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

 

Forty is the New Braille

Why run for forty consecutive days when you really haven’t run that much in over a year? This was my way of challenging myself as my 40th birthday approached. Some runners would run the number of miles in one day that corresponded to their age; well, that was out! I needed a catalyst to help improve my fitness but I also wanted to be realistic. Joe Quintanilla runs with sighted guide, Kara Peters

I decided on running for forty days for at least a mile per day to bring awareness to the work at National Braille Press while combining my two passions –running and braille literacy.

I really had not run much since last fall when I suffered an ankle injury. I knew that putting my body through 40 days of running was going to be hard, but equally as tough would be coordinating with enough sighted guide runners. When you are blind, you can’t go out your front door and put in a mile or two. You are limited by the schedules of your volunteer guides. Treadmill running isn’t really a favorite of mine. I find it exacerbates other injuries so I wanted to keep that to a minimum. So my quest became twofold; run every day for forty days and coordinate enough sighted runners to help me achieve this goal.

My family isn’t really a running family, but they have all been supportive of my passion over the years. With this latest challenge, they were more than supportive, they were my MVP’s. The first day of my run was on April 30th, my late father’s birthday. I was in Charlotte for my niece’s first communion, staying in a hotel in an unfamiliar city, without access to my usual running guides. With encouragement from my fiancée, Gina, I got on the treadmill at the hotel. My sister in-law and nephew came over and got the treadmill started for me to set the pace and time. (Most exercise equipment is digital and not accessible to me). My forty-day running quest to raise money for braille literacy had begun!

A week later, I goaded my oldest sister, who is not a runner, into running a mile with me. It was tough for her but she did it. She also told me, “don’t call me next week and don’t try to guilt me into running again.” Well, what does a brother do when he needs help? He calls his sister for another run on Day 25. My guide for that day had gotten a flat tire on her way to our run. I called my sister, and told her I needed her help to keep the streak alive. She put me off for a few hours but I persisted. I didn’t want the streak to end and had been feeling good throughout the three plus weeks I had been running. It wasn’t looking good until later that night when she called to say, “Let’s go!”

As the weeks progressed, my pace got faster; knocking 2 minutes off of my 5k pace. Sure, I had begun to have some ankle and foot pain but I could hang on to finish what I had set out to do –if my guides came through. Days 34 and 35 I had other guide issues; one got injured, and I missed meeting another because traffic held me up. Thanks Boston traffic! Did I dare call my sister again? Well, once again she came through, running back-to-back days and faster than she had previously. Wow!

I have two days left and I am certain I will get to the finish line. Why? Because I believe in braille literacy and the commitment I made to raise funds so that blind children and adults have the braille materials they need. I also have a pretty great sister and many friends and supporters who have helped push me through the pain and fatigue. I would not have been able to do this without the support of these guides who made time out of their busy schedules, battled their own injuries and fatigue, and came through for me when I really needed it.

Photo of runners at sunset

For many, running is a solitary thing. For me, it’s always been a team effort. Whether it is on the roads or in a race, you push each other. I was able to assemble a team that will get me to the finish line and for that I am extremely grateful. I hope you will join NBP’s team and donate to my efforts so together we can ensure blind children and adults make it to their finish line!

Joseph Quintanilla is the VP of Development at National Braille Press and a former paralympian runner competing in the Paralympic games in 1996. He has run 8 marathons, including Boston.

Special thanks to Joe’s guide runners: Judy Krimski, Roger Pelissier, Norman Lang, Cliff Watkin, Christine Booth, Christina Haddad, Mark Sadecki, Tom Richissin, Bill Attwood, Michelle Becker, Anne Swain, Lisa Andrews, Rich Gilreath, Erin Connors, Kara Peters and Luisa Quintanilla.

The Freedom of Independent Voting

I will always remember my first time voting; it was November 4, 2008, and I was finally old enough to vote! My best friend, Michelle, and I drove to our polling place. I had heard that there were machines that made it possible for a blind person to vote independently, so I asked the poll worker if I could use one. Her response was polite but disappointing: The machine was not working, and could my friend help me out?

