Forty is the New Braille

Why run for forty consecutive days when you really haven’t run that much in over a year? This was my way of challenging myself as my 40th birthday approached. Some runners would run the number of miles in one day that corresponded to their age; well, that was out! I needed a catalyst to help improve my fitness but I also wanted to be realistic. Joe Quintanilla runs with sighted guide, Kara Peters

I decided on running for forty days for at least a mile per day to bring awareness to the work at National Braille Press while combining my two passions –running and braille literacy.

I really had not run much since last fall when I suffered an ankle injury. I knew that putting my body through 40 days of running was going to be hard, but equally as tough would be coordinating with enough sighted guide runners. When you are blind, you can’t go out your front door and put in a mile or two. You are limited by the schedules of your volunteer guides. Treadmill running isn’t really a favorite of mine. I find it exacerbates other injuries so I wanted to keep that to a minimum. So my quest became twofold; run every day for forty days and coordinate enough sighted runners to help me achieve this goal.

My family isn’t really a running family, but they have all been supportive of my passion over the years. With this latest challenge, they were more than supportive, they were my MVP’s. The first day of my run was on April 30th, my late father’s birthday. I was in Charlotte for my niece’s first communion, staying in a hotel in an unfamiliar city, without access to my usual running guides. With encouragement from my fiancée, Gina, I got on the treadmill at the hotel. My sister in-law and nephew came over and got the treadmill started for me to set the pace and time. (Most exercise equipment is digital and not accessible to me). My forty-day running quest to raise money for braille literacy had begun!

A week later, I goaded my oldest sister, who is not a runner, into running a mile with me. It was tough for her but she did it. She also told me, “don’t call me next week and don’t try to guilt me into running again.” Well, what does a brother do when he needs help? He calls his sister for another run on Day 25. My guide for that day had gotten a flat tire on her way to our run. I called my sister, and told her I needed her help to keep the streak alive. She put me off for a few hours but I persisted. I didn’t want the streak to end and had been feeling good throughout the three plus weeks I had been running. It wasn’t looking good until later that night when she called to say, “Let’s go!”

As the weeks progressed, my pace got faster; knocking 2 minutes off of my 5k pace. Sure, I had begun to have some ankle and foot pain but I could hang on to finish what I had set out to do –if my guides came through. Days 34 and 35 I had other guide issues; one got injured, and I missed meeting another because traffic held me up. Thanks Boston traffic! Did I dare call my sister again? Well, once again she came through, running back-to-back days and faster than she had previously. Wow!

I have two days left and I am certain I will get to the finish line. Why? Because I believe in braille literacy and the commitment I made to raise funds so that blind children and adults have the braille materials they need. I also have a pretty great sister and many friends and supporters who have helped push me through the pain and fatigue. I would not have been able to do this without the support of these guides who made time out of their busy schedules, battled their own injuries and fatigue, and came through for me when I really needed it.

Photo of runners at sunset

For many, running is a solitary thing. For me, it’s always been a team effort. Whether it is on the roads or in a race, you push each other. I was able to assemble a team that will get me to the finish line and for that I am extremely grateful. I hope you will join NBP’s team and donate to my efforts so together we can ensure blind children and adults make it to their finish line!

Joseph Quintanilla is the VP of Development at National Braille Press and a former paralympian runner competing in the Paralympic games in 1996. He has run 8 marathons, including Boston.

Special thanks to Joe’s guide runners: Judy Krimski, Roger Pelissier, Norman Lang, Cliff Watkin, Christine Booth, Christina Haddad, Mark Sadecki, Tom Richissin, Bill Attwood, Michelle Becker, Anne Swain, Lisa Andrews, Rich Gilreath, Erin Connors, Kara Peters and Luisa Quintanilla.

Feeling the Power of Braille Literacy

In the last few months with the support of Trustee, Chris Babcock, NBP has hosted two luncheons in areas in which we have a large concentration of braille readers and supporters. Both in Pittsburgh and Boston, we have been elated with the responses to our gatherings as well as the enthusiasm for our work and braille literacy.

As the person who has been organizing these luncheons, I am inspired by the first-hand accounts about the impact of our work. NOAH 006A 57 year old woman shared that she bought our Noah’s Ark book with tactile graphics, “Even though that book was for kids, it was great for me because I finally was able to fully understand the story. The tactiles gave me additional understanding of what it was like to have all of those animals on the ark.”

