The Tammy Axelsen Lifetime Achievement Award

For some time it had been a matter of discussion that Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities (Round Table) should institute a Life Membership category for people who had made an outstanding contribution to the Print Disability sector.

As the Executive pondered the matter it became apparent that it was not appropriate to create a Life Membership category for individuals as Round Table does not have any membership categories for individuals. Round Table is an organisation of organisations. However, the concept of public recognition for outstanding service was both appealing and long overdue. This was the genesis of the Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award.

Finally, at the 2009 Annual Conference Dinner in Sydney, two inaugural Round Table Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented. It was a particularly momentous night as it was also the occasion for a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille.

Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award recipients are presented with a memento in the form of a twin plaque. Each memento comprises two separate rosewood timber circular plaques, 24 cm in diameter. The plaques are connected by a metal hinge allowing, if preferred, the two plaques to stand upright when rested at an angle. Alternatively, they can be displayed by being hung on a wall. On the front of each plaque is a silver metal plate on which the Round Table logo and the following words are written: “Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities, Lifetime Achievement Award, ‘the person’s full name’, and ‘the year in which it was awarded’. Why two attached plaques? Because on one plaque the words are in print and on the other they are in braille.
Lifetime Achievement plaque for Jacqueline Booty

Tammy Axelsen

Tammy Axelsen

For the first time in 2016, the Award’s name has been changed to honour the memory of our long-standing friend and administration officer, Tammy Axelsen. Tammy served the Round Table for many years until her death in June 2015.

It is intended that the Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award will be regarded as a prestigious award, conferred on only a few. The names and a short biography of each of the Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award recipients are given below.


Nominations open on the day following each Annual General Meeting and this year will close on Friday, 23 March 2018. Any Round Table Member Organisation, Round Table Executive Committee Member, Round Table Sub-Committee or Round Table Working Party can nominate.

2018 Tammy Axelsen LAA Nomination Information (106 KB)

Click here to complete an on-line nomination form

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View Flickr photos of awards presentations

2017 Award

The 2017 Tammy Axelsen Lifetime Achievement Award was a highlight of the Round Table Conference Dinner, which was held at the Mercure Perth, on 8 May 2017.

Ramona Mandy was the recipient of the 2017 Tammy Axelsen Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ramona Mandy

The 2017 Tammy Axelsen Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ramona Mandy (right) with Round Table President Neil Jarvis (left)

The 2017 Tammy Axelsen Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ramona Mandy (right) with Round Table President Neil Jarvis (left)

Ramona Mandy was born with aniridia and lost her sight gradually from birth. She was taught braille from an early age and her schooling was in braille. She attended the Royal New South Wales Institute for Deaf and Blind Children at North Rocks for her primary school education and then moved in to mainstream education for secondary school.

Ramona entered into the workforce before returning to study at Melbourne University in her mid-20’s, where she undertook a Bachelor of Arts majoring in linguistics. This included study of the linguistics code, with which she familiarised herself in both braille and as tactile representations of the print.

Following periods of employment with both the Defence Department and the Education Department, Ramona began her career in the print disability sector. She joined the staff of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB) in the mid-1990s as adult braille instructor. In providing braille tuition to adults with a recent vision loss, Ramona worked hard to understand the individual needs and interests of each of her students and tailored her approach accordingly. She would adjust the material to raise the student’s interest and encourage them in their efforts. She was always on the lookout for additional materials which she could adapt and produce to meet their individual needs. As part of this work, Ramona applied herself to understanding the different eye conditions and their functional implications.

One of the particular challenges Ramona had to meet in this role was to learn how to work through an interpreter to teach braille to profoundly deaf students who were losing, or had lost sight as young adults – whose method of communication until that time had always been AUSLAN.

In 2001, Ramona left RVIB. She had been invited to take up a position with HumanWare Australia as their national sales representative. As the word of the HumanWare products spread and blind and vision impaired people became more confident to take the leap into the world of technology, Ramona’s work responsibilities quickly grew and she found herself specialising in the sale and use of HumanWare’s fast growing range of highly regarded blindness products. Her work involved sales, promotion, training and technical problem-solving. Ramona soon became the “go to person” for answers to questions relating to braille technology.

Countless people, children and adults alike, have benefitted from one-on-one tuition with Ramona. She has provided product demonstrations and associated tuition to employers, government departments, universities, schools, blindness agencies and blind and vision impaired individuals throughout Australia. Ramona often spent weeks at a time away from home, travelling nationally and internationally to display, demonstrate and provide tuition in the growing range of HumanWare products. To Ramona, the end user and their comfort with the product she sold was always paramount in her mind. A wrongly matched “product” and “user” was never the outcome to satisfy her. Her position was demanding of both her time and her energies. With the need for increasing national and international travel, often requiring her to navigate as a blind person alone, she had reason to put her full trust in the products she sold. She was able to give them a thorough workout.

Ramona worked with a wide range of products and will be particularly remembered for introducing the vision impaired community and their associates to the HumanWare Keynote products and the BrailleNote Touch. Ramona has recently announced her resignation from HumanWare.

Ramona has been a regular attendee at Round Table Conferences and ABA meetings for more than 20 years. Throughout much of that time she also co-ordinated the HumanWare display table ensuring that conference attendees were given the best possible opportunity to learn of the new HumanWare technology as soon as it became available.

