Feeling the Power of Braille Literacy

In the last few months with the support of Trustee, Chris Babcock, NBP has hosted two luncheons in areas in which we have a large concentration of braille readers and supporters. Both in Pittsburgh and Boston, we have been elated with the responses to our gatherings as well as the enthusiasm for our work and braille literacy.

As the person who has been organizing these luncheons, I am inspired by the first-hand accounts about the impact of our work. NOAH 006A 57 year old woman shared that she bought our Noah’s Ark book with tactile graphics, “Even though that book was for kids, it was great for me because I finally was able to fully understand the story. The tactiles gave me additional understanding of what it was like to have all of those animals on the ark.”

A young man spoke about how he was reluctant to learn braille when he was a kid. However, as he rode the bus every morning and afternoon to school, he noticed that everyone around him was reading. He began to feel left out and his desire to read like everyone else motivated him to learn braille. Soon enough he was reading his first braille book, The Mediterranean Caper, on the bus alongside his fellow commuters.

Our goal with these luncheons is to update our braille readers and supporters on our new publications, projects, and our work. More importantly, this is our opportunity to get their feedback on the future of braille and what role NBP can play in strengthening braille literacy. To hear from our attendees that they want to be “a foot soldier for braille and NBP,” and “You keep doing your great work, now, it is our turn to figure out how we can help,” is inspiring and empowering.

We are looking to host gatherings like this in a few cities across the country: Seattle in April, Washington D.C. in May, and possibly Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, New York and Philadelphia later on in the year. Who knows, maybe NBP will be coming to a city near you. But don’t wait for a luncheon invitation to share your story about braille and what you need from NBP. We welcome your thoughts!

If you would like to share your thoughts, learn more about NBP, or talk with me about organizing a luncheon in your city, please contact me at jquintanilla@nbp.org.


Information Is Power

It is said that information is power, and for those of us who are blind and read braille, the impact of that statement can be huge. To wit:

About 30 years ago, the personal computer was making its way onto the stage as an empowerment tool for those of us who are blind. It had the potential to make us a lot more independent than we had been without them. Old IBM PCWith considerable foresight, NBP published A Beginner’s Guide to Personal Computers for the Blind in 1984. I read the book with great interest. I wanted one of these computers, and I wanted it yesterday. Only problem was, I didn’t have the money to buy one. At that time, PCs cost thousands of dollars, and a bad investment could mean that you’d be stuck with a very expensive paperweight, along with severe buyer’s remorse.

Enter my brother Stephen, the businessman of the family, who could look at things objectively and technically, and who would eventually help me buy my first computer. National Braille Press was featuring a demonstration of six personal computers and screen-reader software as part of its book launch. Prior to the “competition,” I read the book, explained everything to Stephen, and he agreed to fly up to Boston to attend the demo. The room was so packed with other blind observers, my brother and I barely found room to sit on a piano bench.

After the demo, we made our decision, and a few months later, I got my first computer: an IBM PC/XT with a then whopping 10mb drive. Since then, I’ve never looked back! I even used my computer to write a review for a follow-up book NBP published on computer peripherals. Since reading that first book, I’ve bought and used lots of computers, smartphones, and other devices. In fact, to this day, I use computers to make my living.

None of that would have happened if NBP had not been on the cutting edge of technology, providing us with TIMELY information that would and did, and still does, empower us. The knowledge gained from that first book enabled me to continue to be gainfully employed and to better adapt to a changing work environment. Long story short: Knowledge is power, and to that end, thanks, NBP!

What Do Braille Readers Want?

I arrived at NBP the same year EPCOT Center opened at Disney, gas cost $1.59 a gallon, and the world’s first compact disc player was released in Japan. My job was to ask blind people what they wanted in braille and to “make it happen.” At that time, braille books were primarily on loan from NLS or from a network of volunteer home transcribers.

