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WMU receives $500,000 from Braille transcribing group

May 1, 2009

KALAMAZOO--A celebration that began Jan. 4 with an observance of the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille's birth in 1809, continues with a $500,000 gift to Western Michigan University from the Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund.

The gift, to the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies, will be used to establish the Francelia Williams Wonders Endowment. The endowment honors Francelia Wonders, the recently retired president and chief executive officer of the transcribing fund. It was established to extend her legacy of engendering self-respect, professionalism and productive employment for men in prison; providing Braille textbooks to school children; and supporting students studying in the field of blindness and low vision studies.

The gift will provide at least one scholarship annually to qualified, full-time students who are majoring in blindness and low vision studies at the WMU College of Health and Human Services. The endowment will benefit both students and the people with vision problems they serve, as have previous contributions from the fund. The Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund is a non-profit, Braille-translating organization based in the Cotton Correctional Facility at the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson, Mich.

In 2005, the fund donated $36,600 to the department to purchase 11 new Braille computers, and in 2003, the fund gave WMU $160,000 for scholarship support, which was distributed as a series of $8,000 awards to educate students in the teaching of Braille.

Lucy Carlson, a WMU blindness and low vision studies student, whose brother is visually impaired, attests to the impact this assistance has had.

"The scholarship took so much pressure off financially and helped me focus," says Carlson, who is from Minnesota. In addition to preparing her for her career, learning Braille has allowed her to communicate with her brother.

The new endowment is designed to give many more such students essential financial support to pursue their degrees, and allow them to help many more people with visual impairments lead productive, independent lives.

Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund

The MBTF, which translates textbooks, manuals and other documents into Braille, began in 1962 as a volunteer effort by a few prisoners. Today, the fund works with 40 inmates, who undergo a rigorous certification process prescribed by the U.S. Library of Congress. The training in complex Braille transcription and other technologies allows them to offer affordable, quality Braille to companies and school districts throughout the country. The fund 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.

Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies

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.

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

WMU News
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Western Michigan University
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