Braille Monitor

Vol. 56, No. 2                                                      February 2013

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive (see below) by

The National Federation of the Blind

Marc Maurer, President

National Office
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland  21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: nfb@nfb.org
website address: http://www.nfb.org
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NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300

Letters to the president, address changes,
subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the national office.
Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also
be sent to the national office or may be emailed to gwunder@nfb.org.

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998


        ISSN 0006-8829

Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive).  You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player.  The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.

You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return label enclosed with the drive when you return the device.

Orlando Site of 2013 NFB Convention

The 2013 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, July 1-6, at the Rosen Centre Hotel at 9840 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Rosen Centre staff only. Call (800) 204-7234.

The 2013 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins, $79; and triples and quads, $85. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 13.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $90-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before May 28, 2013. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2013, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.

Guest-room amenities include cable television; in-room safe; coffeemaker; hairdryer; and, for a fee, high-speed Internet access. Guests can also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site spa. The Rosen Centre Hotel offers fine dining at Executive Chef Michael Rumplik’s award-winning Everglades Restaurant. In addition, there is an array of dining options from sushi to tapas to a 24-hour deli. The hotel has first-rate amenities and shuttle service to the Orlando airport.

The schedule for the 2013 convention is:

Monday, July 1            Seminar Day
Tuesday, July 2            Registration Day
Wednesday, July 3      Board Meeting and Division Day
Thursday, July 4           Opening Session
Friday, July 5                 Business Session
Saturday, July 6            Banquet Day and Adjournment


Vol. 56, No. 2                                                       February 2013


Illustration: NFB Protest at Amazon Headquarters

Information and the Right to Live in the World: The Challenge for
the Blind of the Twenty-First Century
by Gary Wunder

The Braille Symposium: Providing High-Quality Braille Instruction
to Blind Children and Adults
by Natalie Shaheen

My Love Affair with Braille
by Sandy Halverson

Code Master Methodology for Teaching Braille to Adults
by Emily Wharton and Ryan Strunk

Beginning with Braille: Challenges and Choices
by Anna M. Swenson

Teaching English to Blind Immigrants and Refugees
by Sharon Monthei

Setting up Teachers for Success in Their University Braille Courses:
Creating and Maintaining High Standards        
by Sheila Amato

Braille and Technology
by Jennifer Dunnam

How Braille Saved a Blind Chemist
by Henry Wedler

Braille and the IPA: Empowering Careers in the Language Sciences
by Robert Englebretson

Is Braille Still Relevant?
by Buddy Brannan

Make the Scene in 2013!
by Dan Hicks

Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2013 by the National Federation of the Blind

NFB Protest at Amazon Headquarters

On December 12, 2012, blind people from around the nation converged on Seattle to say no to Amazon’s plans to place inaccessible electronic reading devices into the K-12 classrooms of the nation. The Kindle, a machine capable of letting people read books, listen to music, and watch movies, is unfortunately not usable by the blind. After years of sharing our expertise and making clear the importance of accessibility for the blind only to have our heartfelt concern fall on deaf corporate ears, the National Federation of the Blind finally took its message to the streets. Though the weather was damp and dreary, the spirits of the blind Americans who assembled were not. Shown here are people with dogs, canes, signs, and a determination to ensure that our blind children who are K-12 students will not be left behind to satisfy Amazon’s short-sighted attempts to dominate the electronic book market.

Information and the Right to Live in the World: The Challenge for the Blind of the Twenty-first Century

by Gary Wunder

To kindle is “to arouse or inspire,” a fine name for a product intended to transmit knowledge. But the name makes a promise to some, while denying that promise to others.

Several large companies are currently competing for dominance in the marketplace for the distribution of electronic books: who will publish them and in which proprietary formats? Where will people buy them, and what devices will they use to display them? These questions are setting the course for some of the largest technology companies in the United States and the world, and the blind have a major stake in the outcome of the struggle.

Amazon is the largest print bookstore in the world; it is also one of the nation's largest retailers, certainly the largest in the online arena. The Kindle is Amazon's device for reading the electronic books it publishes, and, just as it has done in print, the company is trying to become the dominant retailer of electronic books in the format it has developed.

The Kindle has gotten favorable notice by the public for several reasons. One is its relatively low cost. Amazon has chosen to sell versions of the Kindle at a loss. The strategy is not unique to the company. Many computer printers are sold at a loss because the company knows it will make a profit on the ink or toner required to use them. Amazon believes it will recover the cost of its book reader as customers purchase Kindle books.

The Kindle is also known for the realistic way it displays books. So intent are the designers of e-book readers to emulate the reading of a printed book that turning a page has the look of doing it with paper. So elaborate is this scheme that one can even simulate the wrinkling of a page, a concept completely foreign to the e-book but frequently experienced by the reader of a traditional paper book.

To gain and retain market share, Amazon has made a significant effort to enter the public schools. If textbooks and recreational reading in the classroom are made available using a Kindle, children will come to associate the device with the joy of reading in the same way many associate that pleasure with the touch or the smell of a bound volume. Amazon believes so strongly in this strategy that it has not only offered its products to schools at a loss but offered to give Kindles to schools if they will purchase books from the company.

So what do blind people have against the Kindle and its introduction into the public schools: in a word, inaccessibility. The Kindle is advertised as having the ability to turn text into speech; Amazon therefore argues that this makes its device and its books accessible. Unfortunately that argument is flawed, and it is the job of the National Federation of the Blind to tell Amazon and the general public why.

Since 2009 Kindle has indeed had the ability to speak, but early on it made an agreement with publishers to disable its speech if a publisher requested it be disabled. Authors and publishers argued that the sales of audio books might be diminished if the Kindle could provide narration through its text-to-speech option. Anyone who has heard the quality of synthetic speech and really wants a quality audio experience will understand that this concern has no merit. Even blind people who read using synthetic speech overwhelmingly prefer human narration when it is available, and few sighted people can come to understand the synthetic voices used on handheld devices without hours of exposure and concentration.

The second flaw in Amazon's argument that the Kindle is accessible is that the menus used to operate the product do not reliably speak. Before one can read a book, he or she must be able to open the book shelf (the Kindle can also play music and movies), find the desired book, open it, and activate the function to start playing it. Only after these steps can a reader take advantage of the book's contents. But reading, especially reading textbooks, is more involved than starting and stopping narration. A student must be able to review a passage he or she has already read, sometimes examining it sentence by sentence, word by word, and even character by character to determine the spelling of a word. None of these functions can be performed on most versions of the Kindle, and few can be performed on the most current model.

To simplify the comparison between the Kindle and other e-book readers on the market, the NFB prepared a chart which lists ten features each device should have and then identifies which of the units being compared can perform that function. The products compared are the Kindle, the iBook, and Blio. In all ten cases the Kindle cannot perform the identified function, while the iBook produced by Apple and Blio, book-reading software that runs on many platforms, can. Since it is the schools that are being asked to embrace the Kindle, each function is connected to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. These are the standards by which students and their schools are evaluated.

There you have the comparison, but wait: Amazon advances another argument to support the use of its books in the public schools. It has developed software called Whispercast that will allow its books to be read on other devices such as the popular iDevices from Apple and the Android devices from Google. The pitch is "Let the students bring their own devices," a bonus to the schools who won't have to buy them. Since Android and iOS devices have been built with accessibility for the blind in mind, one might assume that the inaccessible Kindle e-books would be accessible when transferred by Whispercast to one of these, but the sad truth is that they are not.

After years of discussion between the National Federation of the Blind and Amazon, meetings characterized by promises of access soon to come and subsequent releases of devices that still did not talk or allow access with refreshable Braille devices, last fall the Federation decided it was time to act. Marketing a book-reading device that the blind couldn't use was bad enough given how easily computing devices can be made to talk and work with Braille displays, but pushing to get them into our nation's schools crossed a line that the blind dared not ignore. On December 5, 2012, we paid to publish an ad in the magazine Education Week. The goal was to reach teachers and school administrators and remind them that both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education have jointly written and signed a letter saying that devices used in K-12 schools must be usable by blind students and staff. We wrote and distributed press releases with the same message.

Keeping the promise we made in the release, on December 12, 2012, nearly a hundred Federationists and supporters took our message to Amazon headquarters in Seattle by carrying signs and shouting chants to make it clear that blind people will not stand for technological inequality for our children and will not let Amazon turn our schools into places where blind people go to observe passively while others read, write, and learn. Here is the press release issued before the Amazon protest in Seattle.

National Federation of the Blind Condemns Amazon’s Push to Put Kindle E-books in Schools
Blind Americans Will Protest at Amazon Headquarters

In protest of a recent push by Amazon.com to put Kindle e-books, which are inaccessible to blind students, into K-12 classrooms across the country, members and supporters of the National Federation of the Blind will conduct an informational picket at the company’s headquarters on Wednesday, December 12. The action comes on the heels of Amazon’s launch of Whispercast, a system designed to allow teachers and school administrators to push Kindle e-books to different devices, theoretically allowing the sharing of content among devices brought to school by the students.

Kindle content, unlike some other e-book products, is not accessible to blind students, even on devices that are themselves accessible to the blind, such as personal computers and iPads. This is because Amazon makes Kindle content available only to its own proprietary text-to-speech engine, if at all, rather than to accessibility applications of the reader’s choice. Furthermore, the limited accessibility features that Amazon has implemented do not allow for the kind of detailed reading that students need to do in an educational setting. Although the books can be read aloud with text-to-speech, the student cannot use the accessibility features of his or her device to learn proper spelling and punctuation, look up words in the dictionary, annotate or highlight significant passages, or take advantage of the many other features that Kindle devices and applications make available to sighted students. Kindle e-books also cannot be displayed on Braille devices, making them inaccessible to blind and deaf-blind students who read Braille. 

Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Amazon has repeatedly demonstrated utter indifference to the recommendations of blind Americans for full accessibility of its Kindle e-books and failed to follow the best practices of other e-book providers. Blind Americans will not tolerate this behavior any longer. While we urge Amazon to correct the many obvious deficiencies in its implementation of accessibility and remain willing to work with the company to help it do so, we will oppose the integration of these products into America’s classrooms until Amazon addresses these deficiencies. Putting inaccessible technology in the classroom not only discriminates against blind students and segregates them from their peers but also violates the law.” 

For more information on this important issue, please visit <www.nfb.org/kindle-books>.

So said the release, and so too said those who came to Seattle with the message that blind people are not willing to be consigned to lives of idleness and illiteracy. For three hours Amazon employees and those on the street where the building was located saw signs with messages on both sides saying:

Fix Kindle Books Now!
Don't Leave Blind Kids Behind!

Equal Access in the Classroom!
Make Kindle Books Accessible!

Stop Segregating Blind Students!
Stop Sending Broken Books to Schools!

Echoing the same themes, pedestrians and drivers with their windows open got a bit of Christmas cheer with a song created for the occasion (sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”).

Kindle books, Kindle books, we should have them too/Without access for the blind, the Kindle is boo-hoo/Amazon sells e-books, but keeps them from the blind/But when those books are used, the schools are truly in a bind/Blind kids wish to read, but Bezos tells them no/Amazon please fix your books or they will have to go/Dashing through the school, with a Kindle in their hand/O'er the words they go, this device should be banned/Cannot really learn, making blind kids struggle/But oh what fun it would be if it were accessible.

For a little more holiday cheer and information we sang:

All I want for Christmas is a Kindle I can read, a Kindle I can read, a Kindle I can read; All I want for Christmas is a Kindle I can read, so I can read along with my peers.

I'm dreaming of an accessible Kindle, just like iBooks on the Blio,/Where I navigate freely, and read seamlessly/All of my core curriculum.

All we are saying, is we want to read.

Of course what is a protest without a few chants?

Two, four, six, eight, whose e-books do not rate? Amazon, Amazon, Amazon
            What e-books discriminate against the blind: Kindle,/Who should fix them: Amazon.
            No access to Whispercast speaks louder than words!
            Kindle teaches inequality in the classroom!
            Inaccessibility equals inequality!
            Amazon's whispered message is inaccessibility!
            More books for us!/More money for you!/Why not do what you're supposed to do!
            Amazon has books!/Blind guys have money!/The lack of access isn't even funny!
            Four, three, two, one!/Whose e-books are no fun?/Amazon’s, Amazon's.

Mid-way through our three-hour visit, NFB President Marc Maurer, NFB Director of Strategic Planning John Paré, and NFB General Counsel Mehgan Sidhu delivered fifteen letters addressed to Jeff Bezos, the president and chief executive officer of Amazon. These had been written by students, parents, and others concerned that blind students be provided an equal chance to read and write. One of those letters was written by Carlton Ann Walker, the parent of a blind daughter. Here is what she said to Mr. Bezos:

November 27, 2012

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I write to you concerning Amazon's efforts to deploy Kindle devices, e-books, and related software in elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States. I am both an attorney and a teacher of students with blindness/visual impairment. I am also the mother of a blind child. While I enjoy e-books and recognize the value of technology in the classroom, I am concerned that Amazon Kindle products are not accessible to individuals who are blind.

“What's the problem?” some may ask. Can't blind children just use other, accessible technology, even if it doesn't contain all the features of the Kindle products? No. “Separate but equal” has been discredited as an effective educational methodology. When our blind students are excluded from the general curriculum by inaccessible technology, they are excluded from the education to which they are entitled. Federal law prohibits school districts from utilizing inaccessible technology. Through this program Amazon is inducing school districts into illegal action. Surely Amazon does not want to engage in such dubious behavior.

This matter hit home with me just a few months ago. Prior to the start of sixth grade, my daughter came to me crying. In addition to the typical fears of entering middle school, she was petrified of her school's plan to utilize Kindle technology throughout her classes. She knew that Kindles are inaccessible to her. She knew the Kindle e-books are inaccessible, even when she attempts to use them on her accessible devices. My little girl saw Kindles as yet another way she would be excluded from her peers. Please make the Kindle and its e-books accessible so that my daughter may experience the wealth of learning and collaboration opportunities Kindle and its associated products offer.

The saddest part of this whole matter is that accessibility is not difficult to achieve. Even extremely visual technologies, such as the iOS GUI, have been made accessible to individuals who are blind/visually impaired. I simply cannot understand why an innovative company such as Amazon has not yet built accessibility into its products. I hope that Amazon will soon do so.

Technological accessibility is no different from the physical accessibility offered by wheelchair ramps. Despite early concerns that wheelchair ramps would not integrate well into our society, we now know that ubiquitous wheelchair ramps have proven a boon to all. They have even spawned an explosion of products, such as wheeled suitcases and rolling carts that utilize the omnipresent ramps. My request for an accessible Kindle is no different.

By creating accessibility with universal design in mind, Amazon can and should produce a better, more desirable product for all its consumers. Thus Amazon will be providing accessible technology, helping schools comply with the law, including all students in the benefits of the technology, and innovating beyond its competitors. Win, win, win.

I thank you for your attention to my letter. Please feel free to contact me with any questions and/or concerns. I am

Very truly yours,

Carlton Anne Cook Walker
President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
Attorney at Law
Teacher of Students with Blindness/Visual Impairment

No protest would be complete without a little street theater, so the Grinch who stole Christmas made an appearance, took some questions from the crowd, and in his answers conveyed the attitude all too typical of Amazon and its leadership: our product is accessible, and, if it isn't, that's too bad. You say you don’t remember The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Let’s review the story as it was presented on the streets of Seattle.

