Keep visiting museums, and make sure you share your insights with the curators who put the exhibits together. It helps us make the experience better for everyone.
Jan. 11th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
Re: A Trip to Remember
Oh wow! I had no idea braill 'n speaks were that rare. I have one I'd like to give a new home if interested.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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