Touching Words

Clovernook offers a variety of services for the visually impaired

In 1903 William Procter gave two women 36 acres of land and a house in what’s now North College Hill. Florence and Georgia Trader used it to care for those with no or limited vision.

And now, more than 100 years later, their legacy includes the third largest Braille printing press in the nation, a contract packaging business, a paper-products manufacturing business in two states, five clinics in four states and a distribution house for the Library of Congress Talking Book Program. During its last fiscal year, Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired served 16,159 people and its Braille materials circulation reached 123,937.

“It all started in the Carey Cottage, (which is) on the National Historic Register,” says Lori Wortylko, spokeswoman for Clovernook. “They had women living in this house weaving, making rugs, caning chairs and things like that as a way to be independent and earn some money.

“They started off as a residence, and over time they started introducing other ways to bring in revenue streams. In 1914 the Braille Print House was established.”

There are no longer living facilities on the campus. In 1997 Clovernook decided it was better to assist sight-impaired people with independent-living.

The print house is still going strong. Clovernook publishes more than 45 million pages of Braille each year in the form of 75 book titles and 12 magazines, including Rolling Stone, Popular Mechanic, Cooking Light and Martha Stewart.

The process of getting from printed word to Braille is involved. The printed page of a book or magazine first is scanned electronically into a computer and “translated” into Braille text.

“We have teams with blind and sighted (people),” Wortylko says. “You’ll have one sighted person reading and one blind person reading to check for errors.”

One printed page requires four to five pages of Braille print, and that’s with all of the advertisements and pictures removed. One magazine can mean one to five Braille volumes for the same material.

Terry Strader converts the electronic print files that are made into the zinc plates used to emboss special paper with the Braille text.

“This will do 25 lines of text on each side of the plate … each plate will count as two pages,” Strader says. “When this comes out, it’ll be read again to make sure there are no errors in it.”

All of this is done by touch, because Strader is blind.

Creating employment opportunities is part of the Clovernook’s mission, Wortylko says. Visual impairment is a requirement for employment consideration. Having a mental or physical disability can also be required. The organization works with the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MRDD) to fill positions.

“(The) contract packaging department … is where a lot of our employees with a visual impairment or (who) are blind work,” Wortylko says. “We contract with MRDD and we’re able to provide employment for those who otherwise might not be able to get jobs.

“It’s an economical way to outsource tedious work … and it’s nice to be able to put a little flyer in there saying, ‘This product was stuffed by people who are blind or visually impaired.’ While it is a business transaction, there’s that human element that is so important.”

The paper factory in Cincinnati employs sighted people for jobs such as moving six-ton rolls of paper and feeding them into a press that generates file folders. But quality-control responsibilities fall to the blind and visually impaired. The IRS is the biggest customer to date.

A facility in Tennessee manufactures the paper cups and sells them internationally.

“We also manufacture environmentally friendly paper hot-cups,” Wortylko says. “These are 100 percent compostable. And now we’re able to custom create cups on a small-run basis.

“Say you wanted 15,000 cups custom printed with your logo. We can do that at smaller quantities for people that want to have custom cups. … Lots of other companies make you purchase 50,000 and 60,0000 cups before you can get the custom imprint.”

The income generated by these various business efforts helps to support Clovernook’s outreach and education efforts. The Low Vision Clinic on the North College Hill campus and those in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee all help people “make the most of what vision they have left.”

Once an eye doctor gives a diagnosis of low vision, a patient can visit a clinic and work with a specialist to test and identify the aids that will help the patient see better.

“We have a grant where we’re able to offer low-vision aids for people who can’t afford them, which is really nice because magnifiers and other things are incredibly expensive,” Wortylko says.

There’s a computer lab for learning how to use technology or testing out software designed for people with visual impairments. A recreation room offers an opportunity for creating art, a gallery for exhibitions and another way to earn a little bit of extra income.

“We have a Dining in the Dark event where people come in and know what it’s like to have a visual impairment,” Wortylko says. “Dinner is in a very, very dimly lit setting. People have to get used to, ‘My meat is at 5:00, my potatoes are at 9:00, my water is where?’ And we buy pieces from our artists to use as silent auction items, and it also provides our artists with supplemental income.”

Summer camps for kids and adults, educational classes to learn to live with visual disabilities, social service support and everything else Clovernook does is tied back to the organization’s mission “to promote independence and foster the highest quality of life for people with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities.”

Learn more about CLOVERNOOK and its activities or about volunteer opportunities at Its art gallery will be part of the Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend on Feb. 21. “Dining in the Dark” is scheduled for April 16; get ticket information at 513-522-3860.

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