26.2 Miles for Braille Literacy

When Ilana Meyer and Marissa Sullivan cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon this Patriots Day, they won’t just have completed the world’s greatest race. For the last four months, they have run hundreds of miles in snow, ice, and rain, because they care about blind children and adults having access to the printed word. They’ve raised thousands of dollars in support of braille literacy, and National Braille Press is honored to have their support and to be a part of the 2017 John Hancock Non-Profit Program.

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#BeBoston, 2017 Boston Marathon, John Hancock 

Twenty years ago, when I competed as a runner in the Boston Marathon, all I wondered about was myself. How many people were in front of me? Behind me? How did I do compared to other blind runners? What was my time up Heartbreak Hill? I loved, and still love, that aspect of running, which allows me to compete with others, the clock, and myself.

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Joe Q running during training

Runners like Ilana and Marissa have shown me that running is so much more. Through John Hancock’s charity program, the Boston Marathon makes an individual act—completing the race—into an effort for others. That collective power has truly impressive results—over the last 6 Boston Marathons, NBP’s runners have raised over $100,000!

This year, Ilana and Marissa have already raised more than $20,000 so that others can share their love of reading. Their journey over the 26.2 miles is a reminder of the power of selflessness and of pushing oneself to the limit. Their race is not only a physical challenge, but also an act of altruism which will put books into the hands of blind children and adults—making a difference in their education, literacy, and day-to-day lives.

Marathon Monday has a different meaning for me now than it did twenty years ago. I no longer watch for just the top finishers—I now go out on the course to cheer on our champions, who truly exemplify what it means to run for others.

By Joe Quintanilla, Vice President of Development and Major Gifts

Children’s Print/Braille Books: A Formula for Fun and Togetherness

Many years ago, National Braille Press began publishing children’s books in print/braille. We do this by finding the most interesting and engaging children’s picture books and attaching a transparent sheet of braille on top of each printed page. This innovative technique, now adopted by many publishers around the world, allows families to share stories together.

We hear all the time from our loyal customers how much they enjoy the potential togetherness that these unique books create: blind grandparents who read books to their sighted grandchildren; sighted parents who read books with their blind child; and siblings who get to sneak away and share books together.

As Walt Disney once said, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” Having access to the most creative children’s book writers of our time is a spark to literacy and fuel for the imagination of early braille readers. It’s why we created the Children’s Braille Book Club, a monthly subscription program that sends a new “treasure” each month to children all over the United States; and the Great Expectations program, which provides picture books in braille, along with free online activities for blind children to further explore the concepts in the book.

See what two authors recently had to say after their books were chosen for these programs:

In April of 2016, NBP produced Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty as part of the Great Expectations series.

“My books have been translated into many languages from Mandarin to Welsh to Hebrew to Russian, but by far my favorite edition is the Braille version of Iggy Peck, Architect. The National Braille Press has brought this book to an audience that might not have found it otherwise. Together with the accompanying Famous Landmarks book by Tactile Vision Graphics, Inc., this edition opens the world of architecture to kids who have their own ways of interpreting the world around them. One day, these books could lead a kid who identifies with Iggy Peck’s passion for architecture to become a great architect and change architecture forever!”

—Andrea Beaty

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Front Cover of Iggy Peck, Architect

 

In December of 2016, NBP produced Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein as part of the Children’s Braille Book Club.

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Front Cover of Interrupting Chicken

“I am always honored when someone takes the time to translate my work. Braille is a code that makes the work available to a whole new audience! How exciting.”

—David Ezra Stein

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 Touch of Genius Prize: Recognizing Braille Innovation

By Hannah Ransom Canning, Executive Assistant

When I first started in September 2016, I received a full breakdown of tasks that I would be fulfilling in my new position as Executive Assistant to the President. One of these tasks was taking on the role of the Program Administrator of the Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation. It seemed a little intimidating that I would be managing all of the coordination for submitters and calls and meetings for our Adjudication Committee.