Ramona served as Convenor of the Australian Braille Authority Victorian Subcommittee for four years during the 1990s, when she reached out to a range of users from readers, teachers and transcribers. Ramona shared her regard for braille as a vital medium for literacy, education, recreation, employment, equity and access. She encouraged others to strive to raise awareness of the importance of braille and for its continued use by blind and vision impaired people.

Ramona also served on the National Executive of the Australian Braille Authority for two years, where her expertise in the braille phonetics code and understanding of the needs of new braille readers were particularly valued. Due to the pressures of her work and her need to travel, she tendered her resignation from ABA Executive as she believed she was unable to give it the time required.

Throughout her working life, Ramona has appeared in countless videos, radio interviews and at display stands to raise awareness about the issues surrounding blindness and print accessibility. In so doing, she has helped to raise the profile of braille and its importance.

Ramona was a member of the Consumer Committee of Guide Dogs Victoria for several years and also served as a member of their Board.

2016 Award

Nigel Herring

The 2016 Tammy Axelsen Lifetime Achievement Award winner Nigel Herring (left) with Round Table President Neil Jarvis (right)

The 2016 Tammy Axelsen Lifetime Achievement Award winner Nigel Herring (left) with Round Table President Neil Jarvis (right)

Nigel has been associated with the print disability sector for nearly 40 years. He started out managing the old RBS studios, and led the transition from the old Clarke & Smith to cassette system. At that time Nigel was the only person in Australia who had the expertise to service the Optacon (a device which brought the possibility of reading printed information to blind people). While it has been 20 years since any optacons were even manufactured, Nigel remains one of the few people in the world who can still service them. That is a perfect illustration of how Nigel continues to support technology, and thereby print disabled people, long after everyone has given up.

In the 1980s, Nigel worked with Wormold and Pulsedata before eventually going on to form Pentronics. He was the brains behind the Picture Braille Tactile Graphics software, and by 1994 was starting to work on the Toccata software which would go on to enable users of braille music to access print music scores: an essential requirement for professional musicians and others who need to read and not just hear music.

Nigel is considered to be the embosser guru in both Australia and New Zealand. He is particularly associated with Index embossers, but it is probably fair to say he is an expert on any embosser model in use. At the other extreme, he still repairs perkins braillers.

When the Round Table Executive decided to make this award to Nigel, we reached out to people who had known him the longest. We were told that it’s not just that Nigel knows how to service adaptive technology, whether it is an optacon, a Perkins brailler, a Braillenote, a Varioultra smart braille display, an Everest braille embosser, an Index Braillebox, A Braille 400 high-speed embosser, a CCTV, and many other things between. More importantly, it’s that Nigel knows how essential this technology is for those of us who are blind or have low vision, and he has a 100% 24-7 commitment to making sure that we’re able to get the maximum benefit from it — and that we don’t have to take out another mortgage to do it.

When many of us hear about a new product in the adaptive technology space, one of the first questions we ask is, “will Nigel be servicing it?”. If the answer is “yes”, then we’re much more likely to give it serious consideration. Because we know that Nigel is not only a highly qualified engineer and technician, he’s also honest, trustworthy, loyal, dedicated to what he does, and totally focussed on the goals and needs of his customers. Nigel goes above and beyond what is required, but with Nigel there is no above, and no beyond — it’s all just a part of who he is.

Nigel is indeed a deserving and worthy recipient of this year’s Tammy Axelson Lifetime Achievement Award. More than most, and more than he probably realises himself. One of Nigel’s most enduring lifetime achievements is that he has made it possible for so many people who are blind or have another print disability to achieve goals and to live inclusively with dignity and greater independence.

New Horizons, (the BCA radio Program) feature Neil Jarvis’s presentation to Nigel Herring of the 2016 Tammy Axelson Lifetime Achievement Award.

2015 Award

Elisabeth Wegener

2015 Lifetime Achievement Award winner Elisabeth Wegener (centre) with fellow educators Deb Lewis (left) and Josie Howse (right)

Elisabeth has contributed to the print disability sector in Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) over a period spanning at least 25 years, through her employment as a braille transcriber and through her voluntary contributions to Round Table, Australian Braille Authority (ABA), and Callan Services for Disabled Persons in PNG.

Elisabeth has been an active member of the Round Table Executive Committee over a period of than 20 years. She has been a member of many Round Table working groups and assisted in the production and review of the following Round Table Guidelines:

  • Round Table Guidelines for the Production of Large Print
  • Round Table Exam Guidelines for Students with Vision Impairments
  • Round Table Accessible Assessment Guidelines

Elisabeth also Chaired the working group that produced the 2011 Round Table Clear Print Guidelines, and has been a strong advocate for the production of clear print. She has been involved in running regular workshops within Round Table, school and university environments.

Elisabeth’s contribution towards the work of the Round Table Executive Committee are too numerous to list, sufficient to say they are many and varied and often performed in her personal time.  Of particular note is Elisabeth’s untiring efforts assisting with the planning for the annual Round Table conference, she has been a member of planning committees for many years.  Elisabeth agreed to coordinate the Round Table Annual Conference in 2013, 2014 and again this year, 2015.  During this period Elisabeth had constantly evaluated each conference and been innovative with a fresh approach evident every year.

Over the years Elisabeth’s enthusiasm for braille has been evident through her involvement with braille activities at a local level with, what is now known as, the NSW Braille Forum.  Elisabeth has assisted with their annual braille competition, in particular by the creation of the book of prize winner stories (in braille, print and large print formats).