The Grinch Who Stole E-Books
Every blind kid in school liked reading a lot,
But the Grinch who ran Amazon thought the blind weren't so hot.
The Grinch blocked access, he thought the blind were teasin’!
Now please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be that his head wasn't screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason to recall,
May have been that his wallet was too fat after all.
But whatever the reason,
His shoes or his bucks,
He blocked their books, thought that the blind were just stuck.
Amazon's Grinch thought the story was done,
But the blind and their books were not to be shunned.
The blind wrote letters, made videos, sent Tweets,
And surprised the Grinch by showing up on the streets.
Yes, that Grinch Bezos had thought he knew best,
But the blind would continue to pursue access with zest.
Will our Grinch change his mind,
Or will his unfair practice put the business behind?
The blind want to read and compete with them all,
We won't let our kids be left in the hall.
To Bezos we say, “Don't you have a heart?”
To show us, equal Access to Kindle would be a good start.
We will not rest until books we have too,
The blind of the nation are here to face you.
If you insist on keeping us out,
We'll have no choice but to shout.
We will block Amazon from selling to schools,
We will not let the public be played for fools.
We are done for today, but we will not stop,
For access to reading we all want a lot.
Now is the time for access to come true,
And, Jeff Bezos, until you do,
We will not trust Kindle Books from you!

The question that must be asked after all of the letters, the press releases, the protest, the signs, and the chants is, did the press get it and communicate it to the public. National Public Radio got it. So too did the Seattle Times in an article that appeared on December 12, 2012. It said, in part:

The push to use technology in the classroom may have a downside for blind students if the technology favored in schools is one that is less accessible, as Amazon’s push to put Kindle e-books in K-12 classrooms demonstrates.

Carrying a sign that read “Equal Access in the Classroom,” former New York Governer David Paterson joined about seventy members of the National Federation of the Blind outside Amazon.com’s Seattle headquarters Wednesday to urge the company to make its Kindle e-books fully accessible to blind students. The protesters argued that, while Kindle books can be read aloud with Amazon’s text-to-speech engine, they lack key features available in other products, including Apple’s iBooks. Those features include the ability to annotate important passages and check spelling or punctuation. They also said Kindle books, unlike iBooks, cannot be read with a Braille display that connects to devices, hurting students who are both blind and deaf.

The two-hour protest came on the heels of Amazon’s recent launch of an online tool called Whispercast, which partly seeks to raise its presence in schools by enabling teachers to push Kindle books to different devices. “Disabled people are more disoriented than ever as we shift to technology that leaves them out,” said Paterson, only the second legally blind governor of any state in U.S. history.

Now that the protest is behind us, what is Amazon's reaction, and what plans do we have? Amazon no longer claims that it is working with us to make its products accessible. Officials have gone so far as to say they will no longer meet with us. No doubt this is our punishment for speaking out, but continued contact with Amazon would be meaningful only if it led to products the blind could use. Since 2007 we have offered our best technical people, have met with their engineers, and have tried to persuade their leadership. The result has been products that keep coming to the market that are of no use to the blind and an attempt by Amazon to pretend that this doesn't matter. To the libraries they go—to the grammar schools and the high schools, to the colleges and universities, and never a thought do they give to what it is like to be a blind student confronted with its technology and the demand to be productive with it. When those with whom we work have a genuine desire to make products we can use, we get behind them and lend our name to their effort. When it becomes apparent that we are being played and used, we press for change from without.

The law is on our side, and the industry has clearly demonstrated that accessibility is not only a possibility but a reality. Apple with its products that use iOS and KNFB Reading Technology with Blio have set the bar. Products using the Android operating system are striving to reach it, and so too is Barnes and Noble with its recent release of an iOS app that allows reading the books it produces for the Nook with the speech built into the Apple line of products.

It is commonly accepted that the pace of change in technology is almost overwhelming, yet with all this progress how often are we who are blind asked to wait, wait, wait? Access will come soon, they say, but soon will be far too late if we have children who don't learn to read and aren't encouraged to read because the preferred device in their schools doesn’t work nonvisually. If we let Kindle become the device on which reading is done and it is not usable by the blind, the major message education will send is that it is the role of the blind to be spectators while others take the field, get the glory, take home the memories, and go on to better things.

The hope of blind people to assume our place as normal and capable human beings rests on a good education and the opportunity to pursue the jobs it should secure. E-books can and will be a part of our education and a part of the education received by all Americans, but none of us should settle for tools that keep out those who are willing and able to learn and who are anxious to make their financial and spiritual contribution to the world. The blind will not settle for such an outcome, and neither will the sighted once they come to understand that a company’s short-term determination to dominate the market is undermining the contract the public has made with the blind: “We will rehabilitate and educate you, and in turn you will work for the benefit of us all.”

Consider a Charitable Gift

Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind

Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB

Your Gift Will Help Us

Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!

The 2012 Braille Symposium
Providing High-Quality Braille Instruction to Blind Children and Adults

by Natalie Shaheen

From the Editor: Efficiently reading and writing Braille is crucial for blind people, so determining a way to get quality Braille instruction is essential. Helping a motivated student become a competent and enthusiastic teacher of the blind who believes in Braille requires coordinating the work of many organizations and those members who set policy. Too often there is a lack of critical communication among all of the parties required to bring Braille to literacy-hungry blind students, so one of the reasons for the symposium was to bring together blind consumers, teachers of the blind, college professors, and K-12 school administrators.

Much of this issue is devoted to covering the Braille Symposium that took place in the fall of 2012. Here is what Jernigan Institute Education Director Natalie Shaheen, who organized the conference, has to say about the participants, the reason for conducting it, and the strategies agreed upon to increase both the quality and quantity of Braille instruction:

Thanks to the efforts of knowledgeable and enthusiastic teachers, some blind children and adults in this country have access to excellent Braille instruction; however, this is not good enough. It shouldn't be just the lucky students like those who attended the Braille Symposium who have access to great Braille instruction; all blind students, young and old, should have such opportunities.

To encourage progress towards this end, the NFB Jernigan Institute hosted the 2012 Braille Symposium to promote the promising practices used by creative educators, to develop solutions to long-standing problems that create barriers to providing quality instruction, and to share the daily life experiences of blind people who use Braille. This event, which was held in late September, was unique in format and diverse in audience. A discussion-based model was adopted for the Symposium to allow all participants—blind people, teachers, university faculty, parents, and librarians—to share their knowledge and experience. The goal was not only to communicate information but to come together to create new knowledge and understanding.

The sessions offered at the Symposium came in three varieties: promising practice sessions, problem/solution sessions, and vignettes showing the way Braille is used daily by blind people. The sessions and the related discussions were moderated by Mark A. Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, who urged and ensured that conversations go beyond defining problems and remain focused on solutions.

The Symposium was effective in creating greater understanding among diverse groups of people passionate about Braille and in developing plans for systems that can provide high-quality Braille instruction to blind students of all ages. Some highlights of the innovative ideas that were born of the conversations at the Symposium follow.

Many blind people around the country are fluent Braille readers, and some of them hold the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB). It would be advantageous for teachers and Braille-literate blind Americans to establish connections so that they can impart knowledge and communicate with each other to strengthen instruction for blind students. Blind people could serve as Braille tutors and mentors for struggling and beginning readers or provide enrichment for students who excel in reading Braille.

Federationists from several affiliates already successfully work with teachers and students in this way; expanding this work would be beneficial to all parties. One idea for facilitating connections between Braille-literate adults and teachers would be to ask a question on the NCLB test about whether the test-taker is interested in being a resource to teachers of the blind. When trying to make these connections, both parties, the blind adult and the teacher, must remember that relationships are easier to build in neutral spaces with no conflict. That is to say, it's hard to build a relationship in a conference room during a contested IEP meeting.

Many educators are required to take an introduction to special education course that covers all areas of disability, including blindness. The professors who teach these courses frequently know little about blindness and as a result do not like to lecture on the topic. A Blindness 101 YouTube video or lecture on iTunes U could be created for this purpose. Then information about it could be disseminated to university faculty. This would help raise general awareness and foster a positive attitude about blindness and Braille among the general teacher population.

Mainstream literature and research about reading almost never mentions Braille as a means for literacy. Working with authors and researchers to increase the discussion of Braille in mainstream texts about reading would help raise awareness about Braille. Much time is spent debating what percentage of students are not getting Braille. Let's stop debating and instead focus on doing something about the outrage that many students who should be taught Braille do not have that opportunity. Enrichment programs like the NFB Teacher of Tomorrow program are helpful in providing future teachers of the blind with rich experience interacting with blind people of all ages.

Directors of special education frequently oversee teachers of the blind, yet they rarely know much about blindness and the critical role of Braille. Making an effort to get to know directors of special education programs and teaching them about blindness, the importance of Braille, and the amount of time needed to provide quality Braille instruction will significantly improve the instruction blind students receive. Knowledgeable administrators are more likely to provide their teachers with adequate supports and listen to those teachers when they argue for for hiring additional teaching staff to ensure that the school is providing adequate support to its blind students.

Many high school students and college underclassmen who are considering education as a profession don't know about teaching blind students and what a difference good teachers of the blind can make. Additionally short lessons about Braille taught to elementary school classes by a teacher of the blind or a blind person are great for sparking early interest.

Laws that govern the size of a class in a given grade exist in many states. Similar statutes that regulate the maximum number of students a teacher of the blind may have on his or her caseload would make it easier for school administrators to justify hiring badly needed teachers of the blind.

The articles that follow address a good deal of the material that was covered at the Braille Symposium. To educate yourself on the latest research on Braille and the promising practice, be sure to read the other articles from the Symposium.

My Love Affair with Braille

by Sandy Halverson

From the Editor: Sandy Halverson is a Federation leader who now lives in Virginia. Braille has been an integral part of her working and recreational life since she first learned to read. She established the positive tone that characterized the Braille Symposium by describing her use of the code throughout an active and useful life. This is what she said:

I am totally blind and always have been. I am literate because teachers like some of you in this room made me learn, sometimes ad nauseam, that the i goes uphill and the e downhill, and, no matter how many tears I shed on any given day, I would learn the differences between f, d, h, and j. I knew things had come full circle when I observed my sighted son’s frustrations as he was learning handwriting--printing and cursive, upper and lower case letters. I figured I had had it easy because of that little dot six [the capital sign].

In elementary school, if I couldn’t be the best at anything, I didn’t bother with it. For example, I hated making my bed. There was just too much sheet. Today I would probably be signed up for occupational therapy to strengthen my hands so that I could grasp the sheet, give it a proper fling over the bed, and make all those trips around or over the bed to make sure the sheet was even, tuck it in, and do the next piece of the job. But I loved Braille and became the fastest reader and writer with the Perkins Brailler. However, imagine my annoyance at poor, innocent Judy Brisbine, a new fourth- or fifth-grade student who came from Iowa and could write faster with a slate than I. How dare she. My only excuse was that I was exhibiting normal adolescent behavior. She wrote those dots so quickly that I just had to work harder so that she wouldn’t be better than me! The slate and stylus became my pen and paper, but I was also building literacy skills. Judy and I did become friends because I remember her showing me her slate with the four-line section that can be opened so you don’t have to take the paper out to read what you have written. Of course I had to buy one, and I thought of her whenever I used it.

During my high school years I remember newly blind students who came to the Maryland School for the Blind. Their initial experiences with Braille were not nearly as much fun as mine. My regret is that I lacked the maturity to have a positive impact on the development and strengthening of their literacy skills.

Yes, I used a slate and stylus with regular, cheap spiral-bound notebooks for note-taking. I got really fast at removing the slate from the bottom of one page, flipping the next page to the left, and clamping the slate to the top of the new sheet during my four-year college psych degree and court reporting classes. My battery never ran down, and I didn’t have to worry about that cussed power cord or use structured discovery to find the nearest electrical outlet.

During my work as a rehabilitation teacher, I used Braille to label client files, and, as good as I am at problem-solving, I cannot figure out how an iPhone would help with that. I also have some pretty well-used Braille knitting patterns, and I just can’t see keeping my Braille Sense in my knitting bag. During my employment as both a court official and a freelance court reporter taking depositions, I had to maintain Braille notes. My steno machine was connected to a computer which was connected to a Braille display for read back purposes when requested by judge or attorney. If you’ve ever spent time in court, you know how quickly cases are called. I was lucky to have time to write on my Braille notetaker the last names of the defendant and his attorney and the time the case was called. It was easier and faster to maintain this separate list for my records rather than trying to search across the computer task bar looking for my list and trying to get back to the transcription document in time for the first question. Braille was a much better tool in my tool box.

In my current work as a medical transcriptionist, there are conflicts between the Word Clone transcription software we use and Microsoft Word, so during transcription Microsoft Word documents may not be accessible. I have a Braille Sense notetaker file with orthopedic, cardiac, and neurosurgical terms and the names of specialty knives, saws, needles, hemostatic agents, and related data so I won’t have to remember all that vocabulary. That’s my hardcopy medical dictionary, pharmaceutical reference, etc. It’s all in one file, no need for volumes and volumes of hardcopy Braille that cannot be updated.

The only job I ever had in which I did not have to convince my employer of the benefits of Braille was when I worked as the receptionist at the National Federation of the Blind headquarters, but I still had to figure out how to keep track of who was in the building, take and deliver phone messages, and do related clerical tasks.

Thirty years ago some parents of blind children among others (I was not a part of the group then) designed the NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders children’s reading contest. Teachers and parents were concerned that the only Braille materials to which their children or students had access were textbooks, and they probably weren’t on time unless they came through APH quota funds for residential schools. In the early 1990s I was asked to serve as a judge for that contest. Imagine my surprise when I came home from work one day to find a post office mail bag with hundreds of pieces of print and Braille contest-related correspondence. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of that because it was a most impressive obstacle blocking my front door.

The children who were not winners in their grade categories were probably not as excited about the contest as the winners, but the teachers and parents had finally identified something that would motivate their students and children to want to read Braille for fun. Reviewing book lists and other contest data made me want to go to my nearest library to read long-forgotten favorites, but the real message was that there simply was not enough Braille for blind kids.

I served as a judge for several years. It was exciting to observe gains made as students increased the number of pages read and demonstrated through community service projects how their knowledge of Braille was helping with their integration in their local communities. Several participants recognize this contest as having encouraged them to become excellent Braille readers and writers. They recognize that the high expectations of teachers and parents led to their academic and employment successes. Two of my colleagues this weekend were participants in that contest and are now proficient young adults recognized for their Braille reading prowess. Our contest will soon have a much different look, and the hope is that parents and teachers will find it easier to involve their Braille-reading students and that the students will network in different ways with their peers from other parts of the country.

Some of you in this room have either been involved in or heard of our Braille Enrichment Through Literacy and Learning (BELL) programs in several states throughout the country. This program continues to grow. For two weeks each summer blind and low-vision students spend a minimum of six hours a day learning Braille using a combination of reading, Perkins and slate writing, games, contests, Braille musical chairs, body Braille--which has nothing to do with piercing--and field trips organized and led by blind role models, where students look for Braille in public places like restroom signs, elevators, McDonald’s cup lids, and the DC metro. The self-confidence these kids gain in two weeks has to be seen to be believed. I live in Virginia, and teachers have commented to me on the gains some of our BELL participants have made.

