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(May 04, 2013)


Building accessible picture books

Eileen Finch is a grandmother who happens to be blind, but who still wanted to be able to share picture books with her grandchildren. Nothing on the market was suitable, so Eileen simply decided to set about creating children’s books in a unique format – giant print with braille and illustrations. Eileen describes her inspirational journey.

I WAS diagnosed at 30 with Stargardts, which meant my central vision progressively disappeared, along with my access to standard print. As a mother, I was able to experience the special time with my children, sharing books together. It helped develop their confidence, social and educational skills from a very early age.

In order to give me and my grandchildren the same opportunity, I needed to find books with a print size of 75 point. In my research, I found Clear Vision – a charity that prints children’s books in large print and braille.

Although this delighted me enormously, I was beginning to learn the challenges of 75 point on A4 sized paper. Some words spread over more than one line, which meant reading was difficult. Also, 75 point print meant illustrations did not appear on each ‘double page’; and the children lost interest when they only had text to look at.

A new kind of book

Although the books offered me access, I wanted to produce books of the same quality found in bookshops, the type they would love and treasure for ever.

It’s taken well over a year to reach publishing status. In that time we have: researched current provision and the Copyright Act (VIP) 2002; btained an IP Copyright Licence and permission from the publishers for 30 popular books in the UK; painstakingly designed books to make them most accessible and shareable; worked our way through ISBN numbers and, finally, named our not-for-profit project ‘Access2books’.

The book format is: 12" x 11.5", 160gsm paper, 75 point print on left hand page and illustrations on the right hand page, with braille under the text and illustrations. The font is Tiresias bold black, the production is in full colour, the binding is side stapled, and the cover is 330gsm card laminated in matt finish (see some front cover examples, left).

The text and illustrations are scanned in to desktop publishing software. Where text is not clear we type it in. We maximise accessibility by improving contrast and size of illustration; and if required we isolate the important pictorial content.

The Gruffalo shows a dark forest around the mouse. In our giant print and braille version, we pull out the important artwork and text leaving as much white space as possible in the book. Although we use a standard format, the books are individually made and are therefore customisable. One can choose the font or size, the grade of braille, the weight and size of paper.

Learning from mistakes

We have learnt by our mistakes – many mistakes. Just finding the right paper was challenging. Binding books with a combination of print and braille proved almost impossible. The pages at the spine of the book vary in thickness because there is print at the top of each page and braille at the bottom. We had to design and make our own binding equipment to ‘side-staple’ the spine.

We started out with a manual guillotine, but had to change to electric-powered guillotine. The books are substantial, and the manual guillotine made heavy work, and was less accurate. And adaptations had to be made so that the braille was not flattened by the clamp.

The lack of funding and the many mistakes caused the project to stall more than once. However, each time we stalled, we got more positive feedback about our work and prototype books.

Testing in libraries

We used libraries as our testing ground and took their advice on the book standard. They said the books filled a gap in the market and they would put the books on their shelves. The idea of our giant print and braille books being in mainstream library provision was a great motivator. Peters’ Children’s Books of Birmingham, specialising in library and school provision, ordered a set of the books based on our prototype – another great spur to continue.

More than 20 libraries (including school library services) have bought our books, as well as a small number of individual orders and charities, such as Northampton Association for the Blind. Peters’ bought one copy of each book for their customers to view. The RNIB have bought a selection for their resource centres and catalogue for their members to buy.

Future plans

This year, I won a place on the Lloyds-sponsored programme at the London School for Social Entrepreneurs. During this year, I want to raise the public profile of these books.

The social impact of getting the books widely available would not only benefit disabled adults and children, but could be educational for those who don’t yet understand accessible information and supportive of those professionals trying to make information available to more people.

I aim to increase the number of libraries stocking these books, make in-roads into education, expand into the retail industry and publish internationally.

Get involved

To become involved in the social impact work of this project or to buy a book, please get in touch:

Eileen Finch, Access2books,

7a Waterloo Road, Leighton Buzzard, Beds, LU7 2NR

01525 853825 or 07976 666958



April 2013



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