2010 Conference: Bringing Braille Music Back from the Brink by Wendy Richards and Lisette Wesseling

This paper was presented at the 2010 conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities. You can flip through the slides below or listen to an audio recording of the presentation.

Download this presentation

Audio recording of Wendy Richards and Lisette Wesseling’s presentation (40.0 MB)

Presenters’ bios

Lisette Wesseling

Lisette Wesseling works as the Braille Consultant for the RNZFB. She promotes the importance of reading through braille to blind or partially sighted adults, Foundation staff and the general public. In 2009, she worked with the Wellington City Council to create an awareness-raising feature in Wellington’s Botanical Gardens, which features the life story of Louis Braille framed by the gardens’ beautiful New Zealand surroundings.

Lisette also works from home as a vocal coach, where she teaches blind and sighted students. She is also employed by BLENNZ to teach on immersion courses which involve braille music or singing. Lisette uses braille music extensively in this work. She is also a professional soprano and sings regularly as a soloist with various choirs around New Zealand.

Wendy Richards

Wendy’s current position as Braille music specialist for BLENNZ (based at Homai Campus) involves working with students individually, planning and implementing music courses for students who are Blind or Low Vision, and providing support and training for teachers and parents. Wendy is convinced Braille music is an essential skill for our music students, and she also believes that the learning process should be FUN! In 2002 she began coordinating a monthly music school for Blind and Low Vision students in the greater Auckland area, and they currently have a roll of approximately 30 students and staff. She is a registered music teacher (IRMTNZ) and a board member for NZMEB (New Zealand Music Examinations Board).


Music performance and braille music were traditionally taught to many blind children at special schools and institutes throughout the world. With the advent of mainstreaming came a decline in the amount of music being taught, a reduction in numbers of braille music readers, and a decline in the requests for music transcriptions. Yet alongside this decline came new technology potentially making the task of producing and teaching braille music easier.

Contrary to general trends, New Zealand is today seeing increasing numbers of young braille music readers and a healthy number of transcription requests. This is due to the steps taken by a passionate team of musicians plus innovative production and delivery methods. This seminar will outline the steps we have taken to make this happen – from innovative teaching and production through to promotion tools.


Slide 1

Bringing Braille Music Back from the Brink

Lisette Wesseling (RNZFB)

Wendy Richards (BLENNZ)

Photo shows a hand reading Braille. RNZFB and BLENNZ logo included.

Slide 2

Benefits of Music Literacy

  • Acquisition of a skill
  • Musical Independence
  • Career Opportunities

Photo shows a senior student teaching a younger student Braille music. Both students are sitting at a piano with Braille books open on the music stand.

Slide 3

Why a decline?

  • Advent of Mainstreaming
  • Availability of trained Teachers
  • Alternative Technologies
  • Braille music = too hard

Photo shows a mentor and role model teaching Braille music to three high-school students.

Slide 4

Programmes Implemented in NZ

  • Teacher Training
  • Individual Instruction
  • Music School
  • Immersion Courses
  • Parent Education
  • Wider range of relevant repertoire available in Braille

Photo shows young students performing on instruments at a music school concert.

Slide 5

Promotion of Braille to Adults

Audio Teasers on TIS

Translation / production processes

Picture depicts a computer.

Slide 6

Have they worked?

Graph of Braille music production from 1999 to 2009, showing a steep increase up to a peak in 2005, with a decline afterwards.

Slide 7

What have we learned?

  • You can make a difference!
  • Effective Collaboration can bring wide ranging benefits!
  • Imaginative teaching programmes encourage more students to learn Braille music
  • Technology can speed up Braille music production significantly.

[end of slides]


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