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WCCW Braille Transcribers Chosen to Present at National Conference

April 14, 2021

By Rachel Friederich Communications Office
Image of machine that types Braille, called a Brailler

Incarcerated women in WCCW’s Braille Transcription program use a machine called a “Brailler.” Braillers are similar to typewriters but instead of letter keys, it has nine keys that correspond to raised dots which represent letters and punctuation marks in Braille. (Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications)

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GIG HARBOR – Two incarcerated women inside the Washington Corrections Center for Women’s (WCCW) Braille transcription program have been selected to give presentations at a national Braille conference on April 16, 2021.

Pamela Lorenz and Jennifer R. will each present at the California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEBVI) conference, which will be held virtually.

“As a Braille transcriber, I am able to significantly impact the lives of others by providing a much-needed service,” Jennifer R. said. “This has been a tremendous blessing as incarceration can often leave lasting feelings of failure and shame. I am eagerly looking forward to being able to expand my work and contribute to the field of Braille outside prison walls.”

The conference brings visually impaired students and their families together with professionals who meet their educational needs. The event will have 80 workshops and a virtual exhibit hall highlighting products and resources for people who are blind or visually impaired.

WCCW’s Braille Program

WCCW’s Braille Program began 25 years ago. It’s run through a partnership with the Washington State School for the Blind’s Ogden Resource Center and the Department of Corrections’ Correctional Industries. It is the only prison in Washington state to run a Braille transcription program and there are currently 18 women in the program.

Incarcerated women at the prison learn to transcribe documents into Braille, which are then sent to the Ogden Resource Center to be proofread, assembled and sent to clients all over the state.

Any printed document can be turned into Braille. The women have transcribed all sorts of documents, including textbooks, technical manuals, voter’s guides, maps, restaurant menus and bus schedules.

Over the years, the program has received numerous awards and accolades. In 2002, former Gov. Gary Locke gave the program a Governor’s Award for Quality and Performance (pdf). The program has also been a recipient of a National Access Award from the American Foundation for the Blind and has served as a model for similar programs across the country including in California, South Carolina, and Kentucky.

Safety Protocols

The Braille transcription program has been able to continue operations during the pandemic, with some added safety precautions. WCCW staff placed plexiglass separation barriers between workstations. Transcribers must clean and disinfect all common area surfaces every hour and record cleaning times in a log. The Braille office gets a weekly deep cleaning. In addition to social distancing and wearing surgical masks, staff and incarcerated individuals working in the Braille program have their own separate entrance, and all incarcerated Braille transcribers live in the same living unit in order to prevent possible transmission of COVID-19.

Preparing for the Conference

Both Lorenz and Jennifer R. have earned all available national Braille certifications: Literary Braille, Nemeth and mathematics, textbook formatting, and Unified English Braille, proofreading. The women have used their knowledge to develop curricula the state uses for Nemeth Braille certification.

They’re also the first two women at WCCW to earn certifications in music Braille. Music Braille is a Braille code that creates music notation using Braille cells so visually impaired musicians can read music.

Lorenz and Jennifer R.’s conference presentations will be on how music is transcribed into Braille. They will be teaching conference attendees how to identify music notes in print and corresponding Braille.

“I have found that transcribing music into Braille is my passion,” Lorenz said. “I really enjoy this type of work because I know I can help someone else achieve their goals.”

WCCW’s Braille Transcription program has helped these women set and reach goals for themselves. Lorenz enrolled in classes at the prison through Tacoma Community College and earned an associate degree in 2019. She plans on attending a university after her prison release so she can get a bachelor’s degree. Jennifer R. would like to start a business producing materials for Braille readers as an independent Braille transcriber. She would also like to offer consulting services to national agencies providing services to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Braille Supervisor James Estep says the leadership the women have shown in the Braille transcription program is evidence of the transformation educational and technical programs can have on incarcerated individuals.

“As a Braille supervisor, I have the premium seat in the stadium of change to observe the individual transitions of our transcribers on so many levels,” Estep said. “All of this is an unstoppable machine to facilitate positive changes in the individuals as they develop and to hear the success stories after they are released is the most rewarding part of this job. It reinforces in my mind that I am in the right place to make a difference.”