Advocate seeks new school for blind children

Braille Center director hopes to find a building in Edmonds


Herald Writer

EDMONDS — To a one, the occupants of the crowded lobby turned away from the blind woman as if she weren’t there.

Lost, she had wandered into the wrong building. When she asked for help, her plea was met with silence.

Carolyn Meyer, in the crowd that day, did not turn away, but offered the woman her arm and escorted to her destination, a half-block away in downtown Seattle.

Meyer never asked the woman’s name and never saw her again. But a blind woman’s wrong turn steered Meyer in a new direction.

Then and there, she decided her life’s work was helping visually impaired people.

"It was just a noon hour, and my whole life changed," said Meyer, director of the 10-year-old Louis Braille Center in Edmonds. "I took action."

Soon after, Meyer founded the center, which transcribes books into Braille for more than 800 clients worldwide.

Now, Meyer is asking for help.

By September 2001, she hopes to open the Louis Braille School, a state-approved private day school intended to serve about a dozen visually impaired students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

But first, she needs to find the school a home.

"A large house would do, or a cozy building," said Meyer, a small, spirited woman who is fluent in two alphabets, one whose letters she recognizes by sight and the other by touch.

The school also needs space for a playground, with enough room for a track.

"We’ll put in guide rails, so the kids can run," she said resolutely.

Meyer hopes someone will recommend a house or building in the Edmonds area that the center can lease or buy.

Edmonds is a desirable location, Meyer said.

Its downtown restaurants carry Braille menus. The menus were the brainchild of the Edmonds Lions Club; the Braille transcription was the product of the center.

"I bring lots of clients to lunch," Meyer said. "They can sit down and be handed a menu they can read."

Tucked away in Edmonds, the nonprofit center provides the only Braille transcription service in Snohomish County.

About 20 people — 18 volunteers and two paid employees — transcribe printed material into Braille.

And it’s not just books that need transcribing.

Washington Mutual Bank uses the center’s services so customers can receive their bank statements or passbook in Braille.

Employers in need of Braille employee handbooks and hospitals in need of prescription information or post-surgical instructions use the center’s services.

Recently, the center has begun providing another service — fun.

In January, Meyer organized the Second Saturday Club for visually impaired children and their parents.

Field trips to the Edmonds beach, picnics, art projects and storytelling are some of the activities about 20 club members participate in monthly.

The group meets the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon. Teacher Denise Mackenstadt, with the Northshore School District, and several assistants orchestrate the two-hour adventure.

After the Saturday Club’s inception, establishing a school seemed like a natural next step, Meyer said.

On a recent day, Meyer sat at a conference table sorting a stack of new Braille books.

Printed on card stock, the titles must be hand-assembled, bound and labeled.

"I am Rosa Parks," "Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark," "Marie Curie, Brave Scientist" — their textured pages awaited the fingertips of a child, eager to learn.

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