The Braille Division at the Anamosa Plant is quite different from the other shops. On the other side of the door, conversations are shouted above the sound of powerful fans and rumbling machines as workers cut and bend metal for various sign orders. But on the Braille Division’s side, it’s calm and quiet.
Several men sit in an aisle of desks. They have textbooks propped open next to their monitors, and they gaze intently at the symbols on the screen. The room is silent as each man focuses on the sentence he’s transcribing. The men stay busy, but see that there’s more to this work than pressing keys.
The Braille Division at IPI’s Anamosa Plant is a learning environment. Incarcerated individuals here are certified in Literary Braille, Nemeth Code (For Mathematics), Music Braille and Literary Proofreading by The Library of Congress.
“It takes up to a year of dedication to learning to become certified before you ever even produce a final product project,” said Keith Paulson, production coordinator at IPI’s Braille Division in Anamosa, Iowa. The certifications require extensive training, but the individuals are then able to transcribe a wide range of material for the visually impaired.
“This job keeps me busy and allows me to do something productive with my time,” said Daniel*, an employee in the Braille Division. “Not only am I learning, but I’m helping blind students learn as well.” When Daniel started working with IPI, he had no experience with braille. Now, he’s received his braille certification and plans to stick with braille and make a career out of it. “I believe braille is something I’m efficient at and something I can do in the future,” Daniel said.
Most of the individuals work on transcribing learning materials for visually impaired students such as textbooks, documents and maps. An entire textbook can take up to 12 months to transcribe, so large projects like this are transcribed in sections and shipped as each section is completed. However, reproducing copied braille can usually be completed in just two weeks.
The transcription process is a slow, tedious one, and IPI saw a need for faster turnover for a particular type of customer: visually impaired students. As a response, IPI began its Braille on Demand service in 2015, which allows Iowa educators to request up to 10 pages of braille transcription per student per day, and can be delivered in just one to two business days. This allows educators to keep visually impaired students learning alongside seeing students and enables them to teach from a variety of sources instead of being restricted to the materials readily available in braille.
In addition to facilitating education for visually impaired students, the processes involved in transcribing braille have taught the incarcerated individuals many lessons. Those training in the Braille Division are exposed to computer programing, machine repair and Lean trainings in addition to transcription.
“I plan to continue to solidify these skills,” said Ben*, an incarcerated individual working in the Braille Division, “so when my time comes, whatever I decide to dedicate myself to, I can benefit from all knowledge.” Ben is proud of “learning a skill that promotes education,” and said the best part of his job is “being of help to the visually impaired, allowing them to learn in a regular classroom.”
The incarcerated individuals in the Braille Division get a hands-on learning experience which teaches them a variety of skills. Paulson said he sees them grow in communication skills and the ability to take and use constructive criticism. He said he hopes the employees leave IPI with a set of job skills and a sense of pride. “If an offender shows me that he takes his job seriously and wants to do the right thing the best way possible,” Paulson said, “it motivates me to do whatever I need to to provide them with the opportunity and resources to accomplish that job.”
For more information on our Braille services, please contact the Anamosa plant at 800-332-7922.
*Indicates name change for confidentiality of identity.