Hebburn schoolgirl lends a hand to help visually impaired people enjoy their love of books

Abbie Blakey with the Penfriend to help people with sight problems.With Librarian Tom Relph
Abbie Blakey with the Penfriend to help people with sight problems.With Librarian Tom Relph

A schoolgirl has played a key role in helping visually impaired people enjoy a love of books.

Abbie Blakey spent four months at Cleadon Park Library on work experience where she became involved in updating information on the library’s catalogue of talking books.

I’m proud because the talking books will be used by visually impaired people. It was great fun but hard work making 80 books!

Abbie Blakey

Using the PenFriend, which aims to make talking books more accessible for those who find it hard to read print but enjoy listening to stories, the teenager - who attends Keelman’s Way School in Hebburn - recorded information for a number of talking books.

The device enables the user to find out about each title by placing the pen on a dot placed on the talking book, including the title, author and a short synopsis of the book.

PenFriend was originally developed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind for labelling items such as tins in cupboards or CD collections

As part of her role, Abbie was also tasked with demonstrating the PenFriend and explaining how it works to visitors during a special event held at Cleadon Park library, on Monday.

The event was part of South Tyneside’s celebration of Libraries Week.

The PenFriend was first launched at Cleadon Park Library in 2011 as part of RNIB’S Make A Noise In Libraries Fortnight

Abbie said: “I’m proud because the talking books will be used by visually impaired people. It was great fun but hard work processing 80 books.

“I have to say thank you to Tom Relph at the library and Jane and Rachel, the visually impaired support staff at the school, who helped me make them.

Abbie gained her placement at the library as part of Project Choice, run by South Tyneside Council.

The work-based programme aims to help equip young people with learning disabilities, difficulties or autism with the social and work-based skills needed to enable them to become work ready and help them to understand the pathway to employment.

Pupils also have the chance to gain extra qualifications and recognised accreditations including City and Guilds Award, as well as showing prospective employers what they can do.

Placements have included working at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, South Tyneside Homes and in school as teaching assistants.

Any business able to offer work experience placements call Katharine Harbinson on 0191 489 7480.