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The Braille Highway

For your reading convenients below you will find all the Braille Highway published in 2018

January 2018

Happy new year and may 2018 be filled with happiness, health, and prosperity. This month is National Braille Literacy Awareness Month, as well as the birthdate of Louis Braille (Jan. 4). So read a book in braille, write a letter in braille, or send an A B C braille card to someone interested in learning braille.

As The Blind Perspective and the segment, The Braille Highway enters its 4th year of publication, I am going to tell you all about an amazing young woman.
Remember to send Emails with topic suggestions and general comments to the address mentioned above.

Bree Brown was born and raised in West Virginia. She is totally blind and attended public school for all her k to 12 education. Bree learned braille at the age of 3 using her trusted friend, the Perkins braille writer. At the age of 5, she learned the slate and stylus. In middle school, Bree began using her PacMate which allowed her to gain even more independents. Therefore, she only needed her vision teacher to transcribe a minimal amount of her work prior to submitting it to the teacher for grading.

Bree used braille throughout her years in the public school system. She not only used braille for education, but also for her love of music. Bree took part in any school activity that allowed her to play the trumpet, and once again, used braille music to participate.

Ms. Brown attended Texas State University where she earned a Bachelor’s in General Studies; specializing in Family and Child Development, Psychology, and Special Education. In her post-secondary education, while still using her braille writer and the slate and stylus, she began using a Braille note Apex and has not looked back since. Bree won a few scholarships while attending college, including the prestigious NFB (National Federation of the Blind) Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship in 2015.

In January 2017 Bree was working at the Louisiana Centre for the blind on a contractual basis. She also was involved with the BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) Academy along with many other programs. As of September 2017, Bree was hired as a braille instructor for the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She received her National Certification in Unified English Braille through the National Blindness Professional Certification Board.

As a braille instructor, she makes notes and reminders in braille. She feels strongly that braille should be taught to all young blind students. It teaches them how to spell correctly, use proper punctuation, and form complete sentences.

As a youngster, Bree did not think she could become a teacher. With encouragement and guidance from her family, friends, and mentors, she persevered and made her dreams a reality. While in college, Bree continued her love for music and joined an acapella singing group, which she really enjoys. Using braille, Bree can write down the lyrics along with reminders where to breathe, and other singing pointers.

Bree also directed the Christmas play at the Louisiana Centre for the Blind this last Christmas. While conducting my interview with Bree, she mentioned how Jerry Whittle her former braille instructor, had suddenly passed away in November. He was truly a big influence and guiding light for Bree, both as a student and as an instructor. He will be dearly missed by both Bree and the rest of the people at the Louisiana Centre for the Blind.

With all the above achievements, one would think that she is in her early to mid-thirties, but at the writing of this article, Ms. Brown has not even reached a quarter of a century yet. Braille has been a significant tool in Ms. Brown’s toolbox. As already mentioned, the braille writer, the slate and stylus, and electronic braille through her Braille note Apex, all have played a big part of her personal and professional lives.

While attending Texas State University, Bree had a housemate, Jessica, who she became good friends with. Jessica was interested in learning about braille and other things associated with blindness. Jessica was an art major studying ceramics and many other things including paper fibers. She learned braille and incorporated it into one of her art exhibits at school. Jessica was trying to demonstrate that blind people are equal members of society. After convincing Bree to attend, but not telling her the theme of her exhibit, Bree finally made her way there, Bree was pleasantly surprised and equally impressed with her friend’s art work.

Bree participates in her church service by receiving the scriptures in braille through the Xavier Society. Bree enjoys reading, and playing scrabble, word and card games.

I thought long and hard on what I should do for my first article of the year. Since many of us need a little inspiration to go for our goals, I decided to give you a little insight on a young woman who has done so much and still has a lifetime to do many more things! I want to thank Pamela Allen, the executive director of the Louisiana Centre for the Blind for introducing me to Ms. Brown. It was an absolute pleasure for me to interview you Bree, and thank you so much for agreeing to participate.

Why complicate life with gadgets when you can complement it with braille. Braille readers do it with feeling! Until February when we meet again, remember to stay on the dotted line of life!

