Yes, a Braille version of the Boy Scout Handbook exists, but trying to find one can prove almost impossible.
One of my coworkers brought a copy by last week, barely balancing the three-volume book in his hands. It was the first time I had seen it, and I was fascinated by the pages covered with raised dots that can be read by touch. The books, though large, were surprisingly light. It seemed like they would float if dropped from a canoe.
Those tiny bumps contain the same Scouting knowledge as the text version you and your Scouts carry around.
But when I went in search of information on how Scouts can order a copy, I ran into a problem that’s symptomatic of a larger issue involved in making books available for the visually impaired.
The decline of Braille
In the era of tablets and smartphones that read to you and books on “tape,” it seems the worldwide decline in Braille’s popularity has affected the BSA’s venerable volume of Scouting knowledge.
In 1986, The New York Times published a piece saying “the cassette tape, a descendant of that effort to harness sound for the education of the blind, has grown so popular that it has surpassed the use of Braille in the library, home, and classroom, according to academic experts.”
Fast-forward 26 years, and that trend has continued through the introduction of iPhones, iPads, and computers that can convert text to speech (and vice versa) in real time.
Those devices are more portable than Braille books, and they’re easier for people to use with family or friends.
Scouting and Braille
Transcribing the Handbook into Braille has always been left to outside groups, and my research shows that a different organization produced each edition. The 10th, for example, was transcribed by American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey. The 11th by Braille Group of Buffalo.
As for a Braille version of the 12th Boy Scout Handbook, the news isn’t good. It was made by a company called Braille International Inc., and today I learned they’re no longer in business.
Organizations like the American Printing House for the Blind will produce custom Braille versions of books on request, but that can be costly. A custom-produced Braille Boy Scout Handbook, one APH employee told me, could run $1.50 a page. That means the 480-page Handbook would go for $720.
Not exactly Thrifty.
Other options for Scouts
As Braille’s popularity has declined, other groups have stepped in to help make the Handbook available for blind Scouts.
Last summer, I blogged about sites that make audio versions of the Boy Scout Handbook available for download. A Scout can sync it to his phone and listen to Scout skills while riding the bus to school.
Another plus: Many of those sites also produce audio recordings of merit badge pamphlets.
Also, Boys’ Life magazine is available in Braille format. Find a participating National Library Service library or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).
No matter the format of the Handbook, one thing is clear:
Somehow, some way, every Scout will get his hands (or fingers or ears) on a copy of Scouting’s signature text.
Photo by Magazine Photography Director W. Garth Dowling