Ruby Bridges and Her Teacher Reunite Because of a Print-Braille Book

When my son was small, he was my best sampler of kids’ books to offer in our Children’s Braille Book Club. Book cover of "The Story of Ruby Bridges"“No, Mom. Forget it. Borrring!” was the gist of his review of many, many books. But sometimes he would surprise me, like the time he sat quietly as I read all the way through “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles. It was 1995, a long time after the actual story took place.

Ruby Bridges was six years old when she agreed to be one of the first black students to integrate New Orleans schools in 1960. Her parents must have Ruby Bridgesagreed, too. It was a brave decision all around. She would later remember the white woman who heckled her from the sidewalk, carrying a black doll in a coffin.

When Ruby showed up at school, everybody left. Yep. The entire school emptied out. The only two people left were Ruby Bridges and her teacher Barbara Henry, who was white, and the only teacher willing to teach a black student. For one year, Henry taught Bridges alone. When the year ended, Henry moved and the two lost touch.

This is where my son re-enters the picture. He took the print-braille version of the book to his school in Boston. That night he mentioned, over a plate of spaghetti, “Mom, you know what? Ruby’s teacher is at my school.” I smiled. I didn’t believe him. I cleared the table.

“Really, Mom. And she wants to keep the book.”

Several days later on the drive to school, “Mom. What shall I tell Mrs. Henry? She wants the book. She’s been trying to find Ruby all these years.” For some reason in that moment it clicked. I checked the book jacket information and saw that it mentioned only Mrs. Henry’s maiden name—her whereabouts unknown.

I went into the office and called the publisher, Scholastic Inc., and reported the connection. A few minutes later I took a call from an excited publicist, “Ruby has been looking for her teacher all these years, too!” In 1996, after thirty-five years, the two were reunited on Oprah. Ruben and I made a bowl of popcorn and watched the whole show—and we cried.

To Ruben, Keep the faith and thanks so much for bringing Barbara back to me! – Ruby Bridges

Dear Ruben, You will ever be so very special to me for all the joys you helped bring to me in finding Ruby and renewing our friendship and love. – Barbara Henry

Braille is No Fantasy in Football

Braille is No Fantasy in Football

After the first weekend of the football season, I am saying to myself, I should have used braille and not the computer.  Fantasy Football logoYes, my fantasy football team took a beating this week.  This year, I let the computer draft for me.  I usually prepare for the draft by brailling out my top 180 players by position.  I am not a prolific braille reader, but in the fantasy sports draft world, I think braille over the computer will win every time.

I have great memories of the first time twelve of my friends got together to draft.  The trash talk was bountiful and the excitement was high.  Half the guys had their laptops, a few had print rosters, and one of my other blind friends and I had our picks embossed in braille.

As the draft went along, I scratched out the players off my “braille board.” This was a great way for me to keep track of who got drafted.  It beats using Excel and Jaws since paging up and down in a spreadsheet is a challenge when you have 90 seconds or less to make your picks. The ability to manage who is the best player available and whether you need that position, in a short period of time, is critical to your chances of winning.  You had better be ready when your 8th, 12th, or 15th round picks come up. Every roster spot counts.

As I leafed through my braille sheets, I was amused when the guys using laptops ran into problems with their Internet connection, or when their computer was too slow because of the heat in the room. They had to ask, “Is so and so still available?”  Either I or my blind competitor would give them the answer before those using print or computers could.

Using braille for my fantasy football league gives me more control over my selections and I tend to do well.  When I use Excel or let the computer draft for me, I have not fared as well.  I have learned my lesson:  braille is more efficient, faster and a great way to manage your fantasy football team.  Oh, and it’s a pretty good tool for managing other things like work and school, too!

Braille Tales: How a Block of Wood Changed My Life

I’ve spent my life traveling extensively, meeting people and building relationships. I serve as Paul Parravano speakingCo-Director of Government and Community Relations at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, do volunteer work, and am a married father of two, trying to navigate the waters of parenthood and finding the ever elusive work/life balance – as are many of you. But unlike many of you, I am blind.

I lost my sight when I was three years old as a result of a rare form of eye cancer. Luckily my parents were not fatalists. They were straightforward and resourceful and that is when they introduced me to a new way of gaining access to the world around me. After I became blind my father crafted for me a block of wood with six holes. Those six holes corresponded to the six dots of a braille cell and he gave me marbles to fit in the holes to represent braille dots. With a lot of encouragement, long hours of braille transcription by my mother, plus perseverance, my world blossomed. I was able to read and write along with everyone else.

I went on to receive my undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Northeastern University. And an activity that I’m just as proud of is reading a bedtime story with my children when they were young with print/braille storybooks produced by NBP

Our lives need access to information immediately. So how do we ensure that braille remains relevant? We are now in a world where braille is more accessible than ever and compatible with the use of technology. I use braille every day with my note taker, to give speeches for MIT, and to take notes in meetings, in addition to keeping track of my personal and professional life. And I still keep that block of wood in the top drawer of my desk to remind me of my parents and how it all started.

Paul Parravano is Chairman of the National Braille Press Board of Trustees.