Programs & Services
Newsletter - January 2019
In This Issue
- President's Message (Natalie Martiniello, BLC President)
- Braille Literacy Canada Press Release (January 4, 2019)
- Upcoming Teleconference: Celebrating World Braille Day: A Look At The World Of Braille On An International Scale (January 26, 2019 @ 1pm Eastern)
- 2019 Membership Renewals (Anthony Tibbs, BLC Treasurer)
- Introducing the ICEB Newsletter and Celebrating World Braille Day Events Around the World!
- Braille Equals Possibilities - Reflections on Braille from a Vision Rehabilitation Specialist (Sara Brennan, M.Sc)
- My Journey to Braille: Why I became a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (Daphne Hitchcock, BLC Vice-President)
- In Memory of Mel Graham: A Lifelong Journey with Braille (Neil Graham)
- Letter to Louis Braille (Kim Kilpatrick, BLC Secretary)
- My questions For Louis Braille (Jen Goulden, BLC Past-President)
- The Brailler Bounce - From Coast to Coast! (Natalie Martiniello, BLC President)
- What's In A W? (Jen Goulden, BLC Past-President)
- Social Media Updates
By Natalie Martiniello, BLC President
Dear BLC friends,
As we commemorate the 210th birthday of Louis Braille, allow me to take a few moments to unravel some of what lies behind the celebration of World Braille Day for many of us each year.
I - like many of you - am a braille reader, and I am a true believer that "impossible" is often just a challenge waiting to be met.
When someone says "impossible", I believe with a strong conviction woven into the very fabric of our history that impossible is merely the state of - not yet.
I think of the many moments throughout history when "impossible" was a word applied to those things - those experiences, those dreams, those ideas - that today, we take for granted as not only "possible" but utterly indisputable.
The word "impossible" is one we throughout the history of blind people have heard - from others, perhaps also from ourselves and each other - and through our collective determination and ingenuity have ultimately responded to with a resounding "yes, we can". And so we do.
How strange it is that in the public eye, blindness is so often misperceived as a door closing. Inability. Ending. Impossibility. How peculiar it is when my experience - and the experience of many others - is the very opposite. You see, I doubt that, had I not been blind, I would believe so fervently in the power of endless possibility.
What does this have to do with braille? Everything. Because among the impossible, at one time, was the idea that the blind could or even should possess the capacity to read.
Within this context, braille is a physical representation of triumph over the once presumed to be "impossible". It is the proof we continue to carry with us today, 210 years after the birth of Louis Braille, that "yes, we can". And so we do.
Today, as we commemorate World Braille Day, I am struck by the fact that each time our hands run across a page of braille, we are connected to the rich history of braille readers before us. Millions of hands - both blind and sighted - have touched these dots before us and have found meaning in their words. And ultimately, in the world.
I imagine those first hands - those of Louis Braille himself - as he tentatively and diligently breathed meaning into each symbol, so logically sequenced - far more logically than print! - and in doing so, paved a path not only across a line of text, but into the uncharted waters of opportunity. In creating his code, Louis Braille handed us the key to say "yes, we can" over and over again.
In a world that still did not fully imagine the full potential of the blind, Louis Braille surely must have.
How ironic it is that on the day of the accident that altered his life forever, the future days of blind people throughout the world were also irrevocably changed. How ironic it is that the very tool that blinded him at the age of three, was reclaimed by his own hands as the very implement he used to create the code which granted us freedom. With each punch of a stylus that was much like the awl that blinded him, Louis Braille seemed to say: let me show you what we do in the face of "impossible".
Today, we can imagine a world in our lifetime - one we are already beginning to live - where, as the cost of refreshable braille displays continues to decline, we are increasingly able to read braille instantly. Read anything. Read everywhere, using a device the size of a print novel. As the future of braille unfolds around us, we are witnessing what was once believed to be impossible!
With this in mind, we within the board of Braille Literacy Canada applaud the United Nations for, this year, officially affirming World Braille Day as a recognized annual celebration. We also congratulate Canada's accession to the optional protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which will grant new protections to Canadians who require access to information in alternative formats. What an exciting time it is to be a braille reader!
On behalf of the entire Braille Literacy Canada board, we wish each and every one of you a happy World Braille Day. May the gift of literacy continue to grant you joy and freedom in whatever way it matters to you - whether you are the young child who reads a favourite book quietly under the covers at night, far past your bedtime because you cannot put it down - or whether you can, for the first time after sight loss, independently read a recipe you love.