While our BELL programs are great for the youngest among us, we still have a lot to do, and I want to be a part of making positive change in the literacy rates of blind students and helping to get them motivated to see the importance of reading and writing Braille, not only to do well academically, but to increase their employment opportunities. Our National Association to Promote the Use of Braille listserv can make you weary because of the volume when you open your inbox, but the discussions are thought-provoking. Recently a blind man has asked how he can increase his slate speed, admitting that he did not do well in college because he didn’t have access to hardcopy math and foreign language materials and was not fast enough to create his own. A woman sought suggestions regarding Braille access technology to use with her iPhone, or there may be a request for foreign language Braille instructional materials for use with ESL individuals. It’s free, and our moderator does a wonderful job limiting posts to Braille-specific topics.

Six years ago I was contacted by the grandmother of a legally blind child. She was a retired public school teacher, and the mother had taught for a couple of years and decided she preferred being a stay-at-home mom. The child who was then four, could recognize large print letters, was inquisitive, and loved books. The mom and grandmother thought that was all well and good but recognized that she would not succeed with print only; at four, she was slow, so I was asked if I would tutor this child during the summer. Both adults knew I have no teaching credential, but I do know Braille, have a sighted child who is fortunately a literate adult, and they liked what I proposed to do for short, thirty-minute lessons. The child liked flash cards and silly sentences, and, if she did really well, I would let her write things on my BrailleNote with the speech on so she could listen to the speech and check her accuracy on the Braille display. It was simply a way to make Braille fun.

Imagine how surprised I was to get a call from her first teacher of blind students who said I had done everything wrong. I didn’t insist on proper posture with feet on the floor. I didn’t use the Sally Mangold series or any other Braille teaching curriculum. And what could I possibly have been thinking to let this child get her hands on a BrailleNote. Our conversation ended after I politely replied that my chairs are no longer child-friendly; they’re adult chairs. Neither of my parents was an educator. They introduced my sighted siblings to letters and words through cereal boxes, signs observed while driving down highways, and lots of other places where print is abundant. No one told them they shouldn’t be teaching their children print. After I hung up, I thought about how fortunate I was not to have had her as a Braille teacher.

One of the things I do in Virginia is work with parents who find the IEP process frustrating and service delivery abominable. They want help getting the proper services to meet specific educational goals. We do have some great teachers in Virginia, and my regret is that there simply is not enough time to talk with them long enough or often enough for me to learn what they do and how I might be able to help.

I’m glad to be here this weekend. By Saturday evening we’ll have identified more resources than can be Tweeted—I hope that’s the correct verb tense, so you now know something else I don’t do yet. We won’t solve all the issues we will be considering, but what a great beginning! Thank you.

Code Master Methodology for Teaching Braille to Adults

by Emily Wharton and Ryan Strunk

From the Editor: Emily Wharton and Ryan Strunk are both employed by BLIND, Incorporated, the NFB training center located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Emily is the Braille instructor, Ryan the technology instructor. Both are dedicated to helping blind people graduate as literate adults.

For a long time complaints about materials for teaching Braille to adults have been a topic of discussion between blind adults and their instructors. Emily has tried to address this by creating a new system for teaching Braille. The system includes a textbook, but it is far more than just another book on teaching Braille. Because using new technology is a part of this system, Ryan's role has been critical.

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Braille, here are some pointers and definitions. Words in Braille can be written letter by letter, as they are in print, or can be represented by contractions and short forms. Some commonly used words are represented by dot combinations that are not already used for numbers, letters, or punctuation. Words such as with, of, for, were, and was are represented in this way and are called contractions. A short form is a letter standing by itself that represents a word. The letter b standing by itself is the word but, the letter c the word can, and the letter d the word do. Every letter represents a word. If a letter standing by itself is not intended to be a word, it is preceded by a special symbol called a letter sign. This makes it possible to represent a list in which a is the first item, b the second, and z the twenty-sixth.

A peg slate is used to introduce students to Braille. Pegs are inserted into the holes of a board to make the shapes of the Braille symbols.

Here is the written version of the remarks presented by Ryan and Emily at the Braille Symposium on September 28, 2012:


When I began teaching Braille in the adult comprehensive program at BLIND, Incorporated, in March 2009, our students had a generally negative attitude about Braille and were performing below expectation in Braille reading and writing proficiency. They complained that Braille was hard and not useful for them in their daily lives. These adults complained of feeling like a first grader and acted as if using a slate and stylus was a punishment. They were also taking five months or more to learn the Braille code and budgeting very little time to work on building speed and fluency before they completed the program. In short, we had a bad Braillitude going on, and we needed to turn it around.

Reflecting on my own experiences as an adult Braille learner and consulting with other Braille enthusiasts who learned Braille as a teenager or adult, I [Emily] began work on a new method for teaching Braille to adults. In order to address the problems I was seeing, I needed for this method to incorporate the following elements: decrease stress and increase enjoyment, make studying outside class easy, show how useful Braille is, teach to the student's learning style, focus on "sight words" and context to increase fluency, leverage the power and promise of technology, foster mastery motivation, and customize material to the student's interests.

I was teaching Braille using this method by the fall of 2009. I completed the first version of the Code Master textbook around this time, and we have been using it as our primary teaching text since then. In January of 2010 we combined Braille and technology into a single class called Communications, and I instructed my colleague Ryan Strunk on implementing this method. Ryan and I have been using it since with all Braille learners in the general adult comprehensive program.

Overview of the Method

The Code Master Adult Learning System consists of five components: 1) the Code Master Adult Learning System manual, 2) a three-ring binder for customized notes, 3) an audio CD or MP3 files for textbook tutorial, 4) instructions for customizing the curriculum for students, and 5) methods for incorporating technology into Braille instruction. The following sections explain these components more completely.

When students begin the program knowing no Braille, they start by learning the dot configurations. They work on this orally and using a peg slate. On day one they learn the first ten letters. Students are given textbooks, peg slates, and audio materials. They receive instruction in reading technique and are encouraged to work on reading the textbook and touch pages outside class, but the method and overall class structure are discussed so that students understand the process and know that reading technique will not become a focus of lessons until later in the course. Generally, within the first two weeks students know the alphabet, numbers, basic punctuation, and alphabet signs. They have also learned to write using a Braillewriter and Braille notetaker. They then move immediately to learning contracted Braille. This is done orally and by writing words and sentences. The class time is divided between writing words and sentences and drilling signs. The proportion of time spent on each depends on the student's learning style. Students learn to use the slate and stylus in the third or fourth week and begin turning in out-of-class slate assignments.

After students have assimilated the concepts of contractions and short forms, they begin working on reading Braille on a refreshable Braille display. Reading from the display is generally easier for students because they learn to distinguish the shapes made by the dots and also build confidence. The students then begin reading double-spaced Braille in the textbook and worksheets. Timing for these transitions depends on the individual student's performance and initiative. The method and materials are designed to teach the entire code in six weeks; however, this can be achieved sooner by more motivated students. Generally students with below average or low motivation levels tend to finish within eight to ten weeks.

 After learning the code, the students begin reading articles and books of their choosing outside class. They read self-selected and instructor-selected material in class. Students can choose any book in the library, request an article on a particular topic, or request a book from BARD or Bookshare to be embossed or read on a refreshable Braille display. The goal is to get students started reading actual material that is interesting to them and from which they can use context to increase their reading speed and fluency as soon as possible. Braille reading speed is increased by reading, so we want to get them reading at the earliest possible moment. Braille embossing, Braille displays, and the Internet have made nearly infinite quantities of Braille available, and the sooner people can dive in, the better.


 Decrease Stress and Increase Enjoyment

This method breaks down the process of learning to read and write Braille into its two basic parts. When an adult student approaches a page of Braille, she is asking herself two questions: "What dots am I feeling?" and "What do those dot configurations mean?" These questions can be addressed separately, and, by so doing, we can spread the stress over a larger period of time and substantially decrease the student's frustration. This creates more positive feeling, which in turn leads to more time spent studying outside class. Introducing the Braillewriter first and then working on using the slate and stylus after learning the alphabet also redistributes frustration and creates a more positive view of the slate. Students can see more advanced students using slates and can look forward to receiving theirs as a mark of progress.

Make Studying Outside Class Easy

Out-of-class study is an essential component of the Braille learning process. However, it is often difficult for instructors to get students to spend their out-of-class time studying. When I asked students why they weren't working more in the evenings, I was told, "I don't have time," "My book is too big to carry around," "I tried, but I got stuck on this word," and "I'm just brain-dead at the end of the day." I wanted to take away these rationales and give students so many ways to work on learning Braille and make it so convenient that they would have no excuses for failing to study outside class.

The Code Master Adult Learning System textbook was designed to group the signs in a way that would make them easier to memorize. Short forms, which are typically easier for adults to remember, are introduced immediately after the alphabet. The contractions are introduced in an order that highlights the basic logic of the code. The use and repetition of sight words is both in line with whole-word reading pedagogy and extremely useful for cementing signs into a student's memory. The book also contains mnemonic sentences like "Brice has a boundless passion for country dance." and "Science movements require usefulness, clarity, and strong direction." These sentences contain all of the dot four-six and dot five-six signs respectively.

The book was created for a thirty-cell Braille line so that it would fit in a standard three-ring binder. It is important that students be able to take their books with them in a backpack or briefcase or remove pages to study while on the bus or in a doctor's waiting room. The binder is divided into three sections, with dividers to make things easier for a new Braille reader to find. The first page is a grid of the print and Braille alphabet and digits. I first made these sheets for our seniors program but realized they would be a useful reference for both Braille learners who learned to read print and native Braille readers who needed to learn the shapes of print letters and numbers. After this page is the textbook itself. In the second section are touch pages. These are lines of Braille characters that students can use to practice tracking lines and developing their sense of touch. We point out that this is a less mentally taxing way to get more practice in at the end of a long day. The third section contains references and charts listing the various contractions and punctuation. I remembered being terribly frustrated as a Braille student trying to find a particular sign in my textbook when I couldn't remember how it was made or used. I wanted to give students reference materials they could use while reading and writing, as well as raised-line charts, which are useful for people with a visual or other special learning style.

An essential component of the textbook is the audio materials. The binder also contains two CDs. One CD is a recording of all of the dot configurations as they appear in the textbook. Students use this for memorizing signs as well as for looking up signs they may not remember. They can use this CD to study while they are doing dishes or folding laundry. A sighted agency staff trainee told me that she listened to this CD as she drove to work.

The other CD, in MP3 format, contains a recording of the entire textbook. Students can use it to get themselves unstuck when they are reading at home. They can also read along with the CD to build speed. A common problem for new Braille readers is running across a sign that they do not recognize and lacking the context to deduce the meaning. This CD allows students to overcome this problem independently. It is also very useful for people wishing to brush up on rusty Braille skills on their own. A couple of our alumni who wanted to strengthen their knowledge of the Braille code have used the book and CD combination without wasting time and expense hiring an instructor.

These audio files are also available as MP3 files, so students can transfer them to their iPods or other audio devices. We are currently working on converting them into DAISY files that can be played on the NLS players for greater access and easier navigation. The added markup will allow navigation by page and by line. It will also be easier to change playback speed to make it simpler for students at all levels to follow along with the recording. Another idea for future consideration is an iOS app that would play the audio files as well as provide quizzes on each lesson.

Teach to the Student's Learning Style

Students with an auditory learning style excel at memorizing the dot configurations and learn well from the drills and CDs. Students with a kinesthetic learning style retain the signs by typing words and sentences on a Braille notetaker. Students with a visual learning style respond well to the peg slate and reading from Braille displays and books. We make a point of talking about both the dot numbers and shapes of the signs until we figure out which makes the most sense to the student. We then tailor the classwork accordingly. Everyone has to learn to read and write, but focusing on the best method to increase retention makes the learning process faster and more efficient.

Focus on Sight Words and Context to Increase Fluency

The textbook contains the thousand most common words in the English language, broken into individual lessons dealing with the signs they contain. These words only appear correctly contracted so that students get used to seeing them correctly. Most lessons contain numbered sentences to increase recognition of numbers and show the rules in action. The sentences are generally simple and contain as many sight words as possible to increase exposure to these essential words and make the textbook useable by anyone with at least a high school reading level, possibly lower.

Leverage the Power and Promise of Technology

Some people say that technology is making Braille obsolete; however, it is actually the opposite. Technology is making Braille abundant and providing new possibilities for Braille teaching. Typing on a Braille notetaker with a Braille keyboard gives students instant audio feedback on what they are writing, as well as the ability to read what they have written on the Braille display. Having a student read from a Braille display while the instructor types the lesson on the computer allows an amazing and immediate level of customization. The instructor can drill on a particular sign that is giving the student trouble or can write out song or movie titles to sustain the student's interest. We have found that Braille on a Braille display is generally easier for new readers to read and is an effective way of easing students into standard-sized Braille. By the time students are reading on the display, they have learned enough signs to build many common words that allow them to create engaging lessons. These techniques have also served to show students that technology and Braille are actually complementary rather than an either/or choice. It encourages them to want to use a Braille display with a computer or mobile phone instead of relying solely on speech.

Foster Mastery Motivation

Mastery motivation is the intrinsic confidence and desire to learn Braille that stem from the rapid mastery in learning the code much more quickly than using previous instructional methods. Because mastery of the code is gained much faster than in traditional methods, the student's confidence is increased, and the motivation to continue mastering Braille is increased as well.

Telling students that they will learn the Braille code in six weeks has helped them realize that learning Braille really isn't as hard or complicated as some people suggest. When they hear that it has been done and see others doing it, they generally rise to the occasion. Many people, especially book lovers, are thrilled to be reading again quickly. We make it very clear that they won't be reading fast at this point and that building speed will take time, effort, and mileage under the fingers, but they will be reading, and they will be reading real books and articles instead of just lessons in a textbook.

Customize Material to the Student's Interests

The only way to become a better reader is to read, and the best way to get people to read is to give them something that they want to read. This is the whole point behind getting people through the code quickly. While students are given specific pieces to read in class to build particular skills, they take home material they choose and select projects that are interesting and useful to them. This builds intrinsic motivation and creates a situation in which instructors need to provide less external motivation, which is generally less effective in the long run. Not every student enjoys reading books. A good number of our students have never read for pleasure and have no desire to do so. Our goal is to make it possible for them to read books if that is what they need or want, but at a minimum we want them to obtain the functional literacy that is critical to success in school and the workplace. We emboss many short articles on topics such as sports, history, or gardening for students who request them. We show students that they can read newspapers and magazines on a Braille display using the NEWSLINE app and that they have this material on the same day those articles are released.

While access to Braille embossers and displays makes this easier, the techniques can be used by resourceful instructors who do not have access to these tools to obtain or create customized material. A greater degree of planning and resourcefulness is required to get materials from different sources. The new talking Braille writer developed by the American Printing House for the Blind accomplishes the same audio feedback during writing as writing on a Braille notetaker, but at a fraction of the cost. Getting donations of older Braille notetakers is often possible. The relative lack of bells and whistles they have makes the older models perfect for use in these exercises, and people who upgrade often appreciate the tax credit they can get for donating them.

