January 2020

President's Letter

Dear Friend, 

This month we celebrate World Braille Day in honor of Louis Braille, who invented a nonvisual means of reading and writing now used worldwide by blind people. Braille was blind and his approach worked because it was based on his own experience and the shared understanding from other blind people at his school. He was the inventor but dozens of other blind people informed his work, and the beauty of his innovation was its authenticity and simplicity. That is why it persists even today--although changes have been made to the code itself to facilitate interaction with digital methods of sharing information.

My early education did not include Braille instruction. Like so many blind people I know, it was only when I was struggling to compete in college that I got to know people in the National Federation of the Blind and learned how Braille could make a difference as a tool for independence. Today, there is not a day that goes by that I do not use Braille in the course of living the life I want. When I think about all the things I missed because I struggled to read print and how much I could have learned from actually enjoying reading early on, I am frustrated by the visual bias that is systemic in the educational programs across our country. Instead of focusing on what should have been, the members of the National Federation of the Blind and I focus our energy on making change to build a future full of opportunities.

When I think about the high correlation between employment and reading Braille, I am proud of the work we do to promote Braille. When I speak with Blind people across the country, I hear about how important Braille is in the lives of blind people of all ages. My daughters enjoy learning Braille and I know how much difference Braille will make in their lives.

The Federation sponsors Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning® Academies across the country and requires every student who attends our training centers to learn Braille because we know that Braille literacy helps to turn our dreams into reality by giving us the skills we need.

As you solidify your New Year's resolutions, include on your list finding ways to promote Braille and the role it plays in providing blind people with a powerful tool for literacy. If we all work on getting the general public to know that Braille is more than bathroom signs and elevator buttons, we will help raise expectations and promote equal access to information around the world. Next time you step into a restaurant, ask them if they have Braille menus and if they do not, encourage them to get some. That is just one of a hundred things you can do to promote the full participation of the blind in society with Braille. Together, we can transform dreams of literacy for all into reality.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind

Learning Braille in My Sixties: A Senior’s Perspective

We are often told that Braille is difficult. This is especially true for seniors, or so says conventional wisdom. We asked one senior about his experiences and here is what Bob Gardner said:

I learned Braille when I was in my sixties as a student at one of our NFB training centers. At the center, all students--including those who already knew Grade 2 Braille--were required to participate in the Braille class.

I came into the class knowing Grade 1 Braille but was now required to learn Grade 2 contracted Braille. For me, it was my most difficult class. When asked to read my lessons aloud to the other students, I often felt like the class dunce. It was a humbling experience, a frustrating experience.

But I was determined to graduate and getting through all the lessons in the McDuffy Reader was a requirement for graduation. So, I was going to do it! And I did. It wasn’t pretty, but I think I finished the last lesson my last week at the center.

I am proud I graduated from BLIND, Inc., and I am proud I can read Braille. I am not the fastest Braille reader by far, but I consider Braille another tool in my toolbox of blindness skills. I continue to read Braille, trying to read daily from hard copy books provided by the National Library Service.

I don’t think I would feel complete without the ability to read Braille. Also, I consider myself an example which disproves the adage that seniors cannot learn Braille.

The National Federation of the Blind advocates for Braille Literacy and quality Braille instruction in a myriad of ways. We celebrated World Braille Day this month in honor of the inventor of Braille, Louis Braille, whose birthday was January fourth. Watch our video about celebrating Braille. Learn more about our Braille literacy initiatives by visiting our BELL® Academy Page, learning about our Free Slate and Stylus Program, Exploring Our Early Childhood Initiatives, and reading the Braille Monitor.

Latest News at the NFB

NFB Members Head to DC for our Annual Washington Seminar

Each year Federation members travel from across the United States in a grassroots effort to speak with our Senators and Representatives about issues that affect the blind during our Washington Seminar. This year is no exception. The tapping of canes will be heard throughout the capitol as more than five hundred Federationists exercise our right to petition our government. Our 2020 issues focus on accessibility of expensive specialized equipment, instructional materials for higher education, and access barriers at home. Learn about our 2020 Washington Seminar.

NFB Calls for Nominations—Bolotin Awards:

The National Federation of the Blind is accepting nominations of individuals or organizations who are a positive force in the lives of blind people and advance the goal of helping us transform dreams into reality for the prestigious Jacob Bolotin Award. Each application must include a letter of recommendation. The deadline to submit is April 15, 2020. Submit your Bolotin Award nomination now.

Automated Production of Braille Math Books in the Works

Some students can wait up to six months to receive an accessible version of a textbook—if they get one at all—leading to a gap in education. As blind mathematician and longtime NFB member Dr. Al Maneki says, “A Braille formula enables a person to touch and compare various pieces. Having the computer pronounce a formula for you is not adequate for a blind reader, any more than it would be adequate for a sighted reader.” With a grant from the American Action Fund, a working group of NFB members and other researchers has created an automated method for creating textbooks in Braille. The American Institute of Mathematics just announced the production method and a week-long workshop to explore the production.

Take Action This Month

Stay involved in the National Federation of the Blind. There are so many ways to be involved with the Federation at the national, state, and local level.

Important Dates

Mark your calendars.