Galas Are Fun: Even Online

I have only been to two galas in my life: a law and disability rights gala and the NBP gala. The first was in person and the second was online. Both were equally, gratifyingly cool; and in some ways, my online attendance to the NBP gala was extra special to me.

Last year, I was serving my first year as a board of trustee on the NBP board. I wanted to attend the annual gala and participate fully. However, life happens and I was unable to attend. I made an extra commitment to myself to ensure that I was at the 2016 gala. I will be attending and hoping for warm weather in Boston.

For those who cannot make it in person (because I understand that life happens), I hope you consider participating in the gala goodness virtually. It’s not too hard to do and I know the experience will be even better than last year.

Although I was deeply saddened not to be present in person at the 2015 gala, I was excited to be a virtual participant. I had mixed feelings about virtually attending an evening gala with guest speakers, awards, fundraising, and of course, the dinner portion of the night. How were they going to keep my attention while steak and wine were being consumed?

The answer to all of my questions was easily provided by the wonderfully detailed and inclusive staff at NBP.

ACB Radio covered the gala and broadcasted all of the live portions online. It was easy to connect to ACB Radio and listen. I loved listening to all of the fabulous speakers—and even when a video was shown, I felt like I came away with just as much info about the video as I would have if I were there. During the dinner portion, and other portions that don’t translate well online, ACB Radio aired pre-recorded interviews with NBP staff. I loved this. In fact, it made me feel quite special to have access to these recordings while others were wining and dining.

California is three hours behind Massachusetts and the gala began during the end of my work day. It was super convenient to be able to leave work and listen to the gala while commuting. I prepared my own feast at home while listening. (Don’t ask what I made because I truly don’t recall.) What I do know is that I made my own personal wine selection that night and raised my own glass to NBP and all of the wonderful things it does to put braille into the hands of blind people across our nation.

The one part of the entire gala that I felt excluded from was the auction and fundraising aspect of the gala. I was so caught up in the excitement and I really wanted to give in any way I could. I very much appreciate how responsive NBP staff are to feedback and to ensuring that the mission of NBP can happen because this year they have figured out a way for virtual guests to give as well! You can participate in NBP’s silent auction from your home, whether it’s on your computer or your cellphone, from October 17th through the night of the gala at 9:15 PM. You can register here!



Photo: Audience looking toward the stage and listening to a speech at the 2014 Gala.

So don’t fret. Can’t buy a ticket to attend or afford the plane flight out? Grab your favorite internet-browsing device, get onto ACB Radio, and tune in to the gala on October 28. I’ll be there and I promise to make an appearance on the radio. But I warn you, I might ask you to donate to NBP because it is the cool thing to do. After all, who doesn’t want a little more braille in their life?

By Lisamaria Martinez

What We Discovered In Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids

It started as a pretty straightforward concept: blind and visually impaired kids miss out on critical information that is conveyed through pictures in children’s storybooks. Many times, the illustrations in children’s books supplement the text and enhance the story, both in entertainment value and through additional information that helps move the story forward.

After observing a group of sighted kids laughing uproariously when shown the pictures as they were read the Dr. Seuss classic, Hop on Pop, a simple rhyming book, I knew that blind kids were also missing out on a lot of fun.

How could we make the act of reading children’s picture books more interesting for blind kids and spark a love of reading that would last a lifetime? This was the question that some NBP staffers, headed by former publisher, Diane Croft, asked after hearing Matt Kaplowitz of Bridge Multimedia, show parents how to describe pictures to their visually impaired child to make storybooks come alive.

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How would you describe this picture? Check out the picture descriptions on our website:

That was the beginning of the Great Expectations: Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids program. Not only does the program help parents and teachers tell the “whole story” by providing picture descriptions for each Great Expectations book selection, but NBP and a cadre of dedicated volunteers went even further. Now, the program takes a multi-sensory approach to literacy — songs, tactile play, body movement, engaged listening, as well as picture descriptions — all designed to promote active reading experiences for children with visual impairments and featured on our website,

This program has been well received by sighted parents and teachers but what we didn’t expect was how many blind parents absolutely love this program. The picture descriptions provide blind parents with information that was previously unavailable to them. Now when reading to their child from one of NBP’s print/braille GE books, they can engage in a dialogue with their child using information from the pictures that is rich with learning opportunities. They can also share in the laughter with their kids when pictures are silly or whimsical.

As a result of this discovery, the Great Expectations program tries to incorporate more elements that blind parents will also find useful. We welcome feedback from all parents — blind and sighted — on how to keep this program lively and informative.

By Kimberley Ballard

Follow the Great Expectations program on Facebook:



Get with the Program — Leading the Way with Braille Programs and Agendas

Springboard Consulting’s mission is to mainstream people with disabilities in the global workforce, workplace, and marketplace. By definition, the Merriam Webster dictionary refers to this as “meaning to cause someone or something to be included in or accepted by the group that includes most people.” I think of it as leveling the playing field so everyone has the same opportunities for success whether the individual is deaf, blind, uses a wheelchair, or has some other disability and no different if the individual is in the classroom, in an office, or at a conference.

At Springboard’s Disability Matters Conference and Awards Gala, an annual corporate event that takes place in North America, Europe, and Asia, we ensure that everyone—from the attendees and the presenters to the staff and volunteers—have the ability to fully participate in every aspect of the conference, which includes providing the conference program in braille. Someone recently asked my conference manager why we placed a braille program on every table instead of just the table where it was “needed.” It was an interesting question and one that I believe speaks to society’s approach to mainstreaming individuals with disabilities in the first place.


