Coming Soon: The National Prison Braille Forum at American Printing House for the Blind

The 15th Annual National Prison Braille Forum (NPBF) will be held on October 7, 2015, in Louisville, Kentucky, in conjunction with the American Printing House for the Blind Annual Meeting. This year, the theme of the NPBF is Transition Success and will feature transcribers who are transitioning out of prison and establishing careers in braille translation.

About the National Prison Braille Network

The National Prison Braille Network (NPBN) is a growing group of blindness/low vision and corrections professionals who are forming partnerships to produce braille materials in prisons across the United States. Since 2001, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has taken a lead role in developing the network, with the primary goal of providing quality braille textbooks for students in grades K–12 who are blind or have low vision.

National Prison Braille Network logo

APH works to develop relationships between prison officials, whose goal it is to prepare inmates for re-entry into society, and vision professionals, who are focused on obtaining accessible educational materials for braille readers. APH facilitates communication among these network partners by hosting an annual Prison Braille Forum; managing the NPBN website; and developing written materials to support professionals and inmates who work in prison braille programs.

More about Prison Braille Programs

Excerpted from Frequently Asked Questions at the NPBN website:

  • What is a prison braille program? A prison braille program is a braille production facility established within prison walls that utilizes the talents and abilities of offenders to transcribe print materials into braille for braille readers of all ages.
  • When were the first prison braille operations established? Prison braille programs have been operating in the U.S. since at least the 1960s, but their roots can be traced back to Norway in the 1920s. The United Kingdom has a long history and an extensive network of braille production facilities in prisons. In fact, much of the braille produced in the United Kingdom today is transcribed by inmates.
  • How many programs are there currently in the U.S.? There are 36 prison braille programs (including two “related services” units) operating in 26 different states in the U.S., and new programs are being established each year. Seven of the existing programs are in women’s prisons, and 28 are in men’s prisons.
  • How many inmates currently transcribe braille? Currently, there are about 620 men and 205 women working in prison braille programs, learning or producing braille.
  • How is braille learned? Literary braille certification is issued by the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Although this course can be completed through self-study and correspondence with the administering organization – the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) – the learning process can be greatly enhanced if a certified braille instructor is available to teach lessons and answer questions.
  • What are the requirements for an inmate to join a prison braille program? Although specific requirements vary from prison to prison, most programs only accept inmates with a high school diploma or GED, and with a minimum of five years left before first possible parole or serve-out date. Some characteristics that are helpful include self-motivation; the ability to work independently and as a member of a team; strong communication skills; and a strong desire to learn provide a much-needed service to a population with unique reading needs. Many braille programs require that applicants successfully complete evaluations in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and reading prior to acceptance into the program.

What Is Braille?

The braille alphabet is based upon a “cell” that is composed of six dots, arranged in two columns of three dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the six dots that are contained in the braille cell.

The following chart provides a good example of the design of the braille alphabet. You can download this free braille alphabet card from the National Braille Press website.

the braille alphabet

Braille has codes for writing text, music, and technical material for math and science. Text or literary braille has two forms: non-contracted or alphabetic braille and contracted braille for saving space:

  • Alphabetic braille, formerly called Grade One, writes out each letter and word exactly as it is spelled out in print. For example, in alphabetic braille the word “can” is written by using three separate braille cells – one cell for each of the three letters in the word “can.” If you’re interested primarily in writing shopping lists, keeping telephone numbers, or writing labels or brief notes, alphabetic braille may meet your needs.
  • Literary braille, formerly called Grade Two, is also called “contracted” braille. For example, in literary (or contracted) braille the word “can” is written in a highly condensed or contracted form, using only one braille cell to represent the entire word. The majority of books and magazines are written in literary braille because it requires much less space than does alphabetic braille. If you want to read novels, magazines, or newspapers in braille, it is recommended that you learn to read and write literary braille.

About American Printing House for the Blind

APH is the world’s largest nonprofit organization that specializes in creating educational, workplace, and independent living products and services for people who are blind or visually impaired, including accessible books and magazines in braille, large print, recorded, and computer file formats; educational products; independent living products; production of custom accessible media, such as braille menus; and product training seminars. You can learn more about APH’s long and storied history at the APH website.

For More Information

There is no charge to attend the National Prison Braille Forum or related activities, but pre-registration is required. For more information about participating in this unique opportunity to network, contact Becky Snider at or by phone at 502-899-2356.

Resources for Braille

The following resources can help you begin to learn more about braille: