Producing braille books safely during a pandemic is not an easy task. Below, MDE-LIO Braille Production Coordinator Robert Beaton talks about how the Instructional Materials Center (IMC) quickly transitioned to a safer process for staff while never pausing book production.

How many books did the IMC produce in 2020?

We are proud to say we produced 201 braille books (copyrighted titles/ISBNs) in 2020! We also reached our catalog number BRM-UEB00722. This means that, since the adoption of the Unified English Braille Code (UEB) in 2016, we have added more than 700 braille transcription master files to our IMC for teachers and students throughout Michigan. 

What was the largest, or most time-consuming, project MDE-LIO produced this year?

A Precalculus With Limits textbook was our largest project this year. We converted the textbook into 106 braille volumes, 7,348 braille pages, and 2,752 tactile graphics. That project was closely followed by Algebra 2, which ended up being 91 volumes!

[Editor’s Note: Braille takes up more space on a page than written text, so several volumes may comprise one braille book.

What challenges did MDE-LIO’s book production team experience during the pandemic?

This year, we really saw what IMC staff members had to offer. We always knew we had a great team, but the pandemic solidified that fact. We had to quickly switch to working remotely without much warning due to the pandemic. Like any other area/industry, this transition was not without complication. However, it never felt too overwhelming. Our staff rose to the occasion, identified areas of concern, and displayed incredible willingness and creativity in their solutions.

Book production processes never stopped during 2020: Books arrived and were quarantined, de-bound, scanned, and transcribed; tactile graphics were created; first production runs occurred; books were proofread; materials were returned for corrections; books were saved, archived, and listed on the Louis Database and updated in our library system; final production runs occurred; and books were shipped to districts. It was all coordinated remotely and with limited staff in the MDE-LIO office on a rotation basis to ensure safe distancing.

Thankfully, with unlimited wireless service plans, we even had days, weeks, and months of eight-hour proofreading days (working remotely from different locations over the phone). Our braille readers read with their sighted copyholders to ensure high-quality, accurate braille transcriptions.

What are some positives you have noticed during this time?

I am grateful for my colleagues and MDE-LIO’s leadership. We went through some tough times, like everyone else. However, thanks to effective leadership, MDE-LIO staff were given adequate support and resources to work remotely while continuing to feel engaged, informed, and cared for in our personal and professional spaces. Usually, there is a lot of “black and white” with the book production process, and this year we experienced everything but that. Looking at our monumental book production numbers in 2020, the outcome was nothing short of incredible.