Show How Useful Braille Is

Students are required to complete three small projects and one large project as part of their communications responsibilities. These projects can be chosen from a list of suggestions or proposed by the student and approved by the instructor. The small projects often include things like Brailling a deck of cards, creating a Braille address book or password list, keeping a journal in Braille, finishing a book or a certain number of pages within a given time, and other practical projects. Final projects are more complicated. These show how useful and relevant Braille is to daily life. Providing Braille reference sheets of computer commands helps reinforce the convenience of having a hard copy available for quick reference, as well as increasing retention of the computer commands.


While we were not equipped to keep statistics or produce hard data, after three years of implementing this teaching method, we have been able to observe the following:

This is evidenced by the following:
More students purchase additional slates and styluses, especially full-page slates and card slates.
Students volunteer to read aloud more often in seminar.

Students do not complain about reading Braille recipes in home management or writing measurements with a slate and stylus in industrial arts.

Students show as much pride in their Braille projects as they do in other accomplishments, such as their preparation of large meals or their independent mobility drop-offs.

Students encourage each other to do homework and teach newer students how to use the slate and stylus.

Very often people say that they don't need Braille because they have technology. The integration of Braille displays and notetakers has demonstrated that Braille and speech are not mutually exclusive. The fact that they are taught in the same room by the same instructor shows that they are complementary rather than oppositional. The same is true of high-tech versus low-tech Braille. They are both shown to be useful in different situations. While many students still prefer to use a computer rather than a slate and stylus, they know that they can use both, and they aren't bound by the battery life of the high-tech devices.

Breaking the learning process down in the way that we have makes it much easier to know if a student is having difficulty with retention or touch. It is very easy to tell if the student is unable to remember the sign or unable to feel the dots correctly. If the issue is retention, we can see it right away. We can shift the emphasis from writing to drills or from drills to writing. If the trouble is with touch, we will know it with greater certainty and can proceed from this point. This has been extremely useful with students who have educational deficits, memory loss, and neuropathy. Figuring out the exact nature of a student's difficulties makes dealing with them much easier for both the instructor and the student. Knowing what the specific problem is and having specific exercises to address the problem makes working through challenges less frustrating for adult students.

While we have not been able to keep statistics, we have observed generally faster reading speeds and improved fluency among those students with high motivation and strong work ethic compared with the levels we were seeing before we began using this method. These students tend to reach a reading level where they can fully process what they are reading and follow the story of a text (generally around twenty to thirty words per minute) sooner than such students did using the traditional method. Students with average or below-average motivation and work ethic seem to show a small improvement over previous levels. Braille reading mileage is the biggest factor in Braille reading success, and those who don't put in as much effort outside class will always be at a substantial disadvantage. However, the more positive outlook and reduced stress do seem to make these students more likely to put in time reading outside class. This method also appears to make a more noticeable difference with students who have higher levels of educational achievement. The logic behind the method seems to appeal to students with better analytical skills. The lack of difficult or obscure vocabulary in the textbook makes it much easier for students with educational deficits to study than the book we previously used.


Over the past three and a half years we have seen a remarkable improvement in our students' Braillitude. They are excited about Braille and about how it can improve their lives. They are also more positive and efficient in their learning of the Braille code. We hope to be able to produce and sell our system within the next year so that others can implement it. We also hope this will enable us to gather data and continue to improve and refine the system to make it as effective as possible.


Beginning with Braille: Challenges and Choices

by Anna M. Swenson

From the Editor: Anna Swenson is a Braille literacy consultant in the Fairfax County, Virginia, Public Schools. She delivered the following paper at the 2012 Braille Symposium sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute. For a list of references used in the original paper, contact <gwunder@nfb.org>. This is what she said:

Five-year-old Ally sits with her teacher of the visually impaired, Kelly James, at a table just outside her kindergarten classroom. Much of the time she's learning with her classmates, but this is her daily individual lesson time. She's excited to have me as a visitor and eager to show off a new book that she's writing about sandwiches. Each page, shaped like a slice of bread, features a Braille description of the ingredients written phonetically by Ally on her Mountbatten Brailler.

"Pickles and butterflies," reads Ally, as her thumbs glide across the words.

"Ketchup and dragonflies." She smiles broadly.

"Cheese and ladybugs." A burst of giggles.

On the next page she hesitates momentarily, considering the "p" at the beginning of the word. "Peanut butter and mosquitoes?" she asks.

"Yes," answers Ms. James.

And, turning to me with an enticing grin, Ally says, "Do you want to eat it?"

Listening to Ally's joyful rendition of her silly sandwich book reminds me of several important aspects of teaching Braille to young children. The first is the highly individualized nature of our work. Ally, for example, has only two fingers on each hand, so she is learning to read Braille with her thumbs. Today we are teaching Braille to dual media learners, beginning English speakers, children with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities, and many others. Each child deserves a specially crafted, individualized plan to meet his or her potential as a reader and writer. The second aspect of teaching that Ally’s lesson brings to mind is the power of motivation. If instruction is meaningful to students, if there is a connection with their lives, they will engage with us and persevere when the going gets tough. How do we foster motivation in children? The secret is knowing our students well and integrating their interests into our instructional plan.

Quite apart from the issues of caseloads and service time, teaching Braille to young children involves instructional challenges. How do we build a solid foundation in literacy skills at the preschool level? How do we meet the literacy needs of non-traditional learners? How do we balance the benefits of the inclusive setting with students’ need for specialized instruction? There is no single curriculum or right way to teach Braille literacy skills, but we do know that meaningful instruction and motivation contribute significantly to children’s success in learning to read (Gambrell and Marinak, 2009). And, as in Ally’s case, it is apparent that teaching Braille to a young child involves countless thoughtful instructional choices by the Braille teacher in collaboration with classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

The ABC Braille Study

Findings from the Alphabetic Braille and Contracted Braille Study (the ABC Braille Study) have added new urgency to the challenge of teaching young Braille readers. This was the first longitudinal research to follow children’s acquisition of beginning reading skills in Braille (Emerson, Holbrook, and D’Andrea, 2009). The study took place from 2002 to 2007 and included a total of thirty-eight participating students, none of whom had a disability other than blindness. Its original purpose was to compare the literacy outcomes of students who started formal literacy instruction with fully contracted Braille and those who started with uncontracted Braille. Results indicated that most of the participants learned the Braille code with relative ease; those who learned more contractions earlier scored higher in the areas of vocabulary, decoding, and comprehension, regardless of whether they initially began with contracted or uncontracted Braille. However, a more critical finding was that Braille readers started out on level with their sighted peers in basic reading skills like phonemic awareness and phonics, but fell farther and farther behind in reading as the years progressed. By the end of the study over half the students were reading below grade level, with vocabulary and comprehension the major areas of deficit.

The ABC Braille Study findings have significant implications for teachers in the field. To begin with, they reinforce the importance of teaching the Braille code to young children within the context of reading instruction. Teachers of beginning Braille readers are also teachers of reading, and it is essential that they incorporate basic literacy processes into their Braille lessons. These include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and written language, all of which can be taught simultaneously from the very beginning. Braille teachers also need to understand where their students are performing in each area of literacy by analyzing results from a broad range of assessments. These consist of Braille-specific measures, e.g., the number of contractions a child has mastered, and those tracking progress in general literacy skills, which are often administered in conjunction with a classroom teacher. Finally, the poor performance of many study participants in the areas of reading vocabulary and comprehension point to the importance of concept development and listening skills long before children begin formal reading instruction.

Early Emergent Literacy

Literacy growth is now viewed as a lifelong process that begins early in life and continues throughout adulthood (Dooley, 2010). Children benefit from building a strong foundation of literacy skills during their preschool years, a goal that is often more challenging for young Braille readers who lack access to the incidental learning readily absorbed by typically sighted children.

Young children who are learning to read in Braille need to develop two types of concepts: those based on a general knowledge of the world around them and those specifically related to literacy. Families, classroom teachers, and specialists sometimes need guidance in knowing when and how to take advantage of real world learning opportunities. The article, “Dad, Where’s the Plunger?” (Holloway, 2011), written by the father of a young Braille reader, offers numerous suggestions for hands-on learning, including trips to Home Depot; it can serve as an excellent resource for members of the IEP team and is available at <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr30/ 3/fr300302.htm>. Linking real-world knowledge to literacy by creating books with young children provides a motivating way of reinforcing literary concepts, such as identifying the parts of a book, turning pages, and relating Braille words to objects or tactile pictures. For example, a Home Depot book might feature a zipper bag on each page with an object inside, such as a light switch or a small piece of carpet, with a Braille word or simple sentence underneath (Smith, 2011). Real world and literacy concepts are also developed through interactive read-alouds, another area in which families may need modeling and guidance to ensure that their child participates in the activity. Reading aloud to children in an interactive way helps them acquire vocabulary and concepts, develop higher-level thinking skills, and become familiar with the book language they will encounter later on when they read by themselves.

Young children require maximum meaningful hands-on Braille time. Modeling Braille reading and writing behaviors and allowing children to imitate them are critical to building a strong literacy foundation. All members of the IEP team can ensure that this happens by becoming familiar with the basics of Braille, although of course the very best role models are those who are proficient Braille readers. Adults can model Braille reading by tracking the text in teacher-made or commercial books with the child’s hands on top of theirs. They can model writing lists, birthday cards, letters, labels, journals, and stories. Parents and teachers can encourage the child to scribble on the Braillewriter or pretend to read a familiar book with tactile pictures. These approximations of reading and writing behavior are an important part of a child’s literacy foundation.

For many children, beginning formal literacy instruction in Braille should not wait until kindergarten. Literacy expectations for kindergartners have been increasing and will continue to do so with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Hatton, Erickson, and Lee (2010) report that most sighted children already know fifteen letters of the alphabet when they enter kindergarten. In contrast, they found that most children who are blind know none in Braille, placing them at a disadvantage at the beginning of formal schooling. Introducing children to key words of interest to them is a motivating way to begin reading instruction at the preschool level. One three year old who was fascinated by insects learned “ant” and “spider” as her first Braille words, long before she knew any letters of the alphabet. These two words were easy to tell apart, and, with the addition of some common alphabet letter contractions, she was soon reading short, meaningful phrases like “go go spider.” After she had mastered a foundation of tactile sight words, the student began learning letters, starting with those in her key words--and by the time she entered kindergarten, she could identify nearly all the letters of the Braille alphabet and read simple sentences and teacher-made stories. Children with additional disabilities may not learn Braille as early or as quickly as typical learners, but they too can benefit from starting with key words of interest to them. The Individualized Meaning-centered Approach to Braille Literacy Education, or I-M-ABLE (Wormsley, 2011), offers a structured, highly motivating process for teaching Braille to nontraditional learners.

Literacy Learning in Kindergarten and the Early Primary Grades: Incorporating Braille Instruction into the Standard Curriculum

Braille teachers who work with students in inclusive settings often feel challenged by the need to balance time in the general education classroom with individual instruction in specialized skills. They recognize that the social nature of language arts instruction in the early grades is extremely important. Children learn from each other as they talk about books, share writing, participate in reading groups, and work on group projects. On the other hand, individual instructional time is needed to reinforce aspects of the Braille code (within the context of reading), preview classroom assignments, and address the goals and objectives of the Expanded Core Curriculum. The eventual goal for each child in an inclusive setting should be meaningful group participation, whether in a general education class or in a specialized setting, if the student has additional disabilities. Sometimes, however, it takes more individual instruction at the beginning to ensure that the student masters the skills needed to participate independently in a group setting later on. Ongoing, broad-based assessments in each area of literacy, careful documentation of progress, and regular consultation with the classroom teacher(s) and other members of the IEP team all help to determine the appropriate balance between inclusion and individual instruction at any given time.

Facilitating Inclusion: Tips for the Braille Teacher

  1. Prioritize positive collaboration with the classroom teacher(s): Establishing a positive relationship with the classroom teacher(s) provides the Braille student with maximum benefits in the areas of academics, socialization, and self-determination. In the inclusive setting, step back whenever possible to allow the classroom teacher to take ownership of the student--and explain why you are doing this. At the same time offer to contribute to the learning of other children in the class through Braille-awareness lessons, games, and general assistance, such as helping another child with writing while your student is working independently. Assess and evaluate Braille students’ progress with classroom teachers, and listen carefully to their concerns.
  2. Provide teachers and classmates with access to students’ work: Teach keyboarding early and use the visual display function available on most note takers to allow teachers and classmates to see the Braille user’s written work on a monitor. This removes the Braille teacher as an intermediary and allows direct, real-time communication between the student and classroom teacher.
  3. Take advantage of instructional materials that facilitate inclusion: High-quality materials such as the Word PlayHouse and the Early Braille Trade Books, available from the American Printing House for the Blind, include both print and Braille and are ideal for blind and sighted students to use together.
  4. Promote independent work habits: Avoiding learned helplessness is one of the greatest challenges the Braille teacher faces. Provide opportunities for even the very youngest students to work independently during individual lessons, and transfer these expectations to the regular classroom.
  5. Advocate for technology: Many of our beginning Braille readers are stuck in a technological Stone Age with only the traditional Perkins Brailler available for writing. While young students definitely benefit from hardcopy Braille when learning to read and write, they also need hands-on time with devices such as note takers with refreshable Braille that allow them to master beginning technology skills--just as their sighted classmates are doing.

In Closing

Like the “peanut butter and mosquitoes” in Ally’s sandwich at the beginning of this article, good teaching is a combination of common sense and creativity. Of course young beginning Braille readers require thorough assessments, careful lesson planning, and close collaboration among members of their IEP teams. However, they also thrive on instructional choices that reflect their own interests and spark their imaginations. Whether the child is a preschooler eagerly exploring the pages of her Home Depot book or first grader writing a story about his favorite superheroes, motivation is the key to their future success as readers and writers.

Teaching English to Blind Refugees and Immigrants

by Sharon Monthei

From the Editor: Sharon Monthei works at BLIND, Incorporated, one of the three training centers operated by the National Federation of the Blind, where she teaches English to refugees and immigrants. Monitor readers are familiar with her work as an author of several books on teaching and Braille. Here are the remarks she made at the Braille Symposium that describe the challenging job she has and the way Braille makes it possible for her to offer students the gift of literacy:

In this paper I want to discuss issues in teaching English to our blind new Americans. This issue was brought to my attention when I was asked to attempt to improve relations between Minnesota State Services for the Blind and local programs working with blind immigrants and refugees. Our Braille section, where I worked part-time, provided Braille materials to programs serving blind students. However, there were issues with integrating these students successfully into their classes.

The problem that these blind immigrants and refugees experienced when attempting to learn English was that their teachers, who know how to teach English, didn't know how to teach Braille or to work with this population. Conversely, Braille teachers don't know how to teach English. However, one thing they share is the knowledge that reading constitutes literacy. For blind students that means Braille.

After coming to understand the difficulties beginning English learners were experiencing at a local English Language Learning (ELL) program, I went to Seattle for a week to receive training in the way to teach English to our blind new Americans. When I got back, I realized I did not know enough, so I enrolled at Hamline University in St. Paul to learn how to do it and spent a year taking courses.

