Programs & Services
Newsletter - September 2018
In This Issue
- Message from the President (Natalie Martiniello, BLC President)
- Why Braille is Important to Me (Maggie Wehrle, Grade 5)
- A poem about braille using the braille contractions (Kim Kilpatrick)
- Celebrating Literacy Month (Daphne Hitchcock)
- Using Braille to Write and Learn Scripts (Kim Kilpatrick)
- A Childhood Memory About Braille (Betty Nobel)
- The Importance of Braille Music (Irene Hampton)
- Do I Really Love Braille? (Jen Goulden)
- Braille: My Power (Sharie Clarke)
- The Copyright Act Demystified: Moving Forward (Anthony Tibbs, BLC Treasurer)
- 2019 Membership Renewals
- Immortalizing the Edie Mourre Scholarship Program: An update (Anthony Tibbs, BLC Treasurer)
- Social Media News Links
Message from the President
By Natalie Martiniello, BLC President
Did you know that September is International Literacy Month? Around the world, activities have been organized to celebrate the joy, liberty, autonomy and empowerment that the ability to decipher mere symbols on a page can bring.
I think it is imperative to highlight that the emancipation - a word I use quite deliberately - that comes with literacy is ever more true for those of us who read braille. Why? What is it about braille that leads many of us to speak and write about it with such reverence? Sighted people read print every day but there is something exceptionally unique about the way we speak about the role braille plays in our lives.
Throughout the past century, blind people have benefited from countless technological advancements, and while many of these have indisputably increased our independence and enabled us to compete alongside our sighted peers, it is braille that seems to bring forth the greatest words of passion for those of us who read it. Why?
Well, it is not - despite what many in the general public may faultily believe - because braille is more difficult to learn. Nor is it because it is so "miraculous" that we can make sense of "all those little dots" on a page. Nor is it because it is so "inspiring" that blind people could manage to do such a thing as read. (For those who are unfamiliar as to why all of these things are untrue, I encourage you to read this article: https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr35/1/fr350110.htm)
It is because through the act of unlocking the meaning behind each braille symbol, we have also unlocked the key to humankind's greatest potential.
It is because there are those absolute truths which are accepted as fundamental to equality and personhood, and literacy reigns so high among them.
It is because only through literacy were blind people truly granted the key to finally enter a new age of infinite possibility.
And it is because it was this key to literacy which unlocked those doors that previously stood sealed before us -- the door to education that moved beyond the manual crafts - chair-weaving and broom-making - that centered so prominently at schools for the blind at that time. And with this new education, all other things finally had the potential to flourish. Education brought with it new avenues to more equitable employment. As blind people began to read and write and contribute more to their societies, they began to collectively challenge the low expectations that had been attached to blindness for so long. So came the dawn of advocacy where through literacy and education, blind people began to claim a voice of their own in society.
I like to imagine the very first blind student who read a tactile alphabet. How remarkable it is that sometimes the most notable moments in history seem so unremarkable when they unfold! There were no fireworks or fanfare. There are no mentions of it in our history books. But the revelation that a blind person could use their fingers to decipher meaning tactually was the beginning of a story which began to change everything.
There is something intangibly unique that comes with the empowerment that literacy brings, isn't there? Tools and gadgets can be taken away. Tangible things can be taken away. But no one can take from me my literacy. Like my spirit, heart and imagination, literacy is something that, once grasped, takes route within us all - until it can't really be separated from who we are and who we come to be. I am - regardless of the things I own and the tools I have - forever literate because of braille.
In this issue, you will find a few examples of the role braille plays in the lives of others. Braille Literacy Canada believes strongly in positive and realistic portrayals of both braille and blindness. This is because feelings about braille, a perceived symbol of blindness, cannot be untangled from feelings about blindness.