For many years, Elisabeth has supported braille provision for PNG students who are blind and the work of Callan Services for Disabled Persons. Elisabeth supported the work of Brother John Adams and the Christian Brothers who operated the Mount Sion School for the Blind in Goroka. This included transcribing, embossing and dispatching the PNG national examinations into braille each year. This process was often lengthy and time consuming, and required a considerable commitment of Elisabeth’s personal time. Elisabeth has visited Mount Sion, on two occasions, to provide training in braille and Duxbury transcription for the Mount Sion braille production staff and special educators. Elisabeth provided email support to the Mount Sion staff before and after the training.

Elisabeth is a quiet achiever; her contributions to the print disability sector over the years have been substantial and mostly unrecognised by her colleagues in the print disability sector. There are many people within the print disability sector who have reason to say “Thank you” to Elisabeth for her contribution to our community.


2014 Awards

Bill Jolley

Bill Jolley displaying his 2014 Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award plaque. Neil Jarvis is standing on Bill's left hand side.

Bill Jolley displaying his 2014 Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award plaque. Neil Jarvis is standing to Bill’s left.


William Michael Jolley (Bill) has been committed to service management, research and advocacy to improve information access for people who are blind or print disabled throughout his adult life.  He was the founding Secretary of the Round Table on Information Access and has made a greater contribution in this field.

Bill was born on May 1st 1953 as one of seven children, the oldest four of whom are blind.  His early education was at St Paul’s School for the Blind in Melbourne before he undertook secondary studies at Christian Brothers College East St Kilda and then completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1974 with First Class Honours in Mathematical Statistics.

Bill’s commitment to advocacy, to address the needs of people who are blind or have low vision was first consolidated in 1975 when he became a founding member and the inaugural Secretary of Blind Citizens Australia (then the National Federation of Blind Citizens).  His commitment to the work of Blind Citizens Australia has continued since and includes terms as National President (1982-86 and 1990-94), Executive Officer (1994-2000) and as a member of the Finance Committee since 2005.

Following six years as a research mathematician with Telstra’s Research Division, Bill was invited to relocate to Sydney in 1981 to take up the position of Braille Production Manager with the Royal NSW Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC).  In this role he oversaw the commissioning and operation of what was then Australia’s largest computer assisted braille production unit.  Here Bill was responsible for the introduction of substantial hardware and software upgrades to the system, as well as the introduction to Australia of double sided braille embossing; the provision of pocket sized braille publications such as sporting fixtures; and the availability to braille readers of the Australian Postcode Directory.

Bill returned to Melbourne in early 1987 to join the Vision Australia Foundation (then Association for the Blind) as Manager Research and Technology. His role included provision of direct support to clients seeking to apply assistive technology to address their information needs; and advocacy, as a member of the senior management team, on both the accessibility of internal systems and public policy matters.

Bill returned to Telstra in July 1989 to resume his involvement with teletraffic planning and research.  In this role he further enhanced his skills in the areas of project management and applied research and first recognised the potential to deliver talking books and other audio based information via the telecommunications network and computer based reading systems.  In 1992 he was invited to present a paper on applications for new technology to the Japan Vocational Centre for the Blind.  He wrote:

“We are on the edge of the greatest revolution in telecommunications since the introduction of the telephone itself. It is a quiet revolution:  one which will radically change our work and leisure practices…..

Broadband fibre-based networks will, by the turn of the century, revolutionise the way we work, learn and play.  We shall have ready access to unlimited quantities of information on demand (video, voice and data), via multi-media communications at home, at work and at school. The possibilities for services to blind people are exciting, and the challenge is how to harness the enormous power and flexibility of these networks to bridge the information gap which we face in an increasingly vision-oriented society.

This paper presents an application of broadband to the delivery of talking book library services to blind people. It reveals the potential of broadband as the platform for service delivery, and raises key issues.

The service I envisage may be summarised as follows:

  • Talking books are files stored on disk; thus the library would consist of a computer, with talking books stored as file sets, and an optical fibre link to the network.
  • borrowers can select books by manual or computer-based interactive methods. The borrower sends a book-request message to the library, and the book is dispatched to the borrower over the broadband network and stored on the borrower’s terminal ready for playback. That is, borrowers get their talking books by downloading them over the telecommunications network.
  • the borrower’s terminal can retrieve and store several talking books, and can act as a simple-to-use playback device. Borrowers must have maximum freedom and utility in the playback of their talking books. Thus the terminal must have volume and pitch controls, search for book-marks, variable playback speed, portability and battery operation. The terminal has two essential capabilities: retrieval and storage, and portable playback. The terminal would have an in-built text-to-speech converter and associated software, to enable the user to access catalogues and other databases via synthetic speech.”

Bill’s vision for the future of accessible information access articulated more than 20 years ago, is remarkably similar to the service now readily available through the Vision Australia Library Service.

In 1994 Bill relinquished Presidency of Blind Citizens Australia to take up the role of BCA Executive Officer.   Over the period of Bill’s hands-on leadership the organisation grew substantially, with both the membership and operational budget doubling in a six year period and the provision of highly regarded individual and systemic advocacy services.

Bill also led BCA’s involvement in a range of advocacy and research projects that have resulted in major improvements in information access for people with a print disability.  These include:

  • A study of consumer information access in telecommunications, banking and social security;
  • A needs analysis for deafblind people in Australia;
  • The potential for text telephones for people in Australia who are deafblind;
  • The feasibility of electronic banknote identification;
  • The impact for blind people from the introduction of Digital Audio Broadcasting in Australia;
  • The accessibility of ICT for teaching and i-learning in the Vocational Education Sector;
  • The provision of Audio Description and other audio enhancements through digital television;
  • Structured audio, through digital recording (DAISY);
  • The accessibility of e-commerce for people who are blind or vision impaired.

