EBU (Senior Group) Fine Work
Once Upon a Dot by Nathalie DANJOU
Female, 56 years of age, Belgium.

Right from when I was little, books were of major importance to me.
My father surrounded himself with a multitude of books of all sorts. Often in the evening, I would hold one in my hands, open it, close it, re-open it, then I would smell the scent of the ink and the paper.
Exhilaration! That sweet smell was comforting; it soothed my soul.
Every book had its smell; every page was a potential friend, made up of dreams and meditations, but also offering tangible proof of the existence of our thoughts.
I loved reading; I loved books in every way.
A personal object, I have often misused them, folded over the corners of the pages, written a few notes at the edges, at the bottom, at the top, between the lines.
My life was made up of small things: painting, reading and then the rest...
I was first and foremost the mother of three adorable little girls. I did not have the time to read. Work took up much of my already long days and short nights.
My professional life overlapped, changed, altered with my personal life.
Then, one day, by chance, a love of work came my way.

The Ligue Braille gave me the opportunity to become a copyist. At that time, Braille copy was done using the Perkins machine. This machine replaced the use of the stylus and slate.
I learned Braille on the job.
The first week, I dreamt dots. My mind was adapting to this wonderful writing.
My days were laborious. We typed letter by letter, word by word: the pages rolled by.
One error and the page, the dream, started again... continuously, again and again.
There would be days of grace when the Braille pages gathered on the corner of my desk, others less fruitful.
The pleasure when the final word appeared at the bottom of a page.
And then one book followed another and my task began again, permeating the seconds, the minutes, the hours of my life.
Over and over, again and again.

I saw words take shape before my eyes. I liked painting and drawing, but what I saw came from another world, doubtlessly my entirely own. Shapes, entities that pierced the brain.
Braille brings an identity, reassures, provides structure and rhythm for the individual.
I am sighted and what this job offered me is certainly not of the same dimension as for a visually impaired Braillist. For them, Braille brings autonomy, access to culture, leisure, studies... I am just a simple sighted person who transcribes what I see.

The dots dance, jump, move, shake and gesticulate before my eyes.
This time, I am working on a novel. Would I have read it? If I weren’t a copyist? Perhaps, perhaps not. In any case, intentionally or otherwise, the pages are there before me, dismantled to make it easier to scan the whole book.
I take the first page and with a quick visual scan I understand the symmetry and interaction that I have to give to the print and the Braille. A transcription copies what is, and not what one wants. You need discipline, rigour and a strong character not to interfere with what you are reading. In this line of work, your brain is divided: the reading, and the Braille transcription. You have to think about the two at the same time. Often, the accuracy of the Braille does not allow the brain to retain the story. And yet, you have read and even re-read the book.
Who has not started to read a few pages and had to reread them because after a few minutes our attention has wandered, our concentration evaporated?
For Braille transcription it is the same. An hour can go by and we have not retained anything we have read. And yet, the transcription was correct.
What can we say about all of those books read and not remembered? Can we use the verb ‘read’, or we should invent another verb?

How can we explain this reading by the letter, by the space, this code where incoherence predominates over understanding?
We can see, but we do not understand.
We do it, but we do not understand.
We correct, but we do not know what.
And then, there are times – who knows why? – days when tiredness does not interfere, when the mind is livelier, existential problems are further away; great days, when everything goes our way.
Reading makes sense again. Active, interesting reading, that allows us to dream, that develops our imagination.
It is then that the work of a copyist is at its best. It combines what reading brings to our deepest souls and minds, with, at the same time, careful and difficult work for the Braillists.

Writing has brought us together.

Just symbols, letters, words visually explored.
Perhaps much more so than by the average reader in this world.

And then it is time for the visual checking of the Braille. I can confirm that Braille was designed to be read by touch. In this case, it is not the letters that move, but whole concepts, images. All of the words have their own images.

I see the ‘p’ but I also see the word ‘paille’ (‘straw’ in English).

A letter may be a small stone, the line a path, and the whole page a region. The text becomes a picture. That is where the magic is.
The transcriber’s imagination does the rest, and it is so beautiful, so true.
We guess, anticipate the end of the word, the sentence.
Blind people who reads Braille most likely also anticipate the word or even the sentence by touch.

Writing has brought us together.

Thanks to computers, the work is less laborious.
If a letter is missing…
If a clumsy person spills a bit of water on the page of the book…
If the Braille is rubbed away with time…

… it can just be reprinted.

Transcription has been automated with professional software, but the transcriber always contributes their personal touch.
It is a continuously changing profession and yet Braille is, to this day, the only writing (200 years old) for blind people. It allows them to develop spelling, a text structure. In addition, Braille can be adapted to all modern technologies.

We are not moving away from our profession; it is still just as wonderful.

Writing has brought us together.


 

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