The Impact of #GivingTuesday

If you’re like me, any time one of your friends or aunts uses a hashtag in a Facebook or Twitter post, you might scratch your head in bewilderment. How does a pound sign before a catch phrase or acronym benefit anybody?

Well, there is one hashtag in particular that’s used once a year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, that makes a direct impact in communities around the country—#GivingTuesday.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving on November 29th, fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. It’s a day for supporters of organizations to spread awareness and raise money for good causes.

And it’s not just the cool thing to do that day that will get you loads of likes and boost your dopamine levels; it actually does create impactful and longstanding change!

Skeptical? In 2014, National Braille Press supporters kick-started fundraising for the Great Expectations: Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids program. It was through your posts and your donations, many just $10 or $25, on #GivingTuesday that we raised over $11,000 for this program!

ge-books

The five books in the Great Expectations series so far

NBP’s #GivingTuesday movement produced the second selection for Great Expectations, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Dewalt. It’s a tale about a cohort of disgruntled crayons who want more from life. The green crayon is fed up with being associated with trees, while the gray crayon has grown disillusioned with shading illustrations of hippopotamuses.

The book was accompanied by a print/braille coloring kit and tactile coloring pages for blind and visually impaired kids to encourage creativity and learning about color. The Great Expectations website also offered a whole host of fun and educational activities to talk about the context and significance of color in correlation with the book. This was made possible by YOU!

#GivingTuesday participants spoke to NBP staff about how excited they were to help this program take flight, and how the mission of Great Expectations inspired them to contribute even a small amount. They spread the word by sharing how National Braille Press has benefited and inspired them with the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

NBP continued to build on your enthusiasm and support and the success of that selection with the publication of more books in our Great Expectations series: Amazing Grace; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes. This is the power of #GivingTuesday: 1,492 Great Expectations books distributed to families across the country. That’s 1,492 holistic and fun educational experiences for blind children to learn about color, architecture, acting and improvisation, and so much more.

It’s easy to become disillusioned by the chaos of social media—there can be too much information to consume and far too many Netflix cliffhangers to rant about. However, social media offers a platform for many voices to create change in our own small way—building a steady flow of social consciousness, one newsfeed at a time. So why not make it about NBP?

On Tuesday, November 29th, take the leap and post using #GivingTuesday to talk about what braille literacy means to you and your community, and make a contribution of $5, $25, or even $100.

This year, we’re advocating for our imperative Readbooks! Because Braille Matters program, a FREE program that supports families of blind children in the beginning of their braille education.

Let’s be inspired by our success in 2014 and realize that we can be game changers for braille literacy… all with a pound sign. Don’t miss out!

 

—Elizabeth Kent, Events and Volunteers Manager

Introducing the Braille Caliper at NFB

I visited the NFB National Convention 2016 in Orlando representing Squirrel Devices and the Tactile Caliper at the National Braille Press booth. It was the first time I visited a full scale convention on Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation. I have been to smaller, regional conventions in the United States and India, however, the size and scale of this convention set it apart from my previous experiences.

As an inventor of the Tactile Caliper, my primary objective was to meet and interact with users of the caliper. I stood around NBP’s exhibit and saw visitors specially seeking NBP’s table to buy books, jewelry, and the caliper! I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to several students and parents who had used the caliper earlier, or were looking forward to using the ones they had just bought.

caliper

 

New users are always surprised to find a braille display on the caliper. Their faces light up with the joy of refreshable braille on a device this simple and affordable. More familiar users continue to praise the device for its quality, simplicity, and usefulness. Users have invented several new applications of the caliper beyond drawing and geometry. Some use it along a triple beam balance to accurately measure weights. Others use it to teach new pupils numbers and fractions. One thing we have realized at Squirrel Devices is that the caliper has helped students not only learn and practice geometry, but also to appreciate and access braille itself. It has helped students have fun while they perform better in all STEM subjects.

Inventing the caliper and bringing it into the hands of users has been an exhilarating experience for me, and the convention was a high point in this unique journey. At Squirrel Devices, we continue to influence the future of STEM education through our devices and instruments. I look forward to more conventions like NFB in the future. They are the best opportunities for inventors and users to meet and learn from each other.

By Pranay Jain

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.

 

 

 

What Does a Spicy Pepper Have to Do With Social Change?

By Bill Raeder and Jeanne Flannery

Kanthari is the name of a small pepper kanthari peppernative to southern India. It is hot and spicy, variable in its color and qualities as it ripens, and has nutritional and health benefits.  Kanthari is also an institute for social change in the southern Indian state of Kerala.  Its formal name is the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs, but it is called Kanthari because it too is hot and spicy in its pursuit of the betterment of the human condition.