May the gift of literacy grant each of you the imagination to meet every "impossible" with a resounding "yes, I can!"
Happy birthday, Louis Braille!
"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by ... (people) who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing. -- Muhammad Ali"
President, Braille Literacy Canada
Braille Literacy Canada Press Release (January 4, 2019)
Braille Literacy Canada Commends the United Nations adoption of World Braille Day and Canada's Accession to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
January 4, 2019 - Toronto - Braille Literacy Canada/Littératie braille Canada (BLC), as the Canadian braille authority, celebrates the United Nations' recent adoption of World Braille Day, recognizing it as an official day to be celebrated annually on January 4th around the world, to coincide with the birth date of Louis Braille. Official recognition of World Braille Day on the international stage brings with it a strong message to both raise awareness and celebrate the importance of braille literacy for the generations of blind people who continue to benefit from it around the globe.
"Braille represents literacy, freedom and equality for the millions of blind people who use it around the world. It is as important as print is to the sighted," explains Natalie Martiniello, president of Braille Literacy Canada. "It enables blind children to acquire literacy, raises employment and income levels, enables people who are blind to independently vote and exercise their citizenship, and to read personal and professional communications independently. We commend the United Nations for recognizing the importance of braille by designating January 4th as World Braille Day, and we celebrate alongside braille readers everywhere."
BLC also commends the Government of Canada which has recently announced that Canada will accede to the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD sets guidelines to bolster the rights of persons with disabilities and calls for the abolishment of laws and practices that perpetuate discrimination. Importantly to BLC, the treaty also affirms and reinforces the importance of equal access to information for those unable to read print, including those Canadians who are blind or who have sight loss and who use braille.
Though Canada ratified the treaty in 2010, it only recently agreed to also be bound by the Optional Protocol, allowing the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints against Canada and providing a further level of recourse at the international level for Canadians with disabilities facing discrimination.
"Access to information is not a privilege, but a right," explains Martiniello. "We applaud the Government of Canada for acceding to the optional protocol. We hope that the Optional Protocol will provide an additional protective layer where gaps in accessibility remain and that the introduction of the Accessible Canada Act will usher in an era of increased accessibility."
Braille Literacy Canada / Littératie braille Canada is a national charitable organization that is dedicated to the promotion of braille as the primary medium of literacy for those who are blind or visually impaired and is recognized by the International Council on English Braille as the authority for the development and adoption of standards relating to braille in Canada.
For more information, please contact Natalie Martiniello, President, at 1-877-861-4576 or email email@example.com.
Upcoming Teleconference: Celebrating World Braille Day: A Look At The World Of Braille On An International Scale (January 26, 2019 @ 1pm Eastern)
January is celebrated as World Braille Month around the world. Two hundred and ten years have passed since the birth of Louis Braille. Have you ever thought about what is going on with braille in other countries? Join us for the next teleconference where we will have knowledgeable panelists speak about developments in braille education and promotion in other countries around the world.
You will learn about the international work of organizations such as the World Blind Union, the International Council on English Braille, and the CNIB Foundation. How do children and adults in developing countries learn braille? What are the challenges and successes? How do decisions get made about changes to braille codes?
Join the teleconference and find out.
Date: Saturday, January 26, 2019
Time: 1:00 - 2:30pm Eastern (starting at 10am Pacific, 11am Mountain, 12 noon Central/Saskatchewan, 2pm Atlantic)
Cost: The teleconference is free for BLC members as well as those who are members of organizations that are corporate members of BLC. Cost for non-members is $20.
To register: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, January 24th, 2019.
We hope you will join us - and we invite you to share this announcement with others!
2019 Membership Renewals
By Anthony Tibbs, BLC Treasurer
It's that time of year again! BLC membership coincides with the calendar year. If you are not yet a member or haven't renewed for 2019 you can join or renew your membership now and it will be effective until December 31st, 2019.
All current personal members (who are not lifetime members) should have received an invoice from PayPal for your 2019 membership renewal. You can use this invoice to easily pay for your membership renewal. But, you do not need to pay online. You can mail a cheque or call us if you would like to pay with your credit card over the phone: 1-877-861-4576.
If you have already renewed or your cheque is in the mail, great! With the Canada Post strikes and the holiday season, mail likely hasn't been flowing very quickly, but we'll probably receive your payment sometime in January.
