With new grant, Jewish Braille Institute hopes to get materials to any NYC nonprofit

Organization received a $200,000 two-year grant from the New York Community Trust, which it says will allow it to expand its offerings, often free of charge

For Judith Schmeidler, a New Yorker in her 60s who has a visual impairment, the nonprofit JBI — founded as the Jewish Braille Institute in 1931 — has been “a very important part of life.” JBI’s services have helped her access large-print versions of Jewish books ranging from biographies of Abraham Joshua Heschel to writings on the weekly parsha

“Before I knew about JBI’s books, nothing was available, I couldn’t participate in a lot of things,” Schmeidler, who has limited eyesight due to Charles Bonnet syndrome, told eJewishPhilanthropy

“JBI is really a repository for me since the New York State library doesn’t have many Jewish books,” Schmeidler, who belongs to several book clubs, continued. “Whenever I need a Jewish book, I call JBI… they also have books for research and studying I do. My synagogue, Beth El in New Rochelle, also bought quite a few books from JBI because we were updating our large-print books,” she said. 

JBI, a nonprofit serving individuals who are blind, have visual impairments or print disabilities, announced earlier this month that upon receiving a $200,000 two-year grant from the New York Community Trust (NYCT), it will be expanding its services to create custom accessible materials in Braille, audio and large-print formats to all New York City-based nonprofits — in most cases free of charge.

In addition, JBI has recently launched its annual Haggadah campaign, which the organization said aims to get large-print, Braille or audio Haggadot to anyone who might need one at a Passover Seder.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer our services to any NYC nonprofit, enabling a more accessible and inclusive city,” Livia Thompson, the executive director of JBI, said in a statement. “NYC should be a place where everyone is welcome and able to participate in community, learning, and culture.”

Thompson told eJP that the grant will aid a diverse array of populations and demographics, including Holocaust survivors who are losing their vision. JBI’s services also include children’s books — benefiting both visually impaired children and adults who are losing their eyesight but still want to read to their children and grandchildren. “This is just a launching pad for us,” she said, “we [plan] to increase accessibility around the country, not just New York.” 

Thompson said JBI fills a “unique niche” in the disability world.

“It’s only part of the accessibility world. Our focus on audio, Braille and large print is unique,” she said. “[We support] all denominations; secular and liturgical [volumes]. No one is doing the work we are doing but there are places where people who are visually impaired can get all kinds of wonderful resources, [such as] the Library of Congress. But we make available things that otherwise would not be available.” 

The grant from NYCT, New York City’s largest community foundation, comes during February’s Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. JBI’s grant was announced as part of $7.5 million in NYCT awards to 40 nonprofits.

“We are proud to support JBI’s work breaking down barriers for individuals with vision disabilities — consistent with our commitment to a more inclusive society where everyone, regardless of physical abilities, has equal access to information and the opportunities it brings,” Rachel Pardoe, NYCT’s senior program officer, said in a statement. “We’re able to make this grant because of the generosity of donors who created permanent charitable funds in The New York Community Trust to help older New Yorkers and those with no or low vision. We’re proud to honor their legacies.” 

Schmeidler expressed gratitude for the grant. “Thank goodness for it,” she said. “JBI has really made my life easier. We need them.”