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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

DOTS for Braille Literacy (Development of Teacher Support) Volume 16, Number 1, Fall 2010

DOTS (Development of Teacher Support) for Braille Literacy is published three times a year and is available online at or in braille, by request.

In this issue...

Keep in Touch with News

Since DOTS is published only a few times each year, the announcement of some workshops and events of interest to teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired may slip through the cracks. AFB eNews, AFB's Professional Development department's newsletter Connections, and the AFB Calendar of Events usually have the latest information on activities. (Register to receive eNews and Connections for free at Also, AFB and the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) host a web site where local and national events of interest to families are posted:

Please make a habit of checking the AFB web site and other web sites and links identified in this newsletter. You may want to subscribe to an electronic discussion list such as AERnet to keep up with news related to teaching and promoting braille literacy. Connect to and follow the Join AER Listservs link to subscribe to the AER electronic discussion list; you can choose to receive it either as individual e-mail messages or a digest that includes several messages at one time.

From the Editor

As a member of the post-World War II generation, I have a lot for which I am thankful. Topping my gratitude list is the fact that I have always had books to read and encouragement to appreciate the power of literacy. When I was growing up, there was always something in the house to read. We had magazines and books, and my parents purchased a set of encyclopedias when my brothers and I were in school. I still have my very first book. It was one my grandmother gave me when I was six years old: 72 pages of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales including the story of Thumbelina.

What a powerful tool, literacy. As a child, it opened the world of imagination. Then, and now, it opens the wonderful world of learning and provides a world of entertainment.

Who do I tell how grateful I am for the printed page, whether it is words in a children's picture book or the latest news from friends on an Internet blog? The inventor of the printing press? Matthew Carter, the legendary typographer who was recently honored by the MacArthur Foundation for his genius typeface designs like Verdana and other familiar fonts? The authors and publishers who put together symbols, words and phrases so they make sense? To anyone responsible for creating words on a page that I can read: Thank You!

My parents gave me an opportunity to go to college which eventually led me into the field of blindness and visual impairments. Here I learned about braille and its power to open the world of literacy for tactile readers. I love hearing about competitions, events and resources that promote literacy for braille readers, or strategies that teachers of the visually impaired use to ensure their students are successful in learning braille. To my parents, professors, colleagues and students: Thank You!

After leaving my work at a school for the blind, I got to see the power of literacy and braille at a facility that creates braille textbooks. I appreciate the opportunity to work in a prison where men are learning a difficult skill and using it to make a difference in the lives of others. To the men and women who support prison braille programs, as administrators or participants: Thank You!

This issue of DOTS offers a smorgasbord of things I appreciate about braille and the power of literacy. Enjoy, and don't blame me if you start humming, "... these are a few of my favorite things."

—Marie Amerson, Editor

Thank a Braille Transcriber

If you or someone you know is reading this in braille, thank a braille transcriber. If your student has a braille volume to work from at the same time their classmates are using print textbooks, thank a braille transcriber. If you agree with an oft-quoted Helen Keller who said, "More than any other time, when I hold a beloved book in my hands, my limitations fall from me, my spirit is free," thank a braille transcriber.

Sure, technology has made it possible to quickly transfer data bits that create words in print into words in braille, but stop to think of the value that a qualified braille transcriber adds to the process.

The graphic format of text today—especially in "extreme" textbooks with colors, boxes, maps and artwork—does not translate well to the linear format used in braille. A braille transcriber considers that as they transform pages upon pages of "pretty" text and images into a readable document for the tactile learner. The transcriber reads each page to determine the most appropriate braille formatting to use and identifies the purpose of each visual representation in a book. They ensure a consistent format throughout the text, allowing the reader to anticipate where and how to find information. Transcribers proofread the final product to ensure accuracy and appropriate format so a braille reader has equal access to information provided in print.

Traditionally, braille was transcribed by volunteers, and that continues today with groups in Florida, Georgia, California and more. A study by the American Foundation for the Blind in 2000 indicated that 58% of the current transcribers were volunteers. The survey also noted that states recognized a need for more certified transcribers to produce accessible books for braille readers. Now, schools may hire an individual to be a braillist and may even provide training for them to become a certified braille transcriber. Various agencies, including more than thirty prisons in the U.S., offer braille textbook transcribing services.

