Braille: More than Words

For years I had heard what a wonderful experience it was to meet our customers and hear how much they value braille and National Braille Press. Of course, I had heard this sentiment expressed before given my long tenure at NBP. But it was a totally new experience hearing it over a period of several days from almost everyone who stopped by our booth when I attended my first ACB convention.

Several days back from my trip, I received an email from Leah Bernie whose parents were both blind. Her story, like so many of the stories I heard at the convention, touched my heart. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear National Braille Press, 

I am a sighted daughter of Sighted girl with print/braille booktwo blind adults, and I recently had a baby and ordered a board book from you for my mother to read with my daughter.  As a result, I started receiving your newsletter. This got me thinking about the impact your organization has had on my life, and I wanted to share that with you.  

My parents have both been avid readers since they learned Braille. My mother went blind in second grade and excelled in school and reading after she learned Braille. She recently retired from the State of Texas as a rehab and Braille instructor. Growing up, we had an abundance of print/Braille books and she would read to my sister and myself every night. As we got older, my mother would borrow chapter books from the library, and my sister and I would follow along in print as my mom read aloud.  

My father has been blind since he was a baby, and is one of the most well-read people I know. He has always been a great example of pursuing academic as well as pleasure reading. His stories of being young in rural Alabama and gaining access to Braille books have made me appreciate my own access to books.  

I am a high school teacher, and recently realized how very many families do not read together or have that as part of their lives. I am grateful that my parents have set that example and instilled such a love of reading in both myself and my sister. I am further grateful for the Children’s Braille Book Club for making that possible. You are also making it possible for my parents to connect with their grandchildren in a way that might not be possible otherwise. This realization nearly brought me to tears.  

The work you do is so important, and I am eternally grateful to have and continue to be benefitting from the accessibility of Braille. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Respectfully, 

Leah Bernie

Thank you, Leah, and thank you to so many others who took the time to tell me how much NBP has meant to them over the years. We are currently celebrating the 30th year of the Children’s Braille Book Club, and it is stories like yours that remind us what is important.

The Creative Partnership of Shirley and Irma

On Saturday, I went to the movies to see Life Itself, an unsparing documentary that exposes the complicated relationship between film critic Roger Ebert and his co-host Gene Siskel. For nearly two decades, they sparred publicly and passionately—issuing “thumbs up/thumbs down” movie reviews—and opened our minds to the fact that art is subjective.

On Sunday, I opened the Times to read “The End of ‘Genius’” by Joshua Wolf Shenk (NYT July 20, 2014), who opines that the idea of the lone genius is a myth. “The pair is the primary creative unit… at its heart, the creative process itself is about a push and pull between two entities….” The article references numerous creative pairs—Freud and Fliess, King and Abernathy, Picasso and Braque, Einstein and Besso, McCartney and Lennon. Each brought something the other didn’t have, tensions ensued, creativity blossomed.

On Monday, I received an email message that tactile artist Irma Goldberg had died. She was watching her two young grandchildren, making tea and Jell-O, and suddenly she was gone. Irma had been part of a creative team for 23 years, working alongside Shirley Keller, founder of Creative Adaptations for Learning. Irma was the creative director, Shirley the driving force behind its remarkable products.

“Her desk and my desk abutted each other for 23 years,” said Keller, over the phone. “We sat that way all day—sometimes not saying a word, sometimes we couldn’t stop talking. We were closer than a married couple.”

Shirley would have a brainstorm—and storm it was—and Irma would put pencil to paper and work out the details, sometimes going to the library to research an animal or object for weeks before she actually began to render the tactile drawing. The result of their collaboration was a rush of tactile books that surpassed anything that had come before, classics like Goodnight Moon to Touch, Humpty Dumpty and Other Touching Rhymes, Let’s Learn Shapes with Shapely-CAL, Touch and Learn Tactile Activities, Touch the Stars, and the endearing ABC Illustrated Flashcards.

Tactile image of two mittens from Good Night Moon to Touch

Tactile illustration by Irma Goldberg from Goodnight Moon to Touch

So today I am grieving the loss of a beautiful woman, outside and in, Irma Goldberg. I grieve as well for her tireless co-star, Shirley Keller, who pushed the limits of their remarkable union to the benefit of blind children and adults everywhere. When Shenk speaks of “the push and pull of love itself” as a creative force, he’s talking about Shirley & Irma: a pair of geniuses.

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.