Visual Aid Volunteers began in the fall of 1960 with a pilot project approved by the Garland School Board and the Texas Education Agency. Volunteers, including parents of visually impaired children and motivated civic leaders, came together to form Visual Aid Volunteers. The pilot program agreement established that this volunteer group would provide all braille materials for visually impaired students of Garland ISD. As a result of this initiative, GISD became the first school district in Texas to have blind and low-vision students attend public schools alongside their sighted peers. VAV incorporated in 1962 as a nonprofit and hired their first director, Ina King, shortly after. Since that time, Visual Aid Volunteers has worked continuously to provide quality braille products for visually impaired students of all ages.
In today’s world of technology’s increasing influence, many wonder why a code of dots in six cells is still important for literacy. After all, easily attainable technology exists to read a web page or a book or a phone screen audibly. Why is braille necessary? All of that technology depends on its user understanding the way that letters blend together to make words, and words to make sentences, and sentences to make paragraphs. If a child only learns the meaning of word audibly, but never learns what letter blend together to create that word that has meaning, the child isn’t fully literate. And this begins to show when the student cannot articulate their own ideas through writing because they haven’t learned how. In the blind population of the USA in 2019, 90% of those employed knew braille. Braille was their entryway to fuller independence!
Meet Our Dedicated Staff
Rhesa Higgins, Executive Director
I joined the VAV team in 2023 with zero experience in braille but a heart for work that contributes to making the world a more just and accessible place. I come to VAV from the nonprofit world and am enjoying the opportunity to learn about the many ways VAV supports vulnerable populations. I am married with kids and enjoy beaches, coffee, a great book, dark chocolate and good baseball games.
Beverly North, Associate Director of Production
I have been a braille transcriber for 18 years and hold certifications in Literary braille with UEB as well as Nemeth and have experience in transcribing foreign languages. I’ve been an independent contractor as well as an employee of VAV, and love braille because it gave my life new meaning with a healthier direction allowing me to use my work to help others. My fur babies, Molly and Pikachu, love to watch me craft on the weekends—just as long as we are in the air conditioning!
Cindy Harris, Associate Director of Finance
My story with braille began in 2003 with classes at VAV that led to joining the staff in 2004. Currently, I hold certifications in Literary Braille with UEB, Technical Math (Canadian), and Braille Formats, and am beta testing the new course, UEB with Nemeth. Before braille, I provided words for hymns at church for the Deaf using American Sign Language. Today when I tell someone that I braille for the visually impaired, they say, “Oh, you do that thing with your hands!” Yes, I do! And I love it!
Robin Ramos, Transcriber and Tactile Graphic Specialist
Braille gives me the chance to continuously learn new things, which I love. The best place on earth is to be in the company of good friends, good family, and of course good food!
Amy Johnson, Transcriber
I love doing braille because I am paying it forward and it warms my heart to do something that makes a difference in this world. My work environment is encouraging and one that allows me to grow. I have a career in which I look forward to coming to work every day and it is quickly becoming my passion in life. I have been a braille transcriber for 5 years, certified by the Library of Congress in 2019 and completed the U.S. Department of Labor Graphic Artist apprenticeship program in 2022. My family is the center of my heart.