The Impact of #GivingTuesday

If you’re like me, any time one of your friends or aunts uses a hashtag in a Facebook or Twitter post, you might scratch your head in bewilderment. How does a pound sign before a catch phrase or acronym benefit anybody?

Well, there is one hashtag in particular that’s used once a year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, that makes a direct impact in communities around the country—#GivingTuesday.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving on November 29th, fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. It’s a day for supporters of organizations to spread awareness and raise money for good causes.

And it’s not just the cool thing to do that day that will get you loads of likes and boost your dopamine levels; it actually does create impactful and longstanding change!

Skeptical? In 2014, National Braille Press supporters kick-started fundraising for the Great Expectations: Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids program. It was through your posts and your donations, many just $10 or $25, on #GivingTuesday that we raised over $11,000 for this program!

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The five books in the Great Expectations series so far

NBP’s #GivingTuesday movement produced the second selection for Great Expectations, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Dewalt. It’s a tale about a cohort of disgruntled crayons who want more from life. The green crayon is fed up with being associated with trees, while the gray crayon has grown disillusioned with shading illustrations of hippopotamuses.

The book was accompanied by a print/braille coloring kit and tactile coloring pages for blind and visually impaired kids to encourage creativity and learning about color. The Great Expectations website also offered a whole host of fun and educational activities to talk about the context and significance of color in correlation with the book. This was made possible by YOU!

#GivingTuesday participants spoke to NBP staff about how excited they were to help this program take flight, and how the mission of Great Expectations inspired them to contribute even a small amount. They spread the word by sharing how National Braille Press has benefited and inspired them with the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

NBP continued to build on your enthusiasm and support and the success of that selection with the publication of more books in our Great Expectations series: Amazing Grace; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes. This is the power of #GivingTuesday: 1,492 Great Expectations books distributed to families across the country. That’s 1,492 holistic and fun educational experiences for blind children to learn about color, architecture, acting and improvisation, and so much more.

It’s easy to become disillusioned by the chaos of social media—there can be too much information to consume and far too many Netflix cliffhangers to rant about. However, social media offers a platform for many voices to create change in our own small way—building a steady flow of social consciousness, one newsfeed at a time. So why not make it about NBP?

On Tuesday, November 29th, take the leap and post using #GivingTuesday to talk about what braille literacy means to you and your community, and make a contribution of $5, $25, or even $100.

This year, we’re advocating for our imperative Readbooks! Because Braille Matters program, a FREE program that supports families of blind children in the beginning of their braille education.

Let’s be inspired by our success in 2014 and realize that we can be game changers for braille literacy… all with a pound sign. Don’t miss out!

 

—Elizabeth Kent, Events and Volunteers Manager

NBP Staff Thanksgivings

A few of us here at National Braille Press wanted to share our favorite Thanksgiving traditions and memories. Tell us yours, too!

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On Black Friday, my family takes a ferry to Block Island, a small 3-mile wide island off the coast of Rhode Island, for the annual “Christmas Stroll.” Island shops welcome visitors with hot cider and chocolate, selling gifts and sundries, and the locals have constructed a huge “lobster pot Christmas tree.” We make sure to hit the beach (deserted this time of year) and finally stop in the local pub for a brew and late lunch before our cruise home.

—Jackie Sheridan

 

As a child of divorce, I have the benefit of two meals. I usually spend Thanksgiving Day with my dad, eating all of our favorite snacks and watching Criminal Minds. We eat a traditional turkey dinner with my favorite dish, sweet potatoes. At night, I go to my mom’s house for piles on piles of dessert. My mom’s house is filled with music, so we spend the night enjoying great tunes and a sugar coma!

—Whitney Mooney

 

My maternal side of the family are all from Canada, including me, so we typically recognize Canadian Thanksgiving in October and American Thanksgiving in November with nice meals, but don’t really celebrate them.

The only “tradition” I can think of is that we always put the pumpkin pie on top of the coffee pot because the first year we had our dog, Tucker, he jumped on the counter and poked his nose in the pie so there was a giant hole dug into it.

—Hannah Ransom Canning

 

My brother and I always watch the National Dog Show.

—Elizabeth Kent

 

My favorite Thanksgiving tradition—besides all the wonderful, homemade food and the joy of having the entire family together—is that before we ate, we would go around the table and everyone would share what they were thankful for that year.