If for some reason you did not receive the invoice, you can still renew -- just visit http://www.brailleliteracycanada.ca/en/about-us/get-involved/become-a-member.
If you have any questions, you can write to us at email@example.com.
We look forward to another exciting year ahead with all of you!
Introducing the ICEB Newsletter and Celebrating World Braille Day Events Around the World!
The first edition of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) newsletter is now available for download from the ICEB website at <www.iceb.org>.
The issue is full of news and updates about ICEB, Unified English Braille, and braille events from around the world!
Braille Equals Possibilities - Reflections on Braille from a Vision Rehabilitation Specialist
By Sara Brennan, M.Sc
1. What is your professional role and what is your relationship to braille?
I am a vision rehabilitation specialist currently working at a rehabilitation center in Montreal, QC. I work with children, adults and seniors in many spheres of life such as school, work or activities of daily living. My role with braille can change significantly depending on the individual I am working with. For example, I have worked with school aged children in conducting learning media assessments to determine what instructional medium is most effective. The different mediums include braille, print, auditory, tactile or some combination of the above. When working with the adult population, I will assess their need/difficulties relating to the impact of their vision loss or difficulties with access and may teach braille for the purpose of labeling items in the home, for leisure reading or as a new mode of communication to be used at school or work.
To learn more about becoming a Vision Rehabilitation Specialist, visit the program options (offered in English and French) at the University of Montreal: https://admission.umontreal.ca/en/programs/masters-in-vision-science-option-visual-impairment-and-rehabilitation-english/.
2. What was it like to learn braille as a sighted person? Was there anything that surprised you or that sticks with you from the time you were learning it?
I feel privileged to have learned braille and to now be teaching it. I first learned the braille alphabet in French which I found to be challenging. Due to the accents in French, each accented letter is a symbol on its own. There are therefore more symbols to learn in French than in English. I initially would identify the braille symbols visually but my final exam required that I read braille tactually. Remembering the braille symbols required a lot of repetition and practice to discern between the symbols with just the pads of my fingers, as did typing. I now know how much repetition and practice is required for an individual learning braille for the first time and this is something that I drill into new students. I'll always fondly remember my Perkins clinking in the back seat while driving home from class.
3. What is the thing you love most about teaching braille to adults?
The thing I love most about teaching braille is discovering with my clients what goals they have with braille and working towards something which will have an impact in their lives and facilitate their access to information. I once had a client who wanted to learn braille with the goal of reading baby books to her son. Once we knew what the motivation was, it served as fuel for our sessions.
4. In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about braille today and what would you say in response to it?
I believe that the biggest misconception when it comes to braille amongst those who are unfamiliar with braille is that it is its own language. Braille is a code for an existing language, just like print.
5. What advice would you give to a student learning braille or to a parent/family member of a braille learner?
I would encourage the family or parents of a student learning braille to learn it as well! This way, the family member can help with homework or assist with labeling things in the home.
I would tell a student to never give up on braille! Braille is the most important tool in education for a student who is blind. Its associated with attaining higher levels of education and employment. Not to mention, it gives the user so much more control when reading as compared to listening to text.
6. Finally! What one word comes to mind when you hear the word "braille"?
My Journey to Braille: Why I became a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments
By Daphne Hitchcock, BLC Vice-President
Just weeks away from completing a teaching degree in special education at the University of Alberta and finishing up a night school course in braille transcription, I had the opportunity to volunteer in a junior braille classroom. The establishment of this classroom was a result of the recent closure of a residential school for the blind. It was part of a pilot project; 2 segregated classrooms (junior and intermediate) in a public school, each enrolling 5 blind students, each supported by one teacher and one educational assistant transcriber.
A few months later, with my newly minted teaching degree in hand and as green as green, I found myself as the teacher for the intermediate braille classroom, responsible for 5 blind youngsters in grades 2 to 4. With no formal teaching experience, my familiarity with the education of the blind was limited to that brief stint of volunteer work in the junior classroom, a course on braille transcription and a cursory half hour university lecture on exceptionality and vision loss.
However, I had caught the braille bug! I loved the code, but more importantly I loved the challenge and the opportunity to learn as my students showed me the power of an 'I can' attitude. Their inquisitiveness underscored the critical importance of building skills of literacy through reading and writing braille and direct hands on experiences.
