Visual Aid Volunteers, Inc.
Visual Aid Volunteers, Inc. (VAV) began operation in the fall of 1960 with a pilot project approved by the Garland School Board and the Texas Education Agency. Volunteers, including parents of blind and 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 needed by visually impaired children of Garland to succeed in the conventional classroom. As a result of this initiative, the Garland Independent School District became the first school district in Texas to have blind and low-vision students attending public school in regular classrooms with their sighted peers.
Between 1960 and 1965, VAV provided more than 50% of the brailled textbooks in Texas. In 1965, the Texas Legislature mandated that braille textbooks be provided for all blind and visually impaired Texas school children. Expansion of services became necessary to comply with the new mandate, and private funding was secured to supplement state resources for the purchase of equipment, supplies and resources for training additional volunteers.
VAV, incorporated in 1962, continues today as a self-sustaining, non-profit organization, though no longer all volunteer. The current staff of six is assisted by as many as 50 volunteers.
In the 1970s with the increased demand for Nemeth braille, VAV's volunteer staff rose to the challenge, expanded their skills and increased production to supply 70-90% of all braille needed by Texas students.
In 1988, the development of computerized braille programs, such as MicroBraille, revolutionized how braille books were produced. Perkins Braillewriters became a secondary production method as VAV embraced new technology.
In 1992, the Texas Legislature mandated that the textbook publishers provide source files to braille producers for braille translation. VAV enthusiastically upgraded to newer computer programs, such as Ed-IT PC and MegaDots, and trained personnel accordingly. By 2003, the staff began the transition to Braille2000, the latest in braille translation software.
In the early 2000s, VAV began its involvement with the American Foundation for the Blind as an active member of the Solutions Forum. VAV shared the belief in Goal Seven of the National Agenda. This goal focuses on providing the necessary instructional materials in the appropriate media to students with visual impairments simultaneously with print materials being made available to their sighted peers.
Those early efforts introduced the need for a national file format from textbook publishers, which became what is known today as the federal NIMAS initiative. In keeping with the desire to stay abreast of the continuing changes involving the new NIMAS files, VAV participated in the development of the technical aspects of the legislation regarding the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS).
In 2004, VAV staff held classes on the newly introduced National Braille Association (NBA) Textbook Formats Course. Since then, three staff members have been certified in Textbook Formatting and others are at various stages in the process.
In 2005, VAV continued a tradition begun in the 1960s of offering Library of Congress Braille Transcription courses. Two separate classes were conducted simultaneously. One was taken by sighted individuals who were new to braille, and the other was taken by visually impaired individuals with more advanced braille skills. Several of these individuals have submitted their manuscripts for certification.
During the last several years, VAV has gained experience using NIMAS files to prepare textbooks for a number of agencies including TEA. The transition has not been without its challenges, but the knowledge of the team and the involvement of the director in the early phases of development and training has led to a successful shift in production strategies.
VAV’s organizational structure is composed of the following:
A nine member Board of Directors who assume complete fiscal responsibility and provide policy direction for the organization. The board members include three certified vision teachers, business professionals, civic leaders and certified braillists.
The Executive Director answers to the Board of Directors and is tasked with supervision of all personnel and implementation of all operational policies. The Associate Director reports directly to the Executive Director and is responsible for administrative duties, including but not limited to financial tasks such as overseeing Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, etc. A skilled staff specializing in braille translation and focused on supplying quality master educational materials is assisted by faithful volunteers dedicated to those we serve.
VAV began as an organization comprised entirely of volunteers and has evolved into a progressive agency with a history of success.