Asking braille readers what they wanted elicited a common refrain: “One thing we don’t need is more religious material—do people think all we read is the Bible? We want current stuff: major newspapers, bestselling novels, cookbooks for every palate… and we don’t want to wait two years to get it.”Getting Started with the iPhone and iOS for Blind Users book cover

The two-year wait ended around the time Bookshare was founded in 1989, WebBraille became a reality a decade later, and refreshable braille devices joined the Internet to offer real-time access to everything imaginable.

So what do requests from braille readers sound like today?

“What do you have on iPads for blind students?”

“What do you have on using the iPhone if you’re blind?”

“What do you have for my nine-year-old niece who’s blind and wants to cook?”

“Do you sell braille Valentines?”

“Do you have a book on exercise programs for blind people?”

“My blind son needs a science fair project.”

“Do you, by chance, have a Catholic Bible?”

Wanting access toStir It Up! Recipes and Techniques for Young Blind Cooks book cover “bestsellers” has evolved into needing “information specific to the lives of people who are blind”—information that cannot be found from mainstream sources.

For the record, these requests are being made the same year Texas opened BiblioTech, the nation’s first – and only – bookless public library, a braille-encoded crop circle appeared in California, and the brains of two rats were successfully connected to share information.

Future braille predictions? I agree with management guru Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Blind iPhone Empowerment

I bought my first iPhone 4S only after downloading the first of NBP’s great books on the subject in 2011. Just three weeks ago, I was visiting my youngest son, Getting Started with the iPhone and iOS for Blind Users book coverDavid, in New York City and we decided to trek to the big Apple store in Grand Central Station so I could finally consider an upgrade to the iPhone 5S. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to upgrade just yet, but having a really experienced user with me to perhaps interpret anything that the salesperson was doing would be a help.

Upon entering the store, David says “There’s a blind guy with a guide dog working the sales counter.” NYC Apple storeSo naturally, we walked up to him and I began talking to him about the pros and cons of upgrading my phone. After a minute, he stops me and asks “What’s your first name?” When I tell him, he grabs my hand, “It’s Kyle Street from last summer’s ACB convention.”

My partner Kae and I had gone out with them for a great dinner last summer in Columbus; I had never met Kyle or his wife Chevonne before. He had been working at the Apple store in Raleigh – Durham at the time and transferred up to the New York City store the first of the year.

Finding Kyle at work ready to knowledgeably upgrade my phone made the decision really easy. For the next 45 minutes, we talked about the most useful blind friendly apps, what we liked and didn’t, and he gave me some pointers on using the 5S from our shared unique perspective. Kyle’s boss came over to listen and watch and get educated. Apparently, she had never seen him interact with a blind customer. We talked about NBP’s books and the braille screen protector guide on my phone, resources with which she was not familiar.

Nothing really unusual, right? Just a customer and a knowledgeable salesperson engaging in a transaction. Or, a great example of blind empowerment.

Be Mine, Xander

I know everyone has a Facebook page, even NBP, but I have not been tempted. Ever. Not once. Not for friends or family. Until this moment.

I want to friend Xander.

My son showed me Xander’s Facebook page and I’m completely done in. Xander, a squeezable, fawn-colored pug, suffered a head injury when he was two months old and had both of his eyes removed. At ten months of age, his owners put him in a car and dropped him at an animal shelter. Xander snuggles with a young childBut then two people, Marcie and Rodney Beedy, saw what Xander had to offer the world. They not only adopted Xander, they gave him his own Facebook page. Taking advantage of his new online audience, Xander explains what happened next: “I began using my other senses, the love in my heart and my many blessings to brighten the days of everyone I met.”

Marcie took him to school, where Xander passed his Pet Partners exam and officially became a therapy dog.  Because of who he is—who he was born to be—Xander works with victims of child abuse and spousal abuse. Rodney describes Xander’s unique style: “A lot of times he’ll hear a child crying at an event and he’s bolted several times, at least 500 feet over to this child to comfort them.”

Listen, Xander, I’m right now reading How to Add Friends on Facebook (with pictures). I should have something up by Valentine’s Day.Valentine Bone with braille letters that say "Be Mine" Until then, maybe we can tweet. Send me your hashtag. I’ll send Valentine biscuits that say BE MINE.