—Kesel Wilson

 

Every Friday after Thanksgiving (before it became known as Black Friday), my family and I would go to the Worcester Gallery and then the Auburn Mall for holiday sales, decorations, and music. We always had the traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a fruit and nut tray.

—Elizabeth Bouvier

 

My dad likes to take everyone to the movies. We don’t have a very big family, so just getting to spend the day together is special.

—Josh Smaltz

 

We like to play Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, or Risk with the cousins out of earshot of the adults.

—Joel Spinale

 

We watch football and make turkey and mashed potatoes, a traditional Thanksgiving.

—Cham Cha

 

My family, like many others, has a Thanksgiving tradition of eating A LOT! Food plays such a central role in bringing us together for good company and conversation around the dining table. “Aunt Debbie, this stuffing is amazing!” “Uncle Lance, I’ve never had a pecan pie I liked before, but this is fabulous!” Writing this now, I can almost feel the cozy warmth of our kitchen and smell the delicious smells that greet me as I come in from the biting cold of a late November day in Wisconsin.

Because food is so important to our family’s Thanksgiving celebration, I was uneasy four years ago at my first holiday meal after adopting a plant-based diet. What would I be able to eat? Would my family make fun of me? Or worse, would they feel that my choice to forego the turkey and sausage stuffing was a condemnation of the traditions so important to them? It turned out I needn’t have worried. There were curious questions about why in the world I had chosen this path, but they just made for more lively conversation in which none of us felt judged or defensive. And the best part? So much of what makes up the traditional American Thanksgiving plate turns out to be plants! From mashed potatoes to rolls, sweet potatoes to green bean casserole, cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie, all have plants as their main ingredients and can easily be made without milk, eggs, or butter and are just as delicious. I left that holiday table just as stuffed as I’d ever been, and with the peace that comes with living in line with the values I hold dear.

—Wynter Pingel

 

Thanksgiving is always about the whole family gathering together. As children, we always were excited to eat in the formal dining room with old English china and cut crystal pitchers full of apple cider, and my responsibility was to clean the tarnish off of my grandmother’s fancy silverware, monogrammed with “M” for our last name. I marveled how the darkened candle holders, spoons, forks, and knives could get all shiny and new again just by using a magic cream and rubbing them with a cloth. Now that I look back, it was the perfect chore to keep me busy and out of the way. The rest was just heaven: the whole family eating together, passing around the turkey, cranberry sauce, homemade stuffing, and the pumpkin pie smothered in fresh whipped cream!

—Brian Mac Donald

When Pigs Fly? A Full Page Braille Display with Real-Time Tactile Graphics

One of these days a blind or low vision person will be able to read on their device a periodical like National Geographic or Newsweek, or even a textbook or standardized test, and not only will the information be translated into braille and displayed in full page format, but the device will also instantly produce tactile images or graphics. ‘When pigs fly’ some of you say—but the response shouldn’t be ‘it’s impossible,’ it should be, ‘when will it happen?’

Every year National Braille Press produces thousands of pages of braille for tests and textbooks including hard copy raised tactile graphics for students. Unfortunately, the ability to render tactile images in real time on a device has not yet come to fruition, at least not with the affordability or resolution that is really needed to be effective. However, that long search for the ‘Holy Braille’ is finally starting to show some exciting promise.

Amazing advances in technology are leveraging new, affordable approaches to raise a braille pin or to render an image in unconventional ways, and we at NBP have created the Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) to act as a global information broker and champion for just such breakthroughs in engineering design. We want blind students and adults in the workplace to have the same tools as their sighted peers, and to be able to compete and experience the ‘Internet of Things’ like everyone else, so we build the partnerships needed to keep us on the cutting edge.

Through the CBI we have built relationships and partnerships with the University of Michigan,  MIT, IBM, Google, Northeastern University, India, China, and others to find the right mix of components and features that can be leveraged to create a tablet for the blind—and that can be manufactured affordably. Economies of scale are a critical fact of life in the affordability of a product, and if it can be built into existing, mainstream products with a universal design, everyone wins.

Through a relationship with an Indian company founded by two MIT doctoral engineers, we launched the Tactile Caliper, a low cost, mechanical, refreshable braille ruler that allows accurate measurements to the 1/16th of an inch (a metric version is also in the pipeline).

caliper

Photo: Tactile Caliper measuring object

And in partnership with the innovative Deane Blazie, we launched the B2G earlier this year, our first refreshable braille consumer electronic product.

