(Voice over intro music): Welcome to the Nation's Blind Podcast, presented by the National Federation of the Blind, the transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans. Live the life you want.
(Music fades out)
Melissa Riccobono: Hello and welcome to the Nation's Blind Podcast. I'm Melissa Riccobono, and I'm here with my co-host, Anil Lewis.
Anil Lewis: And I'm here with my co-host, Melissa Riccobono.
Melissa: Well, hi, thank you. How are you doing? Happy August.
Anil: Yeah, I'm doing great. And you said holidays? What holiday?
Melissa: No, no. I said Happy August.
Anil: Oh, happy August. Well, it is a happy August now because I got my air conditioning repaired. So it was not a happy July because I had, you know. Anyway, that's not what our listeners want.
Melissa: Are you happy for your wallet though?
Anil: No, definitely not happy for my wallet. Enough about me.
Melissa: Let's talk about the Bolotin Awards. I just pulled it out of my hat. You want to talk about the Bolotin Awards?
Anil: That’s a great idea. Well, before we talk about them. What? What are they?
Melissa: Well, the Jacob Bolotin Awards are awards that the National Federation of the Blind gives each year in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Foundation. And they are given to individuals or organizations who are doing great work already in something blindness related. I mean, it can be a wide variety of things. And we have nominations that are sent in and then our committee looks at all the nominations and figures out the people or organizations that are deserving of the awards. I think we have about six this year. If I'm remembering? Again, you can find all the information at www.nfb.org/bolotin, B-o-l-o-t-I-n. But Jacob Bolotin was a blind doctor and he was a blind doctor in the 1920s in Chicago. And so his story — and I need to read it still and I'm really embarrassed about that because every time we've had podcasts about the Bolotin award, I've constantly said, yeah, I need to read that book, and I'm still, still need to read it.
Anil: Before we transition, the thing I love about the book and his story is his lived experience was before the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, but it shows that the spirit of our desire to be independent, you know, counter to society, relegating us to third parties, you know, secondary citizens, etc., still lived even before the formulation of the organization. But the culmination and the development and formulation of the National Federation of the Blind allowed us to exponentially impact so many more blind people. So I love that the Bolotin Award continues to highlight individuals that are continuing to do that.
Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. And I love that it's actually work— I mean, I think it's important to give people money for things they want to do. But I actually like that the award really focuses on things that we feel as an organization, and the committee feels, are things that are impacting blind people now. And of course, you know, our hope is that the money will help them expand whatever it is they're doing. And continue to do it and maybe make it bigger, better. But I love that it's really the recognition of, hey, you've worked really hard, you're doing really good work. You're already having an impact on blind people. And here's some recognition of that and a little bit of money.
Anil: Yes, exactly. So anyway, I think that's really cool. And so we are going to have an interview on this episode. This young lady, Caroline Karbowski, who runs See3d, is working on interventions that we as an organization already recognize have such a tremendous impact on the quality of life of blind students and employment. It is just the fact that we as blind individuals engage in our environment using tactile tools and her development of 3D objects, manipulatives, etc. that kind of help us experience the world through the senses that we use, I think is pivotal.
Melissa: Absolutely. And our colleague Chris Danielsen has done this interview with Caroline. And I don't think there's much more we need to say. Should we turn it over to Chris and hear the interview?
Anil: Let's take a listen.
Chris Danielsen: This is Chris Danielsen and I'm here with another in our series of interviews with our 2022 Dr. Jacob Bolotin award winners. And today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Caroline Karbowski. How are you, Caroline?
Caroline Karbowski: I'm doing well today. How about you?
Chris: Doing great. And such a privilege to talk with you. What you're doing is so important, which is obviously why you were nominated for and are receiving a Dr. Jacob Bolotin award. So tell us a little bit about your work and about See3D.
Caroline: So See3D is a 501c3 nonprofit that I started back in 2017 when I was in high school, and we organize the printing and distribution of 3D printed models for blind people. We send them to people mainly in United States, but all over the world. We've sent them to people in 17 countries and 27 states.
Chris: Oh, wow, that's fantastic. So you started this when you were in high school and you —I believe I read that you learned Braille when you were in middle school. So and you're not a blind person. So what got you interested in doing this work?
Caroline: So when I was in sixth grade, I decided to teach myself Braille so I could read books in the car without getting dizzy. And it started out with just learning the alphabet. I used to take a pencil and push really hard in a notebook and then turn the page to the other side and feel the Braille that way. Thankfully, though, my mom had a friend who was a TVI and she gave me a slate and stylus. And so that really was great. I was able to write more things and eventually I had some friends that they gave me a Brailler and that again really encouraged my learning of Braille. I went from just doing the alphabet in sixth grade all the way to then doing contractions in high school. I did Hadley's Braille class, in high school and college and then throughout college I worked on the Transcribers course and now I'm almost finished with it.
