July 11, 2017

PM&R Honors Austin Shepherd for Braille Books Program at Mott

The Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) honored Austin Shepherd last week for his work bringing Braille books to Michigan Medicine patients and family members. 

Austin Shepherd with PM&R staff after receiving his award

from left - Christine Magnant, Austin Shepherd, Russ Ellis, Amy Shepherd, Nancy Broadway, and Linda Grosh

The Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) honored Austin Shepherd last week for his work bringing Braille books to Michigan Medicine patients and family members. Austin, who is legally blind and just finished his junior year at Ann Arbor Huron High School, distributed 30 Braille and low vision books for young readers to physician clinics at the Kellogg Eye Center, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, and PM&R's acute inpatient rehabilitation unit at the University Hospital.

The program sprung from a request Russ Ellis, a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant with PM&R, received from a physical therapist in the inpatient unit for Braille books. Ellis didn't know where to find any, so he reached out to his contacts at the Lions Club of Ann Arbor and Austin's mom, Amy Shepherd who is the president of the Michigan Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (MPVI).

Ellis said a program like this is important because any time they can fill a request for material that doesn't make a patient or a family member feel like they're asking for something special adds a level of normalcy to an otherwise stressful situation.

"At the University of Michigan," Ellis said. "It's just expected."

The work Austin and Ellis have done with the books for young readers, has also been expanded to books for older readers through a collaboration with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). A request from a patient or family member for a Braille book for tweens or adults can be filled in as little as a day, according to Ellis.

In addition to creating a level of normalcy for patients and family members, the availability of braille books contributes to their future employment success. A 2010 report from the National Federation of the Blind details what they call the Braille literacy crisis in America. According to the report, 44% of blind individuals who can read Braille are unemployed compared to 77% who rely on print or technology alone.  

To help honor Austin, Ellis used a Braille machine borrowed from the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities and a bold design that's easy to see to create a certificate that will look good in a frame but that Austin could also pass around and show others with visual impairments.

For information about getting a Braille or low vision book for a reader under 6 years old, contact the Child & Family Life Team at (734) 936-6519 or mottchildlife@umich.edu

For information about getting a Braille or low vision book for an older reader through the WISD, contact Russ Ellis at rusellis@umich.edu

To discuss ways to financially support PM&R's continuing work in researching and treating low vision and other visual impairments, contact Matt Douponce at (734) 763-5392 or mdoupo@umich.edu