Braille Monitor                          February 2019

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NFB EQ Making a Difference for Young People

It is important to observe that some of the best jobs in the twenty-first century are in science, technology, engineering, and math. It is enlightening to realize how few blind people are in these fields. It is easy to explain how often the blind are pushed away from entering these because they are considered impractical. But once that discouragement has been noticed, it is critical that someone take action to bridge that gap between blind people and the most lucrative jobs in their generation. The National Federation of the Blind has been that someone for years, addressing how to get blind people into these professions and beginning to provide the experiences that sighted people take for granted and too many people who work with the blind don’t believe possible. Few blind people get to build things or observe in the objects around them the way they are built. What is the difference between houses built today with studs and those built in earlier times using columns and beams? Other than the use of skins, cloth, or canvas, how does the construction of a teepee differ from construction using columns and beams? If you can't touch these structures in some detail, you likely won't understand the way any of them are built and the strengths and weaknesses that are a part of their design.

Ahbee records the mass of Cheetos on her Braille display as her partner Ethan puts them on the talking scale

How do engineers design things? Usually they develop design specifications. So what is reverse engineering? Students found out by examining Cheetos and determining the length and weight that constitutes one of these delicious snacks.

To learn about various construction techniques, students in the NFB Engineering Quotent class visited Jerusalem Mill Village, a museum in Baltimore featuring structures that represented many techniques throughout history for creating houses, barns, and other buildings. Then it was time to see what the students could do.

Brandon, Jaden, and Mili complete their structure made of wooden dowels and rubber bands

Using the creativity of a team, can blind people create a structure out of wooden dowels and rubber bands that all of them can stand under? Indeed they can, and this was quite an accomplishment for some who came to the program having never played with LEGOS or other building blocks. All too often blind people are taught to avoid things that are sharp, things that might hurt the hands. Imagine the surprise when students realized they would be using small saws and had to suffer the occasional burn when using a hot glue gun and coming in contact with hot glue. But they built, and they were empowered.

EQ students in a barn at Jerusalem Mill

Of course, in most construction one draws before building, so this too was a challenge addressed at the 2018 event. Being able to interpret and make drawings will increase the likelihood of success for any blind person in STEM, so we start by figuring out how to teach the skill and then helping students to master it. Drawings had to include a floor plan as well as the front and side elevation for the building. Some drew houses, some drew castles, and some drew high-rises. All drew inspiration from the learning, from the adventure, and from the knowledge that their blind brothers and sisters believe in them.

Chasity works on drawing her house’s design

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