Chris: Well, that is really fantastic. And so you do read Braille with your hands then?
Caroline: Yep, I do both. Often for my transcribing. I'll do it visually, but for reading at nighttime or for purposes I can read it tactilely too. So I read books before bed. I've labeled my car buttons in Braille so I don't have to look down to change the air conditioning or temperatures, things like that. I did my theater lines in Braille so I could read them backstage when the lights were off. A lot of fun things have been useful with knowing Braille.
Chris: It's so interesting that you labeled your car buttons because, you know, we're talking a lot in the Federation about self-driving cars and how the features that would make them accessible for blind people would make them more accessible for everybody. So we've talked about this issue of having to look at buttons or look at the screen. And so you're a sighted person who drives but actually benefits from Braille. And that tactile feedback on your car buttons. That is really interesting.
Caroline: Yes, I found a lot of uses for Braille, even though I'm sighted. And it's kind of funny to look back at the times when I didn't know Braille. I'm like, Wow, it's so much easier now that I know Braille. Another thing I use it for is I know sign language. And so at school we would have tests where the teacher is signing and we have to write down what they said. And if I look down at my paper to write down the words that she was signing, I would miss what she was signing because my eyes are looking down. So if I typed them in Braille — especially when I was doing like during COVID, I could type in my Brailler or something at home — then I could keep my eyes on the signer the whole time and not miss any words.
Chris: Fantastic. Wow. So you're now going to be an official Braille ambassador for the NFB, because we're always talking about the many, many advantages of Braille. So this is fascinating. So how did you move from, I mean, obviously, you've got, you had an interest in Braille and in tactile literacy. So how did you move from that to tactile graphics?
Caroline: So I saw an article when I was in eighth grade about 3D printing telescope and microscope images so blind people could make their own scientific observations and not only have to rely on descriptions made by sighted people on the scientific data, and they were also 3D printing Braille labels of the telescope and microscope images. And when I saw those photos, I thought, Wow, like, I know Braille. I can use my Braille skills to add Braille to 3D models because in eighth grade, a lot of people were asking me, why are you learning Braille? You're a sighted person, you don't need this. So I was always trying to find some extra uses to apply my Braille skills. And so seeing this article really inspired me then to think about 3D printing. My high school had 3D printers and I wanted to be able to use them, a lot of my friends wanted to use them, and we weren't sure what to make. They were just new devices that we had. So I thought, well, why don't we make models for blind people? And I can add some Braille labels to them and we can submit the idea to our tech competition that happens for high schools each year in Cincinnati, Ohio. So I had my tech club work on making a website and they made some models that they designed. And I worked with my mom, who had some friends who are TVI's, and we gave models to their students. I met some blind people in Cincinnati just by chance. I just happened to see them in the community and I told them my project, they connected me with the NFB and some people who wrote articles about See3D that really helped us gain publicity. So that way more people knew about our program and it all just started out by us posting a website with a Google form where people could make requests for models and we’d print them at our high school and then people would give us feedback on the models. And we've improved them since then. And now since I've been at OSU, which is Ohio State University, we then got funding to become a nonprofit, really develop our program, and now we ship models all over the world and have a community of people who 3D print and distribute models.
Chris: That is so fantastic. And you talked about the scientific models that you read the article about and that you initially became interested in. And that's obviously a big focus for us in terms of the STEM work that we do. But what other things have you worked on? What other kinds of things do you get requests for?
Caroline: We get a lot of requests for maps, things from people's backyards or their communities. We use a website called Touch Mapper where you can put in an address and then it generates a STL file, which is a file that you can 3D print. They also generate files of tactile graphics, which you could do on an embosser. But we do the 3D printed version and we have done people's neighborhoods, their schools. It's great for showing basic layouts of buildings and streets as well as bodies of water like a lake. And we also get maps of just states. People want to know where is North Dakota and where is Texas? And we can add Braille labels to them. There's even a model that has Braille integrated into the 3D printed model, and it prints actually pretty well. One of our U.S. models, the states are taller if they get more rain or just more precipitation. And we do topographical maps, so feeling the mountains of the United States. We've done maps of the whole world or individual regions, as well as maps that are just the outline of a state or a country. And then another big category is buildings and monuments. So we run the 3D Model Club at the Ohio State School for the Blind called OSSB. And a big thing we did the first year we were there is 3D printed models of historic landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, White House, the Eiffel Tower, because OSSB has a really large collection of historic models that were made during the Great Depression as a WPA program. And they're restoring these models. And so students made miniature 3D prints of the buildings to go along with the large tabletop model that was at the school so that way students could feel a small Taj Mahal and get the general idea and then go to the big model for full detail. And students wrote descriptions of the models that provided history about them. And we also get a lot of requests for animals, mainly insects, that have small legs or wings, that's a huge one. Like butterflies are really popular. And so I think insects, animals, maps, also just things you can't touch in real life. So fire was one that a preschool student requested. And we've done some like campfires as well as snowflakes or dangerous animals, things like an alligator or a bear or something you can't touch in real life. Jellyfish were kind of fun too, and so that's what's been really nice about 3D printing is you can touch things that you can't touch in real life, and even sighted people can't often touch some of these or see them in real life, especially things like molecules.
