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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Braille in Hotels: Accessibility Away from Home!

NBP recently worked with the Residence Inn Boston Watertown to produce braille versions of their restaurant guide, shuttle service information, and points of interest in the area!

Director of Sales and Marketing, Korinne Robertson says, “The BRAND NEW Residence Inn by Marriott in Watertown, MA neighbors both Perkins School for the Blind as well as The Carroll Center for the Blind. Associates of the hotel feel it’s important that guests walk through the doors and settle into an environment where they will feel at ease, at home, and acquainted. Being able to provide them with tools and information about the surrounding area and hotel is a great amenity! We strive to provide as much as we can for all of our guests, and having guides and information about the hotel are essential to ensuring a seamless stay while away from the comforts of home.”

When visiting a hotel for the first time, blind and visually impaired guests need to get the lay of the land, figure out where they are going, and of course navigate to new places. Proofreader and frequent traveler, Chris Devin, always loves going to a hotel that accommodates him with braille materials. “If a chain has braille materials and we as blind people know they do, we are more likely to frequent that hotel.” It’s important for materials that are available in print to also be available in braille. “There’s a thought that all blind people can get their information from their iPhone. This is not always the case and that’s why braille is so important,” Chris advocates.

By having braille materials for your guests, you are showing them that their needs are important to you. You are giving them a chance to check out the best places to visit or eat, and information on how they can get around the new area.

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The Power of Great Expectations!

 National Braille Press is pleased to introduce Measuring Penny, the 6th book in our innovative “Great Expectations” children’s book program. The primary mission of this program is to bring picture books to life for blind kids through song, tactile play, engaged listening, word play, body movement, and picture descriptions. We do this by creating 9 accessible, fun, and free online activities to go with each book in the program. These free activities can be used at home or in the classroom to further explore the themes found in the book.

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In Measuring Penny, the main character Lisa is given a fun but challenging homework assignment—to measure something using both standard and nonstandard units. She decides to measure her dog, Penny, using everything from traditional wooden rulers and yard sticks to the decidedly nontraditional paper clips and cotton swabs! She learns a lot about herself, her dog, the art of measurement, and the things that you can’t put a number on, like love.

Enjoy the book and check out the free online resources we have created to go with it. Each online activity has a downloadable BRF file and a downloadable, accessible PDF file so you can take the activities with you and share them with others. And best of all, the activities were created especially with blind kids in mind. Here are the activities for Measuring Penny.

Make Doggie Biscuits

Make delicious treats for your dog using this fun recipe from Stir It Up! Recipes and Techniques for Young Blind Cooks.

Accessible Measuring Tools

Learn about all sorts of accessible tools made especially for budding blind scientists, and then make your own balance scale using items from around the house.

Same Versus Different

Use comparison to evaluate how things are the same and how they are different.

Tips from a Blind Scientist

Meet Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a Ph.D. computational organic chemist, and make your own ice cream using an experiment from Out-of-Sight Science Experiments.

Tactile Graphs

Have fun surveying your friends and family, and then turn your data into a tactile bar graph or tactile pie chart.

Animal Friends

Collect data on how much work it takes to care for different types of pets. Also learn about how pet dogs and guide dogs are different.

Jokes About Math

These are some real zingers to share with family and friends. Who would have thought math could be so funny?

Songs About Measurement

Sing some great songs about different units of measurement.

Picture Descriptions

Enjoy detailed descriptions of the illustrations in the book, all created especially for you!

 

Follow the Great Expectations program on Facebook!

26.2 Miles for Braille Literacy

When Ilana Meyer and Marissa Sullivan cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon this Patriots Day, they won’t just have completed the world’s greatest race. For the last four months, they have run hundreds of miles in snow, ice, and rain, because they care about blind children and adults having access to the printed word. They’ve raised thousands of dollars in support of braille literacy, and National Braille Press is honored to have their support and to be a part of the 2017 John Hancock Non-Profit Program.

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#BeBoston, 2017 Boston Marathon, John Hancock 

Twenty years ago, when I competed as a runner in the Boston Marathon, all I wondered about was myself. How many people were in front of me? Behind me? How did I do compared to other blind runners? What was my time up Heartbreak Hill? I loved, and still love, that aspect of running, which allows me to compete with others, the clock, and myself.

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Joe Q running during training

Runners like Ilana and Marissa have shown me that running is so much more. Through John Hancock’s charity program, the Boston Marathon makes an individual act—completing the race—into an effort for others. That collective power has truly impressive results—over the last 6 Boston Marathons, NBP’s runners have raised over $100,000!

This year, Ilana and Marissa have already raised more than $20,000 so that others can share their love of reading. Their journey over the 26.2 miles is a reminder of the power of selflessness and of pushing oneself to the limit. Their race is not only a physical challenge, but also an act of altruism which will put books into the hands of blind children and adults—making a difference in their education, literacy, and day-to-day lives.

Marathon Monday has a different meaning for me now than it did twenty years ago. I no longer watch for just the top finishers—I now go out on the course to cheer on our champions, who truly exemplify what it means to run for others.

By Joe Quintanilla, Vice President of Development and Major Gifts