Her braille has touched the hearts of blind readers​

doris_low.jpgDoris Low has been honoured by the CNIB for aiding blind readers for more 40 years.

It’s only with the heart that one can see rightly, Antoine de Saint-Expury said in The Little Prince.

Doris Low knows that. She’s known it for a long time.

In early December, Low turned 90. Once a week she still drives to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind headquarters in central Toronto where, as part of a team of four, she helps transform literature into braille to bring the power of story and knowledge to the hearts and minds of the visually impaired.

Low has been volunteering her time and talents to such enterprises for more than 40 years. But like many a story, Low’s begins in the great once upon a time.

She was born in Halifax, earned a bachelor of commerce degree and came to Toronto in 1946, just after World War II, to work in “the business world.”

She found, after a while, that she was “getting a little fed up” with accounting.

“But I had made quite a few teacher friends after I came here and they said, ‘Why don’t you try it?’ So I did!”

Low was well aware, she says, that many people would consider this job change a form of semi-retirement. “It’s not!”

She taught English, French and typing at Danforth Technical School and moved, after a half-dozen years or so, into the library.

It goes without saying that Low likes reading. As her mother’s eyes began to fail, Low read to her. Then “I heard an advertisement on the radio one morning about them wanting people to learn braille.” Once again, Low decided to give something new a try. And in 1973, she was certified as a braille transcriber. She began work transcribing books — including the literary works she loves — for the CNIB library.

Working the old-style manual braillers was strenuous, she says.

Not to mention that — as anyone who worked on typewriters knows — she could get to the end of a page, “40 characters across and 24 lines down,” make a mistake on the last line, and have to do the whole thing again.

“It could drive you insane,” she recalls.

For a number of years, Low also worked in the CNIB sound studio reading books on to tape. Unfortunately, she says, because of her business background, she was often assigned the less than scintillating task of recording economics books. Eventually, the double duty proving a little too much even for her, she returned to transcribing books — technical texts and creative works for all ages.

Though she never married and has no children of her own, Low especially enjoyed working on children’s books.

For Low, who retired from teaching in 1985, the CNIB is more than just a place to volunteer.

“The women I work with have become family. They’re a great bunch of people who mean a lot to me. We stick together.”

In 2007, Low broke her hip. Then, three Christmases ago, arthritis in her hands forced her to give up the transcribing work. “So that’s when I took up proofreading” at the CNIB’s busy word factory.

Did we say busy? “Oh, you have no idea!” Low laughs.

In April, during Volunteer Week, the CNIB will recognize Doris Low for her contributions over more than four decades.

Thanks to volunteers like Low, the CNIB library boasts more than 80,000 accessible materials in formats like braille and audio. It is Canada’s largest library for people unable to read traditional print.

“I can’t imagine how many CNIB clients of all ages have benefited from Doris’ contribution as a skilled volunteer through her rich voice and her high degree of accuracy in the hundreds of books she has brailled and proofread over the years — and she is still doing so,” Darleen Bogart, the CNIB’s national braille convenor, said in a statement.

Bogart said one of the challenges Low overcame was the transition from the literary braille code used for many years in North America to its revision, known as Unified English Braille. This is a simpler process for learning braille, particularly for those who have been print readers most of their lives.

For Low, as with most everyone, the winter has been a stubborn one, but never mind.

But she has the three things that matter most in a balanced life: a little play, a little work, a little love.

Her fun takes the form of a red car she recently bought, her work awaits her every Wednesday when she’s with her colleagues at the CNIB and the love, well it’s available in abundance: “I have plenty of people to look after me.”

And with her trademark gung-ho spirit as she rolls on into her 90s, she acknowledges that even this long long winter is just a passing phase. “Spring will come.”

- Story originally appeared in The Toronto Star