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!