The Roots of Braillerman
In May, 1974, I went into the Iowa Commission for the Blind building
for the first time since I was in grade school. Back then I used to swim in
the pool, when it was the YMCA. Now I was there for a job interview
for an opening in the Accounting Department. By the end of the interview,
Mr. Jernigan had invited me to the state convention of the National
Federation of the Blind the following weekendMemorial Day. It was to be at the
Hotel Fort Des Moines.
And he also asked me to report to work on Monday, June 3rd. The job was mine!
I was introduced to most of the Commission staff at the convention and
was immediately impressed by the philosophy and achievements of the
Federation. A week later (the day before I went to work at the Commission) an article entitled:
Kenneth Jernigan: 'power to the blind' appeared in
The Des Moines Sunday Register. Please read it. My yellowed copy of it
turned up in January, 1999, when Linda and I were in the process of moving.
Like most newcomers to the staff, I spent the first few weeks in the
Orientation Center, where, "blinded" by sleepshades, I learned to travel
with the "Iowa" cane. I actually walked to work like that a few timesI
lived just a mile away then. Together with a great group of blind students,
I began each day with Business Class. That was the real "attitude factory".
And I received hands-on experience with woodworking in shopthe very same shop where
the young Marc Maurer actually rebuilt a '63 Ford Galaxy 352 V8 engine a few years earlier.
Then I had cooking in home ec, even barbecuing on the roof and, of course, the basics of braille.
By the time I started in Accounting, a passion for braille had been
thoroughly ignited. On my own time, I began working on the Library
of Congress Volunteer Braille Transcriber certification. While doing
the lessons at home, the mechanics of the Perkins Brailler intrigued me, and I
contacted Howe Press for a Service Manual and some Brailler Service Tools.
Before I knew what I was doing, I managed to cause the embossing of the
braille on my machine to become faint on one side of the page. Unaware
of any problem, I turned in my lesson the next day to Mrs. Sprague, the
Library's Braille Coordinator.
Later that morning she came down to Accounting carrying another
brailler. She handed it to me, told me to bring the other one back,
and not to tamper with them anymore. It seemed to be the end of servicing
braillers for me.
But that afternoon, I went into Mr. Jernigan's office to tell him what
had happened. I let him know that I was serious about learning how to service the
brailler. He replied, "Okay, Mr. Ackley, you keep the first brailler at
home and learn all you can about it, and use the other one for your
lessons." Now I had a 'guinea pig'! And before long, the
Counselors and Home Teachers were bringing machines to me from clients all over Iowa.
Whenever I was stumped by a malfunction that didn't seem to yield to
the techniques in the service manualwhich was oftenI would call
"Murphy" at Howe Press of Perkins School for the
Blind. He always had the answer. My first visit to the
Perkins campus was
in 1980, when Linda and our two sons, Steve and David, and I were vacationing in New England.
I've had the good fortune to return to Perkins many times since.
During one visit in the mid '80s I asked him, "Murphy,
when do you consider a Perkins beyond repair?" "I've seen only two of them,"
he said. "One had been backed over by a postal truck, and the other was crushed between
a train and a loading dock." He'd been able to fix the rest.
Murphy already had about 25 years at Howe Press by that time. And yes, it's
true: A Perkins Brailler never wears out!
My 'Volunteer Braille Transcriber' certificate was signed by Frank Kurt Cylke
on August 13, 1975. I have never transcribed another book, but I've brailled thousands
of letters to individuals, schools and agencies in all fifty states and Canada as the final test for each machine.
And the opportunities for braille in my "day" job with the agency multiplied, as I worked
several years in the Library.
At the end of November, 2004, I retired from the Iowa Department for the Blind after
more than thirty years. Braillers have now taken their rightful place as my "day" job.
Thank you for everything, Mr. Jernigan.
Linda Ackley died of cancer on January 5, 2004.
Kenneth Jernigan died October 12, 1998.
Kenneth Jernigan: 'power to the blind'