During this period Bill also managed BCA’s hosting of a pan-disability project to provide consumer input into the development of compliance standards under the Disability Discrimination Act.  He also led development of TEDICORE a sector-wide forum to provide consumer input to the telecommunications industry.

Bill’s advocacy, research and practical support on behalf of the blind/ low vision and print disabled communities has not been limited to Australia:

  • In 1986 he travelled to Kenya, at the behest of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, to oversee the establishment of a computerised braille production facility to serve Eastern Africa.
  • While employed with BCA he developed and delivered self help training programs for the blind population of Fiji.
  • From 1994 to 2000 he managed a program to train blind people to teach braille in Vietnam.
  • Bill held Regional and World level Executive positions with the World Blind Union (WBU) from 1988 and undertook leadership assignments including as Chair of the Resolutions and Nominations Committees and as Returning Officer for WBU General Assemblies up to 2004
  • In the period 2000-01 Bill served as Secretary General for the DAISY Consortium (Digital Audio Information System) at a time when the Consortium was rapidly extending the availability of its structured audio delivery systems across both the developed and developing worlds.
  • In 2003 and 2004 Bill visited countries across the Middle East on behalf of development agencies in Norway and Denmark, to assess and provide advice on the development of blindness services
  • Bill’s travel to more than fifty countries on behalf of the WBU, DAISY Consortium and for a range of project consultancies has earned him the respect and friendship of blind people and service providers around the world.

Alongside his full-time employment roles Bill has undertaken a range of consultancy projects that address the information needs of the blind/print disabled populations. These include:

  • A review of library and information access services funded under the Disability Services Act, for the Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health (1989);
  • Provision of advice to the Victorian Ministry for the Arts on funding of Talking Book Library Services (1990);
  • Review of the Print Disability Services and Postal Concessions for the Blind Programs for the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services (2000);
  • Research into braille and literacy/numeracy for students who are blind or vision impaired for the Commonwealth Department of Education Training and Youth Affairs (2000).

In more recent years, Bill’s involvements in the sphere of information access have been undertaken alongside broader Disability and Community Sector involvements:

  • He was the founding Secretary of Round Table on Information Access (1981-84) and then served as “Convener” (1998-99);
  • He has been an Executive Member of the International Council on English Braille since 2002 and currently serves as its Treasurer;
  • He was Secretary/Treasurer of the Australian Blindness Forum (1991-2000)
  • He chaired the Australian Braille Authority (2002-06) and is a continuing member of the ABA Executive;
  • He was Vice President and then President of Seeing Eye Dogs Australia (2001-06) where he led negotiations for the successful merger of SEDA services into Vision Australia. Bill continues to chair the holding company that ensures that philanthropic income flows to the service.
  • He currently serves as a member of Vision Australia’s Consumer Representative Council and chairs the AIS Consumer Advisory Committee that provides consumer input to the organisation’s library and information services.

In 2004 Bill joined the Australian Communications and Media Authority where he has managed work on the changing provision of emergency access services (000) and lead Australian delegations to the International Telecommunications Union in Switzerland.

In total Bill has undertaken around 18 consultancies; represented Australian interests at more than 25 international conferences and meetings; and presented or published more than 30 papers focusing on the situation and needs of people who are blind or have other print disability.

Bill’s contribution to improve the lives of people who are blind or otherwise print disabled in Australia and elsewhere has been acknowledged with several prestigious awards:

  • He was the NSW Finalist for Australian Jaycees’ “Outstanding Young Australian” award in 1983;
  • He was presented with Telstra’s “Australia Day Award for Outstanding Community Service” in 1992;
  • He received the “Medal for Happiness of Blind People” from the Vietnam Blind Association in 2000, for his “valuable contribution to blind people through Braille literacy”.
  • And he was the 2004 recipient of Blind Citizens Australia’s “David Blyth Award”.

Whether as a Service Manager, Consultant or in a voluntary capacity Bill has provided well reasoned and forward looking input to enhance information access for people who are blind or otherwise print disabled for more than forty years.  It can truly be said that William Jolley is one of those who is “changing what it means to be blind” in Australia and around the world.


Janet Reynolds

Janet Reynolds 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient displaying her plaque

Janet Reynolds 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient displaying her plaque.

Janet was a maths teacher before joining the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind on 18 March 1991 as a Braille Transcriber.  She applied her maths problem solving skills to braille and is said to have enjoyed the fundamental logic of the Nemeth maths code with her passion for mathematics coming to the fore once she had mastered literary braille as she then moved on to learn and produce Nemeth.

During 2005 Janet travelled throughout New Zealand and consulted with others around the changes in the braille code, she was the main author of the UEB Guidelines for Mathematics and Technical Materials and has worked tirelessly to ensure that braille New Zealanders receive is of the highest quality.

Janet’s leadership of the transition to Unified English Braille in New Zealand led to a transition with very little disruption for braille readers.  It is to her huge credit that she helped develop the UEB maths rules and worked diligently on the UEB Technical Guidelines; her focus has always been on the outcome, literacy and numeracy through braille for blind people.