The B2G uses a conventional piezo-electric method to raise braille pins, but our design also allows for OEM options for any future successful methodology. We developed it for two reasons: First, we wanted to lower the price for consumers so that more people could afford this indispensable tool. Second, we wanted consumers to have control over customization; our B2G allows them to add or delete the apps they want and to change user features to suit their own, individual needs. For example, customers can use the Echolink app to turn the B2G into a ham radio station.

b2g

Photo: Green and Gray B2G’s

 

Last week an Anheuser Busch semi-tractor trailer delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer on a 120-mile journey without a human at the wheel. This robotic delivery of beer shipped through Denver to Colorado Springs and was called “uneventful.” The technology revolution is in full swing and unfortunately the blind and low vision world has not been top of mind for many designers. Yes, driverless cars and trucks will be an indirect and valuable benefit for BVIs and PWDs, but that wasn’t the motivation to create them. We believe that access to information, especially e-braille outputs, must be included in all products and we will never stop advocating for and championing new technologies that have the potential to serve the blind community.

So, one of these days you may be zipping down the road in a driverless car, and reading a story on your accessible braille tablet while feeling the raised tactile image of that pig flying after all.

By Brian Mac Donald, President, NBP

A Blind Voter’s Story

For my last birthday, my two daughters presented me with a truly awesome and thoughtful gift: a contribution to National Braille Press. In their note, they recalled the wonderful bedtime reading rituals with their dad. We all loved NBP’s children’s braille books, and as they’ve grown up, they’ve hung onto those books. Perhaps someday I’ll get to read those (and new NBP books) to grandchildren, but that seems a good way off yet.

Now, what does this have to do with voting? Like reading, our participation in this most wonderful civic activity, voting, is a family affair. I remember the four of us walking into our local polling place a few years back when our youngest daughter came of voting age. By the way, it was a primary election in a non-presidential year. As you likely know, mid-term primary elections have woefully low turnout, but there we were, showing up to welcome our daughter as she joined the electorate for her first vote. Oh yes, her older sister is most assuredly a dedicated voter too, and she was lucky enough to be in school in Ohio when Bruce Springsteen was doing campus shows to energize young voters, and she taunts me to this day about getting to stand within 15 feet of him while he played acoustic guitar. Ugh!

I love voting, always have. For years, people with vision loss usually had to request some kind of assistance to cast their ballot. But, after widespread voting problems in 2000, advocates, including me, worked to get the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed. This law included accessibility requirements. As a result, I remember excitedly casting my first truly independent vote in the 2002 primary election in Maryland. I practically skipped out of the booth. The only thing that rivaled it was getting to mark a ballot to vote for my wife for school board back in Illinois.

OK, so, what does this have to do with braille? First, individuals who use braille as their reading medium should be provided an absentee ballot in braille, if requested. Braille ballots never really emerged as a practical access solution for voting at the local polling place, but braille is a critical tool for research and learning about voting and candidates. When independent access to newspapers and candidate information became possible for me with the emergence of online information in the 90s, I was thrilled to be able to prepare my own braille guide listing candidates and a bit of background. Thus armed, I knew I could vote independently, even spelling the names of my preferred candidates if for some reason that was necessary.

Just recently, I requested a braille sample ballot from my county Board of Elections. This is something I encourage everyone with a need for accessible media to do. The braille document is on its way, and just like my sighted family members who received a print sample ballot, I’ll have mine in my preferred accessible version. Then, I plan to show up at my polling place, and with an audio interface to the ballot, make my choices independently and privately.

mass-vote

Photo: Massachusetts Information for Voters, 2016 Ballot Questions, Braille Edition

Of course, the four of us Schroeders will all be voting in November, though alas, with the daughters away at school, we’ll not be able to go to the polling place together.

As I prepare to vote, and as another birthday comes around to remind me of my daughters’ gift to me and NBP last year, I’ll be using braille as one of my key tools for independence, and I’ll be thanking NBP for making braille widespread, commonplace, and yes, even, cool.

Our friends over at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) have assembled a very nice newsletter about voting at the following web link:

Sources:

http://www.afb.org/info/blindness-statistics/research-navigator-a-quarterly-series-on-research-in-blindness-and-visual-impairment/research-navigator-voters-with-vision-loss-in-the-2016-elections/235

By Paul Schroeder

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!

 

audience-5

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