8 Years of GAAD and 35 Years of Technology Guides

Today is the 8th Annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)!  The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access and inclusion for the more than one billion people on the planet with different disabilities.

Being a publisher of assistive technology guides for blind and visually impaired users written by blind and visually impaired authors, GAAD is a big deal to us.  Providing access to information is at the heart of National Braille Press’ mission, and these guides are an important part of that mission.  It turns out, they have been for a while.

2 NBP Published technology guides each with an illustration of a 1980's personal computer.
From the NBP Archive: copies of “The Second Beginners Guide to Personal Computers for the Blind and Visual Impaired” and “Add-Ons, The Ultimate Guide to Peripherals for the Blind Computer User.”  

 In 1984, National Braille Press published The Beginners Guide to Personal Computers for the Blind and Visually Impaired.   Once available in print, braille and cassette, this guide, and the subsequent Second Beginners Guide (1987), takes the reader through the speech software programs available for IBM and Apple computers.

Flash forward 35 years. We’ve replaced the cassettes with eBraille formats, and are more committed than ever to publishing timely guides written by blind assistive technology experts for blind and visually impaired users.  With topics covering everything from IOS to the Google Suite and dating apps, our goal is to provide instructional and practical information that helps blind and visually impaired consumers become proficient users of some of the most popular technologies and devices that support our modern lives.

Click here to check out the available technology titles in our bookstore.

To learn more about GAAD and how you can join the conversation click this link.

Here’s the Team NBP Boston Marathon recap.

Erin Connors hugging NBP's VP of Development, Joe Quintanilla at mile 24 of the Boston Marathon.
Erin Connors making a quick stop at mile 24 to give NBP’s Joe Quintanilla a hug.

They trained. They ran. They conquered.

Another Boston Marathon is in the books, and we couldn’t be prouder of the two National Braille Press runners. Collectively these two athletes have raised over $27,000 for braille literacy. 

Boston resident, Erin Connors, signed up to run for team NBP back in 2013, and was stopped by the SWAT team with a half mile to go after the bombing.  On Monday, she came back to cross the finish line, despite waking up with the flu that morning.  Not only did she complete the marathon this year, she has set out to beat the current NBP Boston Marathon runner fundraising record of $18,600!

With Boston as the final race needed to complete each of the Worlds Marathon Majors, William Flynn finished with his best time yet.  William has run the Chicago, New York, Berlin, Tokyo and London Marathons.  With Boston checked off the list, he is one of handful of people in the world to complete all six.  Just as thrilling as that accomplishment is, this son of a braille transcriber is equally thrilled to have raised more than $10,000 so that more blind children have books to read!

William Flynn smiling for the camera at mile 24 during the 2019 Boston Marathon
William Flynn smiling for the camera at mile 24 during the Boston Marathon.

We are so grateful to these two individuals, who like us, believe that blind children and adults should have access to the printed word.

We’d also like to thank the John Hancock Non-Profit Program for providing National Braille Press with their bib numbers and our team sponsors, Bellwether Edge, Gainz Bakery Cafe and Two Little Owls Schoolhouse.

If you’d like to donate to team NBP, click this link:  http://bit.ly/2Xmm221

To return to the National Braille Press homepage click here

Announcing the 2019 Touch of Genius Prize Winners

There are two Touch of Genius Prize winners this year!

Canute – Bristol Braille Technologies – won $5000
The Canute is a 360 cell braille display, with 9 rows of 40 cells developed by Bristol Braille Technologies in the UK. The Canute will be the first affordable multi-line display on the market. Targeted toward education settings and libraries, and looking toward areas of math, science, coding and music, the Canute has endured many iterations and been a cooperative experience between braille readers across the world. This “kindle for the blind” is surely be an innovative game-changer and will only push forward braille literacy. 
http://www.bristolbraille.co.uk/

Braille Sheets – ObjectiveEd– won $5000
Braille Sheets is an interactive app to help children learn to read braille developed by ObjectiveEd. ObjectiveEd’s mission is to help children with visual impairments maximize educational results. The app makes it easy to enter programs/lessons for students, see lessons from other teachers, and pair with an actual braille sheet where the student is tactile-y learning letters and words as they are getting real-time audio feedback. A collection of lessons and games, Braille Sheets will be a great supplement for teachers and an easy, affordable way to help students learn braille and become literate. 
https://www.objectiveed.com/

NBP awarded the Touch of Genius prize to the winners at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference on Wednesday, March 17th.