The question of whether braille is still needed says more about ableism than it does about braille. It points to a different ruler by which we measure the blind and what they can do. It suggests that braille is inherently harder, or that literacy is notably less necessary for those without sight. Other formats are not seen as replacements for print -- it is understood that all people have a right to print literacy and that the choice to use other tools does not negate that. When others ask a question about blindness -- about braille -- about ability - about disability (whatever that is), encourage them to contemplate what their question assumes, whether biases lead them to ask those questions, whether they would be asking these same questions of others, and what they would say if others asked a similar question of print.
"In the world of vision loss, the invention of braille must be compared to the invention of the printing press - its birth was nothing short of a revolution."
On behalf of the entire BLC board, we hope you've enjoyed a happy International Literacy month.
And in the words of Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, may you "read all things like braille in this season" and always.
President, Braille Literacy Canada
Why Braille is Important to Me
By Maggie Wehrle, Grade 5
Braille is important to me the same way print is important to sighted people. A lot of people think of braille as a separate code that no one can understand but the blind, but not a lot of people put themselves in our shoes.
What do blind people think print is like?
If you are sighted, think about how you would feel if you'd never learned to read or write. Do you remember being a small child looking at the squiggly lines on a piece of paper and trying to make sense of them?
Now imagine that you'd never seen anything in your life and you need to learn braille. What would you do if you had a page covered in dots that felt like cookie crumbs and trying to make sense of them. Having a page of print set in front of me is the same as having a page of braille set in front of you. All people have to find a way to understand it.
At a young age, you have no idea what either of those things are, but when you learn braille or print, you can read, write and do math. Braille and print are both used to read, write, and do math. Almost anything a person can do in print they can do in braille. So the point of my passage is that braille and print may look different or use different skill sets, they are both used to do the same thing, read, write and do math.
A poem about braille using the braille contractions
By Kim Kilpatrick
A person reading braille?
But braille is irrelevant right?
Can you imagine that?
Do you believe that?
Every person who uses braille
From tiny kids to seniors knows that is not True.
Go and ask any of them.
Have you done that?
I bet you have not.
Just go and ask them and you will know that
Knowledge of braille is crucial in many ways
Like labeling and reading and writing and spelling
Not that we don't like technology but...
Oh I could sing the praises of braille all day.
People would get
So tired of me so
That is something I will not do but ask
Us how much braille means and you will get
Very enthusiastic responses
Will we ever stop using braille! NO!
It is so important.
You must know that by now.
As I have told you over and over.
Celebrating Literacy Month
By Daphne Hitchcock
The DeCoda Literacy Month Contest asked participants how they would celebrate literacy throughout literacy month this September, as related to personal experience. BLC's Vice-President, Daphne Hitchcock, submitted an entry that expresses her views on the importance of braille literacy. Here is what she wrote:
Literacy for all and all for literacy! For me, this includes celebrating the importance of braille literacy.
This September has given me the opportunity to increase my involvement with Braille Literacy Canada, a registered charity dedicated to the promotion of braille as a primary medium of literacy for those who are blind or visually impaired.
As a retired teacher of students who have visual impairments, my work focused on teaching and promoting equitable access of information for those who required braille and or large print. Indeed, a fulfilling career. Nothing is more exciting than seeing a child gently tracking their fingertips across a line of braille dots, and hearing them voice the letters to their name. Reading is a such an incredible gift. Literacy is not limited to print, but is alive and well for braille readers, too.
Braille is a dynamic and viable code that enables those who cannot read print the opportunity to develop skills in literacy and provides a vital means to access information. Come celebrate with us at http://www.brailleliteracycanada.ca.
Using Braille to Write and Learn Scripts
By Kim Kilpatrick
I am a professional storyteller. Storytellers are not allowed to read while performing. I have been a storyteller for almost 20 years and have always used braille to work on storytelling projects. I have created two full length one woman shows about living life as a blind person and life with guide dogs.
I find braille invaluable when shaping my own stories into well-crafted shows. I also find it invaluable for learning and re-learning scripts, for making changes on the go during rehearsals, and for making cheat sheet notes to remember parts that are difficult to keep in my head.
