Reading by Touch: Visually Impaired Volunteers Read for Kids at the Library

When Chad Rohr lost his vision following an ATV accident at the age of 13, he never thought one day he'd read aloud to children. But last week at the Southeast Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, that's exactly what he did.

As his faithful seeing-eye golden lab, Caddy, lay patiently on the floor at his feet, Rohr traced his fingers across the Braille lines of Dr. Seuss's The Foot Book and Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Seated on the meeting room floor listening to Rohr read were 83 kids from area day care centers. Southeast Children's Librarian Sandra Jones provided visual aids, holding up copies of the books to show the illustrations. (See more photos, courtesy of the Kansas City Star.) 

 "How can he see through his fingers?" one of the kids asked.

Alphapointe volunteer Chad Rohr and his dog, Caddy, read with help from Sandra Jones.

As the Library seeks to reach a wider audience with its Building a Community of Readers initiative, programs like this one, developed in partnership with the Alphapointe Association for the Blind, are a perfect fit.   

Earlier this year, the locally based organization approached the Library's Public Affairs department in order to partner on programs that would raise awareness for its services.

"I knew instantly that this was something we should do," says Henry Fortunato, director of Public Affairs. "It had all the makings of something that would correlate precisely with the Library's new Community of Readers initiative."

Founded in 1911, Alphapointe is a private, nonprofit organization that serves a community of 4,000 Missourians who are blind and visually impaired. The largest employer of blind people in the state, Alphapointe also provides rehabilitation and education services to people with all levels of vision loss.

"Alphapointe is 100 years old this year, so in looking to plan events and activities to raise awareness for what we do, we reached out to pillars of the community like the Library and the Nelson-Atkins Museum," explains Alphapointe Development & Public Relations Director Gina Gowin.

After his accident, Rohr enrolled in Alphapointe's youth education program in order to stay on his path toward college. He's now a junior communications major at the University of Central Missouri.

Alphapointe volunteer Melvin Smith (second from left) typed each kid's name on a Summer Reading card in Braille.

In addition to the readings that were held June 14, 17, 21, and 24 at various branches, there will be readings on July 13 at Trails West and July 14 at Waldo. (Contact each branch's children's librarian you wish to attend.) 

Whether it's letters in ink or Braille bumps, reading is a big part of an individual's education. It's also the bonding agent in the relationship between Alphapointe and the Library. Years ago, at the old Main Library, Alphapointe maintained a "Low-Vision Library" that included computers, screen readers, and audio booths for the visually impaired.

Now, in conjunction with our 2011 Summer Reading program, Alphapointe is holding six Centennial Story Time Celebrations at different branches of the Library.

At each event, Rohr and his fellow Alphapointe volunteers, including Melvin Smith (who brought his dog, Julius, to the Southeast Branch last week), will conduct story time, answer questions about life as visually impaired people, and let the kids interact with their canine guides. At the close of the program, Smith will type each child's name in Braille onto a specially designed Summer Reading card.   

For a first-time story timer, Rohr is handling it like a pro.

"It's pretty interesting hearing all the kids in front me as I read," Rohr said after his reading at Southeast. "They were kind of quiet, but you can't keep 83 kids quiet for very long!"

-- Jason Harper