Whether transcribers volunteer their time or receive payment, most adhere to the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) braillist's pledge of professional ethics. They pledge to prepare braille materials in an accurate, timely manner, without personal interjection; they treat all material transcribed as confidential and conduct business in a professional manner; they accept assignments as dictated by their knowledge of subject matter, braille skills and ability to complete the material on a mutually agreed upon date; and they continuously develop the highest levels of knowledge and skills through professional development.

So if or when you have an opportunity to talk to a braille transcriber—volunteer or paid—please say "Thank You." Whether you are the person reading braille or providing text to a braille reader, let the transcriber know what it means to have accessible information. Publishers and authors should also express appreciation to transcribers for providing braille readers equal access to their products.

While you are at it, perhaps you can relay a "Thank You" to software developers who created and continue to improve braille translation software, and to Louis Braille who crafted such a workable system of symbols in the first place.

Prison Braille Programs

In 2009, there were more than 35 prison braille programs operating in state and federal prisons throughout the U.S. The oldest known of these programs was established in Michigan in 1962. Each prison braille program is unique to the facility where it is housed and the laws governing the institution, but all provide a collaboration that helps inmates and individuals who read braille. Corrections officials operate all of their programs with a focus on public safety first, and then on their goals to educate, rehabilitate and prepare offenders for reentry. Education leaders or vision-related organizations involved in prison braille programs seek to develop a highly qualified braille transcription workforce that will produce quality braille materials for people who are blind.

In Georgia, the Department of Education and the Department of Corrections coordinate to support the Braille Program at Central State Prison (CSP). The program began at another facility in 2004 and has become a well-respected unit in the correctional system. The Department of Corrections houses and administers the program, and it coordinates with Middle Georgia Technical College to provide vocational training credits to individuals who learn braille. The Department of Education's Georgia Instructional Materials Center (GIMC) provides braille resources and reference materials, and it assigns textbook projects to be transcribed for the state's braille readers in grades K-12. Offenders must meet enrollment criteria and maintain a disciplinary-free record to participate in the CSP Braille Program, and they must obtain certification in literary braille transcribing to work on braille textbook projects.

Many offenders who apply for a position in Georgia's Braille Program express a desire to learn new skills and give back to society for their crimes. Those who succeed in the program actually do. They gain valuable job skills, discover their own capabilities, and experience the rewards that come with hard work. Initial placement in the CSP Braille Program provides an opportunity for individuals to gain OJT (on-the-job-training) certification and literary braille transcriber certification. The participant can begin advanced studies in braille only after holding their literary certification for at least six months. Most participants choose to continue their studies and work with Georgia Braille Transcribers to create accessible textbooks for GIMC.

Currently, Georgia's prison braille program has 26 participants: twenty of whom are certified in literary braille transcribing, three are certified in textbook formatting, two completed the literary braille proofreading course, and one succeeded in Nemeth for certification to transcribe math materials. Others are studying math, music, foreign language, proofreading, textbook formats, or are being introduced into the literary program. The braille program in Georgia is also looking to expand to meet the need for a wider range of accessible instructional materials, as facilities in California and other states have done.

The Pheasantland Braille and Graphics program was established in the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls in 1983. The chief warden of the facility explained to Nancy Lacewell of the American Printing House for the Blind, that most of the men in the braille program were long-term offenders—tough guys—who were transformed into serious, dedicated workers. The men were much more focused and at ease with their situation than before they joined the unit.

Women from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Mountain View Unit work in one of the largest prison braille units in the country. One woman who left that program in 2003 succeeded in finding employment with a university system and now contracts with the prison and qualified former offenders across the country to complete braille transcription projects for her agency. The Kentucky Women's Correctional Institute near Louisville has graduated individuals who found employment as braille transcribers or contract work for braille transcription projects, and programs in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana have seen similar successes.

A valuable result of prison braille programs is that braille readers receive more reading materials in their preferred reading medium. Since transcribers in these programs generally work in teams, agencies are better able to fulfill their missions by having braille materials reach their students in a time-efficient manner. And, offenders benefit from participating in prison braille programs in a number of ways: they strengthen their cognitive skills, gain work experience and work ethics by holding a full-time job, learn to work as part of a team while they discover their individual strengths and talents, gain self confidence by learning a complex translation code, and learn marketable job-related skills that can be transferred to other professions.

