For your reading convenients below you will find all the Braille Highway published in 2017
Happy 2017, and may the new year bring you good health, patients, and prosperity!! What kind of writer of The Braille Highway would I be if I did not point out that January 4th is Louis Braille’s birthday? In honor of Mr. Braille’s birthday, I would like to send out an invitation to have you partake in a little competition. Send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In 100 words or less, simply tell me what does braille mean to you. Please submit your email entry no later than January 20, so I can make a decision. The winning submission will be included in my February article. As an added bonus, the winner will also receive 6 braille chocolate pops and a deck of braille playing cards.
Over the Christmas break I reflected on 2016 and in particular, about the implementation of the Unified English Braille (UEB) that became law in the United States a year ago. It really was not a big change over for me. Accept for the fact that when I am brailling something with a manual braille writer, I need to braille a little slower than my usual speed. I need to keep in mind to put a space between the word of and the word the. In addition, I need to remember not to contract b l e, as well as other changes that have been made.
Thinking back to a few decades ago when I learned braille, it has truly come so far in regards to technology. There are so many more things now available in braille. As I mentioned a few times in previous articles, I learned braille on a Perkins Braille Writer, using the 11.5 by 11-inch braille paper. My braille instructor would get on my case for me using my fingertip to rub out my mistake, instead of the wooden braille eraser.
Recently I went to the Perkins School for The Blind’s web site and saw that they have the Classic Braille Writer, which I learned on. They also have a Jumbo Braille Writer, as well as an electric braille writer. I am also one of the lucky ones (depending on your point of view) that purchased a New Braille Generation Writer, which has since been discontinued. For its lightweight and portability aspects, it was mainly constructed out of plastic, therefore, not making it very strong and durable. In addition, it was only able to use 8.5 by 11-inch braille paper. However, the exciting feature about this unit was its built-in eraser. When you place the cursor over the error, you could press down on the eraser and the entire cell would get pressed down, “erasing” your mistake. Then, you could go ahead and re-braille the corrected cell.
I have so many slates and styluses in my possession, that there are too many to count. I have a stainless steel slate that is 40 cells wide by 4 lines. I own the aluminum 28 cells by 4 lines with the back that opens, allowing me to read what I brailled without removing the paper. I also have a plastic version of the 28 cells by 4 lines. I cannot forget about my full page slate which is great for practicing braille writing with the stylus. I have an 18 cell by 6 lines which came with my calendar book. I have a plastic slate which allows me to braille on both sides of the paper. Last but definitely not least, is my slate which is the perfect size for index cards.
My most unique slate, the King Braille Slate was given to me by a friend. The story behind this is I use Braille King as my Skype name, and my friend thought it would be cute to give me a slate with that name. For those of you who have never seen one of these it is a very neat concept. Usually when using a regular slate, we need to think things in reverse. For example, if one is wanting to braille the letter N, on a braille writer you would use dots 1-3-4-5. On a slate you would use dots 1-2-4-6 to get the same results.
When using the King Slate, you use the small notepad size sheets of plastic like paper that comes with it. With this unit, there are 6 raised dots per cell that one uses a specialized stylus. This stylus has an inward hole that you place over the dot(s) and press down. Therefore, creating the dot (s) impressions. Unlike traditional slates that you move from right to left, with this slate you move from left to right.
How many times have we as braille readers looked at braille displays and thought wow, if I could only afford one. Thanks to a group of organizations getting together and making the Orbit 20 Braille Display, it will soon be possible. What an exciting time we are living in to be able to afford a braille display. This unit is said to sell for $500.00.
Remember to submit in your “What does braille mean to me“ entry by January 20, with Braille Contest as the subject. I look forward to reading your entries. As always your input is always welcomed and appreciated. I will talk with you once again in February! Stay on the dotted line of life!
Hello and welcome to my February article. Valentine’s day is coming up; remember you cannot expect someone to love you if you do not first love yourself!
I want to thank everyone who submitted an email for my contest, what braille means to you. I received lots of replies, and quite honestly had a very difficult time choosing just one. I would had loved to be able to give everyone a prize. The nature of the beast is that only one prize is given. Congratulations to Chet for submitting the winning email. At the end of this article you will find Chet’s winning submission.
Below you will find this month’s article submitted by a lady whom I have admired over the years. I am sure we have all known someone who does no wrong. Well Betty Nobel was always a great role model and a wonderful braille advocate. Here is a bit of what Betty has to say regarding braille.
Braille or No Braille
I have been using braille for almost 60 years. I can’t imagine my daily life without it. I use it for labels. I use it when I have to read elevator buttons. I use it when I check the washroom door at work to make sure I am entering the Women’s. I read a book on my way to work. I check messages on my phone.
If you look at that list carefully, you will see that a sighted person uses print for all of that. And yet, there are people who think that braille is being replaced by audio. If there is no audio in the elevator, that would be of no use to me without braille. I often will read audio books, but if I need to pay attention to detail, I have to read the information in braille. If I want to chair a meeting, the agenda has to be in braille. When I write an email, if I want the spelling to be perfect and the punctuation to be correct, I have to check it in braille. It is a very tedious process to do this in audio format, but it can be done.
