March is Reading Month, and this inspiring blog post was submitted to GNN by one of our own readers.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the U.S. are Braille readers—but one woman has made an incredible difference in their lives.
35 years ago, our son, Jared, was born blind. Fortunately, I learned about her life-changing organization when Jared’s teacher of the visually-impaired introduced us to Seedlings Braille Books for Children.
It was founded by Debra Bonde, and although she did not plan to start a nonprofit back in 1984, she ended up helping blind children all over the world.
A shy woman, she just wanted to find a volunteer job she could do without having to talk to anyone. So, she signed up for a braille transcription class in hopes of translating books into braille in the basement of her Detroit home.
Debra began transcribing popular children’s books, like Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!, printing them on a braille printer her father had made, and selling them for just the cost of the paper.
Word spread among parents and teachers of blind children, and demand grew for more of her books. Friends helped her to form a nonprofit so she could start getting grants and donations to help with production costs. She named it Seedlings Braille Books for Children because she believes that if you give a child a book, the love for reading will grow. That first year, she printed 221 books.
From its humble beginnings 37 years ago, Seedlings has produced and distributed more than 600,000 books across the world. They give half of their books away for free. The other half are sold for an average price of only $10 each, about half the cost of producing them. (They also sell charms, shirts, and gifts with Braille on them through their website.)
As a mother, I appreciated that Seedlings provided “typical” experiences for Jared in school. Seedlings supplied braille books to the libraries of the schools Jared attended so he could check-out books just like his sighted classmates. Since books from Seedlings were affordable, it was possible to have a home library. In addition to purchasing books, Jared would often receive free ones from Seedlings through one of their many giveaway programs.
Today, Jared is a software engineer, who is married with two children, ages 1 and 3.
“Without knowing how to read and write—skills impossible to learn by just listening to speech—I would have never been able to graduate from Michigan State University with a telecommunications degree.”
“Without the childhood literacy skills Seedlings provided to me, I would not have a job in the modern workforce with the amount of reading and writing most employment requires.”
Today, he uses Seedling books to read to his sighted children.
“With the birth of my daughter, Harper, and my son, Logan, Seedlings has now come full circle in my life, he told GNN. “I read to them Seedlings’ picture books, which have both print and braille in them.”
Since 2012, Jared has served on the Board of Directors for Seedlings’—making an impactful difference in the lives of children, the way Seedlings did for his.