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.

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!



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

LEGO for the Blind

It was the morning of my thirteenth birthday, and I was filled with the usual birthday excitement. I was most eager to see my friend Lilya. Lilya, a family friend, could adapt just about anything. It was her philosophy that I, as a blind person, should have equal access to everything that my sighted peers had. That morning she arrived toting a large cardboard box and a binder. The box was labeled, “LEGO Battle of Almut, 841 pieces.” The binder contained a set of brailled instructions. The gift caught me totally by surprise. I never thought that as a blind person, I’d be able to follow the instructions to build what’s depicted on the box without sighted assistance. But I was wrong.

My first introduction to LEGO came when I was 5. Lilya and I found a crate of LEGO on the sidewalk, and I’ve been a fan of it ever since. As I grew older, I saw more and more of my friends having fun with LEGO; they followed intricate instructions, and independently built X-wing starfighters from Star Wars and the Hogwarts Castle from Harry Potter. Meanwhile, I was left behind with my own imagination. I drooled over large LEGO sets on the Internet, never thinking that I’d be able to build them myself.

The instruction manuals had no words, and they were too complicated to be turned into raised-line drawings. Building a model required so many steps that I couldn’t copy them all. LEGO was the only thing that stubbornly resisted adaptation. Or so I thought. When Lilya gave me instructions for the Battle of Almut, I wondered, “Where did she find text-based instructions?” She didn’t find them—she created them!

Lilya brailled the instructions step by step, describing every blueprint, naming every kind of piece, and figuring out the most logical sequence for a blind person to follow. She also sorted the pieces for each step into Ziploc bags and labeled them in braille. Finally I was able to do something kids do all the time!

Later sets were easier for Lilya; she realized she could just type the instructions on the computer and e-mail them to me, and my computer took care of the rest. So there was no need to braille anything.

Having described over 20 LEGO sets, (available from http://www.legofortheblind.com) our jargon is clear and concise. Our instructions have grown shorter, and my fingers have grown more nimble. For me, the most rewarding sets to build are Modular Buildings, which are LEGO-PEOPLE-SCALE houses, shops, and fire stations. The buildings include tons of interior detail—couches, coffee makers, and working elevators, all built from LEGO.

As I build a set I develop a better sense of what a building looks like and how it is laid out. LEGO allows me to see things that are impossible to touch, such as the arches of a Middle Eastern palace or the towers of the Tower Bridge. For blind people, LEGO sets act as miniature 3D substitutes for real-life buildings in lieu of two-dimensional photographs. They’re also an excellent brain strain, improving spatial awareness and spatial reasoning—areas where blind people sometimes struggle. I would like every blind person to be able to download the instructions, buy a set, have a sighted person sort the pieces, and feel on par with a sighted builder. I would like every blind person to feel that the once impossible is now possible; that they can now build a miniature LEGO world.

To download accessible instructions for LEGO sets, please visit http://www.legofortheblind.com.

Also, check out the LEGO tips on NBP’s Great Expectations website:

http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/gep/iggy/iggy-lego.html

By Matthew Shifrin

Seven Summer Lessons

Catch Your Seven Summer Lessons Before You Forget Them All in the Fall

By Haben Girma

Before you start a whole new year of learning, take a moment to appreciate this summer’s lessons. During the summer did you feel joy, fear, sadness, or excitement? Ask yourself why you felt that way. Ask yourself what those summer experiences teach you about yourself. Carry those lessons with you into the fall to help you develop your strengths, address your challenges, and strive for your dreams.

Here is my own list of seven summer lessons to help get you started. Pausing to reflect on the lessons each new experience offered has benefited me tremendously throughout my journey. You, too, can catch your summer lessons to prepare you for the fall and beyond.

  1. My very first job felt so much fun because it involved both Harry Potter and braille! I worked as a reading tutor for a middle school student who needed help improving his braille reading skills. I prepared lessons that involved lots of Harry Potter, which he loved.

Lesson #1: Yes, you can earn money while having fun!

  1. I worked as a camp counselor for wonderful campers, at a beautiful camp site, with co-workers who constantly expressed the belief that blind people can’t be trusted. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it was direct. After trying and failing to change their negative attitudes, I eventually decided to leave. The good news is that this camp’s culture has changed since then.

Lesson #2: You choose the obstacles to overcome, and sometimes some obstacles aren’t worth your energy.

  1. After working as a tour guide in Alaska for just an hour, a manager pulled me aside. We’re so sorry, she said. While your application impressed us, hiring you was a mistake. The hiring process was supposed to favor Alaskan residents, and unfortunately we messed up, overlooked lots of qualified Alaskans, and hired you, a Californian. A Californian, oh no! Fixing this calamity meant letting me go.

Lesson #3: The weather in Alaska is not the only thing up there that feels really, really cold.

  1. One summer I served as an assistant for an elementary school, helping to organize field trips, board games, and other fun activities. I liked the kids and the kids liked me. Well, there was this one difficult seven-year-old boy. He approached me one day adamant that he could prove, once and for all, that he was smarter than me. He pulled out the all-powerful Connect Four set and challenged me to a match. That’s right, the classic board game Connect Four. Masking my amusement, I calmly won the first game. And the second. And the third. “Do you want to do something else now?” I asked.

“No! You just got lucky. I’m going to beat you this time.” He slammed the Connect Four slider and several dozen chips spilled out of their slots. He wanted a new round.

Some of you are thinking, “Just pretend to lose. Give the kid some slack!” But we want to teach kids to play fair, right? Equal treatment for all? Besides, losing would likely contribute to his conviction that I wasn’t worthy of his respect. I needed to work effectively with that student throughout the summer, and earning his respect happened to involve playing one of my favorite games. How often do you get to completely change a person’s perspective through playing a favorite game???

Exactly!

I proceeded to win twelve times.

Lesson #4: Play lots and lots of games when you’re a kid. Those skills come in very handy when you start adulthooding.

  1. During my second summer of college I worked as a receptionist at a small gym. My fantastic manager gave me a detailed tour of the gym and worked with me to develop systems for doing all of the main tasks. I would unlock the gym in the morning, make sure all the equipment was in the right place, and answer customers’ questions. One day a customer couldn’t start up one of the treadmills. Uh oh, I thought, I don’t know anything about fixing treadmills! Carefully exploring the treadmill with my hands, I found a hidden switch the customer had missed. She was impressed. Honestly, I was impressed, too.

Lesson #5: You can work in any field you want if you’re with people who value inclusion.

  1. Working as an editor for a novelist, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the author’s work and giving him feedback on his characters, plot, and other elements. We worked together just for a summer since my time diminished once the semester started.

Lesson #6: Writing with a team can be more fun than writing alone.

  1. After my first year of law school I interned at the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Dept. of Education. The team was absolutely wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed working there.

Lesson #7: Bringing in cupcakes every week to celebrate birthdays, half-birthdays, and unbirthdays helps build community.

Before this summer gets away from you take the time to think about a lesson you’ve learned. If you want to feel particularly prepared for the fall, challenge yourself to think of not just one but seven summer lessons. Share your insights on social media with the hashtag #SevenSummerLessons or email them to marketing@nbp.org.