I also participated in 12-hour performances of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad as well as other historic storytelling shows. Braille was crucial to my learning and remembering these difficult stories with unfamiliar words and names.
I don't know what I would do without braille for the learning, creating, and shaping of stories and also for assisting me to perform in a professional manner.
A Childhood Memory About Braille
By Betty Nobel
When I was six years old, I had to have my tonsils out. This happened toward the end of the first grade.
I already loved to read braille, and I was very excited to get a brand new book when I was still in the hospital. It was wrapped up in shiny, crinkly plastic and smelled so new. I couldn't wait to read it. So I tore off the plastic and found page one. Up to this time, all of the books I had read were double-spaced. This one was single spaced, and I started to cry because I couldn't read it. Of course, when I got bak to school and was helped by the teacher to learn the correct hand technique for reading single spaced braille, I quickly mastered the skill and my sadness turned to joy.
While I chuckle at this memory now, I was terribly disappointed at the time because I loved braille so much and I couldn't read that book.
The Importance of Braille Music
By Irene Hampton
My favourite story is about my early attempts to learn braille music.
George Patrick, who was another Amateur Radio operator offered to teach me braille music, so we met Thursday morning for several months on the 80 meter band when I was reading a copy of Jenkins Braille Music to work with the campy that he had also ordered from CNIB library.
Remember, these were the days before long distance calling across Canada became relatively inexpensive. We were able to talk for half an hour to complete each lesson in braille music.
This wonderful support has allowed me to continue studying music.
Now, I am singing with a band every month. I am so grateful to make this musical contribution to my community.
Do I Really Love Braille?
By Jen Goulden
I can almost hear the collective gasp from members across the country. What?! This is crazy! No wonder BLC needed a new president! Was the organization led all these years by someone who questions her loyalty to our Code?
No, no, not at all! In fact, the opposite is true.
For the last couple of months I have been dealing with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. It may sound ridiculous, but I didn't realize just how much I use my hands until there were limits placed on what I could do. I spend my days at a computer, I'm a piano player, and like everyone else I have to cook dinner and clean my house. All of these activities become a challenge when your wrists ache and your fingers are stiff and sore. But the hardest thing for me throughout the last couple of months is that I haven't been able to read.
Prepared food from Costco has been tremendously helpful, and my best friend has come over to vacuum up the copious amounts of dog hair that my yellow Lab thoughtlessly leaves in his wake. Unfortunately there is no workaround when it comes to reading: you can't pay someone to read for you. Well, you can, but it's called audio. This can be a great option, but it is no more a substitute for reading braille than it is for reading print. I've always known this, but it has really hit home in the last few weeks.
So, back to my original question: do I really love braille? I freely admit that because I have not been reading much lately I miss the feel of the dots beneath my fingers. What I really miss, though, is the ability to lose myself in a good book. I like to listen to music while I read. I like to sit on my front porch and read, or go to my favourite coffee shop and read. I like to read when I wake up in the morning, while I'm on the bus and before I go to sleep at night. Do I think that the Code is cool and am I eternally grateful to Louis Braille for inventing it? Of course! But reading is the common denominator here and that is what I really love.
For me, braille is the means and reading is the end. Braille is the tool I use to do something I thoroughly enjoy, to access information and even to put food on my table. I want all blind people to have access to this tool, and that is what motivates me to promote braille as the primary means of literacy for those who are blind.
Braille: My Power
By Sharie Clarke
When I was little, while other children were learning to print their names, I was taught a secret code. This code contained six simple dots that allowed me to write anything, provided I could spell it.
While other children struggled to master fancy cursive, I already had my magic language on lock. Braille was something that evened the playing field, allowing me to play cards like everyone else, and label my CD collection so I didn't need to ask for help finding things.
Technology opens new doors, but hasn't replaced braille in the end: For example, thanks to the braille screen input keyboard on my iPhone, I can text even faster than I can with the regular onscreen one! In short, braille is a gift I will always be grateful for.
