World Braille Day 2024: Braille and Breakfast Posted on 19th January 2024 Our Passionate Braille Panelists Marsha Corper Marsha is from Liverpool and is a passionate braille user doing great things with Braille technology. Berni Warren Berni lives in Surrey and has an interesting story about how she came to braille. She is the driving force behind a great braillist’s session that runs every Thursday comprising a book club. Adrijana Prokopenko Adrijana is a Teacher for the Blind in Macedonia who brings a unique perspective to the session by discussing the availability of braille in her region. Marsha’s Braille Journey My braille journey began when I lost my sight due to an accident at the age of 3 and went to a boarding school for blind children at the age of 5. Therefore, I’ve been learning Braille since early childhood. I learned the code by using a board with three lines of ten cells that you put tiny nails into. I learned A-J on the top line, added the bottom left-hand dot on the next line to learn letters K-T, and to learn U-Z I added the bottom right-hand dot on the last line. This allowed me to see the pattern of braille very easily. When I was 6, I began to enter braille reading competitions in Manchester, and I was chosen as a reader for the public, reading Percy the Pig. In my innocence, however, I pronounced it Perky the Pig. Obtaining books in braille was never an issue for me because they were always available at Manchester Braille library free of charge. I gave the library a list of books I wanted to read, for example I would list the books either by author or by book type, they sent so many volumes of braille out, and I returned the books by post. Adrijana’s Braille Journey My braille journey began at a school for the blind when I was 7. Like most other children I learned braille using a board containing dividers for each dot. Small items such as balls were inserted into the board by the students to demonstrate to the teachers that they knew how the board worked. From the board, I progressed to using a brailler. This was very difficult to use because I had to press hard to make the letters come up. When I was in second grade, I began to use the slate and stylus, and as time went on, my experience of braille became much more enjoyable than in previous years. I began reading some interesting books, participating in Read & Write competitions with my classmates, and reading and correcting papers from former students. Berni’s Braille Journey My braille journey began back in 2016 when I became visually impaired due to diabetes. I started to attend a communication class to learn computer skills, and one week there was no computer skills teacher available. As an alternative I was offered the chance to learn braille, and I decided to give it a try. After the session I was completely hooked and continued to attend braille classes once a week. Since my sight loss is getting progressively worse, I now use braille every day. I’ve known about braille since the age of 17 when I worked on placement at Dalton House School for the Blind, and I was incredibly pleased at being given another opportunity to learn the code. I have continuously embraced the learning experience by making flash cards and taking works home to read, and in 2020, I started my book club. This book club was a great way for me to continue my learning of braille during lockdown and to read with others which, because of the pandemic, I really missed. Like most other braille learners, I learned the code from A-J, K-T, then U-Z, and I found the rhythm of the code quite easy to learn since all you had to do was add in one extra dot. Accessing Braille Reading Materials Berni Because I’m based in the UK, it’s easy for me to access materials in braille. Thanks to the RNIB I’ve received lots of hard copy books, and I also use a digital braille display called an Orbit 20. The digital display works by downloading BRF files onto an SD card and inserting this into the back of the device. Personally, I prefer the digital display because it’s just a single line of braille. Hard copies are difficult because they mainly use single-spacing and there is lots of braille on one page, running one line after the other. There are also inverted dots on the reverse. Adrijana Since braille reading materials in English or any other language are not widely produced in Macedonia, my access is very limited. I receive a certain number of magazines published in South Africa and the US, but many places have disabled their braille magazines over the years, making the situation very difficult. Overall production is slow, but from time-to-time different organisations produce leaflets as part of new projects or initiatives, so there is improvement in that regard. With the help of a braille embosser, my colleagues and I have begun to produce a certain amount of braille textbooks, but since there is a lack of braille transcribers and transcription courses, this is a slow process. There’s also the added difficulty of technical issues and seeking technical support when spare parts are required. Products like the embosser can’t be repaired in Macedonia and need to be shipped overseas which can incur a customs fee. Championing the Code: How Can We Advocate For More Braille? Berni I think braille is imperative to assist a visually impaired person while they are out and about. I once visited my local hospital and discovered there was no braille code in the lift. This was quite a staggering revelation since you would normally expect to find braille in a hospital setting. I’ve begun to request items in braille when I’m out, and I find this a useful way of getting others to think about the provision of resources in braille if they have never offered this before. I’ve never gotten the impression that establishments don’t want to provide braille, rather I think they are unaware of how to provide braille and where to go for