Her contribution to Braille Authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust (BANZAT) and to the braille authority entities which preceded it are also reasons for celebration.  While serving as the Treasurer for BANZAT Janet was responsible for diplomacy with BANZAT’s primary funder, her then employer, the Blind Foundation of New Zealand.

Janet has worked with Duxbury developers to refine and test Duxbury braille production software, she is reported to be New Zealand’s braille embosser guru. It said that although Janet may not fix them she certainly knows how to connect embossers to the Duxbury Braille Translator software.

Now retired Janet was known for her quiet patience, listening ear and eye for future developments. These traits all assisted in ensuring that the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind’s Accessible Format Production Department, which she managed, was kept up to date with national and international trends with braille, large print and e-text production.

Janet’s deep knowledge of braille and her ability to encourage her team to develop the same depth of knowledge speaks volumes for the kind of committed person she is to the cause of accessible formats.  She has always shown an ability to adapt to the changing environment, demonstrated by an enthusiasm to embrace formats such as e-text and later DAISY, neither of which were around when she started her career.

Janet’s negotiations with the Ministry of Education guaranteed a high level of accessible formats to school-aged students in New Zealand.  Her attention to detail and unparalleled understanding of the sector and of the needs of the end-user have all been instrumental to the success of the Accessible Format Production Department, where she developed a team skilled in large print and electronic resource production as well as braille.

Janet is highly respected by her colleagues nationally and internationally for her long service and expertise.  She could always be relied upon to give her very best to tasks she sets herself and her department.


2013 Award

Frances Gentle

Frances Gentle with former Award recipients, Josie Howse and John Simpson.

Frances Gentle has made an outstanding contribution to the print disability sector through development of educational programs for people with vision impairment in Australia, East Asia and the Pacific Region.  In her capacity as a lecturer and researcher in vision impairment, and through her work as a teacher, she has focused on the use of braille as an effective educational, communication and information access tool – underlining its importance as a key to literacy for people who are blind.

Dr Gentle’s involvement in the special education arena spans almost 30 years through:

  • Teaching at St Edmunds School for Students with Vision Impairment and Other Special Needs, Sydney, NSW.
  • Supporting students with vision impairment and staff in Catholic independent schools across New South Wales.
  • Establishing an English language program for adults with severe vision impairment in Japan.
  • Lecturing in the Master of Special Education (Sensory Disability) program offered by the Renwick Centre for Research and Professional Education administered by the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children at North Rocks in affiliation with the University of Newcastle.
  • 10 years voluntary support for children with disabilities in developing countries in East Asia and the Pacific region.
  • Development of a substantive research portfolio in disability in the area of inclusive education with a focus on braille literacy development and curriculum and pedagogy adjustments for students with vision impairment.

Frances has demonstrated an ability to collaborate with leaders and practitioners working in the education, health and rehabilitation fields at state, national and international level for the benefit of children with vision impairment – often in the face of limited human, physical and financial resources and diverse cultural backgrounds.  A recent example of her international work involved conducting an intensive one-week course for braillists in East Timor to enable them to transcribe material for children to be educated in Tetan, Portuguese and Chinese.  During the training, participants were forced to work in a shed during continuous torrential rain using handframes donated by blind people in New South Wales.

In her spare time, Frances has maintained a continuous involvement in the work of national and international standards setting bodies concerned with the production of and access to information for people with vision impairment.  She has participated in the work of Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities with a particular focus on Australian Braille Authority initiatives.  Frances played a leading role in development of the Trans-Tasman examination of proficiency in Unified English Braille.  On the international stage, Dr Gentle’s varied involvements have informed her work as the Pacific Chairperson, International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI).

Dr Gentle’s dedication to the development of information access for people with vision impairment through education, both in Australia and overseas, has assisted children and adults with vision impairment to achieve literacy and access to information.

The academic achievements and practical work of Frances Gentle are exemplary and continues to shape the work of Australian and international educators and braille transcribers to continue to improve literacy and information access for people with vision impairment.


2012 Award

Josie Howse

Josie Howse holding her Lifetime Achievement Award
An interview with Josie about her receipt of the award was conducted by Peter Greco and broadcast on RPH Adelaide.


Josie Howse has been involved with the print disability field and Round Table for over 25 years.

During her involvement with Round Table Josie has participated in Round Table’s Education sub-committee, Large Print sub-committee and Production sub-committee, she has also participated in various Round Table projects, such as the development of the Guidelines for Producing Large Print, and Examination Guidelines.  Josie played a key role in the organisation of the Summit event  “Negotiating the Information Superhighway with a Print Disability” in 1995.

Josie’s primary focus has been on braille, and she has participated vigorously and enthusiastically in the work of the Australian Braille Authority (ABA) since the mid-1980s. She was active in the development of the Australian Braille Mathematics Notation, Braille Chemistry Code, and the Guidelines for Brailling Computer Material. Josie continues to play an essential role in the development and administration of the (now) Trans-Tasman Braille Proficiency Certificate.

Josie has achieved national and international recognition for her work on developing strategies for and overseeing the implementation of Unified English Braille (UEB) in Australia, and her revision of the British Braille Primer to incorporate UEB is a trusted and valuable resource for transcribers and teachers wishing to learn the basics of UEB.

Josie has been an Australian delegate to four General Assemblies of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) and has also represented Australia on numerous ICEB-related committees associated with UEB.

