STARTED In 1962 prisoners at the State Prison of Southern Michigan began spending eight hours a day producing brailled material for blind students and adults nationwide and abroad. What began as a volunteer effort by a few prisoners has grown into a non-profit corporation now known in the industry as Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund (MBTF). Over the course of 40 years, MBTF has developed into the largest braille production facility in the nation, and a leader in the braille industry.
The success of MBTF was made possible through the combined efforts of Lions of Districts 11-B1 and 11-C2, Jackson County Intermediate School District, and the Michigan Department of Corrections. Guided by its Board of Directors, MBTF’s CEO/President and Administrative Assistant, supervise a staff of forty prisoners.
At its inception the program was originally established to provide Michigan students with brailled materials. The proliferation of MBTF has enabled our certified braille transcribers the latitude to participate in the "hard to braille" projects, e.g., municipal bus schedules, corporate manuals, menus, brochures, textbooks requiring large numbers of graphics, etc.
TOTAL EFFORT Now located at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility after being moved from the State Prison of Southern Michigan in 1998, the MBTF facility encompasses a complete training program and braille production center. Under the tutelage of prisoner instructors, MBTF braille transcription trainees undergo a rigorous certification process prescribed by the U.S. Library of Congress. While the program is often mistaken as a volunteer effort, prisoners are paid a wage that is commensurate with their professionalism and productivity. Much of the success of MBTF is a result of our certified braille transcribers utilizing the latest technology and embracing the philosophy of life-long learning.
THE PROCESS Transcribing textbooks into braille is similar to translating a foreign language to English. To protect against errors and omissions, most of the transcriptions are sent to blind proofreaders. Several proofreaders are contracted with MBTF to proofread the brailled materials. When materials have been proofread, the corrections are made to the master copy, then copies of masters are prepared for distribution.
New software programs have enhanced the braille transcribing process. Technology is constantly improving the methods by which the transcriber encodes textbooks and instructional materials into braille formats as prescribed by the braille authorities. Computer technology has shortened the production time from beginning to completion of a textbook. While most of the tedious work is done by computers, the manual procedures are the mainstay of the experienced transcriber.
LOW COST...HIGH DEMAND Nationwide, barely two-thirds of the demand for brailled material is met. MBTF targets and specializes in the "hard to do braille," such as math, science, geography, spelling and social studies. Despite the inability of the braille industry to meet this demand, MBTF provides materials very inexpensively in terms of the market price in the private sector. A finished braille page from MBTF typically sells between twenty-nine and thirty-three cents compared to commercial market prices of several dollars per page.
The major factors behind the reasonable prices at MBTF is the low cost of labor, high productivity, and non-profit status; which enable us to defray shipping expenses by utilizing the Free Matter for the Blind postage service provided by the U.S Postal Service.
THE VALUE OF THE BRAILLE PROGRAM Unspoken benefits often accrue to the MBTF staff. Men who otherwise would have little choice but to waste idle years achieving little and contributing nothing to society have discovered a correlation between helping others and helping themselves.
In addition to developing braille transcribing skills, and transcribing print into braille for the blind and visually impaired, the men also learn computer, communication, business, and life skills essential to their survival upon their return to society. As a consequence of their tireless efforts to improve their lives and become successful, society gains individuals who have developed marketable skills, and a sense of community that is embodied in their productivity and altruistic attitude.
We are proud to state that during the past decade, all the prisoners who have been released from prison while they were still employed with MBTF at the time of their release, remain free in society. And, of the certified braille transcribers who have been released, each currently operates their own braille production center in the State of Michigan. MBTF boasts a zero percent recidivism rate and a tremendous savings of taxpayer dollars.
Perhaps only the blind can fully realize the value of this program. Blind persons who are braille literate possess a fundamental requisite to find purpose and achieve efficacy in their lives. Blind children deprived of braille will ultimately be deprived of fulfillment of security and success in life. As a result of MBTF’s efforts more children now have greater access to brailled books that are otherwise cost prohibited at commercial rates.