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.

Happy 90th Birthday, National Braille Press!

Today we tip our hats to the founder of National Braille Press, Francis B. Ierardi, an Italian immigrant who, 90 years ago, on March 17, 1927, pressed 200 copies of the first braille newspaper in Boston, called The Weekly News. With all volunteer help, this early experiment became the first braille newspaper ever published in the Western Hemisphere; it quickly expanded across the United States and to other English-speaking countries.

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Francis Ierardi in the pressroom

As we celebrate this special day, we reflect proudly  on an amazing history that to this day impacts thousands of blind people around the world. Let’s start with a letter to Mr. Ierardi from Helen Keller on Feb 3, 1936, where she thanked him for two publications: The Weekly News and a woman’s magazine created by NBP called Our Special.

“… They mean more to us who are doubly handicapped than to others who only lack sight. Their enlivening pages restore to us as it were the aspects, colors and voices of the light-filled world. They bear us over sea and land wherever we will, and we are free. Gone is the crushing weight of immobility and tedium! Our spirits rise light and glad in the thought that we can still think, read, write and sometimes fill our hungry hands with useful work.”

Over the years we have received similar letters of congratulations from First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Laura Bush.

An amazing fact about NBP is that we have sustained many hardships over 90 years, surviving the Great Depression, major recessions, wars, and runaway inflation. Because we are not a direct service organization, such as a school for the blind or a rehabilitation center, we do not receive annual federal or state funds to support our work. It is with the help of our generous donors and loyal customers that we have been able to fulfill our original mission of producing materials for the blind, “promoting finger reading,” as described in our Articles of Incorporation, and supporting braille literacy.

We certainly have adapted since 1927. The Weekly News evolved into SCW (Syndicated Columnists Weekly), we created the Children’s Braille Book Club, and we invented the print/braille book that is modeled by organizations around the world today. Our Readbooks! program continues to help thousands of parents understand the importance of braille in their child’s future, and we embrace technology for the future of e-braille in the digital world.

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NBP building, c. 1950s

So, Happy 90th National Braille Press! What is next? Of course, we will continue to provide our braille materials for kids and adults as well as reach out to parents and teachers with our children’s literacy programs. However, we’re not done growing. We aim to contribute to the design and development of a quality braille and graphic tablet for the blind; to advocate for a braille interface in those driverless cars in which we will ride into the future; and to continually innovate in children’s braille programming.

Thank you for supporting our work and our commitment to braille. We will celebrate our 90th throughout the year, in Boston and across the country. Visit our website, nbp.org, for local events and updates. NBP is bringing the world to your fingertips every day.

The Sound of Accessibility: Braille Materials and Music Festivals

Every spring and summer, music festival fans travel the world to see their favorite bands perform, discover new rhythms, and enjoy the vibrant atmospheres of diverse venues. Each event has its own style: a bohemian layout, regional noshes and creative libations, and highly technical (or equally rustic) stage setups. When it comes to navigating through crowded and unfamiliar locations, blind music lovers need tools to orient themselves to the new space.

“I’ve been to concerts and sporting events. The more crowded and loud it is, the more overwhelming it gets. This is where a tactile map or directions in braille would come in handy to fall back on,” says Georgie Sydnor, NBP proofreader and country music lover. “With it being so loud, it’s hard to even find someone to help you navigate. Sometimes, I won’t go to an event when I know it lacks accessibility because it becomes too stressful.”

music-festival

Accessibility can be as simple as creating a list of concessions and where they can be found, or a tactile map of the venue marked with major stages, exits, and restrooms. These materials guide blind users and promote a general sense of the area.

Another NBP proofreader, Ashley Bernard, is an avid concert attendee with a recent penchant for electronica. She suggests a braille flyer handed out which gives landmarks to navigate to specific locations. “’For sections A-D, the nearest concession stand is near the main door.’ Short, simple, and descriptive enough to give someone like myself an idea of which direction to start off going,” Ashley says. “I’d most certainly choose a venue which offered accessible information over one that didn’t, regardless of price, time of day, or other variables. Accessibility doesn’t have to be high-tech, innovative, or intricate. The important thing is that it’s an option to some degree, when and if called upon.”

What resources do you use? What do you need? NBP is here to help. We love working with individuals and organizations to create braille projects for the best possible festival experience! Want to learn more? Email Nicole Noble at nnoble@nbp.org.