Because of the new digital braille displays coming on to the market, and because of the research being done on displaying more lines of braille on a display and even graphics, braille will be easier to use and there may be a resurgence in its availability. I for one, won’t give up braille until sighted people give up print. I love to play card games with my grandchildren, and I couldn’t play scrabble or monopoly with them without the braille games. If we want to fully participate without requiring assistance it is hard to do it without using braille. There are people with low vision who have the ability to read print, but they have learned braille and they use it because it is faster and more efficient. I just can’t understand people who think that braille is on the way out. Louis Braille invented a system so that people who are blind can read and write. I will not give up my literacy for anyone.
All of my life I have advocated for the use of braille. I have served on the executive of the International Council on English Braille, and on the board of what used to be called the Canadian Braille Authority but is now called Braille Literacy Canada. I will soon be passing the torch for this work to others, but I will never abandon braille. It is the essence of literacy, the foundation of my education and the education of the children and adults I have taught. I believe in using all of the tools we as blind people have available to us, but braille is the most important tool in my tool box. I hope that your tool box contains braille, too.
Here is Chet’s email:
On the surface Braille means that I, a blind person, can be what most sighted people would assume I am not: literate! And in my particular case it means a lot more.
In 1961 when I was in first grade the educators of that era wanted me to read large print, exclusively because I still had some sight, sight to which our state referred as residual, residue from what? But I digress.
My totally blind mother, armed with her high school education and a German will of iron, went toe-to-toe with the "experts" insisting that I learn Braille and print, simultaneously. My mother, as she usually does, won.
Today I can:
read in the dark; read error messages to the "techies" of the world; serve as a secretary to my sighted wife and read and upload books to my grandchildren.
What does Braille mean to me? Everything!
I enjoy receiving emails, from you the readers, so if you are so inclined to send me one do so at the email noted at the top of this article. Until March’s article, remember to stay on the dotted line of life!!
Hello and welcome back! We are now on the home stretch for the arrival of spring in North America. I can almost hear the birds chirping. I would like to thank in particular Deborah, Sandra, and Lillian for taking the time to write and share their kind words about The Blind Perspective and specifically, The Braille Highway. I can only speak for myself, I truly enjoy receiving emails from you, the readers. This month’s article I urge you to please write back with what you would do if faced with the situation I present below. As always, email me using the address noted at the top of this article.
As you all know I am a braille reader. When I am able to receive my monthly invoices in braille, I automatically jump at the opportunity. I am fortunate enough to receive 4 different monthly statements in alternative format, that being braille. I will not be naming the companies/organization’s. It seems very apparent to me that 2 of the documents are being out sourced to a braille production company. While the other 2 are being produced in braille in house.
I can see many arguments going without sourcing the work both good and bad. It seems to me that I usually receive the statements either 1 or 2 days before the due date. Then, many times I receive it after the actual due date. I am not penalized since my payments are preauthorized and taken from my bank account every month. It is great to be able to make sure that the charges are correct and that I am not being falsely charged. I have let the companies know about the statements arriving too close to the due date, or even after. Currently, my statements are now coming in a timelier fashion. The braille is UEB and it is very obvious that braille readers or braille professionals are producing it. The formatting is perfect and proper spacing is being followed, which makes reading it and finding the important information quite easy.
Now switching to the in house produced braille statements. The first thing that screams up at me when I begin reading is the formatting. A total mess and lots of blank spacing on the right hand side of the page. They use the big braille paper, the 11” x by 11.5”, which allows for 40 characters per line. Also keep in mind that the statement comes in uncontracted braille to accommodate all braille readers. My mailing address would be able to fit on one line of braille but the last word is placed on the next line all by itself. Many times when the dollar amount is the last item on the line it is placed by its self on the next line. Since UEB has been passed as the code that is being used here in North America, one would expect especially with it being over a year ago when it was put in to law, that most folks would make the switch. This is not the case with 2 separate companies that provide braille statements that are producing it in house. Since I have been reading braille for a long time, I have no problem figuring out what is being written and the different dollar signs used in the 2 codes.
I want to make clear that I really appreciate these companies taking the time and money to offer their statements in braille. This appreciation I have is what keeps me from complaining. I was having lunch with a blind friend at the end of February and he is of the mind set that I should complain. I am now stuck whether to stay silent and simply appreciate the efforts being made by these companies to provide me my statements in braille. On the other hand, should I inform them of the errors and hopefully they will remedy the situation. The real nice thing I find with having the braille copy is now it arrives to me way in advance of the due date. Also if I am needing to go back and search for something in particular, I usually can find it in a few quick moments on the page or by flipping and finding the correct page.
I would appreciate your feedback and your comments regarding this matter. It is a tightrope of sorts we are walking. Since these companies are making the effort to provide the statements in braille, I do appreciate it. However, on the other hand, it does get a bit annoying with the scattered format.
Remember to stay on the dotted line of life. I look forward to talking with you again in April.
Happy April to all! I am so pleased and thankful for all of your emails and opinions you gave me re the issue I outlined in my March article. I have pasted snapshots of what people wrote and I will let you know what I have decided to do. Enjoy reading what others have suggested.