Professionals in corrections and vision who work with prison braille programs, or others who are interested in learning more about these, are encouraged to join the National Prison Braille Network (NPBN), currently administered by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). Network professionals gather in Louisville, Kentucky each year in conjunction with APH's national annual meeting in October. For more information about the NPBN, contact Nancy Lacewell, APH Director of Government and Community Affairs or Rebecca Snider, APH Public Affairs Coordinator

Anecdotal research indicates the recidivism rate of qualified inmate braille transcribers is between zero and three percent (via the National Prison Braille Network). While not all are working as braille transcribers, inmates who participate in the programs gain job skills and self-confidence to hold a job and stay out of trouble. However, retaining former offenders as braille transcribers when they are released from prison is a significant challenge. The cost of equipment, materials and supplies needed to transcribe braille is prohibitive for those with little or no financial support. Efforts are underway by the National Braille Association (NBA) and others to secure grants through the Second Chance Act to address this critical need. Such efforts will provide mentoring, equipment and supplies to qualified and interested inmate transcribers as they transition back into society and complete their first year working as braillists on the outside.

Producing braille in correctional settings is not a new concept. It is a powerful one that transforms lives, for the men and women who participate in the program and for the students who receive quality educational materials they need to fulfill their potential.

Dear DOT:

I recently saw that a friend posted a message to ask if people had favorite things about braille. Unfortunately, I never saw the responses. So, I'll ask you, what are some of the things you like most about braille?
—Mary Anna

Dear MA:
Like you, I think it would be interesting to know what others find fascinating about braille, from the perspective of a braille reader or someone who teaches others how to use the medium. I have asked from time to time, and I'll share what my friend FM said when I asked her:

"Ooh, lots of things! Here's one: I love the ingenious simplicity of the 6-dot cell. For hundreds of years people have tried all kinds of fancy and unworkable things so blind people could read - raised print, wooden carvings, pinpricks on paper, cardboard - nothing was really workable and blind people couldn't write it. Then this kid comes along and develops a system using 6 dots that fit under a fingertip and can be created easily on a frame. And now blind people can read and write! Ingenious!!"

So, do others have favorite things about braille? Maybe it's the convenience of reading your own personal books and information. Maybe teachers love how it empowers their students to have equal access to an education. Or, perhaps you like how developers are incorporating the need for accessible information into the design of software, e-books, and new technology.

I would love to hear from our readers. If you have a few favorite things about braille, send me a note at Meanwhile, Mary Anna, I'll refer you to the next section of this newsletter to read some things related to braille that make me happy.

News About Resources

* SCALARS Publishing announced they would be releasing an updated and revised Ashcroft's Programmed Instruction in Braille. Cay Holbrook, Frances Mary D'Andrea, and LaRhea Sanford have updated the book, formerly New Programmed Instruction in Braille by Ashcroft, Sanford and Koenig, with recent BANA literary braille code changes, easier to find chapters, answer keys and appendices. The text that introduced many newcomers to braille has been redesigned with an easier-to-read font, larger text size and larger margins for notes. Visit their website to watch for the release date of the new publication, or contact SCALARS Publishing at 901-737-0001 or for more information.

* National Braille Press (NBP) has published a book dedicated to blind travelers, Sites Unseen: Traveling the World Without Sight by Wendy David. A frequent traveler, David noted, "Every time I leave on another trip to some exotic location, blind friends and acquaintances pepper me with questions: How do you get around countries with no public transportation? How do you deal with different types and sizes of currency? How do you travel overseas with a guide dog? Who describes the unique sights to you?" The NBP publication offers information that helps readers decide where to go, when to go and how best to get there. The author included tips for navigating busy airports, sleeping overnight on trains, enjoying bus lines, selecting a theme-based cruise, using accessible GPS and more. The book is available in braille, eBraille, accessible PDF and DAISY (text-to-speech audio). The PDF version is fully accessible and hyperlink-enabled (there are over 200 online resources specifically geared to blind and disabled travelers). Order Sites Unseen for $19.95 from National Braille Press at or call 800.548.7323.

* ReadBooks! Because Braille Matters is a national literacy program to encourage families to read books together at the earliest age and to promote braille literacy at home. Families with young blind children, birth to 7, can receive free book bags simply by calling National Braille Press at 800.548.7323 ext. 520. The bags contain print/braille books, tactiles, an easy-to-read braille instructional book for parents and more. Visit for more information.

