NBP’s (not so) Funny Valentine

It’s not a stretch to say we have the best customers in the country. You wouldn’t believe how many people call just to say nice things. (Full disclosure: I have some saved voice-mail messages that date back six years.) Even when someone calls to complain, they generally preface it with…“Normally I like what NBP does, but…”

NBP Valentine card featuring an image of a hog and a quiche.

‘Hogs and Quiches’ Valentine card

Like the teacher who called several years ago to complain about that year’s Valentine design.* “What were you thinking,” she asked, “putting out a Valentine about pigs and pies? No one here even knows what it means!” She was talking about one of my all-time favorite designs, an idea I borrowed from a friend who signs her emails: “Hogs & Quiches.” This tagline, in my opinion, met all our criteria: witty, not too sugary, and, best of all, two playful images that are not hearts.

I began my defense: “You see, when we design a Valentine it has to serve two audiences – blind kids who give them to sighted classmates, and blind adults who give them to both sighted and blind friends. They have to be about ‘love,’ but suitable to give to someone you would not want to marry. Ever. And whatever tagline, image, print and braille message you come up with must fit in a tight space 4.25 x 5 inches.”

She seemed a little less frustrated…a little more forgiving. “I’ll order the previous year’s design, please.” The following year, in 2012, I designed the most boring-est Valentine card ever. It had a felt heart on the front with the tagline, “You’re fine, Valentine.” It wasn’t a bestseller, but not a soul complained.


*Each year, NBP designs original print/braille Valentines to give to classmates or friends. Critique this year’s valentine design.

Martin Luther King Day Tribute

Note to Self: Send Robert a Thank You Card

Image of Martin Luther King, Jr.It was around forty years ago that the United States was in a civil turmoil. Boycotts, sit-ins, and riots were rocking the nation, leaders such as MLK and Malcolm X were exclaiming speeches in public squares; people were taking up arms against racism, against discrimination…To most of us, it seems like something that happened in another country, something seen with black and white flickering film showing the social inequalities in a distant land…

It started out only as an inkling here and there…It was only two years ago that I finally could put a name on the feeling – I felt discriminated against…I was never treated differently in elementary school, sure people asked me what my cane was and how I used my Braille Notetaker, but that was mere curiosity…It was only in seventh or eighth grade that I started noticing little things. My friends would ask me if I wanted them to take my paper up for me. I had dismissed it for a long time as them just being nice, but I noticed that they never asked anyone else but me…The worst instance of what I characterize as discrimination came in tenth grade. We were assigned groups in Geometry for a project, I had been paired with a boy named Robert…Later that day, my best friend Michelle, who sat at a large table with Robert at lunch, told me that he had informed the table that he was partnered with me, and everyone had expressed their sympathies…They had seen me turn in essays and projects. They had heard me participate in class, and they still “felt bad?”…

It took me a few months before I realized something: No matter what I did, those kids would always think that of me…Discrimination and prejudices, I think, will be a part of human life as long as people have opinions, AKA forever. But all we can do is not let it rule our lives…I guess what I celebrate this Martin Luther King’s Day is the knowledge that I’ll never let others’ shortcomings, others’ assumptions, affect anything I do again.

Excerpted from an essay written by Juna Gjata, a high school student and volunteer contributor to Inside NBP.  Read her full essay

UEB: Don’t let “new” scare you

In November, NBP tweeted a link to the press release issued by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) about adopting Unified English Braille (UEB) in the United States.  There was considerable interest and a fair bit of angst detected in the responses to that tweet.  Even though the transition to UEB will not be immediate, it is already causing consternation for those who use and teach braille in the U.S.

While UEB is based on the current literary braille code, some are thinking that UEB is a new code.  In fact, UEB was created in the early 1990s with the intent to unify English-speaking countries under the same braille system and was designed to retain a significant portion of what is the current literary code.

For those of us who love braille and are determined to keep it vibrant in the digital age, if UEB helps promotes the use of braille, we are all for it.  Here is an overview of what UEB will mean for you:

  • Letters and numbers will be the same as those used now, and only nine of the 189 current contractions will not be used: ally, ation, ble, by, com, dd, into, o’clock, to.
  • Some contraction rules will be modified, and the words “and”, “the”, “of”, “for”, and “with” will no longer be joined together in braille.
  • Most punctuation will stay the same. The period will be used no matter where the character appears in print – at the end of a sentence, in a website address, or as a decimal point. Other punctuation, like the parenthesis, will change to reflect what is seen in print (two different symbols for open and closing parentheses).
  • Rules around emphasis will be more like print. For example, emphasis indicators for underlining will be unique from italics.
  • Current formatting guidelines will be modified slightly to accommodate new braille symbols, but any regarding placement or spacing of a page will not be effected.

We know change can be difficult and it is often met with misinformation and confusion.   Let’s get through this transition together.

An FAQ on the BANA website provides more details about the changes: www.brailleauthority.org

Bringing Louis Braille’s Story to Light

It was April in Paris. Mike Mellor and I were on a junket—a mission, really—to secure permission to translate and publish the extant letters of Louis Braille. Mike had discovered them sitting in an archival box at the school in Paris, where Louis had been a student and later a teacher. We had both worked in the field for decades and neither of us had heard of these letters! To imagine that we could read Louis’s own words, hear his voice, send his thoughts out into the world…

Photo of Braille family home in Coupvray.

Braille family home in Coupvray

We caught a train to Coupvray, Louis’s birthplace, to visit the Braille family home, now a museum. I allowed myself no expectations that we could break through the resistance that Mike had weathered during a half-dozen earlier trips. Margaret Calvarin, the gracious, very-French curator of the museum gave us a thorough tour of the house—from the attic to the wine cellar. The Braille family owned a vineyard and had bottled their own wine for generations. Just as we were finishing the tour, I heard a clanking sound and turned around to see Madame Calvarin leaning over a dusty bin, her hands scrounging about. I was thinking, “Oh, that lovely French suit!” when she lifted out a pair of green, hand-blown glass wine bottles several centuries old, and handed one to each of us as a keepsake.

Outside, I held mine up to the sun. It seemed a blessing directly from Louis to us, to bring his story out of the dustbin and into the light.

Writing this post on his birthday, I feel the urge to refill his bottle with wine and drink a toast. But surely Louis, a devout Catholic, knew this parable from Luke: “No man putteth new wine into old bottles… new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.” I search the Internet to understand its meaning. The answer I prefer is that we must keep growing and changing… like the “new” wine of refreshable braille, I suppose… how old things can become new.

Happy Twenty-Thirteen, Louis.


Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius by Mike Mellor has been published in seven languages.

A look behind the curtain…

On January 4, 2013 – Louis Braille’s 204th birthday – National Braille Press launches its first blog! Each week, we’ll feature stories, musings, and information on the braille code and its continued importance in the digital age, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at National Braille Press. We hope this will be an open forum for you to share your thoughts and questions. Enjoy!