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Old 03-24-2004, 03:14 PM
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Wenny Wenny is offline
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Default Helping People Help People Read

this article is so great.it proves that what most people think about prisoners are not true.

Helping People Help People Read
Wisconsin State Journal :: DAYBREAK :: I3
Sunday, March 7, 2004
Barry Adams Wisconsin State Journal
Many prison inmates work in food service, building and maintenance programs or learn office skills during their stay behind bars.
A few are helping the blind to read.

For the past five years, a small number of inmates at medium security Oshkosh Correctional Institution in Oshkosh, have been learning how to transcribe books into Braille.

The program was started in part by Connie Risjord of Middleton, who has dedicated almost 25 years of service to the visually impaired.

"The inmates certainly embrace it enthusiastically, and Connie is one of the reasons the program continues to grow," said David Hines, who coordinates the program at OCI. "We feel so fortunate to have her. She's really donated a lot of her time, energy and encouragement to the guys."

Nine inmates are involved in the program, and Risjord, 67, makes the trip to Oshkosh about once a month. Some inmates are transcribing textbooks and children's books while others are learning.

"It's the best thing that's ever happened in their lives. They have a sense of paying back society," Risjord said. "I get just tremendous enjoyment teaching the guys. For them to develop a pride in what they're doing is just the best."

It takes a dedicated person working 20 hours a week with Braille to learn the skill in about 18 months. Because they have the time, it takes the inmates about a year to learn the skill, which is more like learning a foreign language than learning how to type, Hines said.

"It's almost like learning Chinese because of the characters," Hines said.

According to the National Braille Association, Braille is represented by 63 characters, called Braille cells, which are all the possible arrangements of two side-by-side columns of three dots each. There are different Braille codes for math, science and music.

Risjord's resume is impressive. The Michigan native and wife of former UW-Madison American history professor Norman Risjord has taught Braille since 1979 through the Volunteer Braillists and Tapists and helps in the organization's library on Segoe Road.

The library has Braille publications ranging from pamphlets on how to change a diaper to books and novels. It also has a growing collection of children's books. Those books are two in one so that regardless of who is blind, the parent and child can read together, as the books are both printed and in Braille and also include raised pictures that allow the blind to feel what something looks like.

Some of the most popular publications the library lends out to its readers are cookbooks.

"We can't keep enough of them on hand," Risjord said.

She's also the founder of Wisconsin Braille Inc., which makes sure there are quality Braille materials available for the visually impaired in the state.

Each year, the organization offers to school libraries free Braille books not available from national distributors. This year's offerings include "Buzz! A Book about Insects," "Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type," and "Duck on a Bike."

The group also pairs blind teens and adults with younger children in an effort to encourage blind children to read.

"We're concerned about literacy in all its aspects. Kids don't like to be different," Risjord said. "You have to look at books from a different point of view. We have such a visual world."

Risjord has served on the board of directors of the National Braille Association and wrote a refresher course to upgrade experienced Braillists. She also has authored 10 articles for the National Braille Association Bulletin and two instructional books, one for the Library of Congress, which is used by the inmates at OCI.

"It's not an easy thing. There's just a lot of learning of rules, rules, rules. There's a lot to remember in Braille," she said. "It's like reading print through a straw."
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