Unfortunately for blind students, English Language teachers are taught to use nonverbal methods to communicate with their students, especially in the lower levels. Pictures and drawings are prominent, and teachers use gestures and mime to get their point across. Two examples illustrate this. When I was taking courses in English Language Learning, the teacher brought in what she called "realia" [objects or activities used to relate classroom teaching to real life—the bag contained receipts] to show the class. To me it was a bag of paper. Then there was the demonstration lesson which included mime interspersed with Russian words. I had no idea what she was doing. The rest of the class appeared to learn the words.

I already had considerable experience in teaching Braille, but this was different. Not only did many of my students not know Braille or English, they had also never learned to read in any language. Humans learn to read once in their lifetimes, and this skill is transferable to other languages they may learn. But if they never learned to read, that skill must be taught as well. This may seem impossibly hard, but sighted immigrants learn to read print and speak English all the time, whether or not they were literate in their native languages.

Armed with all of this background, I began teaching English to blind immigrants and refugees in the summer of 2008 at BLIND, Incorporated. So how is it done? I start with an interpreter for a period of time ranging from a few days to three weeks. The interpreter helps me and my students establish some words and concepts so I can communicate with them. I begin by getting a cane and showing the student how to get around inside our building, including how to go up and down the stairs. I want them to begin their independence immediately.

I have a wide variety of objects which I use to develop vocabulary. These include vehicles, animals, cooking items, basic shapes, and toy replicas of people and furniture. I use a modified version of a book which Jan Bailey and Chris Cuppet wrote for teaching seniors uncontracted Braille. I teach the letters without being too concerned about the meanings of the words they are reading. I do begin to teach the various sounds of each letter at that time in a general way, understanding that the vowels are the hardest and that people learning English may not be able to hear all of the sounds of English. I also begin to teach the student how to use a Braillewriter while I have an interpreter. Writing is a key part of learning English, and I want them to write a lot to help them remember the words that they are learning.

Then I use a beginning book which I transcribed into uncontracted Braille in double-spaced format. It covers chapters on personal information, family relationships, rooms and furniture, things in the classroom--including counting, clothing, and food. I also use a book called English in Action which I read to begin to teach common English sentences and to practice speaking and listening. Because it takes as much as forty-two repetitions of a word to make it part of a student's vocabulary, I repeat and repeat basic words in complete sentences orally, and I have students read them and write them. Sometimes we even act out some concepts like in front of, behind, beside, and under. The more senses that are engaged, the more learning takes place.

After this I use parts of a book called Personal Stories, which I got from another ELL teacher, and a series of books called Talk of the Block. All of these books were designed for adults. Topics covered include family, home, shopping, and health. I also use parts of a phonics book, a grammar book, a vocabulary book, and a math book designed especially for new English learners. Many of my students have also never learned to do math, so we begin with counting and learning the names of the numbers and addition facts.

These are some things to keep in mind in teaching beginning English:

I cannot teach students all of the English that they will eventually need to know, so I also teach basic computer skills, which include typing, writing, and basic document editing. I also teach students to use email if they are interested. The Internet is beyond my beginning students, because they do not possess the vocabulary to understand what's happening on most webpages. Students will need to have a computer to take to class so that their later English teachers can read what they write in order to critique the work.

At BLIND, Incorporated, I begin working with students before they enter the full program. This may take from three months to a year, but more typically six to nine months. Then they begin cane travel, and, if that goes well, they transition to the full program from one to three months after that. There they acquire survival English in a very practical way.

I teach some math to my students because many of them do not have a math background. Money is an excellent way to start—counting various coins and discussing our base ten system. If I have time during the training process, I use a math book called Number Sense which was designed for this population.

What equipment do new English learners need?

After the first few months, when computer instruction begins, students need a portable computer with adaptive software—they will need it for use in mainstream ELL classes to write so that they can receive feedback from their teachers. They need to be able to touch type and use a word processor for writing and editing documents in class.

The Importance of Immigrant and Refugee Status

Other immigrants are not eligible for SSI for five years. They are eligible for state or federally funded rehabilitation programs and for mainstream adult basic education and public housing. Whether they are eligible for healthcare depends upon the state.

I may be contacted at <smonthei@blindinc.org> if readers want to ask questions or get a resource list that I have developed.

Setting up Teachers for Success in Their University Braille Courses: Creating and Maintaining High Standards

by Sheila Amato

From the Editor: Dr. Sheila Amato was the 2003 recipient of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award presented by the National Federation of the Blind. She has recently retired after a thirty-eight year career teaching blind students and those with other impairments.

What Dr. Amato wrote was tailored for academic publications. We have changed the text in which she refers to herself in the third person and have made other edits to conform to Monitor practice. Here is the paper she submitted after the Braille Symposium:

Beginning in 1989 with a presentation at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Susan Spungin identified her perceptions on eight major reasons for the increasing illiteracy of people who are blind. One of these concerns involved the lack of standardized Braille teaching methods and of quality control to ensure high standards of teaching. Seven years later Spungin wrote an article, “Braille and Beyond: Braille Literacy in a Larger Context,” in which she outlined concerns related to the inadequacy of Braille instruction provided to blind children. Spungin noted at that time that Braille illiteracy is a major symptom of a larger problem.

One way to address the problem identified by Spungin is to examine the practices of university programs that prepare teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs). Intrigued and concerned by Spungin's comments, in 2000 I explored the practices of university programs in meeting professional standards in literary Braille. I conducted a descriptive study of standards and criteria for competence in Braille literacy in teacher-preparation programs. In this I explored the specific roles played in the achievement of proficiency in Braille literacy by university teacher preparation programs in blindness and visual impairment and concluded that there was "widespread diversity and a lack of consistency" in the way that professionals are prepared in literary Braille. I called for the development of objective outcomes for university graduates to ensure that their students are taught by professionals who are competent in the Braille code.

For more than a decade this work was not expanded by university programs that prepare teachers of students with visual impairments. Then in 2010 Rosenblum, Lewis, and D'Andrea confirmed my findings and reiterated the need to establish minimum levels of Braille competence for graduates of university preparation programs. Their research attempted to establish the content validity of several performance statements associated with basic knowledge, production, and reading of Braille by beginning teachers.

Implications for Practitioners

The implications of this work support the premise that the identification of content-valid performance standards establishes a stronger research base on which to create voluntary standards for defining the Braille competence of future TVIs who complete university programs. The adoption of such standards can reduce inconsistencies among university programs and to increase the proficiency of program completers in their ability to read and produce literary Braille.

The writings of Spungin (1989, 1996), Amato (2000), and Lewis et al. (2012) are examples of the handful of attempts by professionals in the field of education of individuals who are blind/visually impaired to identify both problems and solutions in this vital area of education: that of literacy for individuals who are blind.

It is now 2012, nearly twenty-five years since these problems were voiced by Spungin at the NFB convention: a lifetime for the blind young adults who are now entering college or the workforce with often inadequate literacy skills. Yet twenty-five years later we are still identifying these same problems. What are the solutions to assure that those who use Braille as their literacy medium have qualified professionals to teach them to read and produce Braille?

The topic of ensuring that pre-service teachers of the blind have a firm understanding of the Braille code was presented during the Problem Solution Session titled "Setting up Teachers for Success in Their University Braille Courses: Creating and Maintaining High Standards," which was held on September 28, 2012, from 4:05 to 6:00 p.m. in the NFB of Utah Auditorium at the Jernigan Institute. I was the presenter at this session, a university teacher trainer and retired teacher of students with visual impairments. The session was moderated by Mark Riccobono, executive director, Jernigan Institute, National Federation of the Blind.

In this session I identified thoughts on perceptions why future teachers of students who are blind are (or are not) receiving proper instruction in Braille and thoughts on strategies that could be implemented to increase their competence in Braille literacy tasks. Participants, led by moderator Riccobono, discussed possible solutions. We traveled the road from where we are, through where we need to be, to how we are going to get there. Shifting paradigms of education lead us to identify continued new challenges.

During my talk I described five concerns for university programs preparing TVIs. At the conclusion of the presentation audience participants were given the opportunity to comment on how these concerns could be addressed.

The first concern was recruitment. In the current model there is a documented shortage of TVIs in our nation. Participants in the session suggested the following strategies could be used to improve recruitment

 The second concern was related to geography. There is limited access to education and training for future TVIs in diverse geographic regions that do not have teacher training programs. The online method of education is one method of service delivery with promise, but it is still problematic in areas without high-speed Internet access or when the platform used by the college or university does not afford full accessibility.

Participants in the session suggested the following strategy be used to improve accessibility to such educational programs:

The third concern, about time, with its many broad definitions, involved the following:

The fourth concern was the future TVI's array of personal skills:

The fifth area of concern identified was technology:

Participants in the session suggested that the following strategies could be used to address some of the issues in technology:

Braille and Technology

by Jennifer Dunnam

From the Editor: Jennifer Dunnam is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, a member of the Braille Authority of North America representing the National Federation of the Blind, and a person who clearly spends a lot of time thinking about the role of information and how important Braille is in acquiring it. Here is what she said to the Braille Symposium:

The following has fascinated me ever since I heard it delivered as part of a speech back in 1990. The speech may be familiar to some of you, and it starts like this: "If the engineers of 1800 had possessed complete drawings for a transistor radio (one that could be bought today for $10), they couldn't have built it, not even if they had had billions or trillions of dollars. They lacked the infrastructure--the tools, the tools to build the tools, and the tools to build those; the plastics, the machines to make the plastics, and the machines to make the machines; the skilled workforce, the teachers to train the workforce, and the teachers to train the teachers; the transportation network to assemble the materials, the vehicles to use the network, and the sources of supply. All of this is generally recognized, but it is far less well understood that what is true of material objects is also true of ideas and attitudes. In the absence of a supporting social infrastructure of knowledge and beliefs, a new idea simply cannot exist."

The speech, delivered by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, goes on to discuss ideas and the progress in opportunities and attitudes that has been made for blind people through our self-organizing and application of our collective experience. "The Federation at Fifty" is worth reading for anyone.

Although it is intriguing to contemplate the evolving infrastructure in the realm of ideas, at the time I first heard the speech I found it equally fascinating to give thought to where we have come from in material objects. Of course the infrastructure has further evolved since he gave that speech a short twenty-two years ago; we now have objects and infrastructure that we might never have imagined then. In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act had not yet become law. The Internet was available to only a few people and bore little resemblance to the rich venue that we use now. The music we bought was all on vinyl records or cassettes or compact discs. Most people did not have mobile phones, and the phones that did exist were meant for making and receiving telephone calls. Life was different in countless ways.

To think about these technological changes in conjunction with Braille brings a sense of wonder. Not only have the changes of the last twenty years made a difference in the ways we can use Braille, but they have the potential to change for the better the way that we think about Braille and its role in bringing about the integration of blind people in society. The frequently used phrase "technology cannot replace Braille," while certainly well-intentioned, sets up a false distinction, equating "technology" with "audio." Braille can and should be as integral to and indivisible from technology as is the screen. Sighted children become fluent readers by being immersed in print all around them. It is on everything in our world. It is becoming possible to have a similar immersion experience in Braille, and it will get even more possible still--not just for the learner, but for any Braille reader.

Sometimes I wish I could show my younger self how things are now—the many things I used to wish for but could not imagine coming true ...

Upon getting up in the morning, many may read the daily newspaper with their morning coffee (whether on paper or online). I can now do this in Braille as well, using a refreshable Braille display with NFB-NEWSLINE® or other online newspapers. This means literally hundreds of newspapers or other periodicals at our fingertips, available to Braille readers at the same time as to print readers. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was fortunate in that most of my school books were transcribed into Braille. However, if the class was assigned to read an article from the newspaper about a current event, I needed to have someone read it to me. While this was certainly doable, it meant that I did not do much reading of the daily papers outside of class assignments except when someone felt like reading aloud what they happened to be reading. Some of the happiest moments of my life came when I received magazines in Braille--it didn't matter that they were two-month-old issues. Likewise I received Braille library books in the mail, but it was usually months or years between the publication of a print book and the release of the Braille version. What a difference now to be able to download a book the day it is released to the public and read it in Braille--even to purchase that book at the same price as the print reader pays.

I keep my calendar in Braille on an iPhone, connected to a refreshable Braille display, which also syncs with my computer. Certainly Braille calendars are not a new idea, but never has there been such flexibility. Now others can propose meetings on my calendar, whether they know Braille or not, and I can view the calendars of others. I can get a quick overview of the appointments for the week or month using the grid layout of the calendar on the touch-screen.

I can easily access any number of city bus schedules in Braille using the smart phone as well. I can also communicate using Braille with any number of friends and colleagues on email, social media, and text messaging. When I was a child and teenager, hardly any of my friends knew Braille unless I taught it to them, so my written communications with friends were rare.

In my work I use Braille all day long, not only to write notes for myself, but in a variety of interactive ways—emailing, taking down info from calls, writing documents, proofreading documents, looking things up in online references, and using a variety of websites. If I collaborate with colleagues on something, we use the exact same file, not a separate copy for me. I can read and type in it in Braille while they read and type in print.

As a child I wrote all of my homework and took all of my tests in Braille, which was vital to my development of literacy. However, in order for others to read it, someone else had to write out a print version of my work, or, as I got older, I did so myself on a typewriter. Computers with speech access came into widespread use long before refreshable Braille was widely available; Thus during that time it became easier simply to skip the step of Brailling the work and instead type it directly using the computer. It is fortunate for my literacy that such an option was not available to me as a student in school.

In college I studied several languages and did not have access to books in Braille. The literature classes proved to be the most challenging. On occasion the books were available in audio format. Often the readers read at a normal speaking pace, but my knowledge of the language was not always up to the task of understanding at that speed. If the book was not available on cassette, I needed to find a reader who could read so I could understand. I depended heavily on class discussions and was able to do well in the classes but certainly would have benefitted from Braille books. Also a portable dictionary is an invaluable tool when working to learn a language. Now downloads and scanning/OCR technology make these books and dictionaries far easier to get.

If during work I should happen to go to lunch with colleagues, the restaurant menu may be available in Braille on paper, but more often it can be viewed online in refreshable Braille, again through a mobile device. Back at work I can access meeting agendas and reports, take notes, and run slide presentations using refreshable Braille. If another speaker uses a slide presentation, there is even software that lets me view the information in Braille as the slides change.

Refreshable Braille can facilitate participation in all kinds of other activities. For example, during choir practice I can easily find the correct page in the music and make notes directly in the music as the director points out things for us to remember. If a new piece is passed out during a rehearsal which was not available to be Brailled in advance, I can quickly type the words while the group is singing through it for the first time so that I can still participate in further rehearsal of the piece. Certainly I did all these things using a slate and stylus on paper before refreshable Braille, but the technology makes for a quick and smooth experience.

Embossed Braille cookbooks have been available for many decades. However, an infinite number of recipes are now easy to find online. To avoid damage to the technology while cooking, the Braille-using cook can place the refreshable Braille display in a plastic bag and feel the dots easily through the plastic.

For those who may want to spend a bit of time on the couch in front of the TV or listening to music after a long day, a bluetooth Braille display can be used much like a remote control if connected to an iOS device plugged into a larger entertainment system. One can scroll through options of movies, music, or television shows, reading the names and information in Braille, and control the playback. Online shopping can be accomplished all in Braille as well.

