Braille exhibition at the Scottish Parliament

Posted: 09/02/2017 | ,

Visually impaired man explored Braille exhibition The Scottish Parliament played host to an exhibition on the history of the Scottish Braille Press. 

MSPs, including convener Stewart McMillan, and representatives of visual impairment organisations attended the Cross-Party Group on Visual Impairment on Tuesday.

The CPG aims to draw together the blind and partially sighted sector to identify issues, and seeks to influence policy, legislation and decision makers to better reflect the needs of visually impaired people in Scotland.  

Following the meeting, attendees were invited to attend an exhibition of Braille technology from Royal Blind's historic collection.

The exhibition was first shown last year to celebrate 125 years of the Scottish Braille Press

Jim McCafferty, who first joined the Scottish Braille Press in 1971 after graduating from the Royal Blind School, delivered a speech on the history of the organisation and his own memories of the Press.

You can read his speech in full below. 

The Scottish Braille Press - 125 years of service 

Jim McCafferty

Established at the beginning of the 1890's the Printing Department, as it was then known, was set up to provide educational material for the Royal Blind School.  Until 1949 the work of the Department was overseen by three Headmasters of the school: Henry Illingworth, William Stone and Charles Anderson.  In 1949 John Broadley was appointed as the first Manager, and since then there have been two further postholders: Jake Adams from 1978 to 2002, when John Donaldson was appointed as the current Manager.

It wasn't long before Braille production in Edinburgh expanded, and both books and magazines were being sent to other parts of the UK and abroad.  Hora Jucunda, a magazine first published in 1893, facilitated a lively debate on how Braille should be written. This debate still rages, because Braille is a very touchy subject!

At the Scottish Braille Press documents are produced in Audio, Braille and Large Print.  As well as being a producer of alternative format materials we are also a publisher.  Over the years magazines have included The Craigmillar Harp for music lovers; The Young Idea and Trend, both produced for young people with a visual impairment.  The current in-house magazines are: Madam, a magazine for women first published in 1937; The Braille Sporting Record, which followed in 1953; 1958 saw the publication of Home Help, a weekly magazine for women; in 1992 Spectrum, a lifestyle magazine for today was first published, and in 2006 Knitting Club, a magazine which is issued to readers of Home Help and Madam was introduced.  It was Cathie Craig, for many years an Editor at the Scottish Braille Press who started producing Madam.  In 1936 Cathie gained her degree in Modern Languages.  1935, the last year of her course, was spent in Marburg, Germany.  In world history this was a very interesting time, and Cathie once told me how much she had enjoyed being there, experiencing events first-hand.

Book production has included Marmion by Sir Walter Scott, and a book of collected poems by Robert Burns.  More recently books by contemporary Scottish Authors, Alex Gray, Ian Rankin and Sue Reid Sexton, have been produced in Braille.  Currently we do a lot of work on behalf of the financial sector, but we do too provide alternative format menus for various restaurant chains, and in recent years the events guide for the Edinburgh International Festival has also been produced.

The method used for generating braille has been revolutionised. When I first started work at the Scottish Braille Press in 1971 we produced Braille on a double thickness of zinc, and any corrections required were painstakingly done with a nail punch and hammer.  The first book I had to transcribe was a small book of Lady Mary Wilson's poems.  Next I learned to use a one-handed keyboard with my right hand, and was given a manuscript copy of The Psalms of David in Urdu, which I had to read with my left.  The largest book I transcribed was The Oxford Companion to English Law, in no less than 42 volumes! Today computer assisted technology plays a very significant part in the production of documents, and we continually strive to improve this, making us one of the leading producers of materials in alternative formats.  Similarly how we receive material has also changed.  In the past it was by courtesy of the Royal Mail, but now we receive most of our material electronically, which helps speed up production enormously.

For me it has been a pleasure to deliver this short presentation, and I feel privileged to have been asked to do so.  In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for listening.