January 5, 2006
Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other
Look at Joyce Rabinowitz's computer keyboard and you will see six blank keys in the middle row. They are actually the letters SDF and JKL, but the identifying marks have been worn off from use.
In fact, those are only keys Rabinowitz uses, with the exception of the space bar. And she uses them five or six hours a day, five or six days a week, often starting at 5 a.m., before breakfast. She has been doing this continuously for 30 years, though not always on a computer.
Rabinowitz, 76, is a volunteer Braille transcriber. She takes the printed word and, using a special computer program called Braille 2000, transforms it letter by letter into a prescribed set of dots that she saves to disk and gives to the Braille Institute. Each disk, with the help of an embossing machine, is used to produce a book written in raised dot text that a blind person can read with his or her fingers.
Rabinowitz herself doesn't read Braille by touch.
"You have to have very sensitive fingers," she said.
But she reads it with her eyes.
She's transcribed many books over the years, recording the titles, date completed and number of Braille pages in a small notebook. (One average page of text translates into two to three Braille pages, 11 by 11.5 inches.) Her first book, in December 1975, was "Stories by Chekov," clocking in at 310 Braille pages. Last year, she completed a total of 4,400 Braille pages.
Always an avid reader, she loves doing children's books and currently is transcribing the young adult nonfiction book "Code Talker" by Joseph Bruchac. She reads each book twice, once while transcribing it and once while proofreading it. She also enjoys transcribing math books.
"I don't have to work out the problem or know the answer," she said.
Originally looking for new volunteer work, Rabinowitz began by taking a Braille class at Temple Beth Hillel in 1974, when transcribing was done on the much more labor-intensive Perkins Brailler. Of the 12 students in her class, she was one of only two who completed the course and the only one who became certified through the Library of Congress to transcribe literary works. Later she took additional classes to become certified in textbooks and math books.
She generally works from her Encino home, in one hour to one and a half hour time slots, but goes down to Los Angeles' Braille Institute on Vermont Avenue every Wednesday and sometimes on Mondays. Her current task there is transcribing a set of complex math tests.
Carol Jimenez, the Braille Institute's transcribing coordinator, has worked with Rabinowitz for the last 20 years and is impressed with her skill, especially in transcribing complicated math and science books.
"There's a big need for people to do textbooks," she said, pointing out that studies have shown that only blind children who read Braille, and not just listen to tapes, are considered literate.
"They're the ones who grow up to be educated and go on to college and jobs," she said.
As for Rabinowitz, she plans to keep doing this until she's no longer able.
"I love it," she said. "My only answer is I love it."