Certainly there is still much to do to ensure that Braille readers can operate on an equal footing with print readers. Today's Braille displays, although becoming more economical over the past few years, are still beyond the price range that many can afford. Many websites, documents, programs, and other print material are designed in a way that makes them unusable by people who read using assistive technology. Sometimes issues of incompatibility arise between mainstream technology and screen readers. Still Braille is more widely available than ever before in history, and the direction of the future holds much promise because of the focus, passion, and know-how of people who recognize that Braille is as essential as literacy. The technological realities of today seem amazing when viewed from the perspective of decades past. They will likely seem primitive a few years from now.

During a recent airline flight a fellow passenger who saw me reading asked me about the purpose and use of my Braille display. A few minutes after we finished the conversation and settled back into our individual activities, she suddenly asked: "May I read along with you?" For a moment I was puzzled, since she had made it clear that she knew nothing about Braille. Then, realizing what she meant, I gladly agreed that she could read along; my iPhone, on which I had downloaded the book, was on the tray next to my Braille display. She could see the very same book in print on the screen. What a pleasant sign of the possibilities for integration with society. If we keep our focus on thinking about and pushing for this type of integration, things will only get better.

How Braille Saved a Blind Chemist

by Henry Wedler

From the Editor: Henry “Hoby” Wedler is an NFB tenBroek Fellow, having been awarded NFB scholarships in 2005 and 2011. He told the Braille Symposium attendees a bit about how useful he finds Braille as a doctoral student in organic chemistry. This is what he said:

Contrary to social perceptions, blindness is not what holds us back. Rather it is low societal expectations about what blind people are capable of. We must believe in ourselves and hold high expectations. Dr. Maurer recently told us that we don’t need a consensus or a study to tell us how many blind people in the United States are literate or are employed. The National Federation of the Blind knows that these statistics are dismal. Not enough blind people read Braille, and not nearly enough are employed. We are here this weekend to change these sad facts.

Braille provides blind people with independence. Before we had ready access to Braille, we were dependent on print readers to read us materials aloud or audio recordings. Using Braille, we are able to read what we want to, when we want to.

Blind Americans must strive to use Braille to maintain high expectations for ourselves and ultimately to take responsibility for our successes and failures. With the availability of Braille a blind student, for instance, cannot say, “I couldn’t complete the assignment because I couldn’t find someone to read it to me.” With Braille blind students and blind professionals are expected, as they should be, to read and not use excuses for not being able to access materials.

Though we still have a long way to go before Braille is as widespread as we would like, we must acknowledge that because of technology advances we can have Braille at our fingertips. It is possible, for instance, to go to a restaurant with a Braille display, read the menu using a smart phone, and order with no sighted intervention. As Jennifer Dunnam accurately pointed out, a blind chef can put his Braille display in a plastic zip-top bag and use it to read recipes in a kitchen, in which the display could be significantly damaged if not properly sheathed.

I love events like this one because the information provides me with ideas as a blind chemist. Blind students can get protective sleeves for Braille displays or hardcopy Braille documents and read them in the laboratory around chemicals that one would not want to contaminate notebooks or Braille displays. These simple yet genuinely creative ideas inspire everyone here to be innovative. I have a Braille embosser, so, if I choose, within minutes I can have any accessible text from the Internet Brailled as a hard copy that I can take wherever I want. Therefore, despite the many Braille challenges still facing us, technology does make Braille documents readily accessible.

My Story

Unlike most other blind children in the United States, I had parents who have held extremely high expectations of me and my abilities for as long as I can remember. My sighted brother and I were held to the same standards. We all worked together on projects around our home. We did our homework together, and our parents expected both of us to do very well in school. They established a model of parenting which should be adopted for both blind and sighted parenting. They respected my brother and me tremendously and expected excellence of us. They displayed excellence to us and expected it back. Ultimately my identity was not the blind kid in the family; I was Hoby Wedler, who happened to be blind.

My mother is a teacher of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialist of twenty-five years who steadfastly supports the work of the National Federation of the Blind. She and my father knew that, in order to be successful in the world, I would have to be literate. I thus began learning Braille at three years old and am always grateful that I learned it proficiently so early. This has helped and will undoubtedly continue to help me for the rest of my life.

I found the NFB at the first Rocket On! Science Academy, held at the then new Jernigan Institute in 2004. As a partnership between the NFB and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, this week-long program paired blind high school students interested in science with blind mentors. I never knew blind professionals in the sciences before this experience. I wanted to pursue a chemistry degree in college, but, until this academy and my grand introduction to the NFB, I didn’t know it was possible.

I use Braille and tactile figures daily as a graduate student in organic chemistry at the University of California, Davis. When I arrived at Davis, I was put in contact with a wonderful reader and assistant, Sarah Cohen, who knew very quickly that I would need high-quality tactile figures to tackle organic chemistry and upper-division mathematics courses.

She and I worked together to develop a method of tactile figure-making in which an image is drawn about double the size of the print representation on smooth heavy-weight twenty-four-pound laser printer paper. The sheet of paper is then flipped over and placed on a soft surface like a notebook or rubber mat. The image from the facing side is then traced with force using a pen. These figures hold up very well and are the very best I have found because they optimize speed, durability, and accuracy. I’ve also found that Braille holds up on this paper very well; thus the figures can be easily labeled.

When I came to Davis, Cohen also realized that no good system was in place for Brailling exams. Remarkably, she learned Braille in less than six months and Brailled all of my chemistry, physics, and mathematics exams as well as quantum mechanics lecture notes when I was an undergraduate student. I used and still use Braille every day to survive as a graduate student.

As a blind organic chemistry student I must visualize complex figures generated by a computer. Thus, we are working hard to implement a successful three-dimensional printing system that is fully accessible to me. The research that we do in Professor Dean Tantillo’s lab requires us to look at geometries of organic structures as they are optimized energetically by our quantum mechanical calculations. We often observe chemical reactions and transition state structures between reactive intermediates. These transition states often have bonds that are longer or shorter than average. For a blind student to be successful, he or she should feel these structures in three dimensions in order to fix the figure in his or her mind.

Hence we are developing a three-dimensional printing system that will print atoms as spheres and sticks connecting them to represent bonds. This system will soon apply Braille labels (also generated by the 3-D printer) on the structures, indicating atom labels. We are also devising ways to put notches on chemical bonds to be used as a ruler for me to observe as a bond lengthens and shortens.

Another inaccessible part of computational organic chemistry is inputting large complex structures in the computer program we use. We are thus discussing and soon will be implementing a three-dimensional scanning system that will scan structures built by me with RFID scanning tags on the pieces. We will build a custom molecular model kit for constructing these models. The RFID tags will be adhered to critical parts of the model before scanning.

Since my theme is Braille, we are also looking into brailling labels on these RFID matrices and having the labels I make scanned into the system, recognized, decoded, and placed as labels on the structure, eventually to be shown on the computer screen. Ultimately, this idea revolves around scannable Braille morsels on RFID tags.

You may know that I collect wine and have something of a collection. I learned very early on that having to ask someone over and over what type of wine I had and not ever getting the right bottle on the first try became tedious. Thus I label each of my bottles using a Braille labeler when I stock it. This method paired with some crucial organization skills allows me to manage my wine collection completely independently, again thanks to Braille. I also cook extensively and use a similar system for labeling things that are difficult to identify in my kitchen.

Ultimately, as with anything else, we need to use what makes us most efficient and most successful in the long run. If you know Braille and can use it quickly enough to make it effective, use it. If audio works better for you, use it. Use whatever makes you an efficient, productive member of society. I use a combination of Braille and audio to access materials for my work and personal life. Braille is extremely useful, but sometimes, for instance when I need an organic chemistry handout or document read, Brailling it would take four hours and reading it aloud would take four minutes. Clearly I’ll choose to have it read aloud to save time.

Braille is extremely important and should be taught to blind Americans much more than it is being taught. We have heard at this symposium many ways Braille has been advanced in the past few years. I am always elated by our innovation because I honestly don’t know what Braille will allow us in the next five, ten, or twenty years. Groups like ours dream and think together and come up with the most exciting and innovative uses for Braille in our futures. We still have a long way to go, but we should all leave this evening knowing how far we have come. We will turn dreams into realities using our high expectations of ourselves and using Braille. Always hold high expectations of yourself, whether you are sighted or blind. Never lower the bar. Take responsibility for your successes and failures. With our hard and steadfast work, the blind will find and hold on to equality in society. Keep working hard and never ever stop dreaming up new and exciting ideas. Thank you very much; this has been a fantastic symposium.

Braille and the IPA: Empowering Careers in the Language Sciences

by Robert Englebretson

From the Editor: Dr. Robert Englebretson is an associate professor of linguistics at Rice University. He is the author and editor of several books and research articles and teaches a broad range of linguistics and cognitive science courses. His primary research areas include discourse and grammar, language in social interaction, American English, and colloquial Indonesian. Additionally, Englebretson seeks to promote Braille as a relevant and fruitful research topic for the cognitive sciences and, vice versa, seeks to highlight the relevance of general findings from linguistics and cognitive science for ongoing research on Braille. He developed and taught an upper-level course on this topic at Rice University in 2009 in conjunction with the bicentennial celebration of the birth of Louis Braille. Englebretson has served as the U.S. representative to the International Council on English Braille's Foreign Languages and Linguistics Committee, under whose auspices he published the current Braille system for representing the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA Braille). He currently serves on the Research Committee of the Braille Authority of North America.

I learned to read when I started school in the mid-1970s, and I soon became quite a bookworm. At the time Braille seemed completely unremarkable to me. It struck me as basic common sense that, while sighted classmates learned to read and write print, I would learn to read and write Braille. This was simply how things worked--and I never realized until much later what an amazing gift this actually was. In general I had excellent teachers with high expectations. And, most important, I had supportive parents with even higher expectations, who understood that Braille is the key to literacy, education, and employment.

I believed then, as I do now, that Braille is both normal and necessary. Whatever task a sighted person accomplished using print, I expected to accomplish the same task using Braille. Of course I knew there were differences—books were much larger and heavier and came in multiple volumes, and I soon learned to use books on audio cassette when Braille was not available. But, while I recognized the importance of being flexible and acquiring a virtual toolbox of alternative techniques, I did not change my core attitude, valuing Braille as both normal and necessary.

When I started college in 1988, students had no support for obtaining university textbooks and course materials in Braille. As we all did in those days, I relied on cassettes; live readers; and, much later, a computer with a scanner and speech synthesizer—and finally a Braille notetaker and display. I continued to use Braille for my own notes, for writing paper drafts before typing them on the computer, and for the occasional bit of leisure reading whenever time allowed.

One of the courses I signed up for on my very first day on campus was an introductory linguistics course. In fact it is a course that I have now taught at least a dozen times. And after that course I was hooked. Linguistics is a broad and fascinating field that approaches language from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. I was fascinated by the questions linguistics was asking, such as what language is; how it works; in what ways the grammars of the world’s languages are similar and in what ways they differ; why specific languages are the way they are; and, ultimately, what kinds of things languages teach us about the human mind, societies, and cultures. I was also drawn to the idea of doing fieldwork far away from the United States, to find out more about other languages—something which I eventually did, when I lived in Indonesia in the mid-1990s doing research for my doctoral dissertation.

One of the first things a student in an introductory linguistics course must learn is the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). The IPA is an internationally adopted set of symbols recognized among professionals in the language sciences. It is developed and maintained by the International Phonetic Association, and its goal is to represent unambiguously all of the sounds in the approximately six thousand languages spoken on earth today. By “unambiguously” I mean that the IPA is not tied to the writing system or the spelling system of a specific language, rather an IPA symbol has the same pronunciation regardless of which language it is notating. In fact it is often used when working with speakers of languages that have no writing system at all.

The IPA comprises nearly two hundred unique symbols. These include symbols for consonants (including a number of rare consonants like clicks, ejectives, and implosives), vowels (including the sixteen or so that are used in American English, and many more that show up in other languages), suprasegmentals (tone, stress, and other features of intonation and prosody), and a number of diacritics (symbols that indicate a modified pronunciation of a sound, such as lengthening a vowel, aspirating a consonant, and so on.) Typically a student learns a basic version of the IPA in an introductory course, just for the sounds of English, and then will go on to take a series of courses in phonetics that go into depth about all of the sounds notated by the IPA and will learn about the physiology and acoustics of speech.

The IPA is used in numerous language-related endeavors for a range of purposes. Field linguists use it when documenting and describing endangered languages. This is of particular focus and humanitarian interest right now, since it is widely estimated that over half of the world’s nearly six thousand spoken languages will become extinct by the end of the twenty-first century. There is currently a good deal of collaboration among linguists and indigenous communities to document and describe languages before they disappear. Sociolinguists use the IPA when studying regional varieties of English or other languages, when it is necessary to capture exact pronunciations. Clinicians, specifically speech and language pathologists, use the IPA when diagnosing and treating voice and communication disorders. Computational linguists often use the IPA when working on speech synthesis and recognition. The IPA is used for teaching purposes, such as in many pronunciation guides and textbooks, and in some ESL and second-language learning materials. The IPA is also used in the performing arts, for vocal music pedagogy as well as in accent training for actors. And, by the way, Wikipedia uses the IPA to show pronunciation in Wikipedia entries—and they usually do a fairly good job with it. In short, the IPA is required in any endeavor in which it is desirable or necessary to capture specific nuances of pronunciation, voice quality, and intonation.

For those of us who are blind and who work or are studying in these fields, a Braille notation of the IPA is crucial. So one of the first things I wondered as a freshman student sitting in an introductory linguistics course was: "How do you do this in Braille?" Given my belief that, if a sighted person could do something using print, a blind person could likewise accomplish the same task using Braille, I figured there must certainly be a Braille notation for the IPA. And indeed there was, except I soon discovered that the situation was complicated by the unfortunate fact that the available IPA Braille notations were incomplete and out of date.

The earliest Braille notation of the IPA was Merrick and Potthoff (1934), published in London by the organization that is now called the Royal National Institute of Blind People. This volume was developed by an international council that met in Vienna in 1929; W. Percy Merrick (the lead author) was a British musicologist who was well known for compiling a collection of folk songs, was an Esperanto proponent, was a world traveler, and happened to be blind. He was traveling and working in a time when most blind people were not. Merrick and Potthoff worked with Daniel Jones at the University College, London, who was one of the best known phoneticians in the early twentieth century. They collaborated to develop the 1934 IPA Braille notation in order to open up language-related fields to blind people. [Editor’s Note: In the following sentence the author presents a sample of the IPA Braille code. We have inserted a representation for our Braille readers, a different one for our print readers, and yet another for readers of the audio edition.] A review of the Merrick and Potthoff notation (Quick 1936) in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association concluded: “[ðɪs buk ɪz ðə rɪzʌlt əv mʌtʃ peɪʃnt tɔɪl ənd wɪl hɛlp tə meɪk pɒsɪbl fə blaɪnd stjudnts ə stʌdɪ fə wɪtʃ ðeɪ meɪ bi pri-ɛmɪnəntlɪ sjutɪd]”phonetic notation with audio (Quick 1936: 51). {This book is the result of much patient toil and will help to make possible for blind students a study for which they may be preeminently suited.} Of course from our early twenty-first century perspective, the idea that blind people might be "preeminently suited" for a particular career would rankle most of us as being both limiting and stereotypic—but, I would contend that in the late 1930s it was quite radical even to mention Braille in a mainstream academic journal, much less to suggest, as this review overtly does, that this Braille system would enable blind people to engage in study and work. Potential stereotypes aside, Merrick and Potthoff, as well as the review’s author, clearly recognized the importance of Braille.

