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.

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.

The Sound of Accessibility: Braille Materials and Music Festivals

Every spring and summer, music festival fans travel the world to see their favorite bands perform, discover new rhythms, and enjoy the vibrant atmospheres of diverse venues. Each event has its own style: a bohemian layout, regional noshes and creative libations, and highly technical (or equally rustic) stage setups. When it comes to navigating through crowded and unfamiliar locations, blind music lovers need tools to orient themselves to the new space.

“I’ve been to concerts and sporting events. The more crowded and loud it is, the more overwhelming it gets. This is where a tactile map or directions in braille would come in handy to fall back on,” says Georgie Sydnor, NBP proofreader and country music lover. “With it being so loud, it’s hard to even find someone to help you navigate. Sometimes, I won’t go to an event when I know it lacks accessibility because it becomes too stressful.”

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Accessibility can be as simple as creating a list of concessions and where they can be found, or a tactile map of the venue marked with major stages, exits, and restrooms. These materials guide blind users and promote a general sense of the area.

Another NBP proofreader, Ashley Bernard, is an avid concert attendee with a recent penchant for electronica. She suggests a braille flyer handed out which gives landmarks to navigate to specific locations. “’For sections A-D, the nearest concession stand is near the main door.’ Short, simple, and descriptive enough to give someone like myself an idea of which direction to start off going,” Ashley says. “I’d most certainly choose a venue which offered accessible information over one that didn’t, regardless of price, time of day, or other variables. Accessibility doesn’t have to be high-tech, innovative, or intricate. The important thing is that it’s an option to some degree, when and if called upon.”

What resources do you use? What do you need? NBP is here to help. We love working with individuals and organizations to create braille projects for the best possible festival experience! Want to learn more? Email Nicole Noble at nnoble@nbp.org.

 

Six Dots: NBP’s plans for the New Year

Each year at NBP, we look forward to celebrating two very important days: New Year’s Day, which is all about setting goals for the upcoming year; and Louis Braille’s birthday (January 4th), which inspires us to be as bold and ambitious in our goals as he was in his life.

Louis Braille’s intellectual curiosity and determination drove him to create the braille code, which has brought literacy and independence to countless blind children and adults. Share his amazing life story with Jen Bryant’s new picture book, Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, now available in print/braille.

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Inspired by his example, we at NBP will never stop advocating relentlessly for braille and braille literacy.

We will continue to grow our innovative Great Expectations program, which brings picture books to life for blind children through song, tactile play, engaged listening, and body movement. We will continue to serve families and teachers of the blind and visually impaired with our ReadBooks! program, which provides free bags of beginning braille materials to early braille learners to engage them early towards a path of braille literacy. We will continue to offer the fun Children’s Braille Book Club, which puts popular children’s books into the hands of children on a monthly basis. And, most importantly, we will continue to develop new, creative, and original children’s programs to meet the needs of all our young readers.

In addition to growing our children’s programs, here is what we have in the works for the new year:

  • We pledge to advocate for every blind and visually impaired child, veteran, and adult to have the tools and opportunities to learn braille.  We will continue to provide braille materials in every format that is needed to support braille literacy, including developing e-braille solutions at the lowest price possible.
  • We will strive to continue to expand our outreach and education with braille courses, offering training in Unified English Braille in the spring and specialty workshops on tactile graphics, formats, and technical materials in the months that follow.
  • Just as you’ve always been able to rely on NBP’s Publications department for excellent books on Apple/iOS products, our goal for the new year is to provide equally exciting books on Android-based apps and devices. In 2016 we published Getting Started with Android and plan to add even more books to serve the wide-ranging technology interests of our community.
  • In 2017, we also want to focus on getting more face-to-face time with our customers, by attending more exhibits and conventions around the country. We get so many ideas and so much good, constructive feedback when our customers have the opportunity to browse our books and products in person!
  • Attending more conferences nationwide will also give us the opportunity to network with additional businesses, educating them on the importance of providing braille materials.
  • Finally, we will strive to connect more with our customers and supporters by hosting more Because Braille Matters luncheons across the country, bringing the A Million Laughs for Literacy Gala to more people, developing activities and events that showcase our mission, and increasing the number of Literacy Champions who donate to us each month.

Updated 1/24/17

MVPs of NBP: Spotlight on our Volunteers

 

Eagle Investments volunteers collating Frozen

Eagle Investments volunteers collating Frozen

The end of the year is a great time to celebrate and honor the communities to which we belong. Whether by giving gifts to loved ones, donating canned goods, or baking cookies for a social gathering, now is a perfect moment to think about how you can give back.

National Braille Press is fortunate to have a group of people– 325 to be exact–who give back all year round: our volunteers.

The gifts of volunteers’ time, enthusiasm, and hard work keep National Braille Press’s mission alive and well.

Volunteers put together each month’s Children’s Braille Book Club selection.

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One Boston Day volunteers with Froggy Gets Dressed

They assist at events like the A Million Laughs for Literacy Gala, ushering guests and collecting auction bids.

Volunteers man the front desk, serving as the first point of contact to callers and visitors to NBP.

Volunteers stuff envelopes for mailings, recruit Literacy Champions, paint the side of our building, and so much more!

A few hours of time dedicated to NBP add up and help us continue our mission. Our volunteers have put together over one million pages of print/braille books and contributed over 2,500 hours of service!

Volunteers also raised tens of thousands of dollars for NBP through running the Boston Marathon and the Blindfold Challenge.

Their dedication is vital to keeping braille materials affordable for blind children and adults.

Volunteering at NBP is a lot of fun as well! It’s a great way to bond with colleagues outside the office. You can make new friends with folks who also value accessibility during projects. And some volunteers have even turned collating braille books into an unconventional date!

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Tufts Health Plan volunteers with Interrupting Chicken

Nonprofits around Boston rely on volunteers for tasks ranging from mentoring to serving meals. NBP is no different—and our volunteers get the chance to say that they personally helped put together 300 or 400 books for blind children. Volunteering with us could be a great conversation starter at your next social gathering, and an opportunity to share the importance of braille with someone else.

Consider joining our volunteer team of over 325 strong by emailing volunteer@nbp.org.

And to our current volunteers, thank you for being a part of the NBP community. Thank you for your investment in braille literacy and commitment to the projects. Your time and contribution makes a big difference.

We look forward to seeing you again in 2017!