The Anatomy of a Free ReadBooks! Bag

by Kesel Wilson, Editor and Programs Manager

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
―Frederick Douglass

How often do you come across something that is both free and of tremendous value? How often does everything you need to begin a challenging journey come in a single free bag? How often do you find resources created specifically for you by an organization with 90 years of experience? If you answered “Not often” to any of these questions, you probably aren’t aware of our ReadBooks! childrens’ braille literacy program.

Since we began this program in 2003, we have sent free bags of beginning braille materials to over 17,000 parents and teachers of the blind and visually impaired all across the United States and Canada. We believe passionately that literacy is the foundation of education, independence, self-expression, privacy, lifelong learning, and success in the workplace. Our ReadBooks! bags are designed to give caregivers and teachers the knowledge and resources needed to start children on a path of early braille literacy and they are 100% free. Let me take you on a quick tour of the bags and their contents:

We have 3 different bags, for 3 different age levels, and the bags come in both English and Spanish versions:

  • A red bag is for ages 0 to 3;
  • A blue bag is for ages 4 to 5;
  • And a green bag is for ages 6 to 7.
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Blue ReadBooks! bag with below contents inside

Every bag has:

  • A welcome letter from our president, Brian Mac Donald
  • An order form for a free book for called “Just Enough to Know Better.” This book will help you learn “just enough” braille to help your child learn it too.
  • A sign-up sheet for our Children’s Braille Book Club—a low cost subscription program featuring a new print/braille book every month.
  • A flyer about our Great Expectations program—a program that brings picture books to life for blind children with picture descriptions and free online activities.
  • Our most recent catalog, so you can be up to date on all of our newest braille books.
  • A braille alphabet card, so you can learn the braille symbol for each letter of the alphabet.
  • A Happy Birthday coupon, which can be redeemed for a free braille children’s book.
  • A caravan block, which is a fun, tactile block for practicing your braille alphabet.
  • A “Because Books Matter” pamphlet to help you understand why braille is so important to literacy and independence.
  • A “Because Pictures Matter” pamphlet which explains how and why to introduce your child to tactile graphics.

The other items in the bag vary according to the age level of the bag, but each bag has:

  • A print/braille picture book for practicing beginning reading with braille;
  • A tactile graphic for exploring non-textual information through touch;
  • And a tactile manipulative, such as a sensory ball or Wikki Stix—to experiment with tactile play.

I encourage you to take advantage of this free resource! You can order your bags directly from our website at https://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/readbooks/readbooks.html

When Pigs Fly? A Full Page Braille Display with Real-Time Tactile Graphics

One of these days a blind or low vision person will be able to read on their device a periodical like National Geographic or Newsweek, or even a textbook or standardized test, and not only will the information be translated into braille and displayed in full page format, but the device will also instantly produce tactile images or graphics. ‘When pigs fly’ some of you say—but the response shouldn’t be ‘it’s impossible,’ it should be, ‘when will it happen?’

Every year National Braille Press produces thousands of pages of braille for tests and textbooks including hard copy raised tactile graphics for students. Unfortunately, the ability to render tactile images in real time on a device has not yet come to fruition, at least not with the affordability or resolution that is really needed to be effective. However, that long search for the ‘Holy Braille’ is finally starting to show some exciting promise.

Amazing advances in technology are leveraging new, affordable approaches to raise a braille pin or to render an image in unconventional ways, and we at NBP have created the Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) to act as a global information broker and champion for just such breakthroughs in engineering design. We want blind students and adults in the workplace to have the same tools as their sighted peers, and to be able to compete and experience the ‘Internet of Things’ like everyone else, so we build the partnerships needed to keep us on the cutting edge.

Through the CBI we have built relationships and partnerships with the University of Michigan,  MIT, IBM, Google, Northeastern University, India, China, and others to find the right mix of components and features that can be leveraged to create a tablet for the blind—and that can be manufactured affordably. Economies of scale are a critical fact of life in the affordability of a product, and if it can be built into existing, mainstream products with a universal design, everyone wins.

Through a relationship with an Indian company founded by two MIT doctoral engineers, we launched the Tactile Caliper, a low cost, mechanical, refreshable braille ruler that allows accurate measurements to the 1/16th of an inch (a metric version is also in the pipeline).

caliper

Photo: Tactile Caliper measuring object

And in partnership with the innovative Deane Blazie, we launched the B2G earlier this year, our first refreshable braille consumer electronic product.

The B2G uses a conventional piezo-electric method to raise braille pins, but our design also allows for OEM options for any future successful methodology. We developed it for two reasons: First, we wanted to lower the price for consumers so that more people could afford this indispensable tool. Second, we wanted consumers to have control over customization; our B2G allows them to add or delete the apps they want and to change user features to suit their own, individual needs. For example, customers can use the Echolink app to turn the B2G into a ham radio station.

b2g

Photo: Green and Gray B2G’s

 

Last week an Anheuser Busch semi-tractor trailer delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer on a 120-mile journey without a human at the wheel. This robotic delivery of beer shipped through Denver to Colorado Springs and was called “uneventful.” The technology revolution is in full swing and unfortunately the blind and low vision world has not been top of mind for many designers. Yes, driverless cars and trucks will be an indirect and valuable benefit for BVIs and PWDs, but that wasn’t the motivation to create them. We believe that access to information, especially e-braille outputs, must be included in all products and we will never stop advocating for and championing new technologies that have the potential to serve the blind community.

So, one of these days you may be zipping down the road in a driverless car, and reading a story on your accessible braille tablet while feeling the raised tactile image of that pig flying after all.

By Brian Mac Donald, President, NBP