The 1934 Merrick and Potthoff Braille IPA notation was adopted in the UK, in most countries in Europe, and in North America. It was the version reproduced in the 1977 Code of Braille Textbook Formats and Techniques (AAWB 1977: Rule XIX, section 45), which I discovered when I sought to answer the question of how to represent the IPA in Braille, and it was the version that I tried to use throughout my undergraduate and graduate coursework. Reprinted versions were available from the RNIB in London, from the Blindenstudienanstalt in Marburg, Germany, as well as from other libraries around the world.

However, serious problems had begun to emerge regarding the Merrick and Potthoff notation. First, it was poorly publicized and not well known. I was never able to find a Braille transcriber who would transcribe linguistics material using it. Several blind individuals I have met over the past two decades have told me that they tried to take a linguistics course in college but found the IPA too daunting, and a couple of students insisted to me (despite evidence to the contrary) that it was impossible to represent the IPA in Braille. Second, the Merrick and Potthoff notation had not been updated to reflect the additions, deletions, and major changes to the print IPA during the course of the twentieth century. While the core of the system remained relatively stable, there had been major revisions to the print IPA since the 1932 chart that the Merrick and Potthoff notation was based on. By 2008, when I oversaw the publication of a fully updated and revised Braille notation, the Merrick and Potthoff system was seventy-six years out of date. Numerous print symbols had no Braille counterpart, and conversely numerous Braille symbols had print equivalents that had become obsolete and were no longer used. There was no way that the Merrick and Potthoff notation could be used in advanced linguistics work. I and other blind linguists tended to make up our own symbols and techniques on the fly—which of course meant material could not be shared and was often inconsistent.

Finally, in 1997 the situation got even more complicated with the publication of a completely unrelated Braille notation for the IPA, in Braille Formats (BANA 1997: Rule 18). No linguist that I know of ever used it, and it was already based on an out-of-date print IPA chart when it was published. It also led to the unfortunate situation that the International Phonetic Alphabet was no longer remotely international, since the US and Canada were now officially using a different Braille IPA system from the UK and most of Europe, which were still using the Merrick and Potthoff notation.

In 2005 I was invited to work with ICEB (International Council on English Braille) to serve on the Committee on Foreign Languages and Linguistics. One of the main goals of this committee was to unify the Braille IPA notation used in the US with that used in the UK and much of the rest of the world. I began by seeking input from other Braille-reading linguists. All of us had been inventing our own idiosyncratic systems as needs arose, based loosely on the Merrick and Potthoff 1934 notation. I aimed to ensure that the revised Braille IPA notation was fully usable, international, and as broadly available as possible. I announced the Braille IPA project widely on linguistics and phonetics e-mail lists for public comment and received feedback and suggestions from both sighted phoneticians and, most important, other Braille readers. I piloted the revised system with blind students in university-level linguistics courses, including one that I taught at Rice University. As much as possible the revision kept the core of the Merrick and Potthoff notation, since that was clearly the system that Braille IPA users were the most familiar and comfortable with, although the notation for diacritics and suprasegmentals had to be completely revised. Another goal was to ensure that the updated Braille IPA notation was fully computable, was Unicode compatible, and was able to be forward-and-back-translated between print and Braille.

The end result was published in a two-volume set (Englebretson 2008), with a foreword by Dr. Fredric Schroeder. The full citation and URL are listed in the references of this article. It is freely downloadable from the ICEB website and can also be obtained in hard copy. The first volume contains an introduction to the IPA and a complete overview and explanation of IPA Braille. It includes tables of symbols, typographic and articulatory descriptions of each symbol, and the corresponding Unicode codepoints. The second volume consists of tactile illustrations of each print IPA glyph, side by side with the corresponding Braille symbol.

After publishing the revised IPA Braille notation in 2008, the next step was to make the wider community of linguists and phoneticians aware of it. To this end I wrote an article about IPA Braille (Englebretson 2009), which was published in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, one of the top peer-reviewed journals in the field. The goal of this article was to call professional awareness to IPA Braille so that, when blind students enroll in linguistics courses, their instructors will easily be able to refer their students to IPA Braille, and students will be able to locate it easily without having to dig through Braille codebooks. IPA Braille is also included in recent releases of the Duxbury Braille Translator. It was adopted by BANA as the official code for transcribing IPA in the US and Canada and is being used successfully in the UK and in other ICEB member countries.

Those who would like more information about IPA Braille can contact me directly at the e-mail address at the end of this article. My website, also listed there, contains links to a number of resources. These include information for configuring screen readers (such as JAWS) to read IPA symbols and links to Unicode fonts, keyboard mappers, and other technology for reading and typing IPA.

This paper has been about extending Braille into new arenas in order to facilitate people’s studying and working in a variety of language-related careers. It is amazing that the six dots of Braille are used for such a diverse variety of purposes and can empower us in so many different ways. In conclusion, for those seeking careers in the language sciences, IPA Braille enables us to do the same tasks as those who use the print IPA. Returning to the core belief about Braille that I grew up with, Braille is both normal and necessary—and IPA Braille is simply an extension of this basic value.

Dr. Englebretson may be contacted at the Department of Linguistics, Rice University, by calling (713) 348-4776 or by writing to him at <reng@rice.edu>. We are not reprinting his extensive list of references, but they can be sent to anyone who requests them by writing to <gwunder@nfb.org>.

Is Braille Still Relevant?

by Buddy Brannan

From the Editor: Buddy Brannan is a member of the National Federation of the Blind and serves as the vice president of the Erie chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania.

Most of the articles printed in the Braille Monitor are written specifically for our magazine; some we reprint from other publications. Some items come to our attention through email posts and, though not intended as articles, they articulate something so important that it should be captured and shared with our readers.

The following email remarks by Buddy Brannan, which were circulated in June 2012, reflect the frustration some of us feel acutely when a method for reading and writing using the sense of touch is greeted with skepticism while a method for getting information through the eyes is accepted without question. Here is one blind man’s reaction to the notion that audio devices may be robbing the sighted of the ability to spell while simultaneously being proposed as the way to free blind people from the need to learn Braille.

Perkins just asked in an email they sent out if Braille is still relevant in a high tech world. They said the answer was a resounding yes, as it certainly should be, but here is my response which I sent to Perkins and posted to my blog:


First, do I love my Perkins Brailler? Of course I do. I don't really want to talk about that, though. Rather I want to address the question you posed: is Braille still relevant in a technological world? Of course you got the answer, and in my view the correct one, but what disturbs me is that the question was even asked in the first place. I think it is the wrong question. In short, what happens if you replace the word "Braille" with the word "print"? Does the question change? Does the relevance of the question change with the medium? Does the answer change? What about the perceptions of the question--do those change?

A couple of weeks ago, I was a fill-in host on the Serotek podcast, where we discussed an article about the decline in spelling skills among today's youth. However, I didn't take away what was probably the intended message of the article. I took away a double standard. Now that it's sighted children who use print and are losing the ability to spell, form proper sentences, and so on, we have a tragedy, and our electronics-centric lifestyle is to blame. Think of texting as the most often blamed culprit. Yet where was this outcry for our blind kids twenty years ago, when as now we were told that talking computers and recorded textbooks are good enough? Double standard? Why is it, do you suppose, that learning to read print and having access to print are essential to teach sighted children the fundamentals of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but such skills are adequately taught to our blind kids with talking computers and recorded textbooks? Or is it that our blind kids and their skills and abilities in these areas just aren't important enough to give the same amount of attention or priority? Why is--pulling a number out of the air here--a 10 percent illiteracy rate among the sighted a national tragedy, yet a 10 percent literacy rate among the blind acceptable?

If you gather that I'm angry, you're right. I am absolutely livid. This is only one example of this double standard where blind and sighted people are concerned. The thing is, it's a huge example, and it doesn't even seem as though we ourselves always recognize it for what it is, because we still ask questions like "Is Braille still relevant?" As long as literacy is relevant to gainful employment, career advancement, educational opportunities, and all the other things life has to offer, the answer should be obvious.

As I said, you're asking the wrong question. There are probably a lot of right questions, but the one that comes to mind, setting aside the obvious one, "Why is this double standard acceptable?" is, "How do we get Braille into the hands of more kids and get more of our kids learning it, and more of our teachers teaching it?” Let's start there; there's much, much more that we should be asking as follow-ups to that.

Parenthetically, I note that the word "Brailler" was flagged by my spell checker. Moreover, it was autocorrected to "broiler." That speaks volumes.

Make the Scene in 2013!

by Dan Hicks

From the Editor: Dan Hicks is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. Here is what he has to say about our upcoming convention in Orlando:

Some of you are reading this with your heat running, or wrapped in a blanket, or maybe both. This is a good time to stop thinking about the snow on the ground and the ice on the sidewalk and to start dreaming about the warm, sunny weather in Orlando, Florida.

For the second time this decade, the NFB’s Florida affiliate wants to invite each and every one of you to take part in the 2013 National Federation of the Blind Convention at the Rosen Centre Hotel on World-famous International Drive in Orlando. The convention will take place from July 1 through July 6 and will include all of the usual convention events that make our annual gatherings the envy of other groups.

The Central Florida Area, which is where you will find Orlando, is home to many outstanding theme parks and recreation areas, such as Universal Studios Florida, Disney World, and Sea World, just to name a few. Orlando is less than a two-hour drive from the award-winning Busch Gardens Tampa and Florida’s version of Legoland. Come a day or two early or stay a couple of days late. Play tourist for a while. Florida is the only state in the Continental United States to have two coasts. Enjoy either or both. Come help the members of the NFB of Florida celebrate the summer. We promise you sunshine, fun, and lots of chances to get wet.

We are always looking for door prizes. Remember that they should have a value of at least twenty-five dollars, should be something that people can transport home. Please send them to Dan Hicks, president, National Federation of the Blind of Florida, 3708 West Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa, FL 33639.

Convention Scholarships Available

by Allen Harris

From the Editor: Allen Harris chairs the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund committee. He has an important announcement for those who would like to attend this year's national convention but find themselves short of funds. This is what he says:

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund is looking for individuals who can use some financial assistance to attend our national convention in Orlando, Florida. At the 2012 convention in Dallas we were able to assist sixty-three people. In 2013 our convention will begin on Monday, July 1, and run through Saturday, July 6. The convention is a day shorter than you might expect, ending with the banquet Saturday evening.

Who is eligible to receive a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship? If you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind who has not yet attended a national convention, you are eligible to apply.

What do I have to do to apply for a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship? You must do the following and are responsible for meeting these application requirements:

1. Each individual who applies for a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship must write a letter to the selection committee. You will send your letter of application to your NFB state affiliate president. A list of state presidents is posted on the NFB website <www.nfb.org>. He or she will forward your completed application, along with his or her recommendation, to the committee at <kjscholarships@nfb.org>. You and your state president should make contact by telephone so that he or she is well aware of your financial need and your wish to attend the convention in Orlando. If you have questions, you may also send a message to the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship chairman by addressing your email to the scholarship submission email address.

2. You must write a letter to the Kenneth Jernigan Fund committee expressing the reasons why you want a scholarship. Describe your participation in the Federation and what you think you would contribute and receive at the convention.

3. You must register for and attend the entire convention, including the banquet.

What else must I do to insure that my application will be considered? We must have all of the following information:

1. Your full name
2. Your address
3. Your telephone numbers (home, business, and cell)
4. Your email address (if you have one)
5. Your state president's name and the name of your local chapter, if you attend one

All applications must be received by April 15, 2013.

How do I get my scholarship funds? You will get a debit card at the convention loaded with the amount of your scholarship award. The times and locations to pick up your debit card will be listed in the notice you receive if you are a scholarship winner. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by advancing funds you can pay back when you receive your scholarship.

When will I know if I have been selected as a Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner?

The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:

1. Make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel your reservation.
2. You will receive a letter with the convention details which should answer many of your questions. It is also helpful to find a mentor from your chapter or affiliate to act as a friend and advisor during the convention. Although you will not know officially whether or not you have been selected until mid-May, you must make plans to attend and then adjust your arrangements accordingly.

Last summer in Dallas the Jernigan Fund scholarship committee awarded sixty-three Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarships. Grants ranged from $400 to $500. The amount we can give will depend on the funds available; we attempt to award additional funds to families. You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances which the committee may choose to take into consideration. Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention and join several thousand other blind Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world.

If you have questions or need additional information, call Allen Harris at (205) 520-9979 or email him at <kjscholarships@nfb.org>. We look forward to seeing you in Orlando.


This month’s recipes are contributed by members of the NFB of Louisiana.

KG’s Red Beans and Sausage
by Krystal and Eric Guillory

Krystal and Eric Guillory are active at all levels of the Federation. Krystal serves as a teacher of blind students and an early interventionist in northern Louisiana, and Eric is director of youth services for the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Both are officers of the National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education (PIBE). They are the proud parents of Austin, age seven, and Brilyn, age four.

This dish is a tasty way to economize and is a wonderful entrée for large gatherings. While it is a nice option all year, it is particularly great during these chilly winter months.

1 large bag of dry red beans
2 pounds beef, pork, or turkey sausage, or to taste, sliced into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 large bell peppers, coarsely chopped
2 dill pickles, coarsely chopped (or dill relish)
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: We like Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning better than salt and pepper but realize that it is not easy to obtain in other parts of the country.

Method: Place dry beans in a large covered saucepan or stock pot and soak in water for at least five hours to soften. Drain beans and replace water, bringing the beans to a medium boil. Use lots of water since much of it will evaporate during cooking. Continue this medium boil for at least an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent burning or sticking. While the beans are boiling, brown the sausage and onions in a frying pan. Once browned, add these to the boiling pot. Next add the dill pickle and bell pepper to the mix. When the beans are done, reduce the boil to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow the beans to simmer for at least two hours. For a creamier texture place a ladle-full of beans into a separate bowl and mash smooth and return them to the simmering pot. Serve over your choice of rice or simply enjoy as a standalone dish.

Ruby’s Banana Pudding
by Krystal and Eric Guillory

Named in honor of Eric’s mom, this recipe gives a twist to a recipe popularized by Chef Paula Deen.

2 boxes French vanilla instant pudding
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
8 ounces condensed milk
1 12-ounce container Cool Whip
3 7.25-ounce packs Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
4 bananas, sliced

Method: Prepare the pudding as directed. Blend together the condensed milk, cream cheese, and Cool Whip. In a large mixing bowl fold blended mixture into pudding and mix thoroughly. In a 9-by-13-inch pan layer cookies, sliced bananas, and pudding mixture, ending with cookies. Cover and refrigerate. Serve cold and enjoy.

Bacon-Wrapped Cajun Jalapenos
by Jewel Ardoin

Jewel Ardoin is originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, Cajun country. Jewel is a technology instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and an active leader in the affiliate. As well as being an outstanding cook, she is also famous for her massage fundraiser at the state convention. She is a certified massage therapist.


