|Nevada's Southern Desert Correctional Center Braille Program|
|By Kim Petersen, Nevada DOC, Educational Consultant|
Editors note: reprinted with permission from the NV DOC
Somewhere in Las Vegas, a first-grader is learning to read, grandma is searching for the nearest gym, and a teenager is reviewing human resource policies of his new employer. What's shared by all three is they're doing it across their fingertips -- reading Braille.
It is estimated that there are about 10 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States today, and this number is growing. Medical advances at both ends of the age spectrum have inadvertently resulted in an increased incidence of blindness. Premature babies are being saved but can face lifelong disabilities, including visual impairments. Older adults are living longer and many develop degenerative eye diseases.
According to a 2002 report by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes for Health, many more Americans are facing blindness today than ever before. The number of blind people in the U.S. is expected to double over the next 30 years as the baby boomer generation ages. The U.S. Department of Education currently serves approximately 94,000 blind and visually impaired students (K-12) across the country through special education programs.
Southern Desert Correctional Center inmates are learning to produce Braille materials for people who are blind. Learning Braille codes and formats to become a proficient transcriber takes considerable time and focused effort. This unique educational and training opportunity provides SDCC inmates with job skills and problem-solving experience, preparing them for useful employment upon reentry into society.
Their time is spent productively, they give back to society for the crimes they have committed, and opportunities for future employment are created that many never imagined possible. Research indicates that simply because the inmates are involved in education and vocational training while incarcerated, the likelihood that they will return to prison once released is reduced. Most importantly, inmates are providing quality Braille materials for people who need them -- particularly for students who are blind.
Since learning Braille can be difficult and time consuming, inmates selected for SDCC’s Braille program must meet certain criteria. Inmates must have at least a high school education or GED equivalency. It is important that they have at least 3 years left to serve before they are eligible for parole, since it can take up to a year for inmates to learn literary Braille and begin transcribing. Inmates must have a clean record for at least the previous year (no disciplinary action), and must be recommended for the program by prison staff. In addition, basic computer skills are mandatory. At SDCC, working in the Braille program is considered a prestigious placement and there is a long waiting list of inmate applicants. And those who work at the center become role models for all the offenders at the prison
Once an inmate is accepted into a the program, basic knowledge of contracted Braille and competency in literary Braille transcription are determined through successful completion of a course of study offered through the Library of Congress, National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The amount of time it takes to complete the course and submit a sample 35-page Braille manuscript to NLS for evaluation varies greatly, but is generally between 6 months and 1 year, depending on the time commitment.
The difficulty of the Braille produced varies. For example, textbooks that are primarily literary Braille are considerably less complicated and time consuming than textbooks that contain many visuals (photographs, graphs, maps...). The concepts in these visual representations must be conveyed in a non-visual format for blind students. Before Braille transcription begins, extensive time is spent editing -- identifying the information presented in each visual and determining the best way to convey the same message to blind students. Through the transcription process, one print book becomes many volumes of Braille.
A detailed photograph may best be described in words, while a map may be reproduced in tactile graphics (raised-line drawings). Visual maps generally convey several concepts at once (cities, waterways, altitudes, land formations...). It may take a series of tactile maps to convey the same information, since cluttered maps are useless to blind students. There are also many specialized codes in Braille, such as computer and foreign language codes. The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation is more complex than literary Braille, requiring advanced training and certification. SDCC’s Braille Program sets high quality control, whether it's cleaning out the tiny pops in the audio or making sure the punctuation exactly replicates the original text.
According to a national survey conducted by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in 2000, there is a critical shortage of Braille textbook transcribers across the United States. The survey indicated that 375 additional transcribers were needed in 2000 to meet the need for Braille textbooks for blind students, 750 more transcribers will be needed in 2005, and by 2010 the need jumps to over 1,000 additional Braille transcribers.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author Kim Petersen is an Educational Consultant for the Nevada Department of Corrections. She has 25 years experience in administering both academic and educational programs.
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