WMU News

Prison-based Braille group funds $160,000 in scholarships

Aug. 22, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- A non-profit, Braille translating organization based in a Michigan prison is donating scholarship money totaling $160,000 to the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies at Western Michigan University.

The funding is from the MBTF--Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund--which is a non-profit organization based in the Cotton Correctional Facility at the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson, Mich. The MBTF, which translates documents such as textbooks and manuals into Braille, began in 1962 as a volunteer effort by a few prisoners. Today the MBTF works with close to 35 inmates, training them in complex Braille transcription and other technologies, which allows them to offer affordable, quality Braille to companies and school districts throughout the country. The MBTF specializes in transcribing "hard-to-do Braille," such as math, science, geography, spelling and social studies. Each year, the program translates 4.5 million pages into Braille.

The WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies will receive four grants worth $8,000 each per year to educate students in the teaching of Braille. The scholarship gifts will continue for five years, with the total amount of awards totaling $160,000.

According to the MBTF, of the approximately 57,000 blind children in the United States, fewer than 10 percent can read Braille.

"Depriving a blind child of Braille," says Francelia Wonders, chief operating officer of the MBTF, "is like taking pencil and paper from a sighted child."

It is hoped that the yearly scholarship recipients will go on to teach others Braille.

"This fantastic gift will be used to educate four students each year, who will become teachers and advocates for the very important area of Braille reading and writing and represents a major step forward in overcoming a nationwide deficit in Braille instruction," says Dr. Paul Ponchillia, chairperson of the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies. "We are extremely pleased to be a part of this Braille advocacy movement."

The WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies is the oldest and largest program of its kind in the world. Part of the College of Health and Human Services, it offers master's degree programs in orientation and mobility; rehabilitation teaching; rehabilitation counseling and teaching; a dual program in the teaching of children with visual impairments and special education for children; and an undergraduate degree program in travel instruction.

For further information, contact the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies at (269) 387-3455.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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