Although Springboard’s event registration process does include asking registrants if they require a reasonable accommodation for any part of the event, there are some things we believe should be provided whether it’s requested or not. Such provisions are the use of CART, real-time captioning, and braille programs. Yes, we could just wait to see who makes a request for a braille program but what if that request got missed or the individual forgot to make the request in the first place or it was a last minute registration? In any of those instances, the attendee would not have had equal access to the necessary information to effectively participate in the conference.

As for why the braille program on every table, there are two reasons: The first is to ensure that if an individual were to change their seat—whether for an hour or for the entire day—they would still have full access to the information. The second is for the event to serve as a model for mainstreaming people with disabilities. A good friend of mine who has been blind since birth often says that when we are at an event together, she is mainstreaming me into her world by allowing me to keep the lights on or having the agenda available in print (neither of which is helpful to her). Other than braille on elevator buttons and the like, most sighted individuals have never seen braille. It’s actually fun to watch them pick up these braille programs, knowing what the printed program says, and trying to see if they can read it. This is about providing access and empowering everyone.

Next time you hold an event or conference, consider the powerful possibilities created by offering your programs and agendas in braille!

By Nadine Vogel

Springboard Consulting, LLC

Introducing the Braille Caliper at NFB

I visited the NFB National Convention 2016 in Orlando representing Squirrel Devices and the Tactile Caliper at the National Braille Press booth. It was the first time I visited a full scale convention on Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation. I have been to smaller, regional conventions in the United States and India, however, the size and scale of this convention set it apart from my previous experiences.

As an inventor of the Tactile Caliper, my primary objective was to meet and interact with users of the caliper. I stood around NBP’s exhibit and saw visitors specially seeking NBP’s table to buy books, jewelry, and the caliper! I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to several students and parents who had used the caliper earlier, or were looking forward to using the ones they had just bought.



New users are always surprised to find a braille display on the caliper. Their faces light up with the joy of refreshable braille on a device this simple and affordable. More familiar users continue to praise the device for its quality, simplicity, and usefulness. Users have invented several new applications of the caliper beyond drawing and geometry. Some use it along a triple beam balance to accurately measure weights. Others use it to teach new pupils numbers and fractions. One thing we have realized at Squirrel Devices is that the caliper has helped students not only learn and practice geometry, but also to appreciate and access braille itself. It has helped students have fun while they perform better in all STEM subjects.

Inventing the caliper and bringing it into the hands of users has been an exhilarating experience for me, and the convention was a high point in this unique journey. At Squirrel Devices, we continue to influence the future of STEM education through our devices and instruments. I look forward to more conventions like NFB in the future. They are the best opportunities for inventors and users to meet and learn from each other.

By Pranay Jain

LEGO for the Blind

It was the morning of my thirteenth birthday, and I was filled with the usual birthday excitement. I was most eager to see my friend Lilya. Lilya, a family friend, could adapt just about anything. It was her philosophy that I, as a blind person, should have equal access to everything that my sighted peers had. That morning she arrived toting a large cardboard box and a binder. The box was labeled, “LEGO Battle of Almut, 841 pieces.” The binder contained a set of brailled instructions. The gift caught me totally by surprise. I never thought that as a blind person, I’d be able to follow the instructions to build what’s depicted on the box without sighted assistance. But I was wrong.

My first introduction to LEGO came when I was 5. Lilya and I found a crate of LEGO on the sidewalk, and I’ve been a fan of it ever since. As I grew older, I saw more and more of my friends having fun with LEGO; they followed intricate instructions, and independently built X-wing starfighters from Star Wars and the Hogwarts Castle from Harry Potter. Meanwhile, I was left behind with my own imagination. I drooled over large LEGO sets on the Internet, never thinking that I’d be able to build them myself.

The instruction manuals had no words, and they were too complicated to be turned into raised-line drawings. Building a model required so many steps that I couldn’t copy them all. LEGO was the only thing that stubbornly resisted adaptation. Or so I thought. When Lilya gave me instructions for the Battle of Almut, I wondered, “Where did she find text-based instructions?” She didn’t find them—she created them!

Lilya brailled the instructions step by step, describing every blueprint, naming every kind of piece, and figuring out the most logical sequence for a blind person to follow. She also sorted the pieces for each step into Ziploc bags and labeled them in braille. Finally I was able to do something kids do all the time!

Later sets were easier for Lilya; she realized she could just type the instructions on the computer and e-mail them to me, and my computer took care of the rest. So there was no need to braille anything.

Having described over 20 LEGO sets, (available from our jargon is clear and concise. Our instructions have grown shorter, and my fingers have grown more nimble. For me, the most rewarding sets to build are Modular Buildings, which are LEGO-PEOPLE-SCALE houses, shops, and fire stations. The buildings include tons of interior detail—couches, coffee makers, and working elevators, all built from LEGO.

As I build a set I develop a better sense of what a building looks like and how it is laid out. LEGO allows me to see things that are impossible to touch, such as the arches of a Middle Eastern palace or the towers of the Tower Bridge. For blind people, LEGO sets act as miniature 3D substitutes for real-life buildings in lieu of two-dimensional photographs. They’re also an excellent brain strain, improving spatial awareness and spatial reasoning—areas where blind people sometimes struggle. I would like every blind person to be able to download the instructions, buy a set, have a sighted person sort the pieces, and feel on par with a sighted builder. I would like every blind person to feel that the once impossible is now possible; that they can now build a miniature LEGO world.

To download accessible instructions for LEGO sets, please visit

Also, check out the LEGO tips on NBP’s Great Expectations website:

By Matthew Shifrin