It was exciting to be on the cusp of the development of braille programming in the public school setting. I was taken with the challenge of expanding my way of thinking - no longer relying on the visual displays, but shifting to tactile overlays and real, concrete objects. It was my desire to bring my classroom into the rest of the school and move away from the segregated model. In my final year at that school, I team taught with a grade 5 teacher. Together we enrolled a compliment of students, blending my students with a full classroom of grade 4-5 students. Integration, as it should be.
I was very fortunate to have supportive mentors and took the opportunity to further my education through completion of a master's degree in the education of the visually impaired at San Francisco State University. This was the beginning of a wonderful career. To learn more about becoming a teacher of students who have visual impairments, contact Dr. C Holbrook - firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Memory of Mel Graham: A Lifelong Journey with Braille
By Neil Graham
Editor's Note: BLC gratefully acknowledges Mel Graham's involvement in the early development of Braille Literacy Canada, then the Canadian Braille Authority. Those who served on the board over the years contribute both to the important history of the organization and to what BLC is today.
My Dad had two lifelong passions - music and reading. The latter was always conducted in braille, whether biographies, historical work, novels or poetry. And the passions did intersect - my Dad was one of those rare folks who had taken the time to master braille music code. With his passing, it wouldn't surprise me if CELA's output next year decreases measurably!
But my Dad was not merely a contented user of braille. He was all too aware that in a world of ubiquitous synthetic speech and constrained education and rehabilitation budgets it would be all too easy for braille's benefits to become unavailable to blind children and adventitiously blinded adults. This was his motivation for becoming involved in the Canadian Braille Authority's inception back in the early '90s (now Braille Literacy Canada), focusing on how braille's teaching and usage could best be promoted.
There was one more act in my Dad's long braille saga. After an earlier-than-anticipated retirement, he took to doing some contract proofreading work with the Manitoba Department of Education. He successfully certified with the Literary Code, and was contemplating a second crack at UEB certification at the time of his passing.
From enjoying braille to promoting it to making a bit of money with it - what a great journey! The braille community in Canada is distinctly poorer with Mel's absence, but hopefully we can all take some inspiration from his long -- and profitable - relationship with braille, and redouble our efforts to ensure that everyone who wants to has the opportunity to derive similar benefits.
Letter to Louis Braille
By Kim Kilpatrick, BLC Secretary
Dear Louis Braille,
I remember clearly the first time I was shown my name in braille. I had just started grade 1 and my teacher had taped my name in braille to the corner of my desk. She put my hand on it and said, "This is your name in braille."
I felt the mysterious dots. They seemed so small. So close together. I thought I would never be able to tell them apart.
But I wanted to read for myself so much!
And soon I was reading. Devouring any braille I could slide my fingers over.
I moved through worlds of adventures in books, I wrote and read stories and poems, and I used braille for everything all of the time.
My Mom learned braille too, so she could put notes on the fridge for me, into my lunch, and she labelled everything in the house that I needed.
I was especially proud that every Christmas gift for every family member was labelled in braille, so I could pass them out to everyone at Christmas.
Today, I use braille just as much.
You would not recognize some of the technology perhaps, my Braille display or Braille screen input on my phone. But the code is the same.
Thank you for inventing it, for championing it, and for giving me literacy and enjoyment.
My questions For Louis Braille
By Jen Goulden, BLC Past-President
Writing letters to Louis Braille has become something of a tradition, particularly at this time of year when we celebrate World Braille Day. Like braille readers everywhere, I would love to thank M. Braille for inventing the code that literally changed my life. But I have questions for him too.
Did you know? Did you know - when you invented the code that would eventually bear your name - that it would one day change the lives of blind people around the world? Did you have any inkling that this system of dots would one day be synonymous with literacy for blind children and adults everywhere? Even though it would take time to gain acceptance ... even though there are still unfortunate misconceptions that need to be eliminated ... did you know that no other writing system would ever come close to doing what braille has done? Did you ever imagine that nearly two hundred years after your death people around the world would acknowledge and celebrate your birth?
I believe in redemption, that good can come out of even the most difficult things. Did you ever think of the awl while you were using a stylus to devise the letters of the alphabet? And did you ever consider that braille came into being because a three-year-old child disobeyed his parents?
Yes, if I ever met Louis Braille face-to-face I would thank him for persevering and inventing braille. But I would also want to ask, "Did you know? ... Did you ever imagine? ...".
The Brailler Bounce - From Coast to Coast!
