Frequently Asked Questions
Braille is a system of raised dots that people who are blind read by touch. People who are sighted—including transcribers, vision teachers, and parents of children who are blind—generally read braille by sight. Braille is not a language but a code by which languages such as English and Spanish can be written and read.
Literary braille certification is issued by the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Although this course can be completed through self-study and exercises can be reviewed via correspondence with the administering organization – the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)—the learning process can be greatly enhanced if a certified braille instructor is available to teach lessons and answer questions.
A prison braille program is a braille production facility established within prison walls that utilizes the talents and abilities of offenders to transcribe print materials into braille for braille readers of all ages.
Prison braille programs have been operating in the U.S. since at least the 1960s, but their roots can be traced back to Norway in the 1920s. The United Kingdom has a long history and an extensive network of braille production facilities in prisons. In fact, much of the braille produced in the United Kingdom today is transcribed by inmates.
The National Prison Braille Network is a growing group of professionals working in the fields of vision and corrections who are forming partnerships to produce braille materials in prisons across the United States. Since 2000, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has taken a lead role in developing the network with the primary goal of transcribing a greater number of books.
The nationwide shortage of braille transcribers means students who are blind or visually impaired have to wait to get important classroom textbooks. That delay can put them behind on their schoolwork and make it harder for them to keep up with their peers. Prison braille programs address the need for highly-qualified braille transcribers.
Each program is unique, but most are operated as partnerships between the prison and a local agency serving the blind. When corrections industries are involved, they serve as a program partner as well.
Prison braille programs can and do operate within both correctional industry settings and educational/vocational programs. Some programs have divisions in each arena. For example, while inmates are learning braille (which can take 6 months or more), they are supervised by educational/vocational staff, and when they begin producing, they move to industries. Others operate outside of both education/vocation and industries as an entirely separate entity.
Although specific requirements vary from prison to prison, to be a part of a prison braille program, most inmates must have:
- A high school diploma or GED.
- A minimum of 5 years left before first possible parole or serve-out date.
- Some of the characteristics that are helpful include: self-motivation, the ability to work independently and as a member of a team, strong communication skills, and a strong desire to learn.
- Many braille programs require that applicants successfully complete evaluations in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and reading prior to acceptance into the program.
As with any production business operating behind prison walls, logistics of managing the program, as well as taking materials into the prison and bringing products out, can be a challenge. Security is of utmost importance and all partners understand that it must be maintained at all times. Partners in the vision and corrections fields speak different languages and must learn about each other’s mission, goals, and expectations. Getting the buy-in of wardens and other corrections officials can be a roadblock, as well as identifying and recruiting inmates who can succeed as transcribers.
Prison braille programs have proven to offer many benefits to all agencies and individuals involved.
- For braille readers – More high-quality braille materials are produced and available, helping to improve educational and career opportunities for people who are blind.
- For vision professionals – The national shortage of braille transcribers is significantly decreased, resulting in more accessible materials for the students and adults they serve.
- For prisons – Goals to rehabilitate offenders and prepare them for successful careers upon reentry are accomplished through prison braille programs. Offenders are occupied and stay out of trouble.
- For offenders – Time is well spent learning how to transcribe braille and to work well with others; personal talents and interests are discovered. Many job skills are gained including computer and software skills, small business management, scheduling, teamwork, bookkeeping, and so on. Lives are rehabilitated and prepared for successful careers upon reentry.
- For corrections industries – Offenders learn many valuable job skills and products can be sold to braille readers and institutions serving these individuals. Programs can provide significant income for industries.
The Braille Transcriber Apprentice Program (BTAP) is a model transition and reentry initiative created by APH to assist transcribers who have earned national certifications in braille transcription while incarcerated as they transition back into society.
To learn more about BTAP and the application process, send an email to NPBN@aph.org.
To qualify for this model reentry program, applicants must have and understand the following:
- Participated in a prison braille program that is affiliated with the National Prison Braille Network.
- Earned Literary Braille Certification through the NLS (National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress).
- For FY 2022, applicants must have: earned at least one advanced certification: Textbook Formatting, Literary Braille Proofreading, Nemeth Braille, Nemeth Braille Proofreading, Music, or Music Associate.
- Gained tactile graphics design and production experience.
- A commitment to pursuing a career in braille transcription.
- Certain offenses may disqualify an applicant from participation in our apprenticeship program.