Introducing the Braille Caliper at NFB

I visited the NFB National Convention 2016 in Orlando representing Squirrel Devices and the Tactile Caliper at the National Braille Press booth. It was the first time I visited a full scale convention on Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation. I have been to smaller, regional conventions in the United States and India, however, the size and scale of this convention set it apart from my previous experiences.

As an inventor of the Tactile Caliper, my primary objective was to meet and interact with users of the caliper. I stood around NBP’s exhibit and saw visitors specially seeking NBP’s table to buy books, jewelry, and the caliper! I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to several students and parents who had used the caliper earlier, or were looking forward to using the ones they had just bought.

caliper

 

New users are always surprised to find a braille display on the caliper. Their faces light up with the joy of refreshable braille on a device this simple and affordable. More familiar users continue to praise the device for its quality, simplicity, and usefulness. Users have invented several new applications of the caliper beyond drawing and geometry. Some use it along a triple beam balance to accurately measure weights. Others use it to teach new pupils numbers and fractions. One thing we have realized at Squirrel Devices is that the caliper has helped students not only learn and practice geometry, but also to appreciate and access braille itself. It has helped students have fun while they perform better in all STEM subjects.

Inventing the caliper and bringing it into the hands of users has been an exhilarating experience for me, and the convention was a high point in this unique journey. At Squirrel Devices, we continue to influence the future of STEM education through our devices and instruments. I look forward to more conventions like NFB in the future. They are the best opportunities for inventors and users to meet and learn from each other.

By Pranay Jain

Chronicles from the Conventions

 

Three NBP staffers share their recent experiences at the NFB and ACB conventions:

Tony Grima, Vice President of Publications at NBP

This was my 16th national convention, and probably my 10th NFB National Convention! The first thing I noticed this year was how huge the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel and Convention Center was. At the end of the first day, the pedometer app on my phone reported that I walked over 10,000 steps just getting from my room to the exhibit hall and back. To get to the exhibit hall from the room elevators, you first had to navigate through the restaurants, café, and gift shop area—a narrow path through randomly placed tables and chairs packed with diners and shoppers and convention goers. After that, the path opened up to three vast halls, one after the other, with the exhibits at the very end. All along the way, NFBers were yelling out directions and room locations to help the visually impaired attendees get where they needed to be. This happens every year, but something about the gigantic, frantic halls made this year more chaotic than ever. I made a short recording one day as I left the exhibit hall. Listen to what it’s like to be walking those halls…

http://www.nbp.org/downloads/nfb-halls.mp3

Another high point: At the exhibit booth in Orlando, a young woman came by several times to buy books. Each time, she asked a lot of questions about the books we offered, and the books she wished we offered. She really put me through the ringer, in a good way; she appreciated and supported NBP, but she also had some thoughtful questions and suggestions. In short, a memorable customer.

When I got back to the office and was entering orders from the convention, I opened this young woman’s customer record and discovered that she had received one of our free ReadBooks book bags about 10 years ago! ReadBooks book bags are meant to get braille into blind kids’ homes as early as possible, and are free to blind kids from birth to age seven. The book bags are filled with braille books and tactiles for the kids, as well as information about braille and other resources for the parents. This young woman’s mother had ordered the book bag years ago, and now that blind kid is a smart and inquisitive young woman, buying braille cookbooks and jewelry and, as I said, putting me through the ringer. It was humbling, gratifying, and inspiring to realize that the ReadBooks program, which I’ve helped work on since it was created, had played some small part in this amazing young woman’s life.

Kesel Wilson, Editor and Programs Manager, NBP

The ACB Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota was my first convention and to say I learned a lot would be an understatement! One of the most fascinating things about learning of other peoples’ life experiences is that you learn so much about yourself at the same time. Probably one of my favorite experiences at the convention was meeting so many of our dedicated and loyal customers—people from all walks of life and all ages who have been supporting NBP for years, who eagerly await our new products, and who generously offer us ideas and feedback.

An incredibly fun and eye-opening experience was watching several adult customers exploring (and absolutely loving) our tactile graphic books, tactile coloring books, and tactile maze book. I’ll never forget when one person literally squealed with delight as she felt the Tyrannosaurus Rex tactile graphic in the Tactile Book of Dinosaurs. “What are these?” she asked when her fingers ran over the dinosaur arms? “The dinosaur’s arms,” I said. “WHAT???? They are so tiny! I had no idea that a dinosaur as huge as a T-Rex would have such puny arms!” she exclaimed.

Until that moment, I didn’t really have a deep understanding of the power of tactile graphics to convey information—information that I just take for granted. I’ve been seeing pictures of dinosaurs since I was a small child and never really gave much thought to what they look like. But for this woman, feeling the tactile graphic was a moment of pure discovery and it let her (and me) see the creature in entirely new ways. Thank you to all of the customers who came by our booth to talk, share thoughts, buy books, and have fun exploring our products. It was a pleasure to meet each one of you.

Whitney Mooney, Sales Administrator, NBP

The NFB Convention always comes right when I need a pick-me-up. Between the hustle and bustle of everyday work, the people of NFB have a way of bringing me back to the purpose of National Braille Press. Everyone stops by the table to tell us how much they love us and our books. They tell us so many beautiful stories about reading to their child or making dinner using our cook books. Every year it reminds me why I do what I do.

Abilities Expo: It’s About What You CAN Do

The Abilities Expo has exhibited in seven U.S. cities to bring information on products, services, technologies, and resources for people with disabilities. Their website states: “It’s about introducing opportunities that can enrich your life…especially ones that you never knew were out there.”

Joanne at Abilities Expo_

NBP Staff member, Joanne Sullivan, at Abilities Expo in Boston

NBP recently exhibited at the Abilities Expo in Boston, the first time that it took place in our backyard. It was a great mix of vendors, informative workshops, and fun activities like adaptive sports, dance, and assistive animal demonstrations.

Many visitors stopped by to learn about our work and to gather information for a teacher or a friend. The day I attended, I enjoyed talking to the braille readers, TVI’s, and parents who dropped by to say hello and check out our latest books.  I did notice that most of our visitors did not have a connection to braille or NBP, other than an interest in our work.

Over 4,000 people attended the Boston Abilities Expo, were you one of them? Have you heard of the Abilities Expo? We would love your thoughts as we plan for 2014.