help. It is necessary for us to provide as much information as possible so that organisations/establishments are aware of what they need to do and how to do it. Top Tips For Learning Braille Berni There are many free courses out there that are wonderful for first-time braille users, but there are two courses I personally recommend. The Braillists Foundation offers a Braille for Beginners Course which is brilliant! When I started my book club, I took this course to brush up on some skills, and I felt a real sense of community there which I think is important for braille learning. You are not learning alone; you can converse with other people. I also use UEB Online, another free online Braille course which is great if you have partial sight. When I started learning braille I was partially sighted, and I began learning the code by holding my book about 5cm away from my face. Once lockdown ensued, I began learning braille by touch which I was uneasy about at first, but it gradually became easier. It is therefore possible to learn the code if you have some sight, but I highly recommend learning by touch as well. Finally, let’s not forget the additional sense of independence braille can bring to your life. Learning and using braille is something you can do for yourself. Taking the example of reading a menu in a restaurant, if you were fluent in the code, you could achieve such tasks by yourself rather than constantly depending on others. Adrijana I think it helps if the user is learning braille for a clearly defined purpose which will drive them to continue learning and be successful with braille. A high level of motivation and the ability to put what you have learned into practice is very important in braille learning. Many people tend to have a negative attitude towards braille and pass this on to their peers. This can lead to lots of trepidation and fear of learning the code. Therefore, finding the right peer group and the right resources to help you on your braille journey is of the utmost importance. Funny & Interesting Braille Tales Stuart We used to have a payphone at our school, and there was a series of codes you could punch into the phone to get free calls. These were being circulated to us on a braille sheet, and all the students knew about this and were punching the codes in. The funny thing about it was that none of the staff were braille readers or users. These braille cheat sheets were being passed around and we were delighted about it! Peter I once heard of a braille sign that was placed under glass to keep it clean LOL! Kimmy I started learning braille when I moved to New Zealand at the age of 5 and a half. Not only was I learning English for the first time, but I was learning braille as well which I found difficult at first. However, I seem to have picked it up quickly because at the age of 6 or 7 I was quite good at reading braille, and we have lots of braille at our disposal which is great. Right now, I’m trying to get the people that work for us to understand that braille is not a want, it’s a need. Here’s one thing we did which was quite funny: we used the word “braille” as a code word to mean “somebody’s coming, be quiet!”, and anytime visitors would arrive at our work someone would shout “braille!” This would warn anyone about to make expletives to be quiet, so it was a good code word in that respect. Sandra I’m a braille music teacher, and for anybody interested in taking up braille music I highly recommend consulting the MENVI List (Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired). This is a subscription list in the US which also contains contacts from other parts of the world, and it’s a great place to locate braille music teachers/transcribers near you. I also have some advice regarding reading books on braille note-taking devices: you don’t always need the SD card, loading books on a flash drive works just as well. Whether you have a BRF file, a Word file, a PDF converted to Word, or an rtf file, the material appears in braille on your unit and there is no transcription necessary. Tina I’m using my Braille Note Touch Plus to connect to you today. I’d like to recommend a shop here in the UK called the CO-OP. They are excellent at providing braille not just on medications, but on other products as well, and I highly recommend other supermarkets to follow their example. I purchased a braille teaching cube from the RNIB a few years ago, and I had one spare which I gave to my neighbour. I was very touched because my neighbour took the initiative and gave me my first Christmas card in grade 2 braille. She had successfully learned the translation from grade 1 to grade 2 and took the time to make this card for me, which was wonderful! One funny braille story I have is that we used to have lots of fun in class passing short braille messages to each other. We wrote a message the correct way round at the bottom of a piece of paper, and when we passed these to each other we used to have a laugh trying to read them backwards! Betsy Back in the 60s here in the US we were only allowed to learn braille using the Slate. We weren’t allowed to have the braille writer until 3rd grade. I used the slate all the way through college, and I still use it sometimes. My advice for anyone using braille note-taking devices is that you don’t always have to use BRF or BRL files. Other files that work include txt, docx and doc. Here’s my funny braille story: when we got punished at our blind school and were forced to write 100 lines in braille, we would stick 2 or 3 pages in and do our Slate & Stylus which you can do with those. As far as reading braille goes, there’s nothing like having that hard-copy braille book in your hand and being able to read 2 lines at once. I still use the braille note-taker but if I had to choose, my preference would be for hard-copy braille. One of my biggest achievements with braille involved learning and teaching