Braille ballot from Rhode Island

Now that I’m older and somewhat wiser, I know that federal law requires that there be one working accessible voting machine at every polling place. I know that I could and should have asked for someone to try to get the machine to work. Failing that, I should have filed a complaint with my state’s board of elections. But I didn’t know any of this then, and luckily I trusted Michelle. We filled out our ballots, and off to class I went, proudly displaying my “I Voted” sticker for the world to see.

"I Voted" buttonMy first experience voting independently did not happen until 2014. In the intervening years, I could not go to my polling place, and had to fill out an absentee ballot. It is impossible to put into words exactly how free I felt when I voted independently for the first time. 2014 was a completely different experience. I didn’t even have to ask for the accessible voting machine! The machine was set up, and I was left to my own devices, just like anyone else. No one else touched my ballot, and no one else could even see what I was doing as it is possible to black out the screen of the accessible voting machine. Total privacy and independence, exactly what voting should be!

It boggles my mind that before the Help America Vote Act in 2002, not voting independently was the norm for disabled Americans. I’ve heard stories of blind people having to go into the voting booth with three different people: one from each party and a third person to fill out the ballot. While we’ve come a long way from then, there is still work to do.

While accessible voting machines are required at polling locations, most states don’t have provisions for absentee voting. Absentee voting also needs to be accessible, and everyone—poll workers and citizens with disabilities—need to be aware of the right for everyone to vote independently. As this monumental election year progresses, it is imperative that we get out there and vote. Voting is a right we sometimes take for granted, but it is one that many have fought for, and it is the best way we have to create change.

Nallym Bravo works at National Braille Press (NBP) as a braille proofreader. NBP has produced braille voting materials for several states and hopes that more states provide accessible voting materials in the future.

Twins In Poetry and In Braille

By Daniel Simpson
A little over a year ago, a box from my publisher, Poets Wear Prada, containing twenty complimentary copies of my new book of poems, School for the Blind, landed on my front porch. I tore it open; rushing toward a moment I had long anticipated—that moment when, for the first time, I would hold my own book. I caressed its smooth cover, traced its binding, sniffed the paper, and turned a few pages. “Mine,” I thought. “I wrote this. I have officially joined the ranks of authors with a book.” People wrote thoughtful, even glowing, reviews. People bought the book, either directly from me at readings and conferences, or online through Amazon. It was all quite thrilling.

Book Covers of School for the Blind and The Way Love Comes to MeAt about the same time, MutualMuse Press came out with my identical twin brother Dave’s poetry collection entitled The Way Love Comes to Me. When I received my copy, I went through a similar routine of touching and sniffing. I could even make out the general shape of his poems through the slightly embossed print. It, too, got a warm welcome into this world, garnering great reviews, generating a nice volume of sales, and spawning some memorable readings. (In fact, after Dave’s reading from The Way Love Comes to Me at New York University, poet Stephen Kuusisto wrote, “I believe he gave the finest reading I’ve ever heard.”)

Still, one thing separated our experience as authors from that of our sighted counterparts: We couldn’t actually read directly from our own books. I could only extrapolate what it must be like by reading from a loose-leaf binder of pages I had brailled myself, or by copying an electronic version of the final manuscript into my notetaker.

simpson-brothers

Dan Simpson with this twin brother, Dave, at the age of three.

Suddenly, that all changed. Diane Croft read our books and decided they ought to be in braille. To make all of this even sweeter, National Braille Press decided to bind our two books into one braille volume. Here we were, twins in braille, with my book coming just before Dave’s, in accordance with our birth order.

All of this took on even greater poignancy and significance with Dave’s death from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) on December 1, 2015. He never actually got to hold our books in braille, but he knew they were on the way, and it pleased him immensely.

It’s difficult to articulate just how happy having my own book in braille from National Braille Press makes me, but the biggest gift of all is having the essence of my brother’s heart and mind, enshrined in his work, available to me, nestled right next to my own book, bound together in one braille volume which I can pull from the shelf and read any time I like.

Note: The braille edition of Dan and David’s collections (School for the Blind and The Way Love Comes to Me) are available from National Braille Press for $10. Print editions can be purchased through Amazon.