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.

sixdots

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

Why I Love UEB: As a Braille Producer and Reader

By Steve Booth

For several decades, the discussion about changing the braille code to Unified English Braille (UEB) has sparked passionate feelings. This code, named for its inventor Louis Braille, has been around for over 200 years and has served the blindness community well. January 2016 is the date that the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) has determined, after much consideration, to be the adoption date of UEB in the United States and feelings continue to be mixed. Anticipation, trepidation, and many, many questions still surround UEB.

Recently, NBP Publisher, Diane Croft, spoke with Steve Booth, a former NBP employee and current Braille Specialist at the National Federation of the Blind. When he proclaimed to “love UEB” we knew we needed him to post his thoughts on our blog.

Here is Steve’s take on UEB:

I admit I had my doubts about changing even one dot of a code that has worked so well since 1824.Steve Booth standing next to copy machine at his office

Today I’m ready to concede that those who took a leadership role back in 1991 toward what is now the Unified English Braille Code (UEB) were true visionaries.

They started with the premise that any system can be improved. It’s hubris to think otherwise. They then dove into the mechanics of what exactly should be improved and what could be left alone. They did this with several audiences in mind: the braille reader, the producer, the transcriber, and the braille teacher.

They were also looking at a code that, although it worked remarkably well with computer technology, still required human intervention to fix those parts that didn’t work. I know first-hand about those fixes! Formerly I worked as an assistant production manager at National Braille Press and now work in the Braille Certification Program of the Library of Congress, administered by the National Federation of the Blind. UEB has made my life far simpler . . . but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The primary goal, according to the records of 1991, was to “make the acquisition of reading/writing/teaching braille easier and more efficient . . . [to] help reverse the trend of steadily eroding usage of braille itself.” Given the abysmal rate of 9.5% of blind school-age children who list braille as their primary reading mode, this makes good sense.

All told, UEB eliminates nine contractions that were found to be the most ambiguous: by, into, to, ble, com, dd, ation, ally, and the o’clock contraction. Each of these could represent something other than themselves, depending on their placement in a word.

UEB is also closer to its print equivalent, for example, braille will no longer join the contractions “of, and, for, the, with” in sequence without spaces. And the period. There is now only one dot formation for a period, instead of four different ways to represent it. Just as there are opening and closing parentheses in print, the same is true for braille. Word division is no longer recommended: “It is no longer preferable for words to be hyphenated.” When was the last time you used a dictionary to divide words between lines? I never did until I worked in the field. We have spent way too much time teaching word division to potential transcribers.

The list of improvements goes on, too many to elaborate on in a blog post. As a braille reader since the early 1960s, I have quickly adjusted to UEB. Anyone interested in acquiring some UEB skills while reading good material should subscribe to Syndicated Columnists Weekly, Syndicated Columnists Weekly covera short weekly from National Braille Press. I’ve been reading it for decades. NBP started producing it in UEB at the beginning of the year and I was able to adjust to new UEB symbols in the context of the material. NBP also offers a free UEB Briefs Symbols list if you ask for it (orders@nbp.org).

As a braille producer, my life is far easier. I no longer need to search for hyphens and dashes (to eliminate spaces around them) because braille now follows print rules. I can more accurately translate documents from braille to print with better results. Without word division, braille production is faster, plus the code offers more flexibility in handling the large variety of print styles now in use.

All in all, I’m completely in favor of these changes for a host of reasons that I would not have understood had I not been a braille producer, trainer, and reader. And did I mention, America has now joined six other English-speaking nations in its adoption of UEB, which means we all share the same code. I think Louis would have been pleased about that. His code was meant to be useful, above all.

No One Told Me Braille Was Hard, So It Wasn’t

Ten years ago, when I started working at National Braille Pressfemale hands on braille, braille was a new and foreign concept to me. As a sighted person, it seemed daunting, undecipherable, and hard. Lifelong braille readers assured me that learning braille was not that much different from learning to read print but I remained skeptical.  As I talked with more readers, the passion of those who embraced braille opened my mind and my skepticism gradually evaporated.

When I read Dr. Edward Bell’s post on the T-Base Communications blog on learning braille as a teenager, I was reminded how a simple shift in attitude can mean the difference between success or failure in any endeavor.

Here’s what Dr. Bell had to say:

No one said that braille would take a long time to learn, and so it didn’t.

No one said that braille was antiquated, and so it wasn’t.

No one ever told me that braille would make me a second-class citizen, and so it didn’t.

No one ever told me that braille would be among the most influential factors leading to my success, but it was.

Today, braille is a daily part of my life. Just last evening I used my braille syllabus and notes to lecture graduate students. This past weekend, I pulled out my trusty slate and stylus in order to write out notes for the speech I had to give at a statewide conference.

Daily, I use braille to label financial records, text books, and other academic materials. I use braille for taking notes during administrative meetings and during conference calls.

