Recently Released Virginia Inmate Gives Back: Ex-Offender Works to Help Blind Students by Transcribing K-12 Textbooks
February 03, 2014
RICHMOND — While she was serving time in prison, a training program opened up a new world for Alexandria’s Deborah Adams. Today she’s helping open the world for others after learning to transcribe Braille while behind bars.
While doing time for embezzlement at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW), Ms. Adams learned to transcribe Braille and earned a coveted U.S. Library of Congress certification in literary Braille. Six days after her release from prison in October, Ms. Adams became a contracted transcriptionist for the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI).
Ms. Adams’ new life had its beginnings about six years ago when she started learning to transcribe Braille in Virginia Correctional Enterprises’ Optical Braille Transcription program, developed collaboratively by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) and DBVI.
“Prior to being sentenced in 2005, I was slapped on the wrist several times. With this program I can come straight out and have a whole new career in business, and I never have to look back to what I was doing prior to being incarcerated,” Ms. Adams said. “I am a perfect example of how the system can allow you to change and become a better person.”
Several offenders have participated in the FCCW transcription program; Ms. Adams is the first to be released and employed in the craft. A network of people helped Ms. Adams make her reentry into society. Her parole officer worked with her housing provider so that Ms. Adams could transcribe at a transition home in her first days of freedom and abide by VADOC rules for release.
“This is a reentry success story on many levels. Good things happen when all parts of the system work together,” said FCCW Warden Tammy Brown. “Dedicated, hard-working people at Fluvanna Correctional Center, Virginia Correctional Enterprises, the Department of Blind and Vision Impaired and the Alexandria Probation and Parole Office came together on this.”
Ms. Adams’ work for DBVI involves transcribing textbooks for blind children in traditional K-12 school settings. DBVI serves about 2,000 blind and vision impaired K-12 students. Approximately 100 are Braille readers. “These students have all different needs and they require about ten books each. So we produce quite a few books,” explained Barbara McCarthy of DBVI.
Transcription is no easy task. The newest textbooks are very visual with prominent pictures, charts, special sections and other features that must be specially formatted for blind students. Good transcription involves a certain amount of translation, but good formatting is especially important so that the reader understands, for instance, charts, pictures, and where a page begins and ends.
“You have to learn transcription like you are learning a second language,” Ms. McCarthy said. Transcription requires skill and patience. The work can be tedious. For these reasons there are a limited number of transcribers and DBVI routinely hires transcribers outside Virginia.
“Anytime we can help someone start a new life on a good footing we have succeeded,” said Virginia Correctional Enterprises’ Dave Pastorius, who helped coordinate the transcription efforts at FCCW. “This would not have been possible if not for the good work and collaboration of VADOC, DBVI and our probation and parole office. The fact that Ms. Adams is meeting a need and ultimately will be helping Braille readers makes this a win-win situation.”
More information on the VADOC can be found at www.vadoc.virginia.gov.