Josie brings rare commitment, unique insights and unrivalled expertise to all activities in which she is engaged. She is an exemplary team player, but has also been prepared to play a key leadership role in the development and promotion of the rights of people with print disabilities in general, and braille readers in particular.  Josie never seeks self-aggrandisement, overt recognition or praise, and is as prepared to work behind the scenes as she is to conduct workshops, supervise braille students, and develop resource materials.

When recommending Josie for the Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award her nominator commented that “Josie embraces the principles of equality, dignity and diversity in every aspect of her life. More than most, she is willing to include people with disability in both her professional and personal spheres. She has earned the respect and trust of all those she encounters.”


2011 Awards

Jacqueline Booty

Jacquie Booty holding her Lifetime Achievement Award

Jacqui has provided outstanding support to the Print Disability Sector for some thirty years through her work as a teacher of students and adults with vision impairment; her work in skilling other professionals as a supervisor, state-wide adviser and lecturer of university students working in the area of print disability; and in her professional contribution to Round Table at local and national level.  While employed as a teacher of children with a visual impairment, Jacqui contributed significantly beyond what is normally expected of any professional and has worked tirelessly to promote and address the needs of people with print disabilities.

Jacqui commenced her teaching career in a primary school.  Through her transfer to the Queensland School for the Blind in 1965 she became aware of the needs of students with print disability focussing particularly on those students who required braille for learning.  She was quickly recognised as a superb teacher and teacher librarian who has highly developed braille skills in both literacy and numeracy.

Such was her commitment, she became teacher librarian of the state-wide braille, print and audio library within the Department of Education which provided resources to many students with print disabilities in government and non-government schools in Queensland. Jacqui contributed to the NUC:D network in this pivotal role which she established in Queensland.  She established the state-wide resource centre through amalgamating the resources from ten different centres throughout the state and trialling computer networking to support acquisition.

Jacqui’s leadership was significant in lobbying government and departmental sources for funds.  She also assisted other government departments in establishing library and related support for clients with print disability.  Jacqui liaised with the Queensland Braille Writing Association providing expert advice in transposing print into braille, especially in the areas of science, maths and diagrammatic representations.  She assisted annually with the coordination of the annual Braille Reading and Writing Competition.

Professionally her expertise was recognised with her lecturing at Griffith University in the area of education of students with vision impairment.  In 1978 she authored a mathematics program for students with print disabilities who used an abacus.  This was a first in the southern hemisphere and linked to the mathematics programs being used in schools across Australia.  In 1995 she contributed to the national initiative of Students Performance Standards – where she authored the document on teaching Braille Maths applying these to the performance standards which were being trialled as a precursor to the new Australian Curriculum.

In 1998 she co-authored a chapter of a text book ‘Towards Excellence’, used in Australia and New Zealand for professionals working in the area of vision impairment.  Her contribution demonstrated how students with print disabilities could access the mainstream and alternative curricula.

In her last five years of teaching Jacqui was able to influence many teachers, parents and children with print disabilities through her work as a state consultant, travelling to many cities and towns providing teaching, offering pedagogical advice and expert teaching ideas to skill others through the state working in this specialised area.

Jacqui has great expertise in braille and has a thorough understanding of how children and adults acquire skills in this area.  She has been the Education Queensland representative in all areas dealing with braille teaching and production for some 12 years.  During this time significant changes included the updating of the braille code, and re-examination of tactile mapping and diagrams.

Jacqui was a fully contributing member to many state and national government and community groups.  These included:

  • Australian Braille Authority
  • Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities
  • Australian representative for new Braille code Research Fellow on the International Braille Literacy Committee
  • Queensland Braille Writing Association
  • Tape Services for the Handicapped
  • Special Education Teacher Librarian Committee

Jacqui enjoyed a long association with Round Table as Education Queensland’s representative for 11 years from 1986 until she retired due to ill-health in 1997. She was a long time Convenor of the Education Sub-Committee of the Australian Braille Authority, later becoming Vice President of that body.

Jacqui has made an outstanding contribution to improving information access for people who are blind or have a print disability throughout her career.  Her contribution to the teaching and production of all aspects of braille is recognised and respected by her colleagues.


Jan Smark Nilsson


Jan Smark Nilsson, for 20 years led innovative service delivery to people with print disabilities. For the first twelve years (circa 1978–90) she was Executive Director of the Braille and Talking Book Library of Victoria (B&TBL), and for some eight years after that she was Managing Director of Pulse Data International (Australia). Jan’s background in journalism and librarianship uniquely equipped her to transform the B&TBL from a welfare-oriented voluntary agency for blind people in Victoria into a professionally-staffed, rights-focussed public library, serving people with print disabilities throughout Australia.

Jan’s experience as a radio journalist working in Vietnam during the war sensitised her to the importance of quality narration of talking books. Jan’s love of reading and high regard for literacy underpinned her deep respect for braille; and Jan’s love of the creative arts inspired her to find innovative ways of sharing the widest possible range of literature with people with print disabilities.

The following dot points highlight many of Jan’s achievements and legacies, especially as head of the B&TBL.


  • Publication of In charge of the mess, a cookbook optimised in content and layout for use by blind people using braille. More than 150 copies were sold – by far the biggest selling braille book in Australia.
  • Pocket-sized cricket and Australian Rules football fixtures in braille and large print. Jan obtained sponsorship from the Australian Cricket Board and the Victorian Football League for these fixtures and liaised with the braille producer to have the fixtures issued on small pages for the convenience of braille readers. She was the first to produce the fixtures in large print.
  • Braille Reading Trends in Australia, a report of national research into braille usage in Australia. Jan obtained sponsorship for the research and managed the project which included completion of hundreds of questionnaires, distributed to braille-reading adults and children throughout Australia.
  • Postcode Australia, sponsored by Australia Post to celebrate 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons. Approximately 850 copies of the three-volume braille publication were produced and distributed free-of-charge to braille readers and relevant institutions.