Here is the first email from Brian:
“the fact that I can read my bills for myself but I would like to point out some errors in the braille. If they don't know then they can't fix it.”
Next is a sample of what Shannon had to say:
“Hi there! I am a loyal reader of the Blind Perspective, and have enjoyed your articles very much. This is the first time I've ever Emailed one of the writers, and perhaps what I say will be of no value to you, but I just thought I'd give you my own perspective on the situation you're facing with your Braille invoices. Therefore, if I were in your situation, I would not complain to the two companies about their badly formatted, non-UEB Braille letters. I would be grateful to get them in Braille in any format. Mind you, I do see no harm in at least putting forward a gentle suggestion as to how they could improve their services. I just wouldn't personally do it in the form of a complaint.”
Well, Shannon, I believe that we all here at the Blind Perspective truly value what the readers have to say. Personally, I value the readership’s opinions and their point of view.
Now here is Caterina’s opinion:
“I think that I would let the company know that there is an alternative method of formatting so that everything has a correct layout. Put nicely, it should hopefully be received as helpful and not as a complaint.”
David wrote in with his comments:
“Hello, Nat: I recall something similar when I used to receive a monthly phone statement from MCI back in the day. It was very readable, but the formatting was a bit off. I’m not sure that there is much to be done about this though.”
Lou’s take on my questions is:
“First off, thanks for your column. I don’t use braille as much as I used to, but still love it. I get several magazines, and use a braille only notetaker. AlthoughI’m writing this on a Mac with speech, I will always appreciate the non-intrusive nature of braille. Having said that, I think it valid for you to let the companies in question know of your concerns. Notice, I didn’t say complain. Were I you, I would use the “sandwich” approach. Start your letter by telling them how much you appreciate the statements/invoices in braille. Next, voice your concerns constructively such as “while this is a great service, there are ways you could make it easier for your customers who use braille to benefit from it.”
It is nice to see that the folks who have taken the time and trouble to write to me are all appreciative with the under tone to let them know in a non-argumentative way on how to improve the already great service.
Now read Mary’s slightly different opinions from the previous emails:
“Hi, I just read your article in the Blind Perspective, March, and have some comments. First, I would complain. Not about the lack of UEB, perhaps they do not have anyone who has learned the new code, but if a company is producing braille material they should at least format it properly. I receive 5 statements in braille, one is uncontracted braille, the others in UEB, all formatted nicely.”
Another David, but this one is from the UK writes:
“Regarding your recent post about the bank statements you receive. As a huge Braille fan, and advocate at all times of the delicious dots, I believe that you should complain. Many others in your position may be experiencing similar difficulties, but feel disempowered to say anything.”
I see valid points in both Mary’s and David from the UK emails.
Only 2 more email opinions left to read. Kaye writes in with the following:
“I think if I were in your situation, I would bring the issue to the attention of the company. It does not have to be framed as a complaint though. Many times, as I'm sure you know, companies provide braille, but the person doing the printing can't read a dot of it. They have no clue whether or not it is properly formatted or if it even makes sense. They probably just run the invoice through a translation program, and hope for the best. Perhaps if you let them know they will attempt to remedy the situation.”
Deborah rites in with the following thoughts:
“I enjoyed reading your section of the Blind Prospective. The only statement which I received in Braille is my bank, South StateBank. There was a change in management of the bank and I was not sure if the new bank would offer the Braille statements. When I asked, the new management was happy to confirms the Braille statements would continue. There were some adjustments in the first few months. I asked if the paper could be with hole-punched edges and they agreed. Each account has a separate statement making it easier to check each account. As I use purchases made for my annual tax deducts, I read each and every item.”
Excellent suggestions and an example of ask and one shall receive, at least in Deborah’s example of requesting whole punched paper.
After reading the many emails, it is easy to see that the majority’s opinion is to praise for the service and to give a gentle suggestion for improvements. So, that is what I ended up doing.
I live on the west coast of Canada and I will be writing about how blind people can differentiate their currency. So, if you all can be so kind to email me on how you can identify your coins/paper currency from your country, that would be greatly appreciated. The email to write to me is at the top of this article.
Remember to stay on the dotted line of life! See you again in May!!
Hello to you and happy May!! Let me be one of the first to wish you a very happy Mother’s Day. I have been thinking over the last few months about an important subject that is dear, and very important to all of us. Although we can use credit cards, debit cards, or even write out a check. I am from the old school of thought and prefer using good old cash. In this month’s article, I am sharing some other countries method of differentiating their currency for the blind.
I live in Canada and therefore will be explaining the Canadian currency in great detail. Here in Canada our federal government got rid of the penny a couple of years ago. So, when it comes to change, we have the nickel (5 cents), the dime (10 cents), and the quarter (25 cents). The 3 afore mentioned are all coins in different sizes and some have smooth edges, while others have a serrated edge. We also have a 1 dollar coin and a 2-dollar coin. These dollar coins have different edges to help the blind identify the values. The $1 is slightly smaller than the $2.