Chris: That is really fascinating and some of those I had thought of and as a matter of fact, our immediate past President used to collect —maybe he still does — models of buildings. So we have a lot of those around the NFB Jernigan Institute but we need to get some of yours. But I had never thought of models of bodies of water or models of animals and those are things you're right, a lot of them you can't touch in real life, even if you wanted to. So that's really great. And I think it's so interesting that you're responding to requests because that's really interesting what blind people, particularly kids, want to feel. So, so many great uses for this technology and for what you're doing. So that is so fantastic. Well, I guess before I ask my final questions, there's probably people listening who want to get a model now that they know about you. So, if you could talk about that process, that would be great.
Caroline: Sure. Our website is See3d.org. That's s-e-e, the number three, then D.org. And on the website there's a button for Request a Model. It links you to a Google form, and if you are blind or have low vision, or you're a parent or a teacher of someone who's blind or low-vision, you can request a model. We mail it Free Matter for the Blind. We also offer kits, so we have an anatomy kit with some human anatomy models and a Braille, large print or electronic guide that goes with it. We also have a United States kit, and we're coming out with an ancient world civilizations kit that was just made this spring. And you can request those already-made kits in addition to just an individual model that you might request, say of DNA. You can also request for a description that someone will then write, describing what you're touching and what that correlates to, and that can be available in a variety of accessible formats. Some of that just takes longer for that to get to because someone has to write the descriptions. That adds a little bit of time. And then if you're interested in 3D printing with us, designing models, writing descriptions, volunteering with us, there's also a Get Involved page on our website and you can join our Slack workspace. Slack is a program on a computer or a mobile device that has different channels, similar to Discord or Microsoft teams, and it's accessible with screen readers. And this is how we talk with our volunteers and where we post model requests. So we have a lot of blind people who 3D print with us. The 3D printing process could be more accessible. And right now we're talking with some companies on trying to improve that. There's a few workarounds and some people in this Slack channel talk about the things they do to make 3D printing accessible. There's also a Facebook group and they have a lot of people who are talking about workarounds they do for accessible 3D printing.
Chris: Wow, that is so great. So much good information here. Thank you so much for sharing all of that. And finally, I just want to talk about how it feels to you personally to have received that Dr. Jacob Bolotin award from the National Federation of the Blind and the Blind Community, and then what your goals are, how you think the award will advance your work, if you have any ideas about that?
Caroline: Yes. The main thing for me is I'm really appreciative of getting this award from the blindness community, especially being a sighted person. So throughout my time of being involved with NFB — from going to national convention in 2018, meeting some people in 2017 who told me about NFB in the first place, up until now — I've been really welcomed, especially by the Ohio affiliate, and people have been so welcoming to me and teaching me blindness skills, teaching me about the NFB philosophy. And it means a lot to have this award from blind people because it really shows the community and what I have learned from people to be able to get see 3D where it is today. And I think that's because of all the feedback we've had from blind people with models, feedback and people wanting accessible formats for their learning guides and knowing to work with blind people and making 3D printing accessible and see 3D really values integrating blind people in all levels of our organizational leadership and trying to make all of our volunteer options accessible for blind people and improving and talking with companies to make 3D print accessible. And so to have this support from the blind community, it really encourages me to continue growing See3D and making 3D printing more accessible. So I'm really appreciative of that. My future goals include wanting to make science more accessible for blind people. Right now I work in a biochemistry lab at Ohio State and I work on trying to make the lab equipment and our research accessible for blind people and people with various other disabilities. This funding is going to help me continue to work on these projects, continue to grow See3D, especially since right now I'm not paid to work See3D. So this helps financially with that and I really value just being able to grow my network and talk with more people. I'm hoping that maybe people hear about the award and I'll be able to connect with them and find more volunteers and more people that will request 3D models and it will help grow our organization.