The Copyright Act Demystified: Moving Forward
By Anthony Tibbs, BLC Treasurer
On September 15th, 2018, Braille Literacy Canada hosted a teleconference workshop entitled The Copyright Act Demystified for Production of Alternative Format Materials. In this workshop, I explored some of the intricacies of section 32 of the Copyright Act, which provides for an exemption to copyright laws when making alternative format reproductions of otherwise copyrighted works.
The zealous protection of copyright by publishers, authors, and institutions can from time to time lead to difficulties in obtaining alternative format materials. For example, sometimes publishers refuse to release electronic copies of materials unless students or institutions are willing to abide by arbitrary restrictions, such as a requirement that the alternative format material only be kept for a limited amount of time and then deleted. In other cases, publishers have refused to provide electronic copies of books, but offered instead to send a free copy of the book (as a show of goodwill). When these situations present themselves and pose a barrier to access, education as to the need and importance of braille and, failing that, legal intervention, may well be the only recourse.
As this discussion evolved, it became apparent that many in attendance were really most interested in knowing what they could do as individuals to try to increase the availability of alternative format and braille editions of published works. That braille is not more widely available is not the fault of the Copyright Act. Certainly, it is not standing in the way of anyone producing braille copies of this year's Governor General's Literary Award winner. At the same time, neither the Copyright Act nor any other piece of legislation puts any positive requirement on publishers to produce alternative format materials.
The discussion turned to the question of, what can we do? One idea that BLC itself has floated in its submission to the federal government regarding the accessibility legislation is a requirement that all federal funds be linked to accessibility requirements: that is, grants to publishers or authors be tied to a requirement that the resulting work be made available in alternative formats. It was also suggested that BLC might take on a lead role in the education piece of this puzzle by attending and presenting at publishing conferences, to provide insight to publishers on the need for braille and other alternative formats. BLC will also be looking into compiling information on rights related to braille materials to make available to our members.
Are there other ways that we could advocate (as an organization and individually) to improve the availability of braille and other alternative formats? Do you have suggestions on how BLC might go about connecting with publishers and convincing them to build 'alternative formats' into their production workflows? Do you have an idea for a specific project or initiative that we could run to bring awareness to these issues? As a board, we would love to hear your ideas on this front to guide our future work in these areas. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your ideas!
2019 Membership Renewals
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.
To make this process easier, all current Active members will soon automatically receive an invoice from PayPal for your 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 up if you would like to pay with your credit card over the phone.
To join BLC or to renew your membership, go to http://www.brailleliteracycanada.ca/en/about-us/get-involved/become-a-member.
Immortalizing the Edie Mourre Scholarship Program: An update
By Anthony Tibbs, BLC Treasurer
Braille Literacy Canada established the Edie Mourre Scholarship Program in 2008 to provide financial support for those seeking certification as a transcriber or proofreader of braille. The scholarship has been offered annually since that time, as funds have become available.
We have an exciting opportunity this year to make this a permanent and self-sustaining program, but we need your help to make it happen! Between now and November 30th, 2018, every dollar donated to BLC in support of the Edie Mourre Scholarship Program will be matched by a third-party donor (up to $6,500). That means that if BLC raises $6,500 by November 30th, we will actually have raised $13,000.
The exciting part is that with $13,000 in hand, we will have enough to establish a permanent endowment fund to guarantee that the Edie Mourre Scholarship will be awarded to at least one deserving applicant each and every year.
As of the end of September, we've raised over $3,700 for the Edie Mourre Scholarship Program! We are well on our way to meeting our $6,500 goal, but we need a little more help to make it.
Consider this: If every single member of BLC raises $40 between now and November 30th, we will have surpassed our goal! Just $40 each! Or $20 a month in October and November.
Here are some creative ideas on how to help us get there - If you have other fundraising ideas, we'd love to hear from you!
- Host a walk-a-thon like we did in Ottawa (which raised more than $600)! Contact email@example.com if you would like help organizing that, or for copies of registration forms, etc.
