Gala Highlights and Other Adventures: Repost from Honorary Trustee Erik Weihenmayer’s blog

Original post here: http://www.touchthetop.com/blog/east-coast-visit-retracing-steps

Last week I flew to the East Coast for a sensational meeting with Paychex in Rochester, NY.  My friend and America’s Got Talent finalist, Mandy Harvey, joined me and wowed the crowd with her pitch-perfect voice. It was a No Barriers day for sure!

Photo credit: Timothy J. Toal

With CEO, Marty Mucci and Mandy Harvey. Photo Credit: Timothy J. Toal

From there I met up with my longtime friend, Mike O’Donnell and headed to Boston to attend the National Braille Press Gala. The NBP has been doing vital work providing braille materials to the blindness community and promoting literacy for 90 years.

My personal experience with Braille made a huge impact on my education. I fought learning it at first, not wanting to give into blindness, but ultimately found it an invaluable tool when trying to interpret graphs, scientific charts, spread sheets, math equations, maps, etc. I also loved reading to my kids from Braille children’s books. The active tactile engagement that Braille provides is crucial for blind kids and I’m so grateful for organizations like NBP.

Photo Credits: National Braille Press, Carrington Crothers Photography

Comedian and Daily Show correspondent, Roy Wood Jr., performed at the gala, and at the conclusion stated, he didn’t know much about blindness before this event but he was so inspired he was personally donating $1,000 to the cause. Thanks to folks like Roy and committed sponsors like Cabinets to Go. NBP raised more than $350,000 in funds so thousands of blind kids will be able to read their books in Braille.

Comedian Roy Wood, Jr. Photo Credits: National Braille Press, Carrington Crothers Photography

Despite my still healing finger, I couldn’t leave New England without making a trip to North Conway, NH for some rock climbing. In fact, the first place I ever went climbing was North Conway, when I was 16 years old, part of the Carroll Center for the Blind’s recreational program. Knowing blind kids were left out of ball sports in their schools, they’d take us on weekend adventures – canoeing, ropes courses, tandem bike rides – but the climbing trip to New Hampshire was it for me.

I owe a lot to my first instructors, Marc Chauvin, a renowned rock climber who later worked for the American Guides Association, helping develop their rock guides program, and Nick Yardley, a British rock and ice climber certified as an AMGA rock guide.

Cathedral Ledge, North Conway, NH

Now 32 years later, I was retracing my first steps after going blind and discovering that I could navigate my way up vertical terrain with just the use of my hands and feet as eyes. Mike and I met an old friend, Alden Pellett, and together we revisited many of the classics on Cathedral Ledge, a 500 foot granite face with tons of variety: face climbing, finger and hand cracks, and even lieback flakes. On the way up to the wall, we ascended steep trails covered in crisp piles of fallen leaves. Mike said the peak foliage was brilliant orange, red, and yellow, and the air was a perfect 68 degrees – the kind of autumn weather that makes you love New England. Thanks to Alden for providing these photos.

Photo Credits: Alden Pellett

Braille Photo Contest Recap: Spotlight on Hadley Institute

One of NBP’s goals in 2017 was to create more engagement with braille readers around the world. One way we’ve been doing this is through braille-themed contests. Back in March, we held our first ever photo contest: “Braille Around the World”. We wanted to see where our readers like to enjoy their braille books. During the process, we got a call from Susan Fisher at Hadley School for the Blind, who described how some of her adult braille students were very excited about the contest.

“I was excited to learn about the braille photo contest as it offered my students the opportunity to share their exciting and unique stories. Braille means independence and literacy. The braille photo contest allowed the students to promote braille from their own perspective. I’m so pleased that two of my students entered the contest and did such a fine job.

As a braille instructor at the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, I run a one-hour phone ‘chat’ group that meets once each week. During our discussions, students offer tips and tricks, as well as share their joy and frustration, while learning to read and write braille. I shared the information about the braille photo contest with the group so that they could tell others of their braille accomplishments in a fun and creative way.

Sue Brasel

Sue Brasel’s submission

Sue Brasel entered the contest for ‘the fun of it.’ Sue likes to challenge herself and wanted to see if she could write a poem showing off the town where she lives. Sue points out that the photo of her reading braille next to the creek in her town shows her using her sense of touch while reading braille as well as her senses of smell and hearing.

Elizabeth Motter Salinas

Clarice Cocco’s submission

Clarice Cocco was motivated to enter the contest to show others how she marks her crochet hooks. Clarice knows that braille has given her the ability to organize and be independent. With braille, Clarice is now able to enjoy life using her sense of touch. Clarice feels it is important to find things she can do without asking for assistance. With braille marks on her crocheting hooks, she can now do just that!”