We now have our paper currency with braille tactile markings. It is made from a plastic type material. On the top left hand corner, there are cells of 6 dots. Envision 4 cells with a space in between them. So, the denominations are identified by having 1, 2, 3, or 4 cells in varying positions to let the blind person know what bill they have. The $5 bill has 1 cell at cell position 1. The $10 has cells in position 1 and 3. The $20 has cells in positions 1, 2, and 3. The $50 has all 4 cells. The $100 has cells in position 1 & 4.
It is only America and Canada that has all their paper currency in the same size. America is the only one that has all their currency the same color, which is green. Canada has different colors for each denomination. I have heard people calling Canadian money Monopoly money from the popular board game, where it’s play money is different colors.
The U S Treasury offers free of cost a bill identifier for all blind people to be able to identify their paper money. Apparently the $10 that is scheduled to be released in 2020 will be the first American paper currency that will have a tactile marking for the blind and an image of a lady. Anyone with a smart phone can also buy different apps that can identify different countries currency, which is a very nice thing to have for our own privacy and peace of mind when sorting out money.
Other countries are way ahead of the United States on this front. Most accomplish the currency differentiation through various sizes, while others include features such as Braille or other raised markings on notes. Below is a list of some countries and how their currency makes it possible for blind and visually impaired people to independently differentiate among the different denominations.
Hong Kong: (paper dollar)
Hong Kong's very cool currency, that is a lion, has three of the hallmark features typically seen: intaglio-printing, different sizes, and different colors.
China’s banknotes include Chinese Braille.
Japan uses special intaglio-printed tactile marks and each bill is a different size.
Their banknotes have tactile features in one corner.
Sweden: (Swedish Krona)
There's a clear pattern to what works here. Sweden has different colors for the visually impaired and different sizes for the blind.
Switzerland: (Swiss Franc)
Swiss Francs are both different sizes and colors. In addition to that, they have added intaglio marks and a perforated number that you can feel.
Australia: (Australian Dollar)
The Australian dollar tackles the accessibility issue in a very simple method, by making larger denominations not simply larger, but longer. They also have strong colors and contrasts for the visually impaired. Just last year they introduced the $5 note with Two tiny raised dots.
Their bank notes each has embossed lettering to allow blind people to read them and the size has been designed so that it corresponds to the amount of money in question.
Aside from the raised print of letters and denomination numerals, two tactile marks in the shape of flowers with the color of dark green, representing the Braille symbol “2” for people who are blind or low vision to identify the value.
Currently they have dots on bank notes, however, they are very small. Plans are in the works to correct this issue, but no definite answer has been given.
Their currency has a series of short, raised lines, which appear at the top right on the front face of the
note. The BD1/2 has one line; BD1 has two lines and so on, up to BD20, with five lines.
They have a very simple distinguishing feature: big bills are big; little bills are little. The notes have some intaglio printing, which gives them relief marks that can be felt. The €200 and €500 bills have special tactile marks on them as well, for added security and assuredness when dealing with such large amounts.
British banknotes are differentiated by size, and to a certain extent, by color. They also have the large numbers like U.S. dollars so that people with bad eyesight can easily differentiate a $20 from a $10.
I have not travelled much internationally so I cannot say that I have had firsthand experience handling different currencies. From what I have read and heard, different sized paper currency makes sense and for a secondary assurance a tactile marking would be awesome.
A friendly reminder, that I always look forward to reader’s emails and suggestions. So if you have any send them to the email at the top of this article.
Remember to stay on the dotted line of life. Let’s make a date to meet again in June!!
Hello and welcome to the June article. It totally blows me away the creative, innovated, and determined mines some college students have. This article is about six such undergrad students from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
These six engineering students, all women, Participated in the 15-hour long MakeMIT Hackathon event last February. Their motivating team name was Team 100% Enthusiasm. Well they certainly needed that enthusiasm in order to get them to submit their working gadget in on time.
Through all the changes of deciding what to create, and the problems with the different components needed to produce their prototype, they persevered. These young women had just created the first ever affordable device that immediately translates printed text into Braille. They called it Tactile, and they won first prize. Now, isn’t that something!
*Approximately 1.3 million Americans are legally blind, though millions more live with a visual disability.
*At the end of 2015, an estimated 61,739 students were reported as legally blind.
*Globally, 39 million people are blind and 246 million have low vision.
*Only about an estimated 10% of blind children learn braille.
*Up to 70% of blind people are unemployed.
One more interesting fact; 80 percent of blind people who are employed have something in common: They can all read Braille.
Even though these sound like large numbers, the blind community is relatively small. And, unfortunately assistive devices for the blind are pricey, since there is not a high demand. In addition, braille displays have not changed much throughout the last thirty years.
These women wanted to create something that would be life changing for the blind community. In their brief time of research, they were astonished to learn how much braille devices cost, from /$3,500 up to
$15,000. Their minds were set on making an affordable, life changing device for the blind community.
Now, over a year later, the women refer to themselves as Team Tactile. They are making strides with their invention in terms of accessibility. Tactile is proposed to be the size of a candy bar with 36 cells, and to sell for an estimated price of $100.00!
Here's how it works:
*Slide the device over printed text (a book, menu, or even a packaging label).