8 large jalapeno peppers
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
8 thick-sliced peppered bacon strips
16 toothpicks

Method: Cut 8 jalapenos in half lengthwise; remove seeds and center membranes. In a small bowl combine the package cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and Cajun seasoning. Stuff about 1 1/2 teaspoonfuls cream cheese mixture into each pepper half. Cut bacon strips in half widthwise. In a large skillet cook bacon part way. Wrap a half bacon slice around each stuffed pepper; secure ends with a toothpick Place wrapped peppers on a wire rack in a shallow baking pan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for twenty-five to thirty minutes or until bacon is crisp. Discard toothpicks and serve immediately. Yield: sixteen appetizers.

Note: Wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers; the oils can burn skin. Avoid touching your face. You can use doubled muffin papers instead of toothpicks. The best ones to use are the ones that have foil on the outside and paper in the inside. This makes it easy to serve the bacon-wrapped stuffed peppers and easy to clean the baking pan.

Potato Chip Cookies
by Jewel Ardoin


1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup potato chips, crushed
1/2 cup pecans, ground
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, cream together the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. With the mixer at low speed add potato chips and pecans and mix until fully incorporated. Add vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in flour and mix the flour until just combined; do not over-mix. Using a medium cookie scoop (1 1/2 tablespoons), shape dough in one-inch balls and place them two inches apart on lined baking sheets. Slightly flatten each dough ball with the bottom of a glass dipped in confectioners sugar. Bake in a preheated oven for twelve to fifteen minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about twenty-four. Roll cooled cookies in confectioners sugar. If desired, garnish cooled cookies with a drizzle of melted chocolate and a sprinkling of fine sea salt.

Cereal-Crusted Chicken with Curry Cream
by Jack Mendez

Jack Mendez joined the LCB staff in November 2012 as director of technology. He is a committed Federationist who is eager to share his positive philosophy about blindness with others. Jack loves to cook and experiment with all types of cuisine. He and his fiancée, Maryann Topolewski, will be married in April. Jack made this recipe as part of his meal for eight at LCB when he was a student, and it received rave reviews.

Jack says, “Take this breakfast treat to a new level. You can use any unsweetened cereal, granola, or oats when you want to explore new flavors. (For best results place the cereal in a plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin until coarsely crushed, or give it a quick spin in the food processor.)”

Cooking spray
2 cups crushed unsweetened cornflakes cereal
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup orange marmalade

Ingredients for Curry Cream:
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon curry powder
Pinch of paprika

Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the crushed cereal in a shallow dish and set aside. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper and brush marmalade over both sides. Add the chicken to the cereal and turn to coat completely. Arrange the chicken pieces on the sprayed cookie sheet and spray the surface of each with cooking spray. Bake until the crust is golden brown and chicken is cooked through, about twenty-five minutes. Meantime in a small bowl whisk together the sour cream, curry powder, and paprika. Serve the chicken with the curry cream spooned over the top or on the side.

Jerry Whittle’s Famous Carolina Hash

A beloved Federation leader, Jerry Whittle has served for years in many capacities in South Carolina and Louisiana. He is currently the president of the Greater Ouachita Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana and vice president of the affiliate, along with being state fundraising chairperson. This dish is always a favorite.

2 packages boneless ribs
2 jars of Cattleman’s Carolina Barbecue Sauce or any other Carolina Barbeque Sauce
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, diced (optional)
1 1/2 cups cooked rice

Method: Cook ribs overnight in a crock pot on low with onion, jalapeno pepper, salt, and pepper to taste. Cool ribs and chop meat, returning it to the pot. Add sauce and rice to crock pot. Reserve about a half jar of sauce to add as needed. Cook covered for 4 hours on low. Enjoy!

Chocolate Kahlua® Cake
by Roland Allen

Roland Allen has served the Federation at many levels. A gifted mentor and cane travel instructor, Roland enjoys sharing the message of the Federation. This is one of his favorite recipes and always a crowd-pleaser.

1 box devil’s food cake mix
1 small box instant chocolate pudding
2 cups sour cream
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup Kahlua
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons Kahlua

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all cake ingredients except chocolate chips and mix or beat until thoroughly combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into a greased bundt pan. Bake for one hour. Cool cake in pan for 15 minutes. Turn out cake on cooling rack to cool completely. Whisk together powdered sugar and Kailua until smooth. Drizzle over cake.

Broccoli Salad
by Pam Allen

Pam Allen is president of the NFB of Louisiana and director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

2 bunches broccoli florets, washed and cut into small pieces
10 strips of crisp bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup onion, diced
2/3 cup Craisins®
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Dressing Ingredients:
1 cup Miracle Whip®
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Method: Combine ingredients for dressing in a small container and refrigerate overnight. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add as much dressing as desired and lightly toss.

Shrimp Creole
by Cathy Guillory

Cathy Guillory is the president of the Lake Areas Chapter. As a deaf-blind woman she is also a strong advocate for deaf-blind issues.

1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
Wondra® flour
1/2 small can Ro*Tel® tomatoes (You can substitute a mixture of stewed tomatoes and minced chili peppers if you can't find the Ro*Tel brand.)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Peeled and deveined shrimp

Method: Sauté onion, bell pepper, and garlic in oil until tender. Sprinkle Wondra flour over the oil-and-vegetable mixture, stirring constantly, until it is the consistency of watery oatmeal. Add Ro*Tel and stir until all ingredients are well blended. Add tomato sauce and then fill the tomato sauce can with water. Pour the water into the mixture, scraping can well, and stir. Bring to a boil and then quickly lower heat to simmer. Simmer for at least 20 minutes without covering the pot. Add enough peeled and deveined shrimp for two people. Cook only until shrimp is done.

Although some measurements have been included, none of the ingredients need to be measured precisely in this recipe. Creole cooking, like any art, is highly subjective. Play with it and develop your own favorite combination of ingredients.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Announcing Indy Super BLAST 2013:

Mark your calendars. Plan to join us for education, motivation, and the largest trade show for blind entrepreneurs and others interested in building small business opportunities for the blind. The National Association of Blind Merchants, a strong and active division of the National Federation of the Blind, is pleased to announce that the BLAST (Business Leadership and Superior Training) conference will return to Indianapolis, Indiana, in May 2013. After much negotiation and consideration of the top conference and hospitality venues across the country, contracts have been signed with the magnificent Indianapolis Marriott Downtown.

The BLAST conference has become the principal conference for blind vendors and state licensing agency management and staff over the past decade. Each year we have expanded curriculum, sought out the most dynamic speakers, added networking opportunities and team-building exercises, and scheduled top-notch tours and entertainment. In 2013 we are moving this conference to the spring.

In light of the recent far-reaching memorandum issued by President Obama and the recent launch of our National Federation of the Blind Entrepreneurial Initiative, we have much work ahead of us. Recent BLAST training conferences have also included a track for blind individuals who wish to develop small business opportunities in addition to or beyond Randolph-Sheppard. This effort will continue during Indy Super BLAST 2013.

How can a rehabilitation agency help you start a business? What role can the Small Business Administration play? What is SCORE? How do you increase active participation between blind vendors and a state licensing agency? What are the best social media strategies to help build your business? How do you get started in franchising? What are the latest healthy vending and food service approaches? What are best human resource practices? What are the latest and greatest accessible business technologies? Join us as we answer these and many other questions at Indy Super BLAST 2013.

Register now at <http://www.blindmerchants.org>. The conference registration fee is $200, or save $50 with early bird registration by registering before April 15, 2013. For assistance with registration and for further information, call (866) 543-6808. Reserve your room at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown by calling (317) 822-3500. Rooms are available at the low rate of $124 per night plus applicable taxes. Room rates are effective from Friday, May 17, through Thursday, May 23.

NFB of West Virginia Announces Braille Tutoring Program:

In conjunction with Louis Braille’s birthday the West Virginia affiliate announced the establishment of a pilot project to teach Braille to interested adults across the state. The press release was picked up by various news organizations. Here is the release:

New Program Offers Literacy Training for Blind Residents

The National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia is marking the anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille with the announcement of a statewide initiative aimed at helping blind adults gain literacy skills. The project matches blind adults who read and write Braille with other blind adults who wish to learn it. Louis Braille is the Frenchman who invented the system of reading and writing by touch, using raised dots. He was born 204 years ago, Jan. 4, 1809, and the code which bears his name is now used by blind people around the world.

"We know that literacy is vital to success in virtually every aspect of life, whether it be education, employment, or simply being good citizens of our communities," NFBWV President Charlene Smyth said. "For those of us who are blind, literacy means the ability to read and write Braille. This project allows us to share our knowledge of Braille with others who can benefit from learning it."

Last spring a dozen blind persons from throughout the state volunteered as tutors for the project and received some basic training in the best ways to teach others to read and write Braille. About half of them are currently working with students, and those interested in learning Braille are encouraged to take advantage of the program. The project has received a grant from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services for the purchase of books and other learning materials. The funds will also assist with transportation costs when tutors and students must travel some distance to meet with each other.

NFBWV Second Vice President Sheri Koch, who recently retired as a supervisor with the Division of Rehabilitation Services, was instrumental in planning and launching the project. She recognizes that losing one's vision is often a traumatic experience. "It can complicate even the simplest of tasks, like following a recipe, writing down a phone number, or finding the right elevator button," Koch said. "Learning Braille can help a person with vision loss to regain independence, confidence, and self-respect. It can also be the key to finding and retaining a job."

The training is offered to any adult who has experienced vision loss affecting his or her ability to read and write. Persons with some basic knowledge of Braille who want to improve their reading and writing skills can benefit from the project as well. To learn more or to register as a student, contact NFBWV First Vice President Ed McDonald at (304) 788-0129 or email him at <ed@eioproductions.com>.


In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

Maps of South Carolina Available:

The Princeton Braillists have recently completed a volume of Maps of South Carolina. This single volume includes an overview of the state, followed by individual maps of cities, rivers, counties, highways, farm and mineral products, yearly precipitation, and average temperature. More detailed maps show the vicinity of Charleston and the vicinity of Hilton Head Island.

The package comprises twelve maps, thirty-three pages total. The price is six dollars and we use shipping by free mail where eligible. To order, please send check or purchase order to The Princeton Braillists, 76 Leabrook Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540. For further information contact Ruth H. Bogia, (215) 357-7715, or Nancy Amick, (609) 924-5207.

Lighthouse International and Creative Mobile Technologies Headed to Washington, D.C. for Prestigious Board Appearance:

Lighthouse International in partnership with Creative Mobile Technologies, LLC (CMT) announced today that it has been invited by the United States Access Board to appear at its Tuesday, January 8th meeting held in Washington DC to showcase taxicab improvements for the visually impaired community. The Board is structured to function as a coordinating body among Federal agencies and to directly represent the public, particularly people with disabilities. Half of its members are representatives from most of the Federal departments. The other half is comprised of members of the public appointed by the President, a majority of whom must have a disability.

Both Mark Ackermann, president and CEO of Lighthouse International, and Jesse Davis, president of Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT), will address the board on the groundbreaking software enhancements designed to enable blind and visually impaired taxi riders to independently access the credit card payment system and other technology features in New York's yellow medallion taxicabs as well as taxi fleets around the nation.

CMT created adaptive software that will allow blind or visually impaired taxi passengers to hear the fare changing in regular intervals during the trip and facilitate all aspects of the credit card or cash payment functions upon reaching their destination including selection of payment options, verification of fare, and selection of tip percentages. VIP Mobile, CMT's audible touch screen feature, can be activated by a special card, a multi-tap on the top right of the screen, or by simply asking the driver. The feature transforms the screen into large, easy-to-navigate sections that are operated by touch and prompted by step-by-step spoken instructions.

This software is critical to the blind and visually impaired community's ability to independently pay taxi fares. Prior to implementation of this new software, blind and visually impaired passengers who chose to use credit cards were forced to rely on cab drivers to swipe their card and enter the correct amount, including tip. Not only is this a violation of current New York City TLC rules, but also it exposes the visually impaired passenger to the potential for fraudulent transactions, including overpayment. In addition to its New York City rollout, CMT plans to introduce software in 4,500 credit card and payment systems in taxis around the country.

"CMT's adaptive software will ensure that the millions of people who are blind and visually impaired in New York City, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, as well as nine other major U.S. cities, will be a part of a community that benefits from independent payment and other technology in taxi fleets around the nation," said Jason Poliner, vice chairman and chief operating officer, Creative Mobile Technologies. "We are proud to have worked closely with Lighthouse International to bring these benefits to visually impaired communities across the country and look forward to sharing CMT's experience and best practices with the U.S. ACCESS Board."

Lighthouse International estimates that the prevalence rate of vision loss in New York City is 362,000. This number will only increase because of the aging population and age-related causes of visual impairment and blindness, as well as blindness due to uncontrolled diabetes.

"This is an excellent example of the private sector working with government leaders and advocates to voluntarily change a system that has excluded the independent participation of millions of people who are blind or visually impaired for far too long," said Mark G. Ackermann, president and CEO of Lighthouse International. "We are delighted to have played a role in this nationwide initiative and will continue working to ensure that every taxi in the nation is accessible to people with a visual impairment."

About Lighthouse International [formerly known as the New York Lighthouse for the Blind]: Founded in 1905, Lighthouse International is a leading non-profit organization dedicated to fighting vision loss through prevention, treatment, and empowerment. It achieves this through clinical and rehabilitation services, education, research, and advocacy. For more information about vision loss and its causes, contact Lighthouse International at 1-800-829-0500 or visit <www.lighthouse.org>.

About Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT): Founded in New York City in 2005 by taxi industry leaders, Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT) provides more than 20,000 taxicabs in 60 cities and 35 states with a variety of taxi technologies and enhancements including credit and debit card processing, media and advertising content, text messaging, interactive passengers maps, GPS, electronic trip sheets and back-office fleet management systems. CMT has more than 6,600 units in New York City alone. CMT's unique "for the industry, by the industry" business model has empowered taxi fleets and individual taxi operators throughout the country with customized solutions born out of the company's deep roots in the taxi industry. CMT's FREEdom Solution integrates all of the technology including dispatching, banking and media components that has helped to bring the American taxi industry into a new era of efficiency and innovation.


Monitor Mart           

The notices in the section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.

For Sale:
Perkins Brailler, standard, brand new condition, in original packaging. Includes dust cover and manual. This Brailler has been used exactly four times. It is in excellent condition. I thought I would use it, but I found that I don’t really need it. Retails for $750. I’m asking only $450. PayPal available. Call Deanne (619) 600-2501, or email <papersforme@gmail.com>.

For Sale:
HIMS Braille Sense Plus with qwerty keyboard and thirty-two cell Braille display for sale. It is in perfect condition, rarely used, about a year and a half old. It comes with the original packing materials, leather carrying case and a thirty-two gig compact flash card already installed. $3,500 or best offer. Please contact me at my cell number: (903) 285-2519.

For Sale:
New, still in unopened box: Window-Eyes 7.5.3. Value is $895. Will sell for $600 plus shipping/handling. Call (702) 631-9009 or email <contact@blindconnect.org>.

Victor Stream for Sale:
I am selling a Victor Reader Stream that is in excellent condition. It comes with all original materials/items. I am asking $150 or I will consider trades. If you are interested, call (734) 658-2919 or email <ninopacini@gmail.com>.


NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.