If There Were Twitter Fifty years Ago

I’m a history, news, and politics buff. Radio is also an enduring passion of mine. It’s been a long time now since I worked full time in commercial radio in New Zealand, but thanks to the Internet, I keep my hand in. With a team of over 40 volunteers, I run Mushroom FM, an Internet radio service staffed predominantly by blind broadcasters.

Mushroom FM has a sister station, Mushroom Escape, which plays a wide variety of radio drama and comedy. Sometimes, we deviate from that mission a little to commemorate special events. This Friday, we’ll be playing radio coverage of the Kennedy assassination from a range of sources, complete with all the jingles and commercials of the day.

In putting this special day of programming together, I’ve immersed myself in many hours of radio and TV coverage from that day, so I can select the best material in terms of both content and audio quality. It occurs to me that in addition to being a profoundly tragic day that altered the course of history, it was also the day breaking news came of age. Television networks went into a continuous news format for a prolonged period for the first time. Radio, with its ability to get correspondents on the air from a range of places more easily than television, held its own.

In sifting through all this material, I began reflecting on just how differently we consume breaking news stories now. Of course we have continuous news channels, and correspondents are easier than ever to put to air, but radio and TV are no longer the first place I turn to for breaking news. When I receive a push notification on my iPhone from one of my many breaking news apps, the first thing I do is turn to Twitter. With Twitter, anyone with a mobile device at the scene of an unfolding news event is a global journalist. It has democratized the news reporting process. Both trained journalists, and people who just happen to be bystanders when history unfolded, can record their experience in 140-character chunks for near immediate world-wide publication.

Mindful that absolutely anyone can be a global publisher thanks to Twitter, a bit of intelligence and healthy skepticism on the part of the reader goes a long way. Sometimes misinformation is spread, and for a while taken as fact. This can happen due to genuine confusion and misunderstanding, and in some cases because people are being mischievous. But reading first-hand accounts of unfolding events is often a more informative way of getting news than the constant repetition of talking heads trying to fill air-time with the same limited material over and over.

Tweeting BlindReading tweets about major events as they develop is just one reason why I find Twitter such a useful communication tool, and just one of the reasons why I hope my new book, “Tweeting Blind”, will encourage more blind people to become a part of Twitter. Twitter is fundamentally a text-based medium, making it ideal for those of us who use screen readers.

How different it would have been, had the thousands of people who lined the streets of Dallas been able to tweet, fifty years ago.

Jonathan Mosen is a highly experienced producer and consumer of assistive technology and a skilled communicator through broadcasting, other audio and print. 

A Matter of Perspective

The artist Robert Morris once created a piece in which he employed the services of a woman blind from birth to draw while he spoke instructions to her. At one point in the execution of the piece, he tried to explain perspective to her. “Objects further away appear smaller than closer ones,” he said. “That,” she replied, “is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

I like the story, the spunky response, and the reminder that “perspective” colors everything we do, say, think, and feel. There is no single way to view a situation; the trick is to remain open to other ways of seeing the world—outside our narrow lens.

William Safire said it better: “Never assume the obvious is true.” Another quote along the same lines: “Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.” – Alan Keightley

These quotes are fresh in my mind because I spend all year gathering “the best of the best” to include in NBP’s annual gift booklet of quotes, Thursday Morning Quotations book coverwhich started several years ago with Monday Morning Quotations, then Tuesday…, Wednesday…, and now this year, Thursday Morning Quotations. These are small spiral-bound braille gift books, measuring 5″ by 7″, with 52 pithy quotes to read each week for a year. The idea came from a friend who commented that blind people rarely get a chance to explore those tiny gift books that you find at the checkout counter at Barnes & Noble.

When Professor Dumbledore tells Harry, “The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution,” we nod our heads. One short quote has just stretched our perspective about “truth.”

Unified English Braille: Great Beginnings

I still smile when someone asks what I do for a living. I always like to field the questions generated by my response, but it’s a rare delight when the conversation reaches the most fascinating of developments in the Hands on braille pagebraille world: new refreshable braille devices, interactive tactile graphics (“Wow, that exists?”) and, perhaps most anticipated, the implementation of Unified English Braille (UEB).

As the Braille Authority for North America (BANA) Board Representative for NBP, I have had the privilege to be a part of the discussion around UEB since it was adopted last November, and truly, there’s not enough to be said about what has been done behind the scenes. Recently, BANA facilitated the UEB Transition Forum in Louisville, where braille advocates from around the nation gathered to discuss steps along the road to UEB.

The Forum was divided into four groups representing, Transcription and Production, Instructional Materials, Education, and Adult Learning. In separate work sessions, led by Frances Mary D’Andrea, BANA Chair and AFB Representative, and Mary Nelle McLennan, Vice Chair and APH Representative, we considered the following questions:

  • What needs to be done in the area of training in order to ensure an effective transition to UEB?
  • What needs to be done to build UEB transcription capacity?
  • What needs to be done to adjust systems so we can procure and deliver braille materials in UEB?
  • What needs to be done to transition children’s braille reading and writing instruction and educational assessments to UEB?
  • What needs to be done to transition adults’ braille instruction to UEB and to increase knowledge of UEB among adults who already use braille?

We approached UEB with gusto! The room was vibrant and energetic; words like “synergy” and “collaboration” were critical to our discussions. It was a melting pot of all things braille. Efforts and responses were recorded, and action steps were presented and discussed with the forum at large, with each area providing vital information for the bones of an implementation plan. We embraced and became excited about the future of braille.

Of course, the most significant discussion of the day centered on one thing: an expected date for full implementation. After nearly an hour of conversation and input from all represented areas, we settled it.

January 4th, 2016, the birthday of Louis Braille, will be a celebration, a day to review our UEB milestones and honor our achievements as a community. I feel so inspired to be at NBP during this time of enthusiasm and evolution. I think the next time someone asks what I do, I’ll just hand over my braille business card and invite them to the party.

Check back for blogs about UEB. To find out more, visit the BANA website: http://brailleauthority.org/pressreleases/pr-2013-10-31.html

Jackie Sheridan is Vice President of Production at National Braille Press.