The Road from Princeton to Boston: The Princeton Braillists and an Enduring Legacy

Four colossal bookcases. Seven thermoform machines, five binding machines, and two light projectors. Twenty boxes bursting with aluminum tactile graphics ranging from fungi to fish, electricity to elements, geomorphology to geometry, mitosis to moon phases. And the pièce de résistance: 40 volumes amounting to 2,177 pages of the most comprehensive maps available in a tactile format.

Four decades of thoughtful devotion have been poured into the compendium that is The Princeton Braillists’ collection. Beginning in 1965, armed with a background in Experimental Physics and a penchant for handicrafts, Nancy Amick created tactile images to accompany audio texts for Recording for the Blind in Princeton. Drawing on her childhood experience with copper embossing, Nancy generated textures, patterns and lines in sheets of flexible aluminum, designing hundreds of diagrams for math and science textbooks, and simultaneously developing novel techniques to become an expert in the field of tactile graphics.

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In 1980, after Recording for the Blind shifted  its company focus, Nancy and Ruth Bogia, a certified braille transcriber, resurrected a dormant non-profit: The Princeton Braillists. Their first tactile volume, “Basic Human Anatomy,” was released in 1988, and eight years later they advertised their first set of tactile maps: “Maps of North and South America”. The all-volunteer operation expanded to include Fran Gasman, a transcriber for the New Jersey Commission, Phyllis Branin, who assisted in assembly, and Nancy’s family, including her husband Jim and daughter D’Maris. By 2016, The Princeton Braillists had created 35 books covering Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, as well as 18 U.S. states, along the way receiving wide acclaim and awards for their tactile contributions to the blind community.

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Nancy passed in the fall of 2016, and her family continued to fill orders while searching for a new home for the entire collection. Jim and D’Maris toured NBP in February 2017. By May, three National Braille Press team members were in a 15-foot truck bound for Princeton, NJ, charged with the careful transfer of Nancy’s work.

National Braille Press was honored to accept the generous gift of The Princeton Braillists’ celebrated tactiles, and has embraced the opportunity to continue Nancy’s legacy. Our hope is to maintain and reproduce the current catalogue while investigating ways to update geographical information, recode for Unified English Braille, and create new volumes of additional countries and states. We also aim to showcase the extensive collection of math and science diagrams from Nancy’s early years, sharing the delightful breadth of her images from beginning to end.

Learn more about The Princeton Braillists at NBP’s Annual Meeting, June 20th.

The Power of Great Expectations!

 National Braille Press is pleased to introduce Measuring Penny, the 6th book in our innovative “Great Expectations” children’s book program. The primary mission of this program is to bring picture books to life for blind kids through song, tactile play, engaged listening, word play, body movement, and picture descriptions. We do this by creating 9 accessible, fun, and free online activities to go with each book in the program. These free activities can be used at home or in the classroom to further explore the themes found in the book.

measuring penny and activities

In Measuring Penny, the main character Lisa is given a fun but challenging homework assignment—to measure something using both standard and nonstandard units. She decides to measure her dog, Penny, using everything from traditional wooden rulers and yard sticks to the decidedly nontraditional paper clips and cotton swabs! She learns a lot about herself, her dog, the art of measurement, and the things that you can’t put a number on, like love.

Enjoy the book and check out the free online resources we have created to go with it. Each online activity has a downloadable BRF file and a downloadable, accessible PDF file so you can take the activities with you and share them with others. And best of all, the activities were created especially with blind kids in mind. Here are the activities for Measuring Penny.

Make Doggie Biscuits

Make delicious treats for your dog using this fun recipe from Stir It Up! Recipes and Techniques for Young Blind Cooks.

Accessible Measuring Tools

Learn about all sorts of accessible tools made especially for budding blind scientists, and then make your own balance scale using items from around the house.

Same Versus Different

Use comparison to evaluate how things are the same and how they are different.

Tips from a Blind Scientist

Meet Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a Ph.D. computational organic chemist, and make your own ice cream using an experiment from Out-of-Sight Science Experiments.

Tactile Graphs

Have fun surveying your friends and family, and then turn your data into a tactile bar graph or tactile pie chart.

Animal Friends

Collect data on how much work it takes to care for different types of pets. Also learn about how pet dogs and guide dogs are different.

Jokes About Math

These are some real zingers to share with family and friends. Who would have thought math could be so funny?

Songs About Measurement

Sing some great songs about different units of measurement.

Picture Descriptions

Enjoy detailed descriptions of the illustrations in the book, all created especially for you!

 

Follow the Great Expectations program on Facebook!

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.

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!

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!

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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