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Jean Norris, creator of Twin Vision books for the blind, dies at 96

Jean Norris, creator of Twin Vision books for the blind, dies at 96
This Twin Vision book has raised illustrations for the blind to "see" an illustration that would normally have to be guessed at. (Vander Brug, Brian / Los Angeles Times)

Jean Norris overheard a comment by a blind woman in 1959 that broke her heart. The woman said she couldn't participate in one of the joys of parenting: bedtime reading.

Norris, who was sighted and volunteered for a blind service organization, had an idea. She cut the bindings from storybooks her sons had outgrown and inserted, across from each printed page, a page with the text in Braille. That way, a child could read along with a parent, or vice versa.

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She called the concept Twin Vision, and it grew to the point where there are now tens of thousands of the enhanced books distributed free of charge, worldwide.

Norris, 96, died on her birthday, April 30, at her home in Reseda. She had several strokes in recent years and died of heart failure, said her son, David.

Norris, who was self-taught in Braille, first experimented on a copy of "Fuzzy Wuzzy Puppy." Using a slate and stylus she had bought for Braille work, she painstakingly transcribed the text and applied it to the book.

"Right away I knew I had made a mistake," she said in a 1990 Los Angeles Times interview. "I realized that because I had pasted the Braille right over the print, the child could not read along."

The second attempt, with separate pages for Braille, was a big hit with blind parents. Norris organized volunteers to meet in her kitchen in Sherman Oaks to make more of the books. The fame of the project spread, and in the early 1960s the nonprofit American Brotherhood for the Blind — now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults — began sponsoring Twin Vision, providing Norris with more sophisticated equipment and a work space in Van Nuys.

Norris, a diminutive woman with a kindly demeanor, got local organizations to hold donation drives for used children's books. She also approached publishers, in a genial but insistent manner. "The woman at the publisher of the 'Charlie Brown' books told us that she liked the idea but could not give us any books," Norris said. "We kept going back. On the third contact we got 6,000 books."

To help produce the Braille transcriptions, Norris got outside groups involved, including prison inmates. The completed books were shipped to blindness organizations and schools, or distributed to individuals through a lending library program.

Laurie Rubin, who has been blind since birth, got her first Twin Vision book in the 1980s when she was 5 years old and growing up in Encino. "It was so nice that I could read along with my parents or brother," said Rubin, now an acclaimed mezzo-soprano and author of the memoir, "Do You Dream in Color?"

"It made it a very normal experience," Rubin said, speaking from her home in Hawaii. "It didn't make me feel isolated."

Norris was born Jean Dyon on April 30, 1918, in Chicago. The family settled in the Los Angeles area in 1935. Even before graduating from Santa Monica High School in 1936, she was doing volunteer work for local service organizations.

Norris headed Twin Vision, now headquartered in Tarzana, until 2013. Although the group has slowed its activities in recent years, it still has about 30,000 of the altered children's books in its lending library, in addition to the many more given to outside institutions over the years.

Besides her son David, Norris is survived by sons John and Kenneth; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Raymond Norris ended in divorce.

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