Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft celebrated "World Sight Day" on Thursday by honoring volunteers from Calvary Lutheran High School's Braille Club.
The club started a couple years ago, leader and Calvary drama teacher Louise Whitworth said.
"I had two students who needed to learn braille because they're losing their eyesight," she explained, "and a bunch of their friends decided they wanted to support them by also learning braille.
"So, we started a club."
The club's members help create braille copies of printed books, as well as some games, for Missouri's Wolfner Library — where they also have recorded some audio books for the library's use.
"The world comes alive in books," Whitworth said, "so, the more books in different formats that we have, the more people we touch (and) the more we broaden the mind.
"It's very important that we have these available for all students, for all patrons, in as many different formats as we can get them."
The Wolfner Library is a division of the secretary of state's office, and explained on its website — sos.mo.gov/wolfner — that it provides "a free library service for Missourians who are unable to use standard print materials due to a visual or physical disability."
Whitworth and three of her daughters — who also are in or work with Calvary Lutheran's Braille Club — visited the library Thursday morning and looked at some of its operations.
"I think (the library) is incredibly important," Ashcroft said after joining the club members on their tour. "It's important in different ways, to different parts of the population."
As of 2015, the library's records show, more than 150,000 Missourians reported having some degree of vision loss.
Ashcroft noted more than 11,000 of those people use the Wolfner Library's services.
He and his staff reminded club members most people take their vision for granted, enjoying access to all kinds of books, magazines and printed schedules.
But those who can't see, or have major vision difficulties, can't use "90 percent of what's published in a given year," he said.
The library's collection includes braille, large print and audio copies of books, so it can serve larger numbers of customers.
Deborah Stroup oversees Wolfner's recording studio, explaining people who volunteer to record audio versions of books must have read them ahead of the recording and then must read them word-for-word as the books were written.
Whitworth and her club make braille copies either at school or at the Whitworth home.
"You can totally use a computer keyboard," Ann Whitworth, 20, said, noting she uses a computer program that converts what she types into braille.
Braille uses a series of six raised dots for each letter in a word and for numerals and other characters and a blind person is trained to feel those dots with their fingers and understand what they mean.
"If you don't learn those skills early on, it's so much more difficult," Ashcroft said. "Those skills for reading and for writing deal with comprehension and memory formation.
"That's very important in brain formation at a very young age."
And Wolfner provides materials that can help pre-schoolers with visual issues learn braille, he said.
Whitworth agreed younger minds learn the system more quickly.
"But, with older kids, if you tell them it's a secret code," she said, "they love it."
In a brief ceremony recognizing the club members, Ashcroft especially thanked them for working on "those games and those activities that hopefully expand a child's joy of life," in addition to their help making books available in braille or audio versions.