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

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

When Pigs Fly? A Full Page Braille Display with Real-Time Tactile Graphics

One of these days a blind or low vision person will be able to read on their device a periodical like National Geographic or Newsweek, or even a textbook or standardized test, and not only will the information be translated into braille and displayed in full page format, but the device will also instantly produce tactile images or graphics. ‘When pigs fly’ some of you say—but the response shouldn’t be ‘it’s impossible,’ it should be, ‘when will it happen?’

Every year National Braille Press produces thousands of pages of braille for tests and textbooks including hard copy raised tactile graphics for students. Unfortunately, the ability to render tactile images in real time on a device has not yet come to fruition, at least not with the affordability or resolution that is really needed to be effective. However, that long search for the ‘Holy Braille’ is finally starting to show some exciting promise.

Amazing advances in technology are leveraging new, affordable approaches to raise a braille pin or to render an image in unconventional ways, and we at NBP have created the Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) to act as a global information broker and champion for just such breakthroughs in engineering design. We want blind students and adults in the workplace to have the same tools as their sighted peers, and to be able to compete and experience the ‘Internet of Things’ like everyone else, so we build the partnerships needed to keep us on the cutting edge.

Through the CBI we have built relationships and partnerships with the University of Michigan,  MIT, IBM, Google, Northeastern University, India, China, and others to find the right mix of components and features that can be leveraged to create a tablet for the blind—and that can be manufactured affordably. Economies of scale are a critical fact of life in the affordability of a product, and if it can be built into existing, mainstream products with a universal design, everyone wins.

Through a relationship with an Indian company founded by two MIT doctoral engineers, we launched the Tactile Caliper, a low cost, mechanical, refreshable braille ruler that allows accurate measurements to the 1/16th of an inch (a metric version is also in the pipeline).

caliper

Photo: Tactile Caliper measuring object

And in partnership with the innovative Deane Blazie, we launched the B2G earlier this year, our first refreshable braille consumer electronic product.

The B2G uses a conventional piezo-electric method to raise braille pins, but our design also allows for OEM options for any future successful methodology. We developed it for two reasons: First, we wanted to lower the price for consumers so that more people could afford this indispensable tool. Second, we wanted consumers to have control over customization; our B2G allows them to add or delete the apps they want and to change user features to suit their own, individual needs. For example, customers can use the Echolink app to turn the B2G into a ham radio station.

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Photo: Green and Gray B2G’s

 

Last week an Anheuser Busch semi-tractor trailer delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer on a 120-mile journey without a human at the wheel. This robotic delivery of beer shipped through Denver to Colorado Springs and was called “uneventful.” The technology revolution is in full swing and unfortunately the blind and low vision world has not been top of mind for many designers. Yes, driverless cars and trucks will be an indirect and valuable benefit for BVIs and PWDs, but that wasn’t the motivation to create them. We believe that access to information, especially e-braille outputs, must be included in all products and we will never stop advocating for and championing new technologies that have the potential to serve the blind community.

So, one of these days you may be zipping down the road in a driverless car, and reading a story on your accessible braille tablet while feeling the raised tactile image of that pig flying after all.

By Brian Mac Donald, President, NBP

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