Braille: The Ticket to Freedom and Independence

Sighted people look at braille, and all they can see are dots on a page. All they can feel are bumps, and they do not mean a thing. However, to every blind person, braille means everything.

My name is Precious Perez, and I am from Chelsea, Massachusetts. I have a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity, otherwise known as ROP. I was born two and a half months early, so my eyes were not developed, and the oxygen I needed to survive took my sight. I have never been able to see, but I have always been able to feel, and one of the first things I became accustomed to was the feeling of letters beneath my fingertips.

Precious Perez Rocco Fiorentino performing 2

Precious performing at NBP’s A Million Laughs for Literacy Gala in 2015

I began learning to read and write Braille in pre-school, at the age of three. I can remember practicing on the Perkins brailler, and reading words on a page. I can remember my mom putting braille labels on household items as I got older; feeling for the button on my television and finding TV in braille right next to it. I remember falling in love with books, and manually brailling out my math problems every night for homework in first grade. I remember the first time I was given a notetaker with a refreshable braille display. When I think of my journey as a blind person, I think of braille and how it has made me independent and free.

There are countless reasons why braille is significant. This code is used by myself and many others every single day. Bathrooms, ATMs, elevators: all of these signs have braille and print on them. If I need to make a bank transaction, I do not need someone to tell me where to insert my card or my headphones for audio feedback. I do not need someone to push my floor for me in the elevator, because there’s braille next to each button. I can find a women’s bathroom in any public building, because there is braille on the sign. I am not only capable of locating and identifying things, but I am able to do it without help from anyone else, which would not be possible without braille.

Precious, Zhenya, and Daisy at NFB MA 2014

Precious checking out braille materials with friends

Navigation and daily personal management tasks are not the only things for which braille is necessary. I am a sophomore at Berklee College of Music, and I take theory classes in which I use braille books. I can read key signatures, scales, notes, and rhythms along with my peers in Ear Training class with my textbook instead of listening back to a recording and needing to always memorize. I can analyze chord progressions and take notes in class using my notetaker. I can write articles like this one, and read over my writing to check my spelling, grammar, and punctuation without having to go character by character with my screenreader and hoping for the best. I can read anything I need or want to read, whenever and wherever I want to read it, just the way anyone with sight could. The same way sighted people use pen and paper, I can use a slate and stylus or a Perkins brailler. If the power goes out, I can always write things down if my laptop dies. Braille gives me the ticket to freedom that audio can supplement, but never give.

Braille is something I could not live without, and without a form of reading and writing, I would not be where I am today.

I am currently a summer counselor atBLIND Inc, an NFB training center in Minnesota, and I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to share my love and passion for braille and its significance with blind middle school students who are eager to learn. Every blind person deserves independence and freedom. Living these truths would not be as feasible without the ability to take notes, read books for school, label household appliances and medicine, and a number of other things. Without braille, I would not be educated and free to educate others. “If reading mediums change and braille gets discredited out loud, I’ll counter the doubt.” Not only do I need braille, but every blind person needs braille. Braille is happiness. Braille is freedom. Braille is independence.

The Road from Princeton to Boston: The Princeton Braillists and an Enduring Legacy

Four colossal bookcases. Seven thermoform machines, five binding machines, and two light projectors. Twenty boxes bursting with aluminum tactile graphics ranging from fungi to fish, electricity to elements, geomorphology to geometry, mitosis to moon phases. And the pièce de résistance: 40 volumes amounting to 2,177 pages of the most comprehensive maps available in a tactile format.

Four decades of thoughtful devotion have been poured into the compendium that is The Princeton Braillists’ collection. Beginning in 1965, armed with a background in Experimental Physics and a penchant for handicrafts, Nancy Amick created tactile images to accompany audio texts for Recording for the Blind in Princeton. Drawing on her childhood experience with copper embossing, Nancy generated textures, patterns and lines in sheets of flexible aluminum, designing hundreds of diagrams for math and science textbooks, and simultaneously developing novel techniques to become an expert in the field of tactile graphics.


In 1980, after Recording for the Blind shifted  its company focus, Nancy and Ruth Bogia, a certified braille transcriber, resurrected a dormant non-profit: The Princeton Braillists. Their first tactile volume, “Basic Human Anatomy,” was released in 1988, and eight years later they advertised their first set of tactile maps: “Maps of North and South America”. The all-volunteer operation expanded to include Fran Gasman, a transcriber for the New Jersey Commission, Phyllis Branin, who assisted in assembly, and Nancy’s family, including her husband Jim and daughter D’Maris. By 2016, The Princeton Braillists had created 35 books covering Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, as well as 18 U.S. states, along the way receiving wide acclaim and awards for their tactile contributions to the blind community.


Nancy passed in the fall of 2016, and her family continued to fill orders while searching for a new home for the entire collection. Jim and D’Maris toured NBP in February 2017. By May, three National Braille Press team members were in a 15-foot truck bound for Princeton, NJ, charged with the careful transfer of Nancy’s work.

National Braille Press was honored to accept the generous gift of The Princeton Braillists’ celebrated tactiles, and has embraced the opportunity to continue Nancy’s legacy. Our hope is to maintain and reproduce the current catalogue while investigating ways to update geographical information, recode for Unified English Braille, and create new volumes of additional countries and states. We also aim to showcase the extensive collection of math and science diagrams from Nancy’s early years, sharing the delightful breadth of her images from beginning to end.

Learn more about The Princeton Braillists at NBP’s Annual Meeting, June 20th.