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Helping The Blind to Get The Picture

By Betty Ommerman
Staff writer

Creating pictures the blind can “see” was once thought of as impossible. But Shirley Keller of Great Neck and Irma Goldberg of Jericho are helping make that impossibility a reality through Creative Adaptations for Learning.

This nonprofit organization, based in Great Neck, is the brainchild of Keller, the organization’s director. A nurse educator who has worked in the field of blindness for more than 40 years, she became concerned because the blind had no illustrations to help them “see” the way Braille helped them read.

“Braille helps the visually impaired or blind to translate a word, but nothing had been done to provide an illustration,” Keller said. “So I felt I had to do something about that.”

What she did was use texture instead of color shading for the illustration. “We design a concept on paper and determine the texture we want to use,” she said.

“We transfer the picture onto graph paper and then transfer it on a metal plate and sculpt and emboss it. We work the metal so we have raised lines and multi textures to develop the image we’re trying to create.”

The final steps result in pages onto which the images have been transferred. The result is a replica of the original drawings in a 3-D which can be “seen” by touch.

“The pictures are educational as well as recreational and help develop pre-reading skills for children,” Keller said. The illustration is called CAL-tac for Creatively Adapted Legible Tactulas. This process is meant to help blind children or blind parents of sighted children.

Goldberg joined Keller in the project about 4 1/2 years ago. “I’m a crafts person,” she said. “A jeweler, primarily. We met when Shirley came to a group or jewelers when she realized she needed people to work in metal.”

Now that firm’s assistant director as well as a partner, Goldberg says she’s especially happy by the look on the faces of the blind when they “see” one of the illustrations.

The product is tested on people who are congenitally blind, according to Keller. “We watch how they use it and what questions they ask,” she said. “After this first group of evaluators, we go to people with visual recall. They want something to remind them of what they remember seeing.”

The next step is to “show” the illustrations to children. “We find kids through networking,” Keller said. “They are seven to ten years of age and the products are used for kids three to seven or eight.”

A $25,000 grant from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation in Washington, D.C., has enabled the parents to create original tests.

A book, “Let’s Learn Shapes With Shapely-Cal,” a 42 page text for young children using a robot-type character of six shapes, is expected to be distributed shortly through the National Braille Press in Boston. Half text and half illustration, it will be priced at about $30.

Creative Adaptations for Learning
Creating tactile graphics for children and adults who are blind, visually impaired, or have dyslexia, autism, cognitive learning disability, or other special needs.

38 Beverly Road, Great Neck, NY 11021-1330
Phone: (516) 466-9143
Web site:

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