All Praise to the Humble Slate and Stylus!

Thirty years ago when computer technology came to the fore, the thinking was that it would liberate the heretofore braille-bound reader from the slate and stylusshackles of outmoded, bulky, and pedestrian forms of reading and writing—especially that lowly-of-low slate and stylus. What? Learn to write braille BACKWARDS?

Well, I’m as computer-literate as the next person, but I still keep my secret stash of slates. Indeed, I keep adding to it, covertly, clandestinely, cryptically. As a co-owner of Tactile Vision Graphics, my slate and stylus remains an essential business tools. It’s no lower than a pen and paper, which I notice people still carry around, and for the same purposes:

• It identifies business cards
• Labels file folders
• Jots down phone numbers and addresses on the run
• Makes an excellent signature guide
• Brailles Welsh flash cards for my evening classes
• Takes notes when the Braille Note Apex isn’t handy
• Marks a conference leaflet for future reference
• Sends braille notes to vision-impaired customers.

So, I say, All praise to the lowly metal or plastic “pencil and paper for the
blind!” No technology has yet come close to matching its versatility or
universality—and it never requires beta-testers or a software update!

Rebecca Blaevoet and her husband, Emmanuel, co-own Tactile Vision Graphics in Ontario, Canada.

No One Told Me Braille Was Hard, So It Wasn’t

Ten years ago, when I started working at National Braille Pressfemale hands on braille, braille was a new and foreign concept to me. As a sighted person, it seemed daunting, undecipherable, and hard. Lifelong braille readers assured me that learning braille was not that much different from learning to read print but I remained skeptical.  As I talked with more readers, the passion of those who embraced braille opened my mind and my skepticism gradually evaporated.

When I read Dr. Edward Bell’s post on the T-Base Communications blog on learning braille as a teenager, I was reminded how a simple shift in attitude can mean the difference between success or failure in any endeavor.

Here’s what Dr. Bell had to say:

No one said that braille would take a long time to learn, and so it didn’t.

No one said that braille was antiquated, and so it wasn’t.

No one ever told me that braille would make me a second-class citizen, and so it didn’t.

No one ever told me that braille would be among the most influential factors leading to my success, but it was.

Today, braille is a daily part of my life. Just last evening I used my braille syllabus and notes to lecture graduate students. This past weekend, I pulled out my trusty slate and stylus in order to write out notes for the speech I had to give at a statewide conference.

Daily, I use braille to label financial records, text books, and other academic materials. I use braille for taking notes during administrative meetings and during conference calls.

At home, I use braille to label CDs and DVDS, along with home appliances so I can use them independently. I don’t know how I would use my oven, microwave, or treadmill without braille.

How would I have read bedtime stories to my young daughters if I did not have braille? There is no doubt that I would be far less independent and successful if I did not have braille.

I guess all I have to say about braille is this:

It, like many things, is what you make of it. If you think it defines you as blind, you are correct. If you think it is somehow a defeat or failure, then it will be.

But if you think that braille is the path to literacy, freedom, independence, hope, success, satisfaction and fulfillment, then it will be. Or, at least it has been for me.

Read the full post

Edward Bell is the director at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and actively researches the most effective ways to teach students and adults who are blind or have low vision.  He is also an active contributor to the Blog on Blindness. His students have gone on to become braille teachers, cane travel instructors, rehabilitation counselors, and advocates for the blind.




NBP’S Test Kitchen: The Search for Healthy Frozen Meals

“Not as much beef as veggies, but that’s okay,” says Bill, between bites.Chicken Enchiladas Suiza by Smart Ones Ed likes what he’s eating but wants more: “It’s good but not nearly enough. I could eat another four of these… with about three bottles of hot sauce.” Yeah, but Ed, it’s Weight Watchers.

It’s lunchtime and Bill and Ed have agreed to participate in NBP’s test kitchen. Beef Merlot by Healthy ChoiceBill is sampling Beef Merlot by Healthy Choice, and Ed has agreed to try Smart Ones’ Chicken Enchiladas Suiza from Weight Watchers.

A handful of employees—Bill, Ed, Edie, Amber, Wynter, Joe, Elizabeth, Susan, and Joanne—volunteered to try an assortment of prepared meals for NBP’s upcoming book: Healthy Frozen Meals: Cooking Directions and Nutritional Values from Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Amy’s and Weight Watchers. The goal was to test which ones actually tasted good—reported one employee, “the chicken wasn’t rubbery and the broccoli actually tasted like broccoli”—while counting calories and fat. The first step was to read all the product reviews online, select those with the highest ratings, and then gather some culinary appraisals from the staff. Those meals that passed the taste test will be included in NBP’s braille edition, along with cooking directions, nutritional facts, and general ingredients.

Frozen meals have come a long way from the original TV dinners where you peeled back the aluminum foil and grabbed for the brownie. Today the selections are overwhelming, which makes it difficult to know what to buy, especially if you can’t see the row upon row of packaged frozen foods that line the grocery aisles. Barcode scanners, including those on an iPhone, can give a visually impaired shopper access to product information, but they can’t vouch for what tastes good.

So for one month only, at 88 St. Stephen Street, there was such a thing as a free lunch.

Minding Your P’s and Q’s: Learning Braille as an Older Adult

Ah, that subtle difference between P and Q!braille alphabet One dot, two millimeters of space. As if there is anything unsubtle at all about braille when you are learning it later in life. I was 51 years old when I began to learn braille, and it was well worth the effort. I would like to offer some tips I used to help my body pick up braille as I went along in my learning:

  1. Most importantly: I ignored the frequent warnings (however well-intentioned they may have been) that I would never be a proficient braille reader when learning at my age. I set out towards sure victory.
  2. I warmed my hands before reading. This sensitizes the finger tips.
  3. I moisturized my fingertips with shea butter. This helped soften calluses I’d gotten from guitar-playing. I can now, however, read braille with calluses. The brain-finger connection does strengthen and sensitize over time.
  4. I did my “own thing”: I wandered from the prescribed “read with the right hand, track with the left” process. I’m right-handed, but my left hand fingers were more sensitive to braille for the first year. So I fashioned my own process of reading and tracking. I did begin to “encourage” my right hand to get the braille, too, just to have more hands seeing the dots. I’m still left hand dominant for reading, but my right hand now sometimes is “itching” to read, I think, because I encouraged it, but did not stress over it.
  5. I mixed things up: I alternated skimming, steady reading, and picking up my hands and landing, to practice spot reading. I did this to activate my ability to be spontaneous and relaxed.
  6. I sniffed an essential oil before and during my practice sessions. I used anything invigorating (like peppermint, eucalyptus) to enliven my neurological involvement.
  7. I talked it out, giving myself age-appropriate (kindergarten-age, really, because that’s what I felt like) encouragement as I went along. I basically had a conversation with the braille and with myself as I went along: “Oh, look at that…I know what that is….!” Later, that process opened into reading out loud.

The hands-down (no pun intended) most important factor in learning braille later in life is having total belief in yourself. If you want it powerfully enough (as did I), you can do this. It is worth it. Eventually, minding your p’s and q’s is easy.

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