February 2018

Happy February! Remember to send your special valentine if he or she is a braille reader, a love note in braille. I received some get-well cards not too long ago and it was such a heartwarming experience for me. I was in contact with a fellow blind person and as per usual I promoted The Blind Perspective and, the Braille Highway. After speaking several times, I asked Jeremy if he would be interested in filling out a little Q and A piece and, he agreed. So if you are interested in doing the same or have any future article suggestions feel free to email me at the address mentioned at the top of this segment.

Read on to see what Jeremy has to say.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
I currently reside in Surrey British Columbia but I was born in Ontario Canada. I lost most of my sight when I was 37 due to glaucoma. However, I still have some light perception in both eyes. I learned the basic grade one braille when I was 39. And, just about three years ago, at 42 I learned grade two braille through the (CNIB) The Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Q: Did you learn UEB and if so when and where?
Yes, I took the Transitioning to Unified English Braille course from the Hadley Institute for the Blind, just last year.

Q: When you produce braille, what methods do you use?
For small jobs on the go, I use my slate and stylus. For quick notes or taking down phone numbers, I use my Perkins braille writer. If I am producing a large list or needing to braille out some instructions, I use my Versapoint embosser.

Q: When you read braille, what format do you prefer?
I usually read hard paper copies.

Q: Do you use braille at home and/ or work?
I use braille both at home and for work. I take phone messages for several real estate agents and relay them via email or text messages. I use my braille writer to take these messages, then I forward them appropriately.

Q: Give a detailed description of how braille impacts your life.
I am a labelling nut. I put braille labels on everything including my music and movie collections, even my wife's collections. All my external drives, clothing, important documents, and tools are labeled. I have important phone numbers, addresses, and passwords all written out in braille.
I seem to learn new tasks easier when I read the instructions in braille over and over again, rather than listening to it either with my speech on my computer or an audio copy of the instructions. At work, it is much easier to braille phone numbers, names, and messages, in order to relay accurate information to the appropriate agent.

Q: Do you notice braille within your city?
Yes, I live in an apartment building and the doors are appropriately brailled with apartment numbers. The elevators have the floor numbers and words such as open, close and alarm brailled out. In addition, each floor has a panel just outside the elevator with a raised number, and the floor number in braille.
Many restaurants we go to have braille menus. I have attended different public exhibits and they provide descriptions in braille.

Q: Do you have any braille games?
I have both regular playing cards and a deck of Uno playing cards. My Monopoly and Scrabble games are the braille versions. I have a tactile Backgammon game, and the instructions came in braille since it was purchased at the CNIB gift store. I also have many other games that I made accessible with some sighted assistance.

Q: As a braille user, what would you say to a blind person who does not know braille, in order for them to learn it?
It is an amazing thing to be able to decide you want to play a particular CD and you can find it all on your own. Same thing applies with knowing what colour shirt I have chosen to wear. It is mind blowing how many times there is no sighted help and I would wait until someone came home and that made me feel so helpless. I have the instructions on my oatmeal so that I can make it along with other simple foods. I also have the recipe for making rice crispy treats brailled out for the occasions when I have a craving for something sweet.
My self-confidents has greatly increased simply by learning braille. Learning braille will open up so many doors and so many opportunities for you. I am a firm believer that the more we know the more we are worth.

Q: Do you have any cute or novel story to relay that someone has done with braille.
My wife for my 40th birthday went on the internet and looked up the dot sequences to make braille letters. She glued little pebble sized noodles onto strips of paper with 2, 3, and 5 word messages. She placed these messages throughout the house, knowing I would find them. That really made my birthday extra special.

Q: do you have any final thoughts to share?
I really think that braille to a blind person is equivalent to print to a sighted person. Learning braille has truly opened many doors and has increased my self-confidents to a level that I never thought I would reach.
Thank you so much Jeremy for answering my questions!

Braille readers do it with feeling! Complement your life with braille. Remember to stay on the dotted line of life! Speak with you again in March.

March 2018

Happy March! Let's all raise a glass of good Whiskey to our Irish friends who will be celebrating Saint Patrick's Day on March 17th.

I am excited for this month's article. In previous articles, I directly interviewed or had interested individuals complete a Q&A about how braille impacted their lives. These folks have all been wonderful and they all were brave enough to volunteer. Starting this month, I will be shining the interview spotlight on my fellow writers of the Blind Perspective. The first brave soul is Darrin Cheney, the author of APPetizers: Byte Size Tidbits to Help Master Your iDevice.