Image on left: Brian MacDonald (NBP) with Marty Shutz of ObjectiveEd at TOG reception. Image on right: MacDonald with Ed Rogers of Bristol Braille at TOG reception.

The Touch of Genius Prize is made possible by the support of the Gibney Family Foundation! Thank you!

Learn More about touch of genius prize here
National Braille Press Logo (take me back to nbp.org)
Take me back to nbp.org!



Remembering an Exceptional Volunteer

A tireless competitor in all aspects of her life, Sue Ammeter was a crucial champion for the blind community. As a young child, she quickly learned to advocate for her right to read. Because of a lack of readily-available braille, Sue’s mother took it upon herself to transcribe school assignments and books for her daughter.

After graduating from the University of Washington, Sue embarked on a 30-year career in state government, fighting for the employment rights of people with disabilities. She was the first blind person to work for the Human Rights Commission of Washington State and was instrumental in crafting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring legal protections against discrimination for those with disabilities.

Photo of Sue and Ruth Ann Hansen wearing nametags and smiling at the camera

National Braille Press was honored to have Sue serve on our board for the last five years. With her leadership, we were able to raise money to produce books on living with breast and prostate cancer, as well as ensuring access to information on symptoms, treatments, and side effects for blind individuals. From serving on committees to attending our gala to hosting one of our best-attended Because Braille Matters luncheons, Sue always strove to help. She and John, her husband of 46 years, even joined our Braille for Life Alliance legacy program to ensure braille access for all.

Sue’s legacy of advocacy, volunteerism, and paving the path for others will stand well into our future and it is with great pleasure that we announce that we are naming our Individual Volunteer of the Year award the Sue Ammeter Volunteer of the Year Award .

Room view of Sue's memorial, it is full of people, every table is full as they celebrate her life

NBP staff was honored to attend Sue’s memorial and celebration the life in Washington State. Sue was an amazing person, friend, and Trustee of NBP. Her passing leaves a big hole that we all must fill to support braille literacy and the ADA.

Sue, thank you for making our mission stronger and our lives better.

Writing Braille by Hand

By, Judy Dixon

When Louis Braille first began pressing dots into paper for later reading, he did it by hand. His tools were primitive but effective; he used a slate and stylus. The top of his braille slate was a simple piece of sheet metal bent downward at the ends with small rectangular openings. The bottom of his slate was a flat stick of wood with horizontal grooves. The exact size and placement of these elements varied somewhat as Louis’s ideas for the best way to produce braille evolved over time.

Over the next hundred years, the tools for writing braille by hand became more sophisticated. The top and bottom of the slate were joined by a machined hinge, the back was often made with a distinct impression for each dot, and, in the latter part of this period, various plastics were used to reduce cost and weight, and increase resiliency.

Nine-line, wall-mountable slate for writing short memos--includes magnetic stylus, a roll of paper, and a hook for hanging messages
Nine-line, wall-mountable slate for writing short memos–includes magnetic stylus, a roll of paper, and a hook for hanging messages.

My first encounter with a braille slate and stylus was just before Christmas in first grade at the school for the blind in St. Augustine, Florida. Early on the afternoon before Christmas vacation, the teacher gave each of us a slate and stylus. Mine was blue. She showed us how to use it and we had a few minutes to practice.

I took my new treasure home with me when I left for Christmas. I proudly demonstrated my new skill to my two older brothers. They already knew how to read and write and I had been very concerned about how I was going to read and write like they did. To this day, I can remember my exhilaration, “Look, I can read too, and I can write too.” I don’t think it occurred to me that they couldn’t read what I wrote. I could, and that was what mattered.

Throughout my school years, I took notes with a slate. By high school, I had a few different ones but they didn’t vary much because there was nothing very unique available in the U.S. at the time.

Early on, I was aware of the slate’s limitations. When using a slate in school, I often wished for one that had a full page of cells, eliminating the necessity of repositioning the slate down the page after every four lines. I also imagined a slate that would let me write very small braille so I could fit more text on a page. And how about one that could write on both sides of the paper? I did not know that such slates existed.

a four-cell slate to slip over a page edge for marginal notes.
A four-cell slate to slip over a page edge for marginal notes.

Some time in the 1970s, a friend gave me a slate from England. It had braille cells about two-thirds the size of the ones I had been using. On a 4-by-6-inch index card, I could fit 11 lines of 26 cells, far more than ever before. Later, on a visit to Germany, I got a full-page slate, 25 lines of 28 cells. It was made of a heavy metal and weighed about a pound but it was gorgeous. When I had a couple of dozen slates, I realized I was a collector. I was primarily interested in slates that had some function other than the ordinary ones.

