Mr. and Mrs. Longyear, the first donors to the Braille Institute.

It All Started With One Couple’s Gift To Braille Institute

“I mean this, Mr. Atkinson. If you will undertake it, Mr. Longyear and I are prepared to contribute $5,000 a year for five years, toward the establishment and operation of a braille printing plant such as I’ve mentioned…”

Mrs. John M. Longyear

January, 1919

When a Montana cowboy, J. Robert “Bob” Atkinson was blinded by a gunshot wound, he discovered a sparse and expensive supply of braille reading materials. Experiencing frustration and a lack of resources, he was determined to eliminate the shortage of braille literature. By securing a grant from East Coast philanthropists, John and Mary Longyear, their collaborative efforts helped to establish the Universal Braille Press in 1919, which became incorporated as Braille Institute of America, Inc. in 1929.

Since 1919, we have grown from a small braille press (developed in Atkinson’s home garage) to five regional centers serving tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired adults and children each year. And in the more than eight decades that Braille Institute has served the community, we have expanded our programs and services to include a nationally recognized free library, free low vision rehabilitation services and classes, free early childhood education programs, free youth and career programs, free community outreach programs and, of course, our press department that provides free braille publications to young readers. Only now we call it Braille Publishing.

But one thing hasn’t changed. We still rely on the support of individuals, not the government, to help us provide our programs and services.

It all began with that first gift from John and Mary Longyear. It will continue for many years to come through the continued generosity of people like you.

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