braille-handbook

What’s the only thing wrong with the Braille Boy Scout Handbook?

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

8 thoughts on “What’s the only thing wrong with the Braille Boy Scout Handbook?

    • I actually have one of the volumes . bought it several years ago at an auction. and it is very lighr for something that large. got it with a bid of $45.00. my wife had to have it it is definately unique we have searched for other volumes but they are hard to find.

  1. Audio books can be more convenient for novels and books that are read straight through, a paper copy is much easier to use for looking up things. (most sighted people would probably prefer a paper handbook over an audio handbook, even those who enjoy audio books) Reading is also generally faster than listening. Having numerous large volumes, though, can be cumbersome to bring to meetings and camping trips (and expensive to produce.) Those who I know that can read braille would prefer a version they can read over an audio version. A digital version which can be put on a portable braille computer like a BrailleNote or Pac Mate, (these are like a PDA or netbook with a pop-up braille display) could be a good compromise between portability and usability.

    Trying to use a scanner with a 470 page book sounds like an extremely difficult and tedious task.

  2. I am friends with a blind couple in my synagogue. We face the same issue with the acquisition of braille siddurim (prayerbooks).

    I submit to you that audio books are not the answer. Studying an audiobook just does not give one the comprehension that you can get from reading. The rise of audio as the answer for the visually impaired is resulting in growing illiteracy among our visually impaired population.

    Technology can be part of the answer. Paper braille is expensive. However, wireless refreshable braille displays now exist that will link to most computers, smartphones, etc. They just take regular text and pop-up pins to make braille letters.

    More info on the tech here: http://www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone/braille-display.html

  3. When I was a young scout my mother learned to write braille using a styles and metal template to punch the uniform bumps in the pages. It was a tedious task, but it was worth it to be able to provide the blind with reading material they needed for school or the basic reading pleasure which we take for granted. The small school I attended had several blind students, and believe I remember that an older blind boy had some sort of typewriter. Although it may be time consuming, what a wonderful project for an unit, council or district to provide free copies of the scout handbook for their own blind scouts.

    Taking one chapter per individual, it is certainly a doable and laudable cause. The scout handbook is one of the greatest sellers in the world. If you pick up a used edition, you will find that it is frequently tattered and torn by use. But it also goes frequently, unused. A project like this would have two and three fold advantages. No matter how much of the scout handbook a scout has read, except as a reference book, he seldom reads it through, or a second time. At that age, reading it a second time could prove to be informative and inspirational. Then, once it is typed into braille, it has to be proof read. Thus the blind scout has to read it back to another scout who is reading along to check for accuracy. That is at least three scouts who will have to read a chapter. Sometimes for the first time, sometimes for the second or third time. But each time, it will sink in a little deeper.

  4. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has the newest edition of the Boy Scout Handbook available for borrowing in hardcopy braille or for download. The downloaded copy can used on a BrailleNote or other braille notetaker, or embossed using a braille translation program and braille embosser. Your scout will need to be a member of the local branch of NLS in order to access the files. Go to http://www.loc.gov/nls/ and click on “search the catalog” to find the link.

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