*The camera captures images of the words and sends them to a microcontroller, which then performs text recognition.
*then that information, via an electromagnetic activation mechanism, moves the pins up and down at the top of the device, translating the text into Braille.
*The Braille characters physically refresh as they scroll through sections of text.
Team Tactile members are: Chandani Doshi, Jialin Shi, Bonnie Wang, Charlene Xia, Tania Yu and Grace Li.
These women are not only trying to help the blind community but they want to be an inspiration for young girls. Their message is if you are interested in engineering or science, go for it!
Remember to stay on the dotted line of life. If you would like to contact me, do so at my email address located above. Keep safe, and I’ll will speak with you again in July!
I hope you are having an awesome July! Living on the west coast of Canada, we are privileged to have a couple of cruiselines departing for their Alaskan cruises from the port of Vancouver. With this in mind, I received a call from an old friend and colleague who told me that he and his wife were taking an Alaskan cruise departing from Vancouver. He wanted to know if we could get together before his departure. So, I arranged for us to meet at my favorite Italian Coffee shop, Café Calabria in the heart of Little Italy in Vancouver. While we were reminiscing about old times I thought Miguel’s story would be an excellent one to share with you, regarding braille graphics. The following is a Q&A session I had with Miguel Lopez.
Q. Can you give us a brief history about yourself?
A. I am 60 years old and retired from braille transcription, specializing in braille graphics. I am happily married for 40 years with 3 children and 8 grandchildren. The Alaskan cruise we are taking is in celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary.
q. What inspired you to get into braille transcription, and specifically braille graphics?
A. In my late teens, I was dating a woman who had a nephew who was blind, and the college I was attending offered a braille transcription certificate. As the story goes, “the rest is history”. I met my beautiful wife of 40 years when I started pounding the pavement for employment opportunities. She was the assistant to the superintendent of schools for the Denver school district. I was freelancing on the side for extra money. That is when I met you and began creating raise line tactile graphics for your textbooks that you were producing in braille.
Q. What is your opinion of braille graphics and how far it has come?
A. Back in the early days, I would need to use a rubber matt and place the braille page on it. Then with a clothing pattern wheel I would trace the outline of what I was creating. However, it was tricky in that I needed to do it backwards so it would appear correct once I picked it up and turned it over.
Next I produced graphics using thermal form machines. I used string and other items to produce raise lines and other desired affects.
In the late 90s and early 2000s I began dabbling in braille graphic computer software programs. Some of the early programs that I remember are ET Graphix and TBG pro just to name a couple. I will state the obvious, that using the software was way easier and better cost effective.
Q. What is your most memorable braille graphic job?
A. There are so many but I will give you a textbook story and a recreational one. I had a deadline of printing off the braille graphics for a final exam for a grade 11 biology course. As Murphy’s Law would have it, everything that could go wrong went wrong. The braille embosser I was using called it quits and then I had to resort to a back-up embosser. The parameters of the embosser changed which meant I had to go back in to every file and change the dimensions etc. I got it all completed correctly, with about literally 20 minutes to spare.
As for my second story, I was asked to produce some basic shapes to demonstrate raised line braille graphics to a group of first graders. The embossing pin was not hitting consistently, so every once in a while, the brailled dotted line had a gap in it. The children found it quite amusing. But, all was well, and ended well.
q. What programs and or embossers would you say are great for braille graphics?
a. I enjoyed using the Phoenix by Enabling Technologies. The Cyclone embosser which produces high resolution braille graphics was also very effective. I also enjoyed using the Viewplus Cub. The software was so easy to use and the way one could manipulate the file was so easy and stress free. I would take an image and copy and paste it in to the editor. Then I would simplify the image and send it to be emboss. Just that easy!
q. Do you have any advice for those interested in producing braille images?
A. Yes, remember the old saying, KISS (keep it simple silly), That is the key. Images that are great in detail and are visually pleasing usually are disastrous to emboss as they are. You first need to simplify the image. Keep the basis of the original image, but take away all the extras that would confuse a blind person trying to figure it out. However, on the flip side, in today’s world of advanced technology of programs, devices, and software anything is possible, it’s all a matter of time. I say with imagination, creativity, and technology braille graphics will become more detailed in a manner that blind individuals will be able to decipher.
I would like to publicly thank Miguel Lopez for allowing me to document our coffee meeting and to write this article. Remember folks to email me if you have any questions, suggestions, constructive criticism, and to just say hello. Stay on the dotted line of life! Chat with you again come August!
Thank you for joining me on another ride on the ever smooth and scenic braille highway! Wishing you an awesome and safe month of August! In this month’s article, I will be once again advocating for all blind people young and old, to learn at the very least the A B C’s of braille. I had the opportunity to speak with 2 sisters one blind & the other sighted while sitting at the departure gate at SeaTac airport in Seattle Washington. I was pleasantly surprised since Rachael the blind sister, squashed all the arguments I have heard from people who became blind later in life and all the excuses they use when debating the merits of learning braille. I hope you enjoy what I have learned and maybe have it make a positive effect on your life.