A young man spoke about how he was reluctant to learn braille when he was a kid. However, as he rode the bus every morning and afternoon to school, he noticed that everyone around him was reading. He began to feel left out and his desire to read like everyone else motivated him to learn braille. Soon enough he was reading his first braille book, The Mediterranean Caper, on the bus alongside his fellow commuters.

Our goal with these luncheons is to update our braille readers and supporters on our new publications, projects, and our work. More importantly, this is our opportunity to get their feedback on the future of braille and what role NBP can play in strengthening braille literacy. To hear from our attendees that they want to be “a foot soldier for braille and NBP,” and “You keep doing your great work, now, it is our turn to figure out how we can help,” is inspiring and empowering.

We are looking to host gatherings like this in a few cities across the country: Seattle in April, Washington D.C. in May, and possibly Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, New York and Philadelphia later on in the year. Who knows, maybe NBP will be coming to a city near you. But don’t wait for a luncheon invitation to share your story about braille and what you need from NBP. We welcome your thoughts!

If you would like to share your thoughts, learn more about NBP, or talk with me about organizing a luncheon in your city, please contact me at


Next Stop, Fenway Park! Using Braille to Travel Independently

As I accepted the National Disability Awareness Recognition Award, which NBP received from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), I couldn’t help but think back to thirty years earlier when the MBTA, better known as the “T,” came into my life because of braille. As a little boy, I had no interest in anything that was related to blindness, particularly the cane and braille.

However, my mobility instructor, Paul McDade, was undeterred in getting me to learn how to use the cane and travel on the T independently. One day, he presented two very interesting things. "Go Sox!" spelled out in print and braille letters on large window at NBPFirst, he suggested that I learn how to get to Fenway Park, something every young Red Sox fan should know. How else can a Red Sox fan cheer on his favorite players?

Second, he gave me an MBTA tactile map in braille. He presented it as the tool I would need to map out my route, but it was much more than that. Playing with the map and tracing each T Line gave me an understanding of the different routes.  Feeling the contours of the lines and knowing which stop was which, not only helped me figure out how to get to Fenway, but it also got me interested in riding the T. I had every stop on the MBTA memorized in no time at all from studying the braille subway map.

At 7 1/2, I was getting to Fenway Park by myself. I used my cane, got on the Red Line in Central Square, rode to Park Street, and then boarded the Green Line for Kenmore Square. The braille map promised adventure. There were other places I wanted to go, so I began to look forward to mobility class and riding the T!

It’s funny how sometimes life is circular. Thirty years after my exploration of the tactile and braille map, I was celebrating NBP’s partnership with the MBTA to continue to make information accessible for blind and visually impaired travelers. We will be working on other tactile map projects in the next few months and I can’t wait to get one in my hands and hit the road!

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!

The Internship – this tale is not a comedy

When I was a junior at Boston College (BC), I had applied and been accepted at a Top 40 radio station for an internship.  I had hosted a radio show at BC for 2 years by this point and had done well in my production classes.  At my internship interview, the people from the radio station met me and realized that I was blind.  They didn’t know what I could do or how I could do it and they didn’t seem willing to take my suggestions.  After that initial meeting, they said they would call me back.  They never did.  Surprised?

The following semester, a professor mentioned that Jack Clancy, of Burclan Productions, would at times take interns from BC for his video and audio production company.  I called Jack, we scheduled an interview, and reeling from not hearing back from that radio station, I said to Jack, “I also want to let you know that I am blind.  Is that a problem?”  Jack answered me with a quick, “No, I don’t see why it would be.”

I learned a lot in those weeks at Burclan Productions and I went on to take video production courses at BC.  Yes, you read that correctly – video production courses.  And I got A’s.  Ok, I didn’t run the camera, but I did put together some compelling story lines for the videos.  After I graduated, I began to work in the non-profit field.  Those non-profits often needed videos to tell their stories, and I called on my friend Jack to help out with these productions.  He did so, with my input on how the story should be told.  He loved my storytelling ideas, my interview style, and how I imagined the opening sequences for each video.  Together, we created some impressive videos for some deserving non-profits.

I believe the reason Jack didn’t need convincing those many years ago when I applied to be his intern is because he really believes in blind people.  He believes that blind people can do any kind of work and excel at it. This includes professional fields that are often thought of as “visual.”  Jack and I have taught each other many lessons since I first interned for him 16 years ago.  One of those lessons was that to tell a story, the most important thing is to have a vision, not the use of your vision.