Social visionaries from around the world come there as “Participants,” each with their seedling of an idea for a grassroots project to reverse a social injustice inflicted upon some marginalized group. Staff and volunteers with relevant experience work as “Catalysts” to help Participants formulate their “big kanthari 1dreams” into concrete plans for well structured projects. Catalysts also provide them with tools for such functions as financial control, project management, and fundraising. Most of the Participants are from Africa and Asia and many of them have experienced in their own lives a “pinch point” where they have experienced and overcome adversity.

Take Samuel, for example, from Uganda, who was kidnapped and pressed into service as a child soldier. He was commanded to kill a woman who was disabled. Knowing he would be going before the firing squad, he refused. Because the commander of the firing squad happened to know his father, Samuel managed to get away and escape.  After his son became deaf from Malaria, he directly experienced discrimination against the disabled, and inspired by that disabled woman, he was moved to start an organization in service to disabled people in his country.

Yamin from Myanmar is blind. Her project is to enable other blind women in her country to become economically self-sufficient by teaching them how to bake and how to launch their own bakeries.

Odion from Nigeria suffered the death of her sister in childbirth and now plans to greatly reduce such needless deaths in her country by providing health and maternity education to child-bearing aged women.

Nagendra from rural Nepal saw as a youth the ineffectiveness of the monarchy in improving social conditions such as education, medical care, and basic infrastructure.  As a young man he was jailed when fighting for what became the successful overthrow of the monarchy. Now, 20 years later, he sees that waste and corruption, mismanagement, and incompetence have prevented the Republic from doing much better. He is starting a volunteer organization in his village to work shoulder-to-shoulder with elected officials and town administrators to identify and plan improvement projects and to provide training in project management, resource allocation, and sustainable leadership. His dream is to thus make his village a model of progressive good management of public resources.

Others are addressing prejudices against certain subgroups of society like widows who are shunned by the community and even unjustly blamed for their husband’s death; teenage girls who become pregnant and are expelled from school as bad examples and are shunned by the community, even by their families; individuals with albinism who dread going out because they are so denigrated, even raped because of the superstition that sex with an albino will cure AIDS.

These are some of the 19 Participants that Jeanne and I worked with in our five-week stay there. We were volunteer Catalysts helping the Participants develop and present their “Dream Speeches” to be given as their last assignment before graduation. The requirement of presenting their project in a succinct, well-structured, and well rehearsed speech was for many of them also an exercise in refining and clarifying their project plans. Also, none of them learned English as their first language so they invited assistance with vocabulary and rhetoric. The Participants were happy, committed, and spirited as was the whole campus, so for us, working with them was an enriching and joyful experience.

braille without bordersThe two founders, Sabriye Tenberken from Germany and Paul Kronenberg from Holland are themselves wonderful models of social enterprise. They previously founded Braille without Borders, a school for blind children in Tibet, and The Farm, also in Tibet, a vocational training and skills development Center for the blind with its environmentally and financially sustainable agriculture and economically sound production of ancillary products like cheese and bread. Less than a decade ago, having delegated the daily management of the school and the farm to their graduates, they set forth to multiply their effect by founding Kanthari to stimulate, train, and support others to develop like projects.

They have taken a raw piece of jungle on a lake shore in the outskirts of the city of Trivandrum and created an attractive and kantharifunctional award-winning eco-friendly campus. In addition to an auditorium, various assembly rooms, a dormitory, an office building, and a kitchen from which three meals a day are served year-round, there is an outdoor amphitheater where 7:00am lectures are often conducted. Notably there are numerous places indoors and out where small groups of people may be spontaneously attracted to confer.

The class of 2014 graduated on December 19th with Participants acquiring their new appellation, Kantharis. They’ve gone home now to commence “Act V,” setting up their projects while still under the active mentorship of Catalysts back on campus.

Applicants for the class of 2015 starting in May are now being recruited with an online application deadline of February 15th. Special attention is being given to attract blind applicants.

Successful applicants who become participants receive a full scholarship including room, board, and laundry facilities, but they must meet these requirements: pay for their own transportation and visa, provide their own pocket-money, be 22 years of age or older, have sufficient proficiency in English for the conduct of all activities, have basic computer proficiency, and the big one – they must have a big dream.

Learn more about graduate Kantharis and their projects.

For the story of how a blind woman from Germany ended up as the cofounder of a school for blind children in Tibet and as the creator of the braille code for the Tibetan language read the fascinating book, My Path Leads to Tibet by Sabriye Tenberken.