Currently, there are 278 unique slates from 38 different countries in my collection. Some are historic, dating back to the 1860’s but most were made in the mid to late 20th century.

The vast majority are slates created to produce six-dot braille, but the collection also contains slates for tactile codes other than braille, such as New York Point, Moon Type, and codes created by individuals that were never widely used. It also contains slates for a German shorthand code, a Spanish music code, and a Japanese code for writing kanji—all extensions of the braille code using eight dots.

Element for IBM Selectric typewriter that produced very small but readable embossed braille.
Element for IBM Selectric typewriter that produced very small but readable embossed braille.

The largest slate that I have was made in Austria and has 30 lines of 36 cells. The smallest, called a margin guide, was made in England and has only one line of four cells. It has no hinge and is designed to simply slip over the edge of a page like a paper clip. It is used to add a page number or make a note in the margin.

Full page metal slate from Austria.
Full page metal slate from Austria

Each slate in my collection is somewhat different from every other. There are many different sizes and as many shapes. They are made of aluminum, zinc, brass, steel and several kinds of plastic–most of which are in fairly subdued shades of gray and black, but one is a startling fluorescent orange. Instead of pins, some have magnets or spring-loaded clips to secure the paper, and in place of a hinge, some have stiff tape or heavy plastic to hold the two parts of the slate together.

In the United States, we encounter only two sizes of braille, standard and jumbo. However, the size of the braille cell in slates from other countries varies considerably. The Japanese slates typically produce braille that is somewhat smaller than the American standard, while many of the German slates produce braille that is slightly larger than ours. There are two slates from Japan that produce braille so small that it is actually difficult to read.

Three cherry wood styluses produced in Japan to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the braille standard in the country.
Three cherry wood styluses produced in Japan to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the braille standard in the country.

There are several rather creative designs which allow the braille to be read while the paper is still in the slate. E-Z Read slates, which have pins in the top instead of the bottom, were common in the United States. But several models of slates made in Italy use magnets to hold the paper. As with E-Z Read slates, the braille can be read by lifting the back of the slate without disturbing the position of the paper. Magnets have an advantage over pins–they leave no holes in the paper.

Among my favorites are the slates that have been designed for special purposes. The Japanese have produced a telephone message slate which consists of a roll of paper, a small plastic slate, and a magnetic stylus, all mounted on a foam-backed board. Chemical Bank of New York developed an extremely useful checkwriting template. It has braille cells for making notes on the stub and on the check itself, as well as the familiar template openings for completing a check with a pen. This slate was provided to any blind person opening an account with Chemical Bank and was sold to any other bank requesting it for their blind patrons.

aluminum check writing slate distributed by Chemical Bank of New York. Includes slots for filling out check with a pen and braille cells on the check stub and check itself for braille notations.
Aluminum check writing slate distributed by Chemical Bank of New York. Includes slots for filling out check with a pen and braille cells on the check stub and check itself for braille notations.

A few slates have their own associated stylus but there is a collection of several hundred styluses as well. Special ones include three cherry wood styluses made in Japan to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the braille code and an ivory stylus used by George Shearing, the blind jazz musician, that he used during his school days in the 1920s.

An ivory-handled stylus used by the blind jazz musician, George Shearing, at the school for the blind in England in the 1920s.
An ivory-handled stylus used by the blind jazz musician, George Shearing, at the school for the blind in England in the 1920s.

The collection is contained in two wooden cabinets that were specially made for it. Each one has 36 drawers, with pocket, board and notebook slates in Cabinet A and non-braille, upward-writing, special, and full-page slates in Cabinet B. It also has its own web site, www.brailleslates.org.

Drawer in Judy's braille slate cabinet

Although slate use has waned considerably in the developed world, writing braille with a slate and stylus is still widespread in developing countries.

The advantages of a braille slate are numerous. Slates are relatively inexpensive, very portable, quiet to use, require no batteries, and need little, if any, repair.

But writing with a braille slate can be very confining. Unlike using a pen or pencil, it is not possible to vary the size of the letters, to write between the lines, or to scribble in the margins as those who write print so often do. Maybe this will happen one day and maybe, ironically, it will be technology that does it!

Judy Dixon is the Consumer Relations Officer for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. She has an extensive collection of both slates and braille notetakers. Judy writes many original technology books for NBP and serves as a judge for our Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation. All photos were taken by Judy.