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.

caliper

 

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 http://www.legofortheblind.com) 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 http://www.legofortheblind.com.

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

http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/gep/iggy/iggy-lego.html

By Matthew Shifrin

Seven Summer Lessons

Catch Your Seven Summer Lessons Before You Forget Them All in the Fall

By Haben Girma

Before you start a whole new year of learning, take a moment to appreciate this summer’s lessons. During the summer did you feel joy, fear, sadness, or excitement? Ask yourself why you felt that way. Ask yourself what those summer experiences teach you about yourself. Carry those lessons with you into the fall to help you develop your strengths, address your challenges, and strive for your dreams.

Here is my own list of seven summer lessons to help get you started. Pausing to reflect on the lessons each new experience offered has benefited me tremendously throughout my journey. You, too, can catch your summer lessons to prepare you for the fall and beyond.

  1. My very first job felt so much fun because it involved both Harry Potter and braille! I worked as a reading tutor for a middle school student who needed help improving his braille reading skills. I prepared lessons that involved lots of Harry Potter, which he loved.

Lesson #1: Yes, you can earn money while having fun!

  1. I worked as a camp counselor for wonderful campers, at a beautiful camp site, with co-workers who constantly expressed the belief that blind people can’t be trusted. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it was direct. After trying and failing to change their negative attitudes, I eventually decided to leave. The good news is that this camp’s culture has changed since then.

Lesson #2: You choose the obstacles to overcome, and sometimes some obstacles aren’t worth your energy.

  1. After working as a tour guide in Alaska for just an hour, a manager pulled me aside. We’re so sorry, she said. While your application impressed us, hiring you was a mistake. The hiring process was supposed to favor Alaskan residents, and unfortunately we messed up, overlooked lots of qualified Alaskans, and hired you, a Californian. A Californian, oh no! Fixing this calamity meant letting me go.

Lesson #3: The weather in Alaska is not the only thing up there that feels really, really cold.

  1. One summer I served as an assistant for an elementary school, helping to organize field trips, board games, and other fun activities. I liked the kids and the kids liked me. Well, there was this one difficult seven-year-old boy. He approached me one day adamant that he could prove, once and for all, that he was smarter than me. He pulled out the all-powerful Connect Four set and challenged me to a match. That’s right, the classic board game Connect Four. Masking my amusement, I calmly won the first game. And the second. And the third. “Do you want to do something else now?” I asked.

“No! You just got lucky. I’m going to beat you this time.” He slammed the Connect Four slider and several dozen chips spilled out of their slots. He wanted a new round.

Some of you are thinking, “Just pretend to lose. Give the kid some slack!” But we want to teach kids to play fair, right? Equal treatment for all? Besides, losing would likely contribute to his conviction that I wasn’t worthy of his respect. I needed to work effectively with that student throughout the summer, and earning his respect happened to involve playing one of my favorite games. How often do you get to completely change a person’s perspective through playing a favorite game???

Exactly!

I proceeded to win twelve times.

Lesson #4: Play lots and lots of games when you’re a kid. Those skills come in very handy when you start adulthooding.

  1. During my second summer of college I worked as a receptionist at a small gym. My fantastic manager gave me a detailed tour of the gym and worked with me to develop systems for doing all of the main tasks. I would unlock the gym in the morning, make sure all the equipment was in the right place, and answer customers’ questions. One day a customer couldn’t start up one of the treadmills. Uh oh, I thought, I don’t know anything about fixing treadmills! Carefully exploring the treadmill with my hands, I found a hidden switch the customer had missed. She was impressed. Honestly, I was impressed, too.

Lesson #5: You can work in any field you want if you’re with people who value inclusion.

  1. Working as an editor for a novelist, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the author’s work and giving him feedback on his characters, plot, and other elements. We worked together just for a summer since my time diminished once the semester started.

Lesson #6: Writing with a team can be more fun than writing alone.

  1. After my first year of law school I interned at the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Dept. of Education. The team was absolutely wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed working there.

Lesson #7: Bringing in cupcakes every week to celebrate birthdays, half-birthdays, and unbirthdays helps build community.

Before this summer gets away from you take the time to think about a lesson you’ve learned. If you want to feel particularly prepared for the fall, challenge yourself to think of not just one but seven summer lessons. Share your insights on social media with the hashtag #SevenSummerLessons or email them to marketing@nbp.org.

 

 

 

Chronicles from the Conventions

 

Three NBP staffers share their recent experiences at the NFB and ACB conventions:

Tony Grima, Vice President of Publications at NBP

This was my 16th national convention, and probably my 10th NFB National Convention! The first thing I noticed this year was how huge the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel and Convention Center was. At the end of the first day, the pedometer app on my phone reported that I walked over 10,000 steps just getting from my room to the exhibit hall and back. To get to the exhibit hall from the room elevators, you first had to navigate through the restaurants, café, and gift shop area—a narrow path through randomly placed tables and chairs packed with diners and shoppers and convention goers. After that, the path opened up to three vast halls, one after the other, with the exhibits at the very end. All along the way, NFBers were yelling out directions and room locations to help the visually impaired attendees get where they needed to be. This happens every year, but something about the gigantic, frantic halls made this year more chaotic than ever. I made a short recording one day as I left the exhibit hall. Listen to what it’s like to be walking those halls…

http://www.nbp.org/downloads/nfb-halls.mp3

Another high point: At the exhibit booth in Orlando, a young woman came by several times to buy books. Each time, she asked a lot of questions about the books we offered, and the books she wished we offered. She really put me through the ringer, in a good way; she appreciated and supported NBP, but she also had some thoughtful questions and suggestions. In short, a memorable customer.

