Sunday, July 02, 2000

Harry Potter will be in Braille fast

        Brian Runyon, a Rapid Run Middle School seventh-grader, loves to read. From Star Wars to Animorphs, his fingers fly over Braille pages, rendering him, according to his mother, the top reader in his family.

        Brian regales his brother and sister with animated story-reading in the same way that he has the grown-ups howling with his bits from old-time radio.

        But when his school friends were reading the first three Harry Potters, Sherry Runyon couldn't find the books in Braille.

        “I thought about buying it for him on CD,” Mrs. Runyon said, “but the CD was $40 — which just didn't seem reasonable for one book.”

• Bookstores will have the unabridged cassette ($39.95) and compact disc ($69.95) on the same day as the print edition ($25.95) July 8. Large print editions sell for $23.95.
• Unabridged tape and CD versions will be available at the Cincinnati Public Library downtown and several branches.
• Order online, $20, from the National Braille Press Web site, Or call (800) 548-7323.
• Blind and other print-impaired patrons of the Library of Congress-sponsored Library for the Blind program can borrow the first three titles in braille or cassette versions after registering with the program (369-6999).
        Actually, the Harry Potter books have been available in Braille - albeit being released eight months behind their print counterparts — from National Braille Press, Boston, since last summer. The groundbreaking news for kids such as Brian Runyon is that, for the first time, a Braille title of a wildly popular book will be available for sale almost simultaneously with the print edition.

        When Harry Potter fans line up at bookstores across America Saturday for the release of the fourth title in the series from author J.K. Rowling, blind children and adults will know that the Braille can be shipped to them in three weeks.

        Historically, the production of Braille books has lagged behind that of print editions. Ten years ago, Braille-reading adults and children waited 12-18 months for copies of popular books to be produced. By that time, print-reading friends have moved on to other titles.

        That situation improved dramatically with the 1996 change in copyright law, which enabled producers of Braille materials to skip the permission-granting stage. The first three Harry Potter books were all produced by National Braille Press (NBP) about eight months following print releases. Although Ms. Rowling would not release the electronic files early to NBP, Scholastic Press will deliver them for braill ing at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. All 37 NBP staff members plan to work around the clock for a predicted three-week turn-around of the eight-volume Braille book.

        The magical Harry Potter books have already been equalizers for Braille readers. When kids can talk about the same books, same TV shows, same movies as their kids, the differences of disability seem less glaring.

        Kyle Conley, a Fairfield fifth-grader, takes favorite Braille books to the latchkey program after school. “I read to my friends,” he says. “They like the voices I make up.”

        “When J.K. Rowling rejected the idea of including illustrations in her book,” said Diane Croft, National Braille Press director of publishing and marketing, “it was because she wanted everyone to picture Harry Potter in their own way. That puts blind kids on a par with their sighted friends.”

        Victoria Miller, whose son Alex is a fourth grader at Mariemont Elementary, echoes the notion. Because he is both blind and autistic, Alex hasn't quite reached a braille proficiency level for Harry Potter. His mother purchased the books in Braille, read them to him aloud from print, and helped him find his favorite passages (Harry getting even with the Dursleys, Harry's muggle family), in his Braille copy.

        “Alex loves Braille,” his mother said, “and I want him to be able to re-read these books as an adult and remember in the same way I re-read The Secret Garden and think of my grandmother reading it to me.”

        Meanwhile, he can have conversations with other children about a fantasy that “isn't television fantasy” but one that takes place in the mind.

        After all, as Ms. Croft sums it up: “Imagination doesn't require vision.”

       Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. E-mail:


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