- Host a special brunch, lunch, dinner or braille game/braille bingo party at your house. Invite all your friends and ask them to donate $20 (or an amount of your choosing) to attend. Make it a braille themed party if you like!
- Follow the link below: One of the options is to donate $20 each month between now and November 30th to total $100!
- Share the link on social media. Spread the word to family, friends and teachers!
- Give a Coffee - Ask your friends and colleagues to skip one morning coffee and bagel by giving the amount they would typically spend on that meal - and donate it to a good cause instead! Better yet, donate and eat that delicious meal anyway!
- Get a local coffeehouse or club to host a poetry slam. Charge admission at the door, and advertise a Poetry Slam night with prizes. To raise awareness, challenge each participating poet to write a poem about your cause and invite braille readers to participate too!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.brailleliteracycanada.ca/en/donate-now for more information on other methods of donating to BLC and to the Edie Mourre campaign.
Social Media News Links
Here is a taste of some of the treasures posted on our social media pages since the last newsletter. Follow us on facebook or twitter for more!
Donate to the Edie Mourre campaign before Nov. 30th and your donation will be doubled. Help us ensure a permanent scholarship for future braille educators and transcribers in Canada. Support the next generation! https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/blc-lbc/campaign/edie-mourre/
Back to school time! Do you know about the National Braille Press children's book club? Find out here: http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/CLUB.html
The learning blanket: Tactile activity pillows and blankets for visually impaired kids: http://www.wonderbaby.org/resources/learning-blanket
Children ages 0-21 in the United States and Canada who are blind and visually impaired can get 3 FREE #braille books a year from Seedlings' Book Angel program! But you must re-register each year. Simply fill out the form online at http://www.seedlings.org/bkangel2009.php
More details on the upcoming CNIB braille conference: https://cnib.ca/en/event/braille-conference?region=gta
Shifting the focus from testing to assessment and why that matters: http://www2.ncte.org/blog/2018/08/shifting-focus-testing-assessment-matters/
"... a wonderful book that systematically teaches students the UEB contractions.": https://www.actualtactuals.com/
Independent work tasks for beginning braille readers: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/independent-work-tasks-beginning-braille-readers
From Paths to Literacy: Looking for practice sentences for braille students? "UEB Practice Sentences" has been updated! http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/resources/ueb-practice-sentences
Remember hearing about the Blitab? Here's an update on the braille tablet: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/03/arts/tablet-devices-blind-braille.html
New in the app store: Reading Adventure time is a literacy and assessment tool designed for teachers and students to support braille reading skills. And it is free! https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1390905454
The World in Words is a podcast exploring languages. Last month, they looked at the history of braille and the reasons behind its lasting usage: https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-world-in-words/id279833390?mt=2
Just Enough to Know Better is a great primer for any parent (or anyone, really) that wants to learn braille basics. You can learn to identify letters, numbers, contractions, and a few other braille rules! http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/JETKB-UEB.html
Reprogrammable braille could shrink braille books to a few pages: https://www.engadget.com/2018/07/24/harvard-reprogrammable-braille/
Rice Krispies Treats is partnering with the National Federation of the Blind to create 'Love Notes' in the form of braille stickers and re-recordable audio boxes. This year, love and support will be more accessible: https://www.ricekrispies.com/en_US/love-notes.html
Tech giants Apple, Microsoft, and Google are collaborating to make it easier to use braille displays across different operating systems and devices without having to worry about unique software or drivers for each device: https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2018/5/31/17413178/apple-microsoft-google-usb-universal-standard-braille-displays
United States Senate greenlights Marrakesh Treaty and implementing legislation: https://nfb.org/united-states-senate-greenlights-marrakesh-treaty-and-implementing-legislation
Check out this treasure trove of videos, webinars and resources on braille and literacy from Perkins eLearning: http://www.perkinselearning.org/topics/literacy-and-braille
Country and Committee reports from the 2018 International Council on English Braille (ICEB) mid-term Executive meeting in Dublin are now available: http://iceb.org/papers18.html