At home, I use braille to label CDs and DVDS, along with home appliances so I can use them independently. I don’t know how I would use my oven, microwave, or treadmill without braille.

How would I have read bedtime stories to my young daughters if I did not have braille? There is no doubt that I would be far less independent and successful if I did not have braille.

I guess all I have to say about braille is this:

It, like many things, is what you make of it. If you think it defines you as blind, you are correct. If you think it is somehow a defeat or failure, then it will be.

But if you think that braille is the path to literacy, freedom, independence, hope, success, satisfaction and fulfillment, then it will be. Or, at least it has been for me.

Read the full post

Edward Bell is the director at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and actively researches the most effective ways to teach students and adults who are blind or have low vision.  He is also an active contributor to the Blog on Blindness. His students have gone on to become braille teachers, cane travel instructors, rehabilitation counselors, and advocates for the blind.

 

 

 

Filling An Empty Hollow With Braille

A letter arrived from Geraldine Lawhorn of Chicago, Illinois, with a sizeable check to renew her braille subscription to Syndicated Columnists Weekly and a request to “donate the rest to your wonderful work for children and all braille readers.”

GeraldineLawhornI never met Geraldine Lawhorn, but I have never forgotten her story, which she told in the Epilogue to Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius: “I was seven years old when my mother and teachers noticed I had an eye condition. Despite medical treatment, my eyesight deteriorated, and I was finally introduced to braille reading. Admittedly, I shunned reading braille as much as I could. I was satisfied having my mother read books to me, and I memorized facts readily.

“But, more and more, I was aware of a hearing loss. My mother had to read louder; I had to move closer and closer to the radio. For me, a teenage girl with exciting daydreams, the future looked hollow, just a hole out there in front of me.

“Then the director of the Braille Department at the Chicago public school sent a note to my mother, saying, ‘Send Geraldine back to school. We want her to graduate with her classmates. We will transcribe all her textbooks and assignments into braille.’

“Rapidly, braille filled the empty hollow with possibilities. I turned to braille for learning, for employment with the Hadley School, and for entertainment. For many deafblind people, social life is confined to braille-land. Our most welcome visitor is the mail carrier, bringing braille letters, library books, and magazines—these are our favorite things!

“Computer technology has opened new doors: I now join my hearing and sighted friends by sending and receiving email messages and chatting over the phone—all because we have electronic devices with braille displays.”

Geraldine Lawhorn closed her letter with one more unforgettable detail of her life:  “I enjoy all your selections in Syndicated Columnists Weekly. In December, I read your article on aging. It was my 97th birthday!”

Unified English Braille: Great Beginnings

I still smile when someone asks what I do for a living. I always like to field the questions generated by my response, but it’s a rare delight when the conversation reaches the most fascinating of developments in the Hands on braille pagebraille world: new refreshable braille devices, interactive tactile graphics (“Wow, that exists?”) and, perhaps most anticipated, the implementation of Unified English Braille (UEB).

As the Braille Authority for North America (BANA) Board Representative for NBP, I have had the privilege to be a part of the discussion around UEB since it was adopted last November, and truly, there’s not enough to be said about what has been done behind the scenes. Recently, BANA facilitated the UEB Transition Forum in Louisville, where braille advocates from around the nation gathered to discuss steps along the road to UEB.

The Forum was divided into four groups representing, Transcription and Production, Instructional Materials, Education, and Adult Learning. In separate work sessions, led by Frances Mary D’Andrea, BANA Chair and AFB Representative, and Mary Nelle McLennan, Vice Chair and APH Representative, we considered the following questions:

  • What needs to be done in the area of training in order to ensure an effective transition to UEB?
  • What needs to be done to build UEB transcription capacity?
  • What needs to be done to adjust systems so we can procure and deliver braille materials in UEB?
  • What needs to be done to transition children’s braille reading and writing instruction and educational assessments to UEB?
  • What needs to be done to transition adults’ braille instruction to UEB and to increase knowledge of UEB among adults who already use braille?

We approached UEB with gusto! The room was vibrant and energetic; words like “synergy” and “collaboration” were critical to our discussions. It was a melting pot of all things braille. Efforts and responses were recorded, and action steps were presented and discussed with the forum at large, with each area providing vital information for the bones of an implementation plan. We embraced and became excited about the future of braille.

Of course, the most significant discussion of the day centered on one thing: an expected date for full implementation. After nearly an hour of conversation and input from all represented areas, we settled it.

January 4th, 2016, the birthday of Louis Braille, will be a celebration, a day to review our UEB milestones and honor our achievements as a community. I feel so inspired to be at NBP during this time of enthusiasm and evolution. I think the next time someone asks what I do, I’ll just hand over my braille business card and invite them to the party.

Check back for blogs about UEB. To find out more, visit the BANA website: http://brailleauthority.org/pressreleases/pr-2013-10-31.html

Jackie Sheridan is Vice President of Production at National Braille Press.