braille music in high school. One of my former braille music students is now based in the braille music section of our national library in Washington DC. He can now hear braille notes, and he listens to recordings to ensure they are correct in braille music. Robert I began learning braille back in 1st grade at a public school here in the US. I was fortunate to have a teacher who spent one hour a day with me teaching me things like braille and touch-typing. I’m incredibly passionate about braille and use it every day. I’m now retired, having spent 33 years working as a university psychologist, and I honestly have no idea how I would have made it through my career without braille. I used braille in countless ways in my job, and since I woke up at 3am today to attend this session, I’ve used braille on my microwave, checked my emails in braille, and even read some of the New York Times on my braille display. I can’t even begin to say how excited I am about braille and how much I want to promote it’s use worldwide. We must really work hard to ensure braille stays prominent and gets the place it deserves back in our schools. In my opinion, kids need to be learning braille, and we really need to make that happen! Lenita I learned braille at the age of 4 in South Africa and we learned English and Afrikaans braille with different codes. Therefore, by the time I was 7 or 8 I was able to read both English and Afrikaans braille. Over two careers (I’m still fully immersed in the 2nd one) I have continuously used braille, and I used it throughout university before the days of braille note-takers. For reading, I use both the braille display and hard-copy, but I have a personal preference for hard-copy. I think braille is just the best and Louis Braille is my all-time hero! Peter I think braille is a wonderful system! I lost my sight when I was 16, and before I lost my sight I couldn’t read or write print. I was exceptionally illiterate. At 15 I couldn’t even write my own name and I was a fully sighted child. But the day I learned braille was the day everything changed, and I felt as though I had access to the wonders of the world at my fingertips! It’s been 10 years and I haven’t stopped reading ever since. Braille stuck forever! Jane My braille journey began when I was 18, and in the 1980s I was taught braille by Nigel Berry, who produced fingerprints. The things he taught me really stuck in my head and I couldn’t be without braille now. I produce it, I read it, and I even love writing it! One thing I’d love to see is more braille on the outer packaging of supermarket products, because it would make life so much easier. I have a great tip for any braille users that get hot fingers: I recommend getting a box of talcum powder and putting a little talcum powder on the fingers. This releases some of the stickiness from the fingertips and enables you to read the braille that’s under your fingers. Carol I learned braille during my childhood at St Mary’s school for the Blind, and my teacher was an elderly lady who lived at St Mary’s. I’ve taken braille for granted for many years, and it wasn’t until I sustained an injury to my right index finger that I really began to appreciate the availability of braille. Whilst at school I received library books from the RNIB, and I have to say that Vision Ireland are also doing great work regarding the provision of braille library books. Since the injury I successfully learned to read braille with my middle finger, however, writing braille has become a challenge. I have many fond braille-related memories from my childhood, but the one that stands out for me is a school trip to the Braille Unit at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin. The men in this unit produced braille academic materials and schoolbooks, and it was amazing to have the opportunity to meet them. I think it’s important that braille is not left by the wayside, considering the increased availability of voice synthesizers and screen readers. We still need braille just as much, and we must do what we can to promote and continue it’s use in everyday situations. Terri-Anne My braille journey began in 1957 as a three-and-a-half-year-old child. Now that I’m reflecting on this journey, I realise I have been through three iterations of the braille code. Changes were made to the code in 1965 here in the US, and a third version came to light in 2016. I now use the UEB code, and I think it’s wonderful that we now have this universal form of English braille. It’s also great that technology has allowed braille to become more accessible in many different areas including science, math, music, and literature. Louis Braille would be very proud! What Does World Braille Day Mean To You? Berni Today is about celebrating, and it’s great that we now have a day dedicated to the celebration and promotion of braille. Braille has changed people’s lives so much and has improved life for so many people. Therefore, it’s important that we spread the word about what braille is and how we use it to encourage future braille learning among non-braille users. Louis Braille’s story is a constant reminder to all of us that even the worst possible situations can have a positive outcome. Louis Braille had an accident at the age of 3, and it’s thanks to this unfortunate event that the braille code is with us today. Adrijana World Braille Day is a day of literacy. We need to teach more people to become literate in braille and encourage future braille learning, even though people may find it a challenge at first. There are people out there that facilitate braille courses and teach braille, but I think it primarily falls to VI braille users to teach the code to VI non-braille users. I feel that we are the ones best equipped to teach the code to non-braille users, particularly the younger generation, to make them more literate. By Shauna Humphries. IN LOVING MEMORY OF LOUIS BRAILLE 1809-1852.