As the nice airport staff deposited me in a chair near my departure gate, I tried making myself comfortable for the two hour wait until my flight in to Vancouver was scheduled to depart. I was wearing my ever fashionable and great conversational starter t-shirt both in print and braille that advertises The Blind Perspective. Then a soft-spoken lady asked me where I was headed to. When I told her Vancouver, she mentioned that her and her sister were heading to Los Angeles to catch a flight to Australia. Then she introduced me to her sister Rachel, who happens to be blind. Well, after giving the Perspective a huge plug, they gave me assurances that they would both become subscribers of the newsletter maybe even signing up during their layover in Los Angeles. We began having a friendly chat.
Rachel is 57 years old and Marlene is 53. Rachel became blind at 42 years from complications brought on from Diabetes. She attended a rehabilitation school for the blind and, while there learned braille. Granted she only learned the uncontracted braille, but here is where I became fascinated with her story. Many of the arguments I have heard over the years from those who did not choose to learn braille later in life, were all pretty much thrown out the window by Rachel’s story. I played devil’s advocate with my questions to Rachel and I informed her of this fact. Below you will see some arguments Rachel uses for learning braille and my argument back to her.
Rachel’s Statement: Learning braille allows me to play cards with my sighted peers.
My Argument: One can use electronic cards with one’s IPhone to identify the cards.
Rachael’s Reply: Why complicate things by needing to have your IPhone along with a listening device, either ear buds or a Bluetooth headset. For example, on this flight to Australia, I can simply pull out my deck of braille playing cards and play a game with my sister or even solitaire. No need for me to take the time to look for my iPhone and search for my headset. Simplification is my friend in this world of too many gadgets and complications.
Rachael’s Statement: Jotting down phone numbers, emails, or quick notes are made much easier by knowing braille.
My Argument: It is much easier to use a computer, recorder, or a smart phone.
Rachael’s Reply: The thing with electronics is they all need electricity. How many times does one’s IPhone run out of it’s charge at the most in opportune time? If using a recorder, you may have to sort through many notes before finding the actual one you want. When using the computer, you need to listen to the speech while maintaining a conversation on the phone. By using braille you can talk and jot down the information simultaneously.
Rachael’s Statement: Labelling documents, clothing, and important items is easier with braille.
My Argument: Easily done by apps such as color identifier, read documents with KNFB Reader and the easiest ask for sighted assistants.
Rachael’s Reply: Braille equals independents! If I am at the local grocery store, I am able to quickly take out my discount member’s card, amongst others, since I have labeled it in braille. The KNFB reader is great to read printed letters but it is clumsy to go through many pages to locate the one I am looking for. By placing a document in my braille writer, and labeling it, for example, water bill June 2017, 75 dollars, I can keep track of bills and the like. The same logic applies with identifying clothing. My app is great to initially identify my clothing. But, creating a braille label for my clothes is faster and much more efficient to identify in the future. As for sighted help, they are not always around or willing. It is better to be independent rather than having to rely on someone all the time for assistance.
Rachel’s Statement: I am able to use elevators independently.
My Argument: Most elevators have the audio announcements, or just use the elevator during peak times and someone sighted can help.
Rachael’s Reply: One time my husband was in the shower and I had scheduled a ride. The ride was early and so I yelled at my husband that I was leaving. I went down the elevator all on my own pressing l for lobby. It seems so insignificant but at the end of the day, it helps to enable blind people to be more independent.
Rachel’s Statement: I am of the mindset that anything worth having is usually very challenging to get. A piece of my independents has been re-captured by me learning braille.
My Argument: I am old, my fingers won’t be able to read the dots, there are apps for that, the bottom line is I am surrounded by sighted family and friends.
Rachel’s Reply: I prefer doing things myself whenever possible. It is quicker and less stressful. Like I said before, life is already too complicated so why complicate things even further.
As many of you who know me know that I am quite shy especially when around People I do not know, so you can imagine how easy and friendly it was to speak with Marlene and Rachel. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Marlene and Rachel for their kindness and for their company. I am on a quest to interview people who use braille either for work or on a daily basis. If you are interested in a q & a session, or can recommend someone to me, please use the email at the top of this article and let me know. Until September, when we travel this braille Highway again, remember to stay on the dotted line of life!!!
Editor's Note: Nat recently did an article on accessible currency. Well here is an update on a new 10 pound note with tactile features. Great Britain recently unveiled the design for its new ten pound note, which includes raised dots and lines. This will make it possible to identify the denomination without sight. The new note also features a portrait of renowned English author Jane Austen.
September mornings still can make me feel this way! Oops! Sorry for bursting into my favorite Neil Diamond song. Happy September to all! I would like to send out a big thank you to everyone who emailed me with their interest in a Q & A session regarding braille in their lives! With this in mind read on below to see what Sophia thinks of braille.
Q. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
A. My name is Sophia Li. I currently live in California with my 3 cats. I am totally blind and I am 32 years old. I am engaged and I am a big braille advocate.