As always, I invite you to email me with suggestions or topics for future articles. Now let's read about Mr. Cheney.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m retired and I live in Weiser, Idaho, near the Oregon border. I lost most of my vision due to Rod Dystrophy with Cone Sparing, a form of RP. I first noticed loss of peripheral vision and night-blindness in my youth and I was legally-blind when I started college. In 2007, I experienced the “storms of 40” and became ill. As a result, I lost most of my remaining vision and retired in 2008 from the University of Kansas Medical Center as the Director of Teaching and Learning Technologies. In 2011, after many tests and exams, I was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Myopathy which is a genetic, progressive disease that affects the energy production in every cell of the body. Doctors believe this may be the cause of my RP and other health related issues.

Q: Did you learn UEB, and if yes when and how did you learn it?
I completed the Braille Literacy Series and Transition to UEB course from the Hadley Institute. To reinforce UEB, I use the UEB translation on my iOS device to write and read braille on my braille displays.

Q: When you produce braille, which methods do you use?
I use my slate and stylus to jot down a quick note or a checklist, and make a label for medicine bottle. I also use my Perkins braille writer. I do most of my reading and writing email, articles, and projects using my refreshable braille display connected to an iPhone.

Q: When you read braille which methods do you use?
I like both hard copy and electronic braille. There is something magical about reading with my fingers on paper. I also like to write on my braille display. Reading books from NLS on my braille display is much easier to manage than a large binder.

Q: Do you use braille at home?
I use braille at home to label food and medications. I also use bump dots like on my TV remote to highlight the “mute” button which benefits everyone. I braille my speaking parts at church. When I am able, I volunteer as an advocate. I try to bring blind individuals and resources together, to promote braille literacy, to share information about Hadley courses, to help blind individuals with Apple's assistive technology, and to discuss strategies to deal with life's challenges.

Q: Give a detailed description of how braille impacts your life.
Braille gives me the ability to read and to write without sight, to gain access to thousands of books and resources, to write notes, lists, and to correspond with friends and fellow students. It has also helped me gain my independence by labeling items in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, and throughout the house. I use braille when I’m cooking in the kitchen and at the BBQ grill.

Q: In your city do you have access to braille?
I live in a rural town of 5,500 people. Most braille is limited to the hospital, post office, and various banks. One popular local restaurant has braille menus.

Q: Do you have any braille games?
I have a braille Chess Set that I received when I took a braille Chess course from the Hadley Institute. I also have tactile Dominos, dice, and playing cards. I’m exploring getting a Sudoku board.

Q: As a braille user what would you say to a blind person who does not know braille to convince them to learn it?
“Why learn braille?” “Literacy.” Literacy can be defined as the ability to read and write and it and that you have the ability to use language proficiently using proper spelling and grammar. Braille is a life changing skill, but it requires a lot of hard work and effort. It is a skill that requires daily practice to master and to use effectively. Once you master it, braille unlocks your independence and reading and writing for yourself is priceless.

Q: Do you have any cute or novel story to relay that someone has done with braille?
I am a Star Trek fan. Thanks to NLS, I was able to request braille Star Trek books in both embossed and in electronic braille. Reading “Klingon” in braille is way cool!

Q: What are your opinions on braille?
I am passionate about learning braille. Not only does it help me deal with my loss of sight, it gives me “vision.” I want to encourage others to learn braille. I try to identify solutions to integrate technology in reading and writing braille and to share that knowledge with others. Learning to read and to write braille is the key to truly being literate. Learning braille is a challenging process that requires daily practice and effort, but the reward is an ongoing personal, special gift that will endure for a lifetime. Braille connects me to new friends and resources all over the world. If I can learn braille, anyone can. I was named the Hadley Institute Braille Student of the Year in 2012.

I want to thank Darrin for being my first fellow writer and for being so forth coming with his story. Braille users do it with feeling. Don't complicate life with gadgets when you can compliment it with braille. Remember, to stay on the dotted line of life. Take care and see you again in April.

April 2018

Hello and welcome to The Braille Highway for the month of April! Being a braille enthusiast, I belong to a couple of open forum chats where the main topic is braille. While participating in these forums during the month of March, I spoke to a few fellow braille fans. In this month’s segment I will be relaying a couple points brought to my attention about their lives before and after blindness and how braille truly opened doors and allowed them to continue living a big part of their sighted life when they became blind.