Chris: Well we're certainly determined, we publicize the awards once they're announced and we will certainly be doing what we can to promote See3D and all the winners, but particularly where the work can benefit from more public support and more volunteers and all of those things. We will certainly be working on that. And one of the things you'll get is a badge that you can put on your website and some social media assets that you can use so that you can publicize that you've received this award from the blind community. And that hopefully helps get even more support. So this is great. Thank you for your time today. This is a really great project, obviously very worthy of this award and thank you for all that you're doing and thank you for, you know, basically being blind at heart, as we sometimes say in the federation.
Caroline: Thank you!
Anil: Yeah, now that is exactly what we're talking about. Caroline, And I love the way that she came to actually making this her kind of career goal or ambition. It just goes to show that, I've told people before, our strive to really engage in the world using the tools that allow us to access information don't only just help blind individuals, they also help the world. I think this is kind of a backwards justification of that statement saying that, you know, the catalyst for her to actually learn all of this was not a blind person and not to impact the lives of blind people, but just to get over car sickness by implementing a tool that wouldn't require her to use her eyes. But yet, and still, she came up with a multimodal way of accessing information that not only helped her but also help blind individuals. I think that that's pretty powerful.
Melissa: Well, I love that. And I mean, for all the people that say, oh, Braille is so hard to learn, it's so hard to learn with your fingers. I mean, she learned it.
Melissa: She I mean, she didn't have to. Look like I don't know, it can't be that hard. (Chuckles) I mean, I'm sure it's like anything else until you really get into it. I mean, I think there's lots of things, you know, my oldest plays video games. I think that would be hard. But, you know, obviously there's been hours spent and there's lots of knowledge there. And it just goes to show that all the stereotypes are really kind of put on their head. She took a tool that some people are saying, oh, it's just this tool that's obsolete. And it's so hard to learn. And she didn't have any of those messages as a sixth grader. She just decided, well, I have this problem. And maybe if I look at it in a different way, I can find a solution. And she never thought, or I assume she never thought, you know, oh, this is going to be really hard and quit before she started, she just said, I'm going to try this. And lo and behold, it worked.
Anil: So you spoke to something that's very key. I think that the messaging that Braille is difficult and Braille is obsolete reaches many of our students and the newly blinded adults prior to their opportunity to actually try to learn it. And I think that it already brings them to that with a preexisting notion that this is going to be hard or futile or whatever. And I think that, yeah, coming at it with an open mind, and of course in the Federation we always express with the proper instructor, because if your instructor harbors, you know, those same flawed values, then it's going to be hard for them to teach you. But when you have a successful blind adult, or in this case a successful sighted person, with the ability and the power of Braille, then it encourages you, I think, to learn. But I love the fact that 3D technology is really changing the landscape of the way that we as blind people have access to information. And I love supporting the growth and development of this work that Caroline is doing.
Melissa: I could not agree more. Well, you know, there are four other interviews. There were five winners this year. And we will be — you know, you never know. This is one episode for August and you never really know when another Bolotin Award episode might be put in place. And so the best thing to do is just keep listening to the Nation's Blind Podcast. If you can't wait, however, for all the other interviews to be put on the podcast, you can also go to NFB.org/Bolotin and the interviews in their entirety will be put up there as well. But we certainly do plan to feature more of these on the podcast as the year progresses.
Anil: And we promise to make the content that's not on Bolotin just as interesting. So don’t just wait. Yes, no, come on. We will think of something. And just in case we're not able to, we'd really love for you to make some suggestions on what you'd like to hear on the podcast as well.
Melissa: We would love that. And during the — I don't know, what are we calling it, the outro, I guess the ending after we stop talking to you — there are many ways that are talked about which tell you how you can make that feedback, make those requests or give us those ideas. And we are here for you. And we would love to hear any ideas that you have about things that you would love to hear on our podcast, because we love bringing it to you, but we love it even more when we know it's something you're truly interested in.
Anil: And thank you. Many people have talked to us, like during convention and after convention, and have already planted some seeds for some wonderful ideas, so we continue to want to have your feedback for all the interesting programming that we could offer. Now I'm really pleased that, you know, a lot of the episodes that we've had in the past have gotten interesting, diverse interest. To me, it's challenging to meet the needs of such a diverse population of listeners, but it's also rewarding when we go into a space that people have, they haven't given any consideration to. And then they also find out that it's something that really kind of interests them as well. So this is a fun job.
Melissa: Yeah, a super fun job. We love it. We couldn't do it without you. And it is definitely one of the highlights of my month, and I mean that sincerely. I love being a part of the nation's Blind Podcast.
Anil: Nice. And until the next time, remember:
you can live the life you want.
Melissa: Blindness is not what holds you back.
(Music with voiceover)
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