THE WORKSHOP STORY
Visual Aids Workshop is unique to the Oakmont
Adult Community in Santa Rosa, California. It is the inspiration
of Winifred Thiltgen, who retired in Oakmont. There she saw a visiting
artist demonstrate books for blind children. The idea clicked, as
during her teaching career, visually impaired children were mainstreamed
in her classes. Winifred visited local teachers of the visually
impaired to learn of specific needs. Ten friends joined her, and
the first year they made eighteen books with tactile illustrations.
In 1971 the Oakmont Visual Aids Workshop was born!! Winifred passed
away in 2002, but the Workshop she founded lives on.
from teachers at California Teachers & Educators of the Visually
Handicapped Conferences led to the creation of other kinds of Tactile
Aids. Among them are cards to teach Basic Braille, items to assist
with Math Study, and several games.
As all items produced are Brailled, the Workshop was fortunate to
find several proficient Braillists in Oakmont. Three Workshop members
learned to Braille in order to assist. The generous contribution
of two electronic Mountbatten Braillers by the Northbay Lions Club
in 1996 has relieved our Braillists of some of the tedium of repetition.
Paired with computers programmed by our engineer-member, the ease,
speed, and efficiency of these electronic Braillers greatly aid
The cover and pages of each book are hand lettered with primary
school printing for children who are partially sighted or mentally
challenged. Every page has a tactile illustration. Members joke
about returning to kindergarten as they cut and glue the many pieces.
Covers are handmade with cardboard and wallpaper from outdated
The Workshop is the fortunate recipient of two Thermoforms —
one from the Thermoform Corporation, and one from the Petaluma Transcribers
group. They have proven invaluable in the creative hands of our
engineer-member. Basic Braille cards were file cards with each dot
glued on by hand. Now they are made with the Thermoform, as are
two of our games. Originally there were eight wooden items among
our Aids. First they were made by Oakmonters in their garages, and
later, in the carpenter shop of the Sonoma Jail Industries. When
that shop closed our engineer-member devised ways to copy them using
Donations and discounts from our local Safeway, Ace Hardware, Printing
Shop, Lumber Mill, Framing Shops, and Wallpaper Stores have benefited
the Workshop’s treasury.
Monday mornings find a large Oakmont community room filled with
over seventy-five women diligently creating Tactile Aids. Each item
is made by a group of two or more members. Braillists, printers,
and others also work at home during the week so that materials are
ready for completion on Mondays.
About every three months, the men join the women for Mailing Day.
All completed Aids are laid out on tables. The women gather them
as ordered by each teacher, and they are recorded. The men pack
them and take them to the Post Office. Often 100 boxes are shipped.
Since 1971, over 100,000 Tactile Aids have been sent free of charge
to educators of visually impaired children throughout the world.
support the Workshop with both their time and money. The Annual
Visual Aids Bridge Marathon yields a large donation. Volunteer Nurses
provide a blood pressure service, and each person donates to the
Workshop. Funds also come from memorials, and from those to whom
the Tactile Aids are given. We receive no government support except
for the international agreements that allow free postage for materials
for the blind. We will welcome your tax deductible donation to aid