Diplomas For the Visually Impaired

During a recent Lifetouch presentation in Orlando, the following question was brought forward: Does anyone know what to do for a visually-impaired person’s diploma? Among the 50+ attendees, no one had a solution. Following the presentation, a member of our team, conducted a search for the remainder of the AACRAO conference. After speaking with nearly every vendor there, Al was disappointed with the responses. Jostens was the only vendor that indicated that they have produced custom diplomas for blind graduates in the past and can still do so. The topic resurfaced a month later when Al was listening to a podcast on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa program. The podcast told the story of Ashley Nashleanas, who has been blind since birth. Ashley will receive her PhD in Educational Psychology from Iowa State University this spring. Shortly after hearing this story, Al Suckow reached out to Jennifer Suchan (Senior Associate Registrar, Iowa State University) and expressed his growing interest in diplomas for the visually impaired. Al reported his findings from the AACRAO conferences and those from further research of his own. Some of these findings included:

● A laser-cut relief diploma, made of wood or other material

● A stamped metal diploma, such as those currently used by Colorado School of Mines

● A 3D-printed plastic diploma with raised letters and seal

In response, Jennifer informed us that she had come up with an even better solution, and was partnering with the Iowa Department for the Blind to create braille diplomas for Ashley and one of her fellow classmates.

Producing Braille Diplomas

To create a braille diploma, the braille transcription is molded to a clear adhesive stock in a process called embossing. This can be accomplished either by sending a digital braille document to a braille embosser/embossing machine (e.g., Romeo, Juliet, ViewPlus) or using a traditional Perkins Brailler. Once embossed, the clear adhesive is removed from the carrier backing and placed directly to the original document, where it sticks.

Transcribing the Document 

Braille may be transcribed either by a certified braillist or a brailling software program. Karen Cunningham, a braille transcriber for the Iowa Department for the Blind, uses a program called Braille 2000. Duxbury is another popular program in the industry. While each vendor offers various editions, these programs can be expensive, with a practical program typically ranging from $500 to $700. Alternatively, the American Printing House offers a similar service called Braille Blaster, which is free of charge and compatible with embossers. While a computer brailling program is often useful to her in her work, Karen warns that the output is not always 100% clean. Therefore, Karen recommends reaching out to a certified braillist to proofread the transcription. The National Library Service has a certified network of braille transcribers in which any school may find the transcriber(s) that represents their state. Another option is to have a certified braillist both transcribe and produce the braille diploma. For this to work, the school must mail the original diploma to the braillist. Many braillists might charge a $5-$10 minimum plus a presumably lower variable unit price, since there is relatively little text on a diploma. However, there is no standard price range in braille transcription. Therefore, the per-unit cost to the school may vary considerably depending on the transcriber.

Upon completion, the diploma will be mailed back to the university. Besides the plastic overlay, the diploma will have the same appearance as all other diplomas issued.

“Our office of Diversity and Inclusion, where Ashley has worked, is then going to surprise her with the diploma in a very nice diploma frame (without the glass). I am very excited to honor her in this way!”

Jennifer J. Suchan, Ph.D.

Senior Associate Registrar

Iowa State University

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