When I got back to the office and was entering orders from the convention, I opened this young woman’s customer record and discovered that she had received one of our free ReadBooks book bags about 10 years ago! ReadBooks book bags are meant to get braille into blind kids’ homes as early as possible, and are free to blind kids from birth to age seven. The book bags are filled with braille books and tactiles for the kids, as well as information about braille and other resources for the parents. This young woman’s mother had ordered the book bag years ago, and now that blind kid is a smart and inquisitive young woman, buying braille cookbooks and jewelry and, as I said, putting me through the ringer. It was humbling, gratifying, and inspiring to realize that the ReadBooks program, which I’ve helped work on since it was created, had played some small part in this amazing young woman’s life.

Kesel Wilson, Editor and Programs Manager, NBP

The ACB Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota was my first convention and to say I learned a lot would be an understatement! One of the most fascinating things about learning of other peoples’ life experiences is that you learn so much about yourself at the same time. Probably one of my favorite experiences at the convention was meeting so many of our dedicated and loyal customers—people from all walks of life and all ages who have been supporting NBP for years, who eagerly await our new products, and who generously offer us ideas and feedback.

An incredibly fun and eye-opening experience was watching several adult customers exploring (and absolutely loving) our tactile graphic books, tactile coloring books, and tactile maze book. I’ll never forget when one person literally squealed with delight as she felt the Tyrannosaurus Rex tactile graphic in the Tactile Book of Dinosaurs. “What are these?” she asked when her fingers ran over the dinosaur arms? “The dinosaur’s arms,” I said. “WHAT???? They are so tiny! I had no idea that a dinosaur as huge as a T-Rex would have such puny arms!” she exclaimed.

Until that moment, I didn’t really have a deep understanding of the power of tactile graphics to convey information—information that I just take for granted. I’ve been seeing pictures of dinosaurs since I was a small child and never really gave much thought to what they look like. But for this woman, feeling the tactile graphic was a moment of pure discovery and it let her (and me) see the creature in entirely new ways. Thank you to all of the customers who came by our booth to talk, share thoughts, buy books, and have fun exploring our products. It was a pleasure to meet each one of you.

Whitney Mooney, Sales Administrator, NBP

The NFB Convention always comes right when I need a pick-me-up. Between the hustle and bustle of everyday work, the people of NFB have a way of bringing me back to the purpose of National Braille Press. Everyone stops by the table to tell us how much they love us and our books. They tell us so many beautiful stories about reading to their child or making dinner using our cook books. Every year it reminds me why I do what I do.

Braille Takes Flight

On flights everywhere we always hear the same speech, “In a few moments, the flight attendants will be passing around the cabin to offer you hot or cold drinks, as well as a light snack. Alcoholic drinks are also available for purchase. Please be sure to check our menus located in your seat compartment. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.” What if the menu wasn’t accessible for you to read? Between the 200 passengers and the 4-6 flight attendants, it’s going to be quite difficult to get the flight attendant to read the menu to you!

Now imagine that all of the menus are available in braille for you to read. The flight attendant comes by and asks you if you would like to order a drink or a snack and you can independently order for yourself. If the couple next to you can order a drink right off the menu, you should have every right to have a menu you can read, too.IMG_1940.JPG

Vice President of Development and Major Gifts, Joe Quintanilla, flies regularly throughout the United States to meet with braille readers. On his flights he is often told that he can have a menu read to him due to a lack of braille menus on airplanes. “Wouldn’t it be great to not have to worry about rushing through TSA while hoping that the lines at the concession stands in the airport terminal are not too long? Wouldn’t it be less stressful if you knew that when you get on the plane there are great food options available to you and that you will actually know what they are, if there were braille menus?” We at National Braille Press are determined to make print materials accessible for blind users.

Proofreader Nallym Bravo loves to travel and experience new things. She finds it disheartening when she cannot assert her independence through reading her own menu. “Life looks extra wonderful from thirty thousand feet. Add some snacks, a cocktail, and a movie, and the route to my next vacation is almost perfect. The one problem? I have no idea what said cocktails, snacks, and movies are. While I do appreciate the in-flight safety information being in braille in case I need it—which I hope I never do—I’ll be glad I read it. But I am far more likely to select a drink than an exit. I can guarantee that if airlines started handing out braille versions of their food and entertainment offerings, I would not be the only blind person to be sipping a glass of their finest wine in the clouds.”

menus