The DK Braille series is a newly developed range of custom-designed braille books for blind and partially sighted children and their parents or caregivers. In this article, the DK Braille Concept Development Team — Fleur Star (editorial), Jemma Westing (design), Charlotte Oliver (production) — explain why they were inspired to create this new series of braille books.
Q: When were you first struck by the idea of developing a series of DK branded braille books?
Fleur Star: Jemma Westing and I initially discussed the idea of making DK braille books in March 2011. We thought blind and visually impaired adults and children shouldn’t miss out on DK books just because they can’t see.
Charlotte Oliver: One day on my commute, I read that only 1 percent of books are available in braille, and that to me felt wrong and deeply sad.
Fleur: It took some time and a lot of research, but by 2014 we found ourselves in the position to begin production on a series of high-quality, custom books with braille and tactile images for blind and partially sighted children, or sighted children with blind parents.
Q: How did you approach pre-production of the braille series?
Jemma Westing: We ordered some existing printed braille books into our office headquarters in London when doing our initial research. I was shocked at the disconnect between words and tactile pictures. Some books did not have any tactile pictures at all. Everybody should have pictures to enjoy regardless of which of their senses they use to experience them.
With knowledge of some of our more unusual print processes, I instantly knew that we could create safe and accessible books that could feature braille and tactile images in addition to our CMYK and text layers.
Fleur: It was important to us all to make the best books that we could as a part of DK’s mission to be better by design. There had to be a better way. And it turns out that indeed there is!
Q: Were you surprised by any of the findings you came across in your research?
Fleur: In 2013, Jem and I attended a session given at the London office by ClearVision, a UK postal lending library of mainstream children’s books with added braille. One of the points that came across strongly to me was how alienated blind children can feel; even if they attend a mainstream school, their books would be different from their peers’. This made it even more important to us to make our books fully inclusive, books that could be shared with sighted friends and siblings, teachers and parents.
Charlotte: The more I researched, the more the need for accessible books became clear. Children that have a visual impairment are more likely to have nightmares and experience them for longer than sighted children. Books about the world can help to reduce or at least mitigate these nightly terrors. Also, being able to access books means that people with visual impairments feel less socially isolated and experience improved mental health.
Q: How does DK’s engaging visual approach with the braille series create a unique reading experience for blind and sight-impaired readers?
Jemma: Shut your eyes and place your hands on an open book spread. What can you feel? Not a lot. Well, in 2016, visually impaired people around the world can put their hands down onto DK book pages and instead of feeling nothing, words and pictures will reach out to them and will inform them of some of the pretty amazing things about our planet. Sighted readers will be able to feel the images too, and it will be a more interesting, exciting, and immersive experience. Both audiences can learn the same things by reading and sharing the same book.
Charlotte: At DK we pride ourselves on our content, and here is one of the best ways I have experienced to use that wealth of words and images to completely transform and enrich a child’s experience of the world.
Fleur: It is important to us to make our braille books affordable, globally accessible, and fully inclusive—books that can be shared with sighted friends and siblings, teachers and parents. This is the project I am most proud of in my thirteen years of being at DK.
The DK Braille series is fully endorsed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Designed especially for visually-impaired children and their parents, these tactile reference books are a wonderful way for curious readers to learn and discover.