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.

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.

 

NBP Staff Thanksgivings

A few of us here at National Braille Press wanted to share our favorite Thanksgiving traditions and memories. Tell us yours, too!

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On Black Friday, my family takes a ferry to Block Island, a small 3-mile wide island off the coast of Rhode Island, for the annual “Christmas Stroll.” Island shops welcome visitors with hot cider and chocolate, selling gifts and sundries, and the locals have constructed a huge “lobster pot Christmas tree.” We make sure to hit the beach (deserted this time of year) and finally stop in the local pub for a brew and late lunch before our cruise home.

—Jackie Sheridan

 

As a child of divorce, I have the benefit of two meals. I usually spend Thanksgiving Day with my dad, eating all of our favorite snacks and watching Criminal Minds. We eat a traditional turkey dinner with my favorite dish, sweet potatoes. At night, I go to my mom’s house for piles on piles of dessert. My mom’s house is filled with music, so we spend the night enjoying great tunes and a sugar coma!

—Whitney Mooney

 

My maternal side of the family are all from Canada, including me, so we typically recognize Canadian Thanksgiving in October and American Thanksgiving in November with nice meals, but don’t really celebrate them.

The only “tradition” I can think of is that we always put the pumpkin pie on top of the coffee pot because the first year we had our dog, Tucker, he jumped on the counter and poked his nose in the pie so there was a giant hole dug into it.

—Hannah Ransom Canning

 

My brother and I always watch the National Dog Show.

—Elizabeth Kent

 

My favorite Thanksgiving tradition—besides all the wonderful, homemade food and the joy of having the entire family together—is that before we ate, we would go around the table and everyone would share what they were thankful for that year.

—Kesel Wilson

 

Every Friday after Thanksgiving (before it became known as Black Friday), my family and I would go to the Worcester Gallery and then the Auburn Mall for holiday sales, decorations, and music. We always had the traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a fruit and nut tray.

—Elizabeth Bouvier

 

My dad likes to take everyone to the movies. We don’t have a very big family, so just getting to spend the day together is special.

—Josh Smaltz

 

We like to play Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, or Risk with the cousins out of earshot of the adults.

—Joel Spinale

 

We watch football and make turkey and mashed potatoes, a traditional Thanksgiving.

—Cham Cha

 

My family, like many others, has a Thanksgiving tradition of eating A LOT! Food plays such a central role in bringing us together for good company and conversation around the dining table. “Aunt Debbie, this stuffing is amazing!” “Uncle Lance, I’ve never had a pecan pie I liked before, but this is fabulous!” Writing this now, I can almost feel the cozy warmth of our kitchen and smell the delicious smells that greet me as I come in from the biting cold of a late November day in Wisconsin.

Because food is so important to our family’s Thanksgiving celebration, I was uneasy four years ago at my first holiday meal after adopting a plant-based diet. What would I be able to eat? Would my family make fun of me? Or worse, would they feel that my choice to forego the turkey and sausage stuffing was a condemnation of the traditions so important to them? It turned out I needn’t have worried. There were curious questions about why in the world I had chosen this path, but they just made for more lively conversation in which none of us felt judged or defensive. And the best part? So much of what makes up the traditional American Thanksgiving plate turns out to be plants! From mashed potatoes to rolls, sweet potatoes to green bean casserole, cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie, all have plants as their main ingredients and can easily be made without milk, eggs, or butter and are just as delicious. I left that holiday table just as stuffed as I’d ever been, and with the peace that comes with living in line with the values I hold dear.

—Wynter Pingel

 

Thanksgiving is always about the whole family gathering together. As children, we always were excited to eat in the formal dining room with old English china and cut crystal pitchers full of apple cider, and my responsibility was to clean the tarnish off of my grandmother’s fancy silverware, monogrammed with “M” for our last name. I marveled how the darkened candle holders, spoons, forks, and knives could get all shiny and new again just by using a magic cream and rubbing them with a cloth. Now that I look back, it was the perfect chore to keep me busy and out of the way. The rest was just heaven: the whole family eating together, passing around the turkey, cranberry sauce, homemade stuffing, and the pumpkin pie smothered in fresh whipped cream!

—Brian Mac Donald