 

First Impressions: Why You Need Braille Business Cards

Recently, NBP worked with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston to produce braille labels for their business cards. We asked Executive Director of the Foundation Steven M. Rothstein some questions on why he got his cards done in braille.

NBP: Why do you think braille business cards are important?

Steven: “Accessibility and inclusion were important to President Kennedy, and I thought this would be a valuable statement about their importance today.

In addition, I have prior experience working with groups and individuals with different levels of abilities and challenges, including those with visual impairment. I want to be able to effectively communicate with those individuals.”

NBP: What motivated you to get these done?

Steven: “The unemployment and underemployment rate for people with low or no vision is very high in our society. This is a small step to raise awareness and encourage others to be inclusive in their workplace as well.”

Front and back of braille business card

NBP has worked with many organizations and companies to provide braille business cards, from College of the Holy Cross to The Iris Network.

Ordering braille business cards is a simple step toward accessibility for your business. Having your cards done shows people you care about their reading needs. It also creates a conversation. The cards are very appealing to someone when you are networking. By having braille on your cards, you are opening up a conversation. What do they say in braille? Why is accessibility important to your business?

NBP’s Director of Sales Nicole Noble has been using her braille business cards for 8 years to network and connect with a wide variety of people. Nicole says, “Having braille business cards has opened the door to many conversations with both sighted and visually impaired individuals. They have served as a platform to raise awareness and communicate proficiently to exchange information and resources.”

-Whitney Mooney, Sales Associate and Social Media Creative

Galas Are Fun: Even Online

I have only been to two galas in my life: a law and disability rights gala and the NBP gala. The first was in person and the second was online. Both were equally, gratifyingly cool; and in some ways, my online attendance to the NBP gala was extra special to me.

Last year, I was serving my first year as a board of trustee on the NBP board. I wanted to attend the annual gala and participate fully. However, life happens and I was unable to attend. I made an extra commitment to myself to ensure that I was at the 2016 gala. I will be attending and hoping for warm weather in Boston.

For those who cannot make it in person (because I understand that life happens), I hope you consider participating in the gala goodness virtually. It’s not too hard to do and I know the experience will be even better than last year.

Although I was deeply saddened not to be present in person at the 2015 gala, I was excited to be a virtual participant. I had mixed feelings about virtually attending an evening gala with guest speakers, awards, fundraising, and of course, the dinner portion of the night. How were they going to keep my attention while steak and wine were being consumed?

The answer to all of my questions was easily provided by the wonderfully detailed and inclusive staff at NBP.

ACB Radio covered the gala and broadcasted all of the live portions online. It was easy to connect to ACB Radio and listen. I loved listening to all of the fabulous speakers—and even when a video was shown, I felt like I came away with just as much info about the video as I would have if I were there. During the dinner portion, and other portions that don’t translate well online, ACB Radio aired pre-recorded interviews with NBP staff. I loved this. In fact, it made me feel quite special to have access to these recordings while others were wining and dining.

California is three hours behind Massachusetts and the gala began during the end of my work day. It was super convenient to be able to leave work and listen to the gala while commuting. I prepared my own feast at home while listening. (Don’t ask what I made because I truly don’t recall.) What I do know is that I made my own personal wine selection that night and raised my own glass to NBP and all of the wonderful things it does to put braille into the hands of blind people across our nation.

The one part of the entire gala that I felt excluded from was the auction and fundraising aspect of the gala. I was so caught up in the excitement and I really wanted to give in any way I could. I very much appreciate how responsive NBP staff are to feedback and to ensuring that the mission of NBP can happen because this year they have figured out a way for virtual guests to give as well! You can participate in NBP’s silent auction from your home, whether it’s on your computer or your cellphone, from October 17th through the night of the gala at 9:15 PM. You can register here!

 

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Photo: Audience looking toward the stage and listening to a speech at the 2014 Gala.

So don’t fret. Can’t buy a ticket to attend or afford the plane flight out? Grab your favorite internet-browsing device, get onto ACB Radio, and tune in to the gala on October 28. I’ll be there and I promise to make an appearance on the radio. But I warn you, I might ask you to donate to NBP because it is the cool thing to do. After all, who doesn’t want a little more braille in their life?

By Lisamaria Martinez