  • Carried out a detailed investigation of the replacement audio format for the Clarke & Smith six-track cartridge talking book format. Jan led a courageous decision by the B&TBL to go with the mainstream two-track C90 cassette format, which later became the Federal Government’s preferred format for audio books.
  • Pioneered the production of talking books using professional narrators and using purpose-built but meagre recording studios. This heralded a quantum leap in the audio quality of talking books produced in Australia. The B&TBL was for some years a consistent winner of the Audio Book of the Year Award, presented by the National Library of Australia.
  • Established Louis Braille Audio as a mainstream audio book publisher. The B&TBL pioneered the payment for audio book rights and sold audio books to public libraries and other mainstream outlets. These audio books were not restricted to circulation among people with print disabilities.
  • Grew the collection of audio books at the B&TBL, through external purchasing supporting the Library’s own production to become the largest audio book library in Australia. The collection emphasised quality fiction and non-fiction, with an emphasis on Australian product.


  • Completely changed the demeanour of the B&TBL from a well-meaning charity, staffed by volunteers, to a public library, staffed by professional librarians.
  • Achieved mainstream recurrent funding of the B&TBL by the Victorian Government, about 30 years ago, through the Ministry for the Arts. The grant is now worth more than a million dollars each year to Vision Australia.
  • Achieved accreditation by the Victorian Government of the B&TBL as a public library. This was a major advance that opened many doors for the library by way of grants, access to resources and opportunities for promotion and professionalisation of the service. It also signalled recognition of accessible information for people with print disabilities as a human right rather than as a benefit bestowed by charitable works.


        • The B&TBL introduced a computerised book circulation system using profile matching. It was made possible through a year-long community employment program grant that enabled the purchase of a computer and supported up to 30 temporary staff entering borrower data to support the profile matching system for automated book selection. This was a major achievement more than 25 years ago, now taken for granted as the cornerstone of Vision Australia’s borrower-profile-matching library circulation system.


        • Jan was a consummate networker, always promoting the B&TBL and advocating for improved availability of books and ephemeral material in accessible formats for people with print disabilities.
        • Jan worked closely with her colleague, the Director General of the National Library of Australia (NLA), to advocate for and advise on a program within the NLA focussing on the information access needs of people with print disabilities. She deserves much of the credit for the NLA having:
    • created a staff position focussing on library services for people with print disabilities;
    • convened a national conference to discuss current and emerging issues of information access for people with print disabilities;
    • established a regular newsletter containing news and articles relevant to library services for people with print disabilities;
    • established and maintained the NUC-D (National Union Catalogue of Library Materials for the Print Disabled) and WIP (works-in-progress) databases; and
    • established the National Advisory Committee on Library Services for the Handicapped.
  • When she left the B&TBL in 1990, Jan resigned from some 23 committees and working parties associated directly or indirectly with accessible information for people with print disabilities. For example:
  • representative of the East Asia Pacific Region on the Access to Literacy and Culture Committee of the World Blind Union.
  • Executive member and convenor of various working parties of Round Table (RT) – Jan was a founding member of RT, and was an original member of the RT Executive in 1981.
  • Member of the National Advisory Committee on Library Services for the Handicapped, convened by the NLA.
  • Vice-President of the Australian National Council of and for the Blind.
  • founding member of the Australian Braille Authority.

Access Technology

  • A short while after Jan finished as Executive Director of the B&TBL she became Managing Director of Pulse Data International (Australia), an access technology distributor, which is now part of the HumanWare group of companies worldwide.
  • Jan was always a welcome and enthusiastic participant at access technology displays, and was particularly keen to inform teachers of children with low vision and adults with recent-onset low vision about the various braille and low vision products that could enhance literacy and ensure the continuation of the joy of reading.
  • Jan was the original publisher of TechStyle, a regular newsletter of product news. She demonstrated her inclusiveness by ensuring its ongoing availability in nine braille, large print, audio and e-based accessible formats. 


Jan Smark Nilsson made an outstanding contribution as Chief Executive and Librarian with the B&TBL and as an active member of the leadership group of RT and similar coordinating bodies. As a qualified librarian with a rights-based philosophy and love of fine literature, and with a rich network of professional contacts, she signalled a paradigm shift in accessible format library services from a welfare service to blind people to a public library service to people with print disabilities.

Jan pushed envelopes, removed barriers, changed attitudes and extended horizons of colleagues, staff and borrowers.  Her achievements were outstanding and her legacies long-standing.


2010 Award

John Simpson

John Simpson, with his wife Christine and Brian Conway, holding his 2010 Round Table Lifetime Achievement Award
The recipient of the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award of Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities was John Simpson.
John has for over 30 years been instrumental in the development of accessible information, through the work he has done with Blind Citizens Australia (BCA), research into Audio Description, the development of standards and much other work in the area of the provision of information in alternative formats.

John began his involvement with Round Table in 1986 while he was Executive Officer of BCA. He contributed to the work of Round Table’s various subcommittees, including the Audio Standards Subcommittee and the Copyright Subcommittee. He has always commented perceptively and articulately on the major issues that Round Table has dealt with, including the definition of Print Disability that was formulated after the Summit on Print Disability Services held in Sydney in 1995. John was also appointed to a working party that was set up at the Summit to develop strategies for making progress on resolving long-standing issues related to copyright and print disability. John advocated strongly for the provision of government information in accessible formats – a service which is now received as a matter of course by people with a print disability.

