Our Thoughts on Braille Literacy

This blog post is featuring our various opinions of Braille. We have all learned Braille at different times and in different ways. We have all learned, experienced, and used Braille in our lives in some form or another. We, The Blinkie Chicks, talk a little about Braille and how it has played a role in our lives. Also, we have some links to other people’s stories about how Braille has impacted their lives.

Ashley began learning Braille at the age of 6. When she was asked if she would have liked to have learned Braille earlier, she says: “Yes, I do wish I had the opportunity to learn Braille earlier. I think Braille is a necessary tool for blind and visually impaired children to have in their toolbox.”

When asked how and why Braille was important to her, Ashley said: “Braille is very important to me. My family had a difficult time getting the elementary school I attended to find someone to teach me Braille, and the school tried to force them to send me to The Governor Morehead School for the blind. My parents refused because they wanted to keep me at home. The school system had to find someone to teach me Braille.” Ashley further explains: “I have been able to see how much Braille has helped people in their daily lives. I know how much Braille has helped me, my friends, and the people I have taught.”

Ashley says that Braille was the way she learned to read and write. It was the way she had access to the materials the other students had access to. She learned how to spell and work math problems using Braille.
She received access to her text books through Braille, and by that she was able to efficiently learn the material she needed to pass her classes.
Ashley says that one of the suggestions that she could give to others who are learning Braille is: “Do not worry if you do not pick up Braille when you first try to learn it. Be patient with yourself, and with the person or persons who are trying to teach you. Braille is not easy to learn for some people, but you can learn it.” She says, “I love and enjoy Braille, and I hope others will as well.”

Jessica learned braille at age 11. She chose to learn it on her own. She was never asked to seriously learn it, because she is able to read print. Jessica says: “I guess they thought I didn’t need it.”
When she was asked if she would have liked to have learned Braille at an earlier age, she says: “I wish I had learned braille sooner, because it would have made reading much easier for me, and maybe I would’ve developed a love for reading at an early age.”

Jessica says that Braille is very important to her. She goes on to say: “In fact, I keep finding ways to use it, even though people keep trying to tell me I don’t need it. I do need it, because it is much more efficient for me to read something in braille vs. print. I guess people think I have too much vision for braille, but that thinking is flawed.” She also states: “Braille is extremely important, because reading it is the only real way for blind individuals to be literate. It assists with learning to spell, punctuation, and proper grammar usage. What would happen if print were to disappear? Braille should be taught and encouraged. A screen reader and audio books can never replace braille.”

Jessica says that Braille has helped her succeed in school. She explains: “Braille helped me succeed in school, because in middle and high school, I was able to take my notes in braille. When studying, I could actually concentrate on the material, instead of focusing my energy on reading the notes themselves.”

Daria learned Braille at the age of six. She was attending public school at that time. She wishes she would have learned Braille at an earlier age so that she would have been reading sooner.

She states that Braille has helped her have confidence in her reading abilities. “I love to read aloud.” She says: “I can be more independent because of it. For example, when I was in college, there was Braille beside the suite doors.” Daria continues by saying, “Braille is important to me because I am able to be independent, and I can be a more active reader because of it. Just being able to touch it with my hands is very therapeutic to me.”

When Daria was asked how Braille helped her in school, she said, “I mention reading a lot, but Braille was how I learned to read; I gathered information through reading Braille. Also, when learning Spanish, Braille helped me to advance. Studying Spanish was easier because I learned Braille.”
For the people who are learning Braille, Daria advises, “My suggestion would be to have patience with yourself when you begin learning Braille, and do not be afraid to ask questions about Braille you don’t yet understand, such as what certain contractions represent.”

Ania learned Braille at the age of three during the summer. Ania says, “I spent every weekday morning during that early summer going through the alphabet and forming words, in a parents directed blind organization.”

Ania does not wish she would have learned Braille sooner. She does think that learning Braille before primary school is vital.

When we asked Ania how and why Braille is important, she explains: “For me, books are a part of my life, as I say it, I eat books as much as food. Books have opened a door to a new world and new experiences. Braille is the way of getting there. When I put my fingertips over those dots, it’s as if I really had vision; those dots are my eyes.” Ania goes on to say, “Every kid should know how to read and write, how to spell and how to count, and every blind kid should know braille to do those things. No braille no good spelling, only audio, your touch is not as well developed as it can be. In fact, Braille is our eyes. We develop the hearing because we use it more but our touch shows us the forms of things, how the things really are.”
Ania says that in school, Braille was the way for her to be even with her peers. Ania says that she could do the same as her peers; in fact, she could do even better than them. Ania says that Braille was the way she did her math, how she calculated, and the way she has advanced in life. Ania says, “I would ask the sighted people, what are your eyes for you?”

Ania gives this advice to people who are just learning Braille: “Don’t give up. If they are kids who are early learners, I would tell them that it is the same as learning to read in print for sighted kids. If, on the other hand, the person learning Braille is older, I would tell him/her to have patience, and persevere. With Braille, like with other things in life, if you don’t give up and continue with a clear goal, you will always reach your objectives.”

Here are a few links about Braille that might interest you.

The first is a link to a post written about the importance of Braille. With the strong focus on electronic communication, many feel that Braille is no longer necessary. This blog post, which was the inspiration for this post, is a response to an article written on this subject, which explores Braille and what it means to those who use it.
The Importance of Braille Literacy: An Open Letter to the New York Times from Daniel Aronoff

The second is a great post about why Braille is still necessary, even if it can be inconvenient at times. Luckily, Braille displays are coming down in price, which means more people should have access to Braille than ever before.
Braille Is Not Dead (So Stop Trying To Kill It) | Where’s Your Dog?