By Natalie Martiniello, BLC President
Reading and writing are fundamental skills - But did you know that even in Canada, there are braille readers who may not have access to that ever reliable Perkins Brailler, depending on the availability of resources in their region?
For several years, Braille Literacy Canada has offered the Big Brailler Bounce program, which repairs and refurbishes old braillers and forwards them along at no charge to braille readers who request them. Thanks to Myra Rodrigues who initiated this program and has steered it since its inception, as well as the generosity of many, we are contributing to the chorus of Perkins brailler dings from coast to coast!
BLC needs your help. In order to keep this program going, we need your old braillers! If you have an extra brailler lying around that you don't use, at home or in your office, please consider contacting us - we will tell you how to get it to us, and find it a happy home, at no charge to you.
BLC is also exploring the possibility of re-homing other braille related items. For more information, contact us or stay tuned to future issues.
For more information, write to email@example.com!
What's In A W?
By Jen Goulden, BLC Past-President
It's just one small letter. Four little dots. There are only two of them in the English version of Scrabble, and they are worth four points each, if you're lucky enough to use one of them to spell a legitimate English word. The W section of the dictionary may not be as substantial as, say, S or T, but imagine your favourite novel without the 23rd letter of the English alphabet! Little Women would be Little Omen - and that's really not the same thing at all!
This bizarre scenario was almost a reality for braille readers. When Louis Braille first developed the braille alphabet he did not include a W! (Insert collective gasp here.) If you're familiar with the seven lines of braille, which present each of the 63 possible symbols, you'll know that line 1 contains the letters A through J; line 2 adds a dot 3 to each letter so that we have K to T; then comes line 3. We add dot 6 to the symbols in line 2 and get U, V, X, Y and Z, followed by the symbols that in English represent and, for, of, the and with. But wait! you say ... something is missing! What about the W, which is the first letter in nearly every question we ask.
When I was learning braille as a child I was told that Louis Braille did not include the W because it did not exist in the French alphabet. Is this true, or is it just another urban legend? As it turns out, there's a surprising amount of information on the history of the letter W in French. Wikiversity.org indicates that the French alphabet contained 25 letters until the W was added at some point in the mid-nineteenth century.
And my personal favourite, from quora.com: "In 1751, Diderot and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie used W but indicated in its 'W' article that 'this letter does not properly belong to the French alphabet. It is only used out of the necessity to match our writing to that of foreigners'. Similarly, the Dictionnaire de Trévoux in 1771 states that 'this letter is not properly French. It belongs to the people of the North. However, we shall accept it for a few proper names'."
Well then! I guess we should be grateful we have a W at all!
Social Media Updates
Here are just some of the gems posted on the BLC social media pages since the last issue. To receive these updates instantly, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!
The United Nations officially affirms January 4th as World Braille Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWwwLjBiG80&fbclid=IwAR3ZP3wZ_Xlg7n8eJOPsNQ6qLF9MWLTxb1qKVC4jXgVqtin97hY4UBSyBPg
Canada accedes to the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This provides greater rights and protection to Canadians who request access to alternative formats, including braille: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2018/12/canada-ascends-to-the-optional-protocol-to-the-united-nations-convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html
These instructions for creating #braille Christmas themed drawings are a great way to celebrate while having fun with braille in the process! http://pathstoliteracy.org/strategies/braille-designs-christmas?fbclid=IwAR1cASGZ40VLke0hJqHjnKXeHGB-3TdX0oNp0EpCfeoaR-tbqCLYE6G7PNk
December also marked Chanukah - Make your Chanukah inspired braille designs! http://pathstoliteracy.org/strategies/braille-design-dreidel?fbclid=IwAR3bvA3td3u3u9qjpM0rdLMhzlJB_Jzkhv3jgyHPSToOm5fjLbU-fkQB0BA
A braille inspired gift for the readers in your life - a book of #braille puzzle and word games! http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/BRL-PUZZLES.html?fbclid=IwAR0ZOQ2eczmPU480zpKA39nsgw2Wnje7ID0bOfc_TiYpefC6_w2NqX2wpVI
Tactonom, from Inventivio, turns digital graphics into a tactile display and enables people with sight loss to access complex digital information like tables, graphics, maps, diagrams and apps: https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/tactile-excel-sheets-and-graphics-boost-job-prospects-blind-people.html?fbclid=IwAR3sgfVbMB67BWIs5K1PDwkY04hang53Oz0i2HdoQaAvgsS4anPqedBbu3U