* The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children announced the 28th annual Braille Readers are Leaders contest for students in grades K-12. The contest encourages children to read braille and continually work to improve their skills. Beginning November 1, 2010 and continuing through January 4, 2011, students will read as many braille pages as they can to compete for ribbons, cash prizes and an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2011 NFB national convention in Orlando, Florida. Adults who are braille readers may also compete for cash prizes, national recognition and bragging rights. Registration for the contest began October 1. Visit for details and registration information.

* The federal government offers a treasure trove of teaching and learning resources. FREE organizes more than 1,500 lesson plans, primary documents, science animations, math challenges, and works of art, literature and music from the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, National Science Foundation, NASA, National Park Service and other federal agencies. See resources by subject or topic at

AFB and Perkins Announce New Partnership to Improve the Quality of Education for Students with Visual Impairments

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the Perkins School for the Blind announced July 21, 2010 that they have joined forces to ensure the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) is taught in mainstream schools. The groups will be undertaking an aggressive education effort to include the ECC in the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that guarantees services to children with disabilities throughout the country. IDEA is scheduled to be up for reauthorization in 2011. As part of the campaign, AFB and Perkins launched a new advocacy website that will host online discussion forums on issues related to ECC and provide links to online resources. The site will serve as the central point for dissemination of information on the campaign, and will give readers information on how to support this key effort.

The expanded core curriculum has been taught in schools for blind and visually impaired children for decades, but is not fully incorporated into the curriculum in mainstream schools. It combines the general core curriculum for all students with a specialized program designed to meet the disability-specific needs of students with visual impairments. The areas it covers include: compensatory or functional academic skills, including communication modes; orientation and mobility; social interaction skills; independent living skills; recreation and leisure skills; career education; use of assistive technology; sensory efficiency skills; and self-determination.

Visit or to learn more about the organizations sponsoring the effort to ensure that all students who are blind or visually impaired are taught the crucial ECC skills.

Calendar Dates of Interest

  • October 14-16, 2010. Louisville, Kentucky.Annual Meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind. See details at

  • October 27-30, 2010. Chicago, Illinois. Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference: ATIA Chicago 2010. Visit for information.

  • October 30-November 1, 2010. Toronto, Ontario. Braille Authority of North America (BANA) Meeting.

  • November 4, 2010. Online. ATIA Webinar: Supporting Students using Robust Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices in General Education Classrooms. Find more information at the Assistive Technology Industry Association website:

  • November 13, 2010. Lubbock, Texas. Evaluation of Functional Vision and Learning Media: Keys to Accessing Information for Learners with Visual and Multiple Impairments. Millie Smith will present at this 12th Annual Sowell Center Distinguished Lecture Series. Contact the Sowell Center at for details.

  • January 26-29, 2011. Orlando, Florida. Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference: ATIA Orlando 2011. Visit for information.

  • March 10-13, 2011. Oakland, California. California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEBVI) Conference. Visit for information.

  • March 11-12, 2011. Seattle, Washington. The 2011 Jo Taylor Leadership Institute will take place at the downtown Seattle Renaissance Marriott. Pre-conferences will take place on March 10 and will cover subjects such as optic nerve hypoplasia and O&M. Email Scott Truax, AFB Program Manager, at for information.

  • March 14-19, 2011. San Diego, California. CSUN Conference: The 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference. Visit for details.

  • April 25-28, 2011. National Harbor, Maryland. Council for Exceptional Children Convention and Expo. Check for information at

  • December 7-10, 2011. Louisville, Kentucky. Getting In Touch With Literacy.

DOTS (Development of Teacher Support) for Braille Literacy is published three times a year (October, February, and June), and is available online at: or in braille, by request. For further information please contact:
DOTS Editor American Foundation for the Blind 100 Peachtree Street, Suite 620 Atlanta, GA 30303 Telephone: 404-525-2303 Fax: 404-659-6957 E-mail:

If you would like routinely to receive an e-mail alerting you to the posting of future issues of the DOTS newsletter, please visit and follow the instructions to sign up. You can then log in and update your profile at any time to alert us to changes in your contact information. If you choose not to receive an e-mail notice, you will still be able to access current and archived issues of DOTS online at; and if you are a braille format subscriber, you will continue to receive your DOTS newsletter in braille.

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