"Blind people deserve everything everyone has," she said. "We don't even think about it."
The braille edition of Playboy is a popular item for Associated, proving, as company spokesman Brian Rusk said, "Some people really do read it for the articles."
Since 1929, Associated in Philadelphia has been printing all sorts of materials in braille, from novels and textbooks to utility statements, standardized tests, and menus for clients including the School District of Philadelphia and the Library of Congress. As one of only five major braille production houses in the United States, its services are in high demand.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the nonprofit agency, unobtrusively operating on one floor at 919 Walnut St., printed 13 million pages of braille, up from 7 million five years ago. The most popular item is the Braille Book Review, a bimonthly catalog published by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Associated prints about 7,200 copies per issue.
The process has been tremendously simplified thanks to technology invented since the organization began printing braille documents, but it is still painstaking for the 20 employees and 25 volunteers who run the Philadelphia operation.
Books are scanned into a computer equipped with software that automatically translates each letter of text into its counterpart in braille, an alphabet that represents each letter with one to six raised dots. Then a staffer reads the entire work on the screen to check for computer errors and to insert notations of where the printed page would end, so that blind parents, for example, can read books with sighted children. Checking one of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries on a recent afternoon, Wanda Ligon looked at a screen full of dots and said, "I can't wait to find out who the killer is."
Then a test copy of the braille book is printed, and the huge stack of extra-thick paper - a braille edition is about two and a half times larger than a traditional version of a book - goes to a blind copyreader.
May Davis, a copyreader, takes the train from Doylestown at 6 a.m. three days a week, accompanied by Zahra, the eighth guide dog she has owned. "She's almost ready to retire," she said, praising the dog for her friendly temperament over more than 11 years of service. "I've already applied for Number Nine. Don't tell Zahra."
Copyreaders like Davis, who has worked for Associated since 1964, check for errors in the braille proof while a volunteer sighted partner reads along in the print book.
After any errors are corrected, another employee creates metal plates for each page of the book. Those plates then go to the presses.
For a small press run, perhaps 45 to 60 copies of a book, an employee cranks out 24 pages per hour on a cast-iron motorized Thompson hand press that Ferrara-Godzieba said Associated converted to a braille press in the 1970s. For larger orders, sometimes reaching into the many thousands, the organization uses a Heidelberg press, which can run off 3,800 sheets - 15,200 book pages - in an hour.
When Associated began issuing braille books, women volunteered to collate pages by hand. Now, a machine uses suction cups to scoot the pages down a conveyer belt, assembling them in the correct order. After employees, several of them blind, affix the covers to the books and inspect them for quality, they are shipped out of the Walnut Street building and into the laps of blind children and adults nationwide.
Contact Julie Zauzmer at 215-854-2771 or email@example.com.