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However, having now worked with the team to bring this competition to its fruition, I couldn’t imagine a more understanding and helpful group of people who are dedicated to fulfilling the meaning behind this prize. The Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize was developed to inspire innovators to support tactile literacy. After putting out a call for applications, we received 18 submissions from around the world that displayed their best efforts and ideas to continue supporting braille or other tactile literacy innovations. After careful deliberation, the Adjudication Committee decided our winner was John Hudelson, for his submission of BELLA. BELLA is the Braille Early Learning and Literacy Arcade, a programmable, educational software and hardware gaming platform using audio, visual, and tactile feedback to teach pre-braille skills, braille reading, and braille writing. By inserting a card with a barcode on it programmed for one of the four games or story option, you can interact with the device to use BELLA in a variety of teaching methods. The games KeyCrush, Whack-A-Dot. Cell Spotter, and Alphabet Cards are used to teach the chords of the braille alphabet, finger dexterity, and letter association between letters, braille cells, phenomes, and words by following prompts on the brailed barcode cards. The committee tested all of these features and were impressed by BELLA’s responsiveness and ability to program different cards for some of the games.

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The committee also selected Mandy Lau’s Reach and Match Learning Kit and Inclusive Learning Program for an honorable mention. This kit and its accompanying curriculum is designed for children with vision impairment as well as those with multiple needs to develop braille literacy and communication & social skills through tactile strategies and play-based activities. The kit contains mats that are differentiated in a variety of ways. On one side, they have a color: red, blue, green, or yellow, with a corresponding raised-line pattern. On the opposite side, there is a large brailled and large print block and an indented line to follow this “Braille Trail” to learn the braille alphabet. The Reach and Match Kit’s curriculum includes many programs to help preschool and kindergarten teachers.

From this competition, I have discovered how many creative individuals there are who are researching and developing new ideas. The submissions we received showed much promise and ingenuity, and the committee encouraged many of the submitters to improve their designs and consider submitting an application next year. Administering the Touch of Genius Prize gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet in the world of braille literacy, and I am looking forward to learning even more.

A Lifetime of NBP Braille: From Reader to Proofreader

By Carey Scouler, Proofreader

I’m sure that everyone can remember or relate to the joy of receiving an expected gift in the mail as a child; counting down the days until it would be delivered, checking the mail every day for weeks, then eagerly ripping it open when it finally came. From the ages of six to ten, that gift for me was the chance to visit new worlds and delve into the lives of all sorts of characters, while at the same time learning new letters and words. It was the gift of literacy, a gift for which I owe all of my thanks to National Braille Press.

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Proofreader Carey Scouler and her guide dog Hayden

Ever since I was very young, reading has always been a passion of mine, and that passion was fueled considerably when I began receiving books from the Children’s Braille Book Club. My mother and I would sit on our plushy couch side by side, and she would animatedly read the printed words in a book to me. She would then gingerly hand me the book, and my fingers would carefully touch each braille dot as I learned new letters and sounded out words. This was a fun activity for us both, and I continued to enjoy reading as I branched off and began exploring more advanced braille books. This love of reading and my eagerness to learn the braille code couldn’t have been achieved without the wonderful books I first received from National Braille Press.

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go

The lessons I learned from the books were not the only thing about National Braille Press which stayed with me forever—so did their address. One day, while sitting in the back of my parents’ car, lovingly clutching “Happy Birthday, Rotten Ralph” (a print/braille book which my grandmother had often read to me), I casually asked my parents where 88 St. Stephen Street was after carefully examining the book’s title page. They told me where it was and we discussed possibly visiting. For a while after that, I checked the address on the cover of every book I received from NBP, each time still longing to visit and learn about where the books I had grown to love had come from.

As I got older, my love of braille led me to make some wonderful friends. When I was in fourth grade, I began competing in the Braille Challenge, a competition which tests students from grades 1 to 12 in different aspects of braille literacy such as charts and graphs and reading comprehension. The winners in the regional level would then have a chance to compete nationally. Through many years of participating in this contest, I made many wonderful friends, most of whom I’m still in touch with to this day.

When it came time for me to graduate from college and start looking for a job, I knew I wanted to do something involving words. I had graduated with degrees in English and journalism, and immediately started looking for writing and editing jobs. During the networking process, I realized that NBP was hiring and looking for a proofreader. I was thrilled at the idea of being able to read things I hadn’t gotten the chance to, while at the same time looking for errors and essentially practicing my editing skills. I took part in two interviews, and was hired to work as a proofreader a few weeks later. Now I can say that I’ve not only visited 88 St. Stephen Street once, but that I have been given the opportunity to go there every day. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that each day, I get to be a part of helping kids and adults receive the same gift I was given—the gift of literacy.