This story and many others inspired NBP to continue doing contests through our social media outlets. NBP has announced that we will be hosting our first Poetry Contest for all ages! The contest runs through October 31, 2017. Learn more at the following link: http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/newsmedia/index.html?id=oYRhw4kW

Braille and Brew Review: How You Can Volunteer Doing What Makes You Happy

On September 21, 2017, NBP hosted the Braille and Brew fundraiser at Aeronaut Brewing Company in Somerville. The successful event raised $2,490 to help fund braille literacy programs like ReadBooks! and Great Expectations.

The evening included a blindfolded tasting of four distinct beers, each paired with a different food item. The blindfolded participants were asked to describe what flavors they were tasting in the beers, which launched a lively conversation around blindness, braille literacy, and volunteer opportunities at NBP.

braille and brew participants

Fundraisers like the Braille and Brew allow NBP to reach new people and expose them to our programs and services. Participant Melanie Biancucci had been meaning to check out the Aeronaut Brewing Company, so the fundraiser seemed like a great way to give back and try new beers! “It was a fun experience to have with friends and family that combines food and learning all in one. I was able to learn a lot about braille and other ways to get involved with NBP!”

Chris Astephen learned about the Braille and Brew through a friend who had shared the event on Facebook. “Great beer, great community atmosphere, great cause. It was a different spin on fundraising that gets people engaged to the cause. I would 100% do it again!”

Interested in getting involved? NBP has many fundraisers and volunteer opportunities that allow you to get involved doing what you like most.  Here are some options:

  1. Attend or volunteer for our Annual Gala on October 20th in Boston! Learn more on our website.
  2. Set up a group volunteer event with your friends, family, or company putting together our print/braille book of the month.
  3. Run on Team NBP for the Boston Marathon, or join the Blindfold Challenge and run a 5K!
  4. Join us for our second annual Bike Bus Fundraiser in January 2018. More details to come.
  5. Become a front desk volunteer. Greet people as they come to visit NBP, answer the phones, and direct people to the right departments!
  6. Help us get the word out about our Giving Tuesday Campaign.

To learn more about these opportunities, contact Joe Quintanilla at 617-425-2415 or jquintanilla@nbp.org.

The Anatomy of a Free ReadBooks! Bag

by Kesel Wilson, Editor and Programs Manager

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
―Frederick Douglass

How often do you come across something that is both free and of tremendous value? How often does everything you need to begin a challenging journey come in a single free bag? How often do you find resources created specifically for you by an organization with 90 years of experience? If you answered “Not often” to any of these questions, you probably aren’t aware of our ReadBooks! childrens’ braille literacy program.

Since we began this program in 2003, we have sent free bags of beginning braille materials to over 17,000 parents and teachers of the blind and visually impaired all across the United States and Canada. We believe passionately that literacy is the foundation of education, independence, self-expression, privacy, lifelong learning, and success in the workplace. Our ReadBooks! bags are designed to give caregivers and teachers the knowledge and resources needed to start children on a path of early braille literacy and they are 100% free. Let me take you on a quick tour of the bags and their contents:

We have 3 different bags, for 3 different age levels, and the bags come in both English and Spanish versions:

  • A red bag is for ages 0 to 3;
  • A blue bag is for ages 4 to 5;
  • And a green bag is for ages 6 to 7.
IMG_4650.JPG

Blue ReadBooks! bag with below contents inside

Every bag has:

  • A welcome letter from our president, Brian Mac Donald
  • An order form for a free book for called “Just Enough to Know Better.” This book will help you learn “just enough” braille to help your child learn it too.
  • A sign-up sheet for our Children’s Braille Book Club—a low cost subscription program featuring a new print/braille book every month.
  • A flyer about our Great Expectations program—a program that brings picture books to life for blind children with picture descriptions and free online activities.
  • Our most recent catalog, so you can be up to date on all of our newest braille books.
  • A braille alphabet card, so you can learn the braille symbol for each letter of the alphabet.
  • A Happy Birthday coupon, which can be redeemed for a free braille children’s book.
  • A caravan block, which is a fun, tactile block for practicing your braille alphabet.
  • A “Because Books Matter” pamphlet to help you understand why braille is so important to literacy and independence.
  • A “Because Pictures Matter” pamphlet which explains how and why to introduce your child to tactile graphics.

The other items in the bag vary according to the age level of the bag, but each bag has:

  • A print/braille picture book for practicing beginning reading with braille;
  • A tactile graphic for exploring non-textual information through touch;
  • And a tactile manipulative, such as a sensory ball or Wikki Stix—to experiment with tactile play.

I encourage you to take advantage of this free resource! You can order your bags directly from our website at https://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/readbooks/readbooks.html

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.