John has championed the cause of providing audio access to information for people with print disabilities in Australia for many years. In addition to his work with Radio for the Print Handicapped, he has undertaken significant work to “turn print into sound” through, with his wife Christine, the establishment of Information Alternatives. This has provided vital information of general and specific interest to people with print disabilities, such as census information, and BCA News – a quarterly publication produced by BCA – in audio format.

John has authored or contributed to many reports and discussion papers. In the early 1990s he helped develop a paper outlining the benefits of merging the library services of Royal Blind Society of NSW and Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. This was a step along the path towards the merger in 2004 that led to the establishment of Vision Australia.

John authored an important study of the disadvantaging effects on people who are blind of not having access to visual content on television. This study was published in November 1999, and is titled “When a word is worth a thousand pictures: improved television access for blind viewers in the digital era”. It makes compelling reading, and is a landmark on the journey towards greater access to culture and entertainment. John played a key role in organising the 4th General Assembly of the International Council on English Braille that was held in Melbourne in April 2008. The event was an outstanding success and, somewhat akin to the Sydney Olympic Games, is regarded by many as the best General Assembly ever. John deserves much of the credit for this success.

John’s contribution to the print disability sector is both outstanding and diverse. He has been a remarkable, passionate and unrelenting campaigner for the need and right of people with print disabilities to have not only printed material available in accessible formats but also for television, cinema, live theatre, video and DVD content to be provided on equitable terms with sighted people.

John Simpson is a most deserved recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.


2009 Inaugural Awards

Bruce Maguire

Bruce accepting his award from Brian Conway, Round Table President

Bruce Maguire has been a leader in the field of print disability for approximately 25 years. He was one of the early members of Round Table holding a number of positions on the Executive including President in 1995. Bruce’s lasting footprint, however, has been cast in the development of Braille codes. This commenced in the mid 1980s with the recognition by the ABA for Australia’s need to upgrade its technical braille codes. Bruce played a leadership role working as an active member of the Mathematics, Science, Computer Science Committee of the Australian Braille Authority to produce the Australian Braille Mathematics Notation, 1987 and subsequent technical documents.

Bruce’s reputation as a highly intelligent and committed individual has also transferred to the international arena where he has been actively involved. He is held in high regard by all member countries of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) and has played a leading role in ensuring that Australia’s voice has been heard in the development of Unified English Braille (UEB) since approximately 1992. Bruce has had the passion and commitment in ensuring that braille remains a lasting legacy for people who are blind. Through his untiring efforts he has had the vision to look to the future for young braille readers in particular, to ensure that braille remains the cornerstone of literacy for blind children. Bruce has recognised the harmony required between braille and technology and has advocated for the importance of both mediums: that they are not in conflict but are a compatible marriage of the two. He has always been available to assist any person requiring advice on braille or access provisions sometimes at great personal cost and for many years without the support of a major organisation.

As we in 2009 reflect on what Louis Braille gave to the world with the use of braille, at a more local level, we also in contemporary Australia could look to what Bruce Maguire has given to the youth of today and the generation of braille readers to come through his passion, his absolute dedication and commitment to ensuring people who have a vision impairment have equitable access to information both now and in the future.


Mary Schnackenberg

Mary accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award from Brian Conway, Round Table President
Mary worked for the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind for over 35 years. In that time, she managed the library, talking book studios and transcription services, introduced adaptive technology services, and managed other teams including volunteer services and equipment services. With the Foundation’s I.T. manager, she developed the award-winning Telephone Information Service, and introduced an automated library system which significantly increased the library’s service performance. More recently, Mary managed the world-leading digital talking book pilot which delivered DAISY books over the internet, to a player specially designed for older borrowers with no computer experience. She has been a staunch advocate of global cooperation between libraries for blind people, and a supporter of international networks including Round Table. Through travel and strong international networking, she has kept New Zealand on the map and been a strong Australasian voice. She has been a mentor to agencies embarking on service innovation.

Mary has served on the board of the DAISY Consortium, was instrumental in setting up the Australia and New Zealand Accessible Information Group (ANZAIG), and was an early enthusiast of structured audio and the DAISY format.

Mary is the current president of the International Council on English Braille, and has provided ongoing service and guidance to the Braille Authority of New Zealand. She is a past President of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand. She was one of the initiators of New Zealand’s innovative copyright provision to facilitate accessible format production, section 69 of the Copyright Act 1994, which became the basis for legislation in other countries. She has made a significant and lasting contribution to the accessibility of public transport through advocacy, submissions and ongoing involvement with the Auckland Regional Transport Authority. Her involvement encouraged transport providers and legislators to think about the information aspects of accessible travel.

Mary has been a passionate advocate for information access issues in formats popularly used by blind people including telecommunications, radio, music and the internet. She was a member of the Telecom Special Needs Advisory Panel between 1994 and 1997. She was part of a team that piloted a radio reading service for people with print disabilities in 1986. Mary’s contribution to the community is well recognised. In 2007, Mary was appointed as a Companion to the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to the vision-impaired community. She was appointed a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 2001, and received a Distinguished Alumni Award from University of Auckland in 1996.


Last updated: May 22, 2017 at 19:24 pm