Q. Tell us your interesting story about how you learned braille?
A. I was born with a rare eye condition in which my pupils were not growing at the same rate as the rest of my eyes. So, at the age of 5 while in kindergarten, I was being introduced to braille even though my eyesight was pretty good. Then when I was 6 years old and in grade 1, my eye sight took a drastic turn for the worse and I had only some usable vision. Then half way through grade 1 for some unknown reason my eye sight pretty much returned. At this point I was learning braille while my sighted classmates were learning printed letters. It was decided for my best interest that I should learn print, like my peers and braille was abandoned.
Then by the age of 18, My sight decided to quit on me even though I tried many procedures and medicines, but none were successful. After adjusting to the fact that I had lost my sight for good, I inquired, and found a place that taught braille through an outreach program. I have not looked back since. Braille has been a big part of my life and definitely a big part of my independents.
Q. Can you give us some examples on how braille assists you?
A. The regular things of course, like: labelling my CDS and DVDS and data disks. Finding what I am looking for in a quick manner is made possible by labelling things in braille. I admit that I am in to girly products and by labelling them it makes their use much more pleasant and easier to sort out especially when I am in a rush. My fiancé has a little group that gets together to play poker, rummy, or cribbage. Sometimes the girlfriends/wives tag along and so it is great that I can partake with my braille deck of playing cards. I’m a sentimental person and when my birthday comes along my fiancé goes out and purchases a personal print/braille greeting card for me. That absolutely means the world to me. To have that ability to read the message over and over again and whenever I please is such a big deal for such a small task for the average person. Since I lost my sight, I still pride myself in dressing so I am color coordinated and looking good. I can still do this by sewing on color label tags to my clothes.
Q. I must admit that when we spoke on Skype, you sounded very sure of yourself and very much like you’re in control of your own destiny. What words of advice would you have for the readers out there who are still teetering on whether to learn braille or not?
A. Braille is an awesome weapon for blind people to have in their coping with life bag of tricks. It is quite satisfying for me when I want to find something to listen to and I can do so quickly and painlessly. In addition, while at work, it is a great feeling to be able to retrieve information that is stored on a backup cd or on an external drive, just like my sighted peers, and sometimes faster than them.
If we like it or not, we are always being judged and assessed by others. it is always nice to know that in my case, I stack up pretty evenly. I honestly think it is with the assistants of braille that has enabled me to multitask and keep up with the fast paste environment that is my work.
Q. What do you do for work?
A. I work in the shipping department of a large manufacturing company. I need to keep track of palates of product as they leave the warehouse. I need to know their lot numbers and where each palate is shipped to. It is very important for me to be able to search through and find the necessary items. For example, I made need to find a product that was on back order two weeks ago, and get it out ASAP.
I can do this while a customer may be ranting in my ear. I am efficient and able to provide this service to the best of my abilities.
Q. On a closing note, do you have any final thoughts about braille?
A. In closing, I think braille is an asset to any blind person. For the person who wants to stay at home and raise a family, braille is awesome for organizational purposes; labelling things and brailling out simple directions and to do lists. As for that thriving business person, braille is an awesome tool to benefit us in completing our work as independently and efficiently as possible. Let us not forget, things like receiving greeting cards from special people and the freedom to read the note as often and, whenever we want. It truly gives me a great feeling of satisfaction and pleasure to be able to participate in card games or in a braille adapted scrabble match.
It was an absolute pleasure in speaking with Sophia and reading her replies to my questions. Officially, thank you Sophia!! Once again, please feel free to email me on this subject or anything else pertaining to braille at the email mentioned at the top of this article. A friendly reminder to stay on the dotted line of life! Talk with you again in October!
Happy October, and welcome to the Braille Highway! This month’s article will be the thoughts of tammy and she has a couple of heartwarming facts regarding braille that she has experienced first hand. As per usual, I invite you to email me at my address noted at the beginning of this article.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Tammy from Minnesota. She has 5 children; a daughter 25, a son 16, and 3 step children. Tammy also proudly informed me that she is a new grandmother. She has been a braille user for over 30 years and her braille comes in the form of notes, print/braille books, magazines, and from her braille display.
Apart from the usual practices of labelling food, CD’s/DVD’s, and clothing, Tammy told me some of her experiences and opinions. Tammy obtained her braille certificate several years ago. She now teaches braille both for the state and privately. Braille is a definite tool in Tammy’s toolbox both at home and professionally.
I am sure that many of us have touching memories as children of our parents reading to us. Perhaps we fondly recall reading to our own children, nieces, or nephews. Tammy has spent many hours reading to her children by using the print/braille books. She has already started stock piling books for her newest grandchild so that she will have materials to read. Not only did Tammy give her children a great start towards literacy but just as important, she has created that wonderful parent child bond.
During our conversation I posed the question on what reasons out of the norm would she say would be a good reason to learn braille. As many of us who are fortunate enough to reach the golden years, some may experience a loss of hearing. This would make listening to our electronic gadgets identifying such things as our canned or boxed items very challenging. However, with the use of braille that would be a mute point, no pun intended. Also, when in public places or loud places, the use of a smart phone that is pared with a braille device would add an added layer of privacy while still allowing the blind person the total use of their hearing. In addition, without having to use an ear bud or headphone, there is no restriction in our hearing of the stuff going on around us.
