DIALOGUE Interviews Barbara Castleman of Perkins

Recently we contacted the Perkins School for the Blind for an update on the school and the Howe Press. Here is what Barbara Castleman had to share with us.

The first school for the blind in the United States, Perkins educated Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Today Perkins serves more than 87,000 people each year in the United States and in 55 developing countries. The Perkins mission is to provide education and services that build productive, meaningful lives for children and adults around the world who are blind, deaf-blind or visually impaired, with or without other disabilities.

The number of people whose lives are touched by Perkins continues to grow every year as the school expands outreach services, educational partnerships and international programs, as well as the number of people served by the Braille & Talking Book Library. For example, Perkins recently began working with schools for children who are deaf-blind or blind with multiple disabilities in two additional countries: Armenia and Jordan.

The best-known product is the Perkins Brailler which was invented at Perkins more than half a century ago and is currently being used by people in more than 170 countries. Manufactured by Perkins Howe Press, these machines can emboss 25 lines with 42 cells on an 11 by 11.5 inch sheet of paper. The Perkins Brailler is available in various models and colors. A wide range of Brailler accessories, as well as slates, drawing and measuring devices are also available at .

The Perkins Panda Early Literacy Program is a unique compilation of materials that teach fundamental early literacy skills. Developed by professionals at Perkins with storyteller/musician Odds Bodkin and educational leaders across North America, the program includes interrelated storybooks featuring braille, large print, high-contrast illustrations, tactile elements, activity guides and audiocassettes, along with Perkins Panda--the main character in the storybooks and the voice that children hear on the cassettes. Plush, huggable Perkins Panda bear wears a backpack that holds a tape player and other items. In addition to helping children who are visually impaired develop early literacy and braille skills, parents and grandparents who are visually impaired enjoy reading the Perkins Panda storybooks with their children and grandchildren.

In terms of services, Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library provides books and magazines in braille and on tape, along with audio-described videos and access to newspapers through the Newsline telephone service to more than 20,000 people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. People who enjoy talking books can also purchase dual-speed cassette players, sleep switches, headphones and other accessories at .

Perkins provides information, resources and training for professionals, paraprofessionals and families who provide care and services to people who are blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind, with or without additional disabilities. Many staff members at Perkins are leaders in advocacy and professional organizations and present at national and international conferences. The National Association for Parents of Children with Vision Impairments and DB-LINK, the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness, which provides resources and referrals to families with children who are deaf-blind, are based at Perkins. Perkins also belongs to organizations of similar schools and Perkins students participate in regional competitions. For example, in May 2006, Perkins hosted the Eastern Athletic Association for the Blind's Track & Field Tournament, where nearly 100 teenage athletes from six schools competed on the Perkins outdoor track and spent the weekend on campus.

Perkins School for the Blind is a nonprofit organization that depends on donations from individuals, corporations and foundations to fund the wide range of programs and services provided to more than 87,000 people a year. As a special education school, Perkins receives partial reimbursement for the services provided to the almost 200 full-time students on campus from their home communities and the state.

Perkins was the first school to educate people who are blind and deaf-blind in the United States. The school is very proud to have educated Helen Keller, but equally proud to have trained her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Perkins continues to be the teacher of teachers in the Perkins Training Center, which trains 3,370 people a year, helping to fill the critical need for teachers of the visually impaired in the United States. Perkins brings teachers from developing countries to campus through an Educational Leadership Program, so they can gain new skills and knowledge to take back to their schools. The Perkins Brailler has also helped change the lives of people everywhere. The scope and breadth of services and products makes Perkins School for the Blind unique.

Perkins recently introduced a Strategic Plan which details plans to focus on four key areas through 2010: preparing students, reaching new populations, expanding internationally and building partnerships. Perkins is committed to making the school motto, "All we see is possibility," a reality. For more information, call 617-924-3434 or visit . When you are in the Boston area, be sure to visit the Perkins History Museum!

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