Before we get to this month’s article, a little housekeeping. As per usual I always invite the reader’s input, opinions, and suggestions. So, email me at the email address mentioned at the beginning of this article. I would like some feedback about what you would think of a braille competition to be held in January of 2019, with some prizes for the top finishers? Would you participate? What do you think of the idea of a braille competition where I would dictate a few sentences and the object of the competition would be to use a computer program like Perky Ducks to braille the dictated words? Then you would send in the finished copy as an attachment within a few minutes of completing the reading, to discourage folks using braille translation programs to aid in their accuracy. I am looking forward to your feedback.

The first person I want to shed a little light on their story is a gentleman named Desmond from New York. He is in his 50 and is married with 3 children. He became blind at 39 years of age from an accident while outside during a Halloween party. A firecracker exploded near his face. Desmond was the dj for that Halloween party. After many surgeries to try to save his eyes and more cosmetic surgeries later, Desmond has no vision.

Desmond has a wonderful supportive family who were all encouraging and extremely helpful. After getting over the initial shock and the reality of being blind, Desmond’s wife suggested he go for some training at a local center for the blind. Desmond’s love for music is what inspired him to learn JAWS. While at the center, he learned the alphabet and numbers in braille.

Desmond has a very large music collection that he burned onto DVD’s. Each disk holds a thousand songs or more. The songs are all listed on a word document and each DVD is numbered. So, for example, if Desmond is looking for “We are the champions” by Queen, he would conduct a search for that song title and artist in his Microsoft word document. Once that song is located, it would tell him what DVD it is on. Desmond’s DVD’s paper sleeves have all been labeled with braille numbers, in order for him to retrieve the one he needs or wants.

Desmond has resumed his position as DJ. One of his sons and a nephew assist in setting up the speakers, microphone, and other necessary equipment. He uses his laptop to find the songs and then uses his braille skills to find the proper DVD, and the rest is history. With just a little training on how to use JAWS and learning the A B C’s of braille, Desmond has been able to go back to work doing what he loves.

Lynda is a very gifted clay artist. In her mid-thirties, Lynda is blind from RP. Prior to her eyesight declining she was a bright up and coming artist in clay works and her pieces were very sought after. Living in France Lynda fell in love at a young age and was married at the age of 20. After losing most of her sight, Lynda found she could still make certain clay pieces just not as detailed in the decorations.

Lynda says that she was always a very independent person and thrived on marching to her own drummer. As you can imagine, she became very stressed when she thought that she would need to always depend on others for assistance, especially when creating her pottery. Lynda has a mentor that she was paired up with when it became apparent that she would be losing her sight. Through this mentor Claudette, Lynda found out about resources and training opportunities in her area. Lynda learned braille and practiced it with Claudette and others. Lynda’s father had a room that was his workshop and she decided to convert it in to a place where she could create her works of art.

After multiple changes and modifications Lynda finds that she can work pretty independently from start to finish when creating her pottery. Like before, she uses help for removing items from the kiln. Lynda has made braille labels for her buckets of paint as well as other needed materials and tools. She creates braille labels for each of her clay pieces. She also braille’s time cards for each piece in order for her to know how long each piece needs to dry before being baked in the kiln.

With all her suppliers phone numbers and contact information being brailled and stored in her telephone directory, Lynda places all her orders as needed when she sees the inventory reaching critical low levels.

Lynda has also made notes in braille on what techniques she used for a particular series of work and refers to it when starting a new project so that she maintains the consistency that her loyal customers have come to expect from her.

I asked Lynda if she has come up with a braille theme for her pottery yet. Lynda said that she has not as of yet, but it is a work in progress. She added that before she is done, she is sure that she will make a piece or two with a braille theme. Although in Lynda’s case she was still able to continue her love of creating clay art, the need for her to be able to do things independently for her own peace of mind was made possible by learning braille.

I was so happy to have come across both Desmon and Lynda who are excellent examples that although losing their sight later in life, they chose to learn braille which helped them to resume doing what they loved. I want to thank you both Desmond and Lynda for allowing me to talk about you both in my article. You are both wonderful examples of why folks who have lost their eyesight later in life should learn at the very least, the A B C’s of braille.

Braille users do it with feelings. Why complicate life with gadgets when you can complement it with braille. Remember to stay on the dotted line of life! I look forward to speaking with you again in May!

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