This last story I am going to relay is a very heartwarming one. So, those of you reading who are very sentimental be prewarned. When Tammy was dating the man she is married to, he took her on a sort of scavenger hunt. A little background information, a few months prior to this scavenger hunt he asked Tammy how he could learn braille. So armed with a braille cheat sheet and a braille writer he composed little notes for Tammy to find and read at each spot of the scavenger hunt. At the final spot, the note had brailled on it “Will you marry me?”. Of course, Tammy accepted. Like I exclaimed to Tammy during our chat, that man is definitely a keeper. Needless to say, Tammy has stored the braille notes in a safe place. Yes, you could probably have printed notes placed around and a blind person reading the messages with an OCR app. I must argue though, where is the sense of personableness when hearing the messages in a cold synthetic voice.
My first line of defense when debating the merits of learning the ABC of braille is now, “why complicate life, just complement it with braille!” I would like to publically thank Tammy for allowing me to speak with her and share some of her thoughts and ideas!! Until November when we meet again, remember to stay on the dotted line of life!!
A very warm hello to you and happy November! I had a great opportunity to speak with Donna S., and I have many things to share with you in this month’s article. Remember, I always encourage you to email me your experiences, thoughts, and opinions, as I truly appreciate them.
Donna currently makes Brooklyn, New York her home and is obviously a braille enthusiast. She uses her good old braille writer, along with her Braille N Speak as her 2 main sources of braille. Donna learned braille initially on a braille writer and then later, on the slate and stylus.
Donna was born and raised in Jersey City. While in school, comparable to today’s preschool, she was taught braille in preparation for mainstreaming into the “regular” school system. Donna remembers her first two words she learned in braille; doll and cookie! Perhaps this was due to those two items being near and dear to her heart.
In her childhood days, Donna attended summer camp at Camp Marcella. That is where she was first introduced to the series; The Little House on The Prairie. One of her fondest memories about camp was the library. There was a room filled with braille books from floor to what seemed the ceiling, so many braille books! She retells how she and her friend, Debbie would go through all the books, finding the ones they would read in the two-week period at camp.
Donna mentioned a very heartwarming story about her father. He quit school in order to get a job to help out the family. He also took it upon himself to learn uncontracted braille so he could communicate with her. Donna continued by stating that she brailed him a letter while at camp, and all her friends were in awe that her father knew braille.
Donna considers herself fortunate that at the age of 21 she landed a secretarial job with the Treasury Internal Complaints Department. She stayed with that job right up until she retired. Donna would quickly braille phone numbers while the telephones would constantly ring, and she was the only one in the office.
Donna’s office was on the fourteenth floor in the Federal Building, and on the thirteenth floor worked former president Richard Nixon. When Donna was in her late twenties, in the early to mid-eighties, blindness organizations were circulating petitions around the country to make into law that braille numbers would be required on all elevators.
After Donna got all her friends, family, and coworkers to sign the petition, she was determined to have former president Nixon sign it too. Well she went down to the thirteenth floor and spoke with a member of Richard Nixon’s secret service staff and explained the petition and asked if the former president would sign it.
The secret service agent told her that it sounded like a good cause, and asked her to leave the petition, and come back the following day. When Donna returned the next day, to her delight Richard Nixon, and several of the secret service members signed it as well. Donna proudly mailed the signed petition of to her contact in Texas.
After speaking with Donna, I can safely say that she has a very persuasive way about her. The proof is in the fact that she was able to get Richard Nixon to sign her petition. And, it was made into federal law in the United States. Just being silly, but in all seriousness, good on you Donna!
When I posed the question; why should braille be taught to children?
Donna replied, “Society would frown on teachers who would not teach a sighted child to read print. Why should it be any different for a blind child?”
Donna also thought aloud, “Perhaps the teachers for the blind today are simply too lazy to learn braille in order to teach their students. So, that is maybe why some of them say that it is not important to learn braille or that braille is dying.”
I think that is an interesting theory.
Donna mentioned Xavier Society for the Blind who provides spiritual and religious materials to individuals throughout the United States at no charge. They are the National Catholic Lending Library. With this service, Donna is able to contribute to her church service by reading the mass’s scripture.
For the first time Donna recently received medication with braille instructions on the label. Upon reading these instructions, she learned that the medication she has been taking for two years every morning is meant to be taken at bedtime. To Donna, this, more than anything, clearly illustrates the crucial importance of braille in her everyday life.
In closing, Donna mentioned the cancellation of the braille publication of Guide Post. This was very disappointing to her, as she really enjoyed reading it. It is offered through NFB NewsLline and electronically. However, Donna does not own a braille display to access it using this method.
On a happier note, Donna really enjoys sending out Christmas cards to sighted and blind folks alike. She takes the upmost care in centering words and making the braille message as special as the greeting card is intended to be. I have luckily gotten my name added on to Donna’s Christmas card list. Yay for me!
I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Donna for allowing me to chat with her and write this article. When thinking of braille, just remember, WHY COMPLICATE ONE’S LIFE, WHEN YOU CAN COMPLIMENT IT WITH BRAILLE.
Stay on the dotted line of life! Speak with you again in December!
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