We sincerely hope you have enjoyed this post. Thank you for reading!

Traveling: More than a Sensory Experience

Although people who are blind experience life the same way as everyone else, we often have techniques and gadgets that help us do things more efficiently. This blog entry will focus on just one aspect of life, travel, and some tips, techniques, and devices that make it easier for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Whether it is appreciating the sensory aspects of a city, or using the latest accessible GPS app, the blind find ways to enjoy traveling as much as people who are sighted.

People who are blind can take advantage of their traveling experience by locating activities featuring sensory aspects. Consider a variety of restaurants with foods you like or wish to try; you can even find establishments that specialize in local cuisine to enhance your voyage. Another option would be to visit botanical gardens or any other site which involves the sense of smell. If you are interested in something more tactile, call well in advance of your trip to reserve a tour of local touch collections at museums.

Technology can play an essential role in your trip if you are blind. While this element is not required to travel, using technology has many advantages. Nowadays people who are blind or visually impaired can use technology to navigate which provides a sense of independence and tranquility by knowing exactly where you are at all times.

Here are some handy devices which you might try out for your next trip:

Sendero GPS is software found in many blindness specific products, but they also make applications for some mainstream mobile devices. It is important to remember that, while having a specialized device offers more features specific to the needs of blind and low vision users, the cost of such devices are typically much more than that of mainstream products. Keep this in mind when deciding what product and/or software is best for you.

Although it is very expensive for what it does, especially for people on a fixed income, the Trekker Breeze is a great handheld GPS option for the visually impaired. Not only will you be able to save battery life on your smartphone, it should work in other countries, even if cellular service is unavailable or too expensive.

Already have an iOS or Android based smartphone? There are some great applications to choose from that should save you a great deal of money, even those that are subscription-based.

Although it isn’t as feature-rich as other GPS applications, Blindsquare is a great, inexpensive GPS option for the iPhone. This app uses location information from foursquare to help point you in the right direction, so the data may not be entirely correct. However, it is good enough to get you in the general vicinity of what you’re looking for. A plus to the information being provided by foursquare data is that the chances of what your looking for not being in the database is very low compared to other GPS services.

Ariadne GPS is another inexpensive GPS app for the iPhone. It doesn’t do some of the things a subscription based service would do, but it is great if you need to create your own routes or monitor where and how fast you are going.
Yet another inexpensive GPS app, which also means it is light on features, is Sendero GPS Look Around. The purpose of this app is to simply give you information about nearby points of interest, which makes it a great option if that’s all you need.

Sendero also has a full-featured GPS app that is relatively new. It is a subscription based app, but it is a great option if you need all the features a, more expensive, standalone GPS unit would provide. This app is Sendero’s Seeing-Eye GPS app.

A great, and free, mainstream GPS application for the iPhone is MapQuest. It features everything you’d find in a more expensive application or standalone unit, and it is completely free! You don’t have to pay for the application and there is no subscription fee. This means, however, that things may be a little more difficult to figure out at times, because this app was not developed specifically for blind people. If you pair this app with one of the cheaper alternatives for the iPhone, you’ll have a fantastic GPS solution.

Lastly, let’s not forget about Maps on the iPhone itself. If your device has Siri, you can simply say “Take me to [address], and it will enter all the information for you, as well as provide spoken turn-by-turn navigation. However, MapQuest may be a better alternative if you don’t have Siri, but that’s for you to decide!

If you’re using an Android device, you have far fewer options than iPhone users, but you can check out Google Maps, but honestly, we aren’t sure how accessible, if at all, Google Maps is for blind and low vision users.

However, we have heard a lot of great things about Nearby Explorer, so we definitely think you should check it out!

In addition to a GPS app, we also recommend using a money recognizer. Chances are, you’ll have to use cash while your traveling, and it is extremely important that you be able to manage your money independently. For this purpose, we really like Looktel Money Reader.

Other apps such as 4Square and Yelp are useful to locate restaurants, shops, museums or any venues in a town that you are visiting.

Do your research ahead of time! This includes planning your trip, finding accessible destinations, and calling ahead for reservations at restaurants. Think about investigating interesting libraries, buildings, parks, and museums offering Braille, touch tours, or audio guides. The importance of internet research before traveling can not be underestimated. Whether it is accessibility, finding locations with Braille, or just reading about other’s experiences, the internet can offer a plethora of information.

There is an art to navigating airports and train stations. Remember to always call ahead to register as a passenger who needs extra assistance, and never be afraid to ask questions. Consider leaving extra time when traveling. A recent trip to Penn Station in New York City illuminated the various problems for someone who is blind: complicated layout, many people didn’t stop to answer questions, and the whole system felt like a maze. Overall, if you do your research and ask for services, traveling through airports and train stations might be frustrating, but it will be no different than the experience of someone who is sighted.

Another great option for traveling is Traveleyes. If you have never heard of them, think about the following: Traveleyes is one of the world’s first companies specializing in opening access to independent world travel for blind and partially sighted people. They were founded by a visually impaired person, and most tours are also lead by visually impaired people! Traveleyes offers a broad range of unique multi-sensory holiday vacations to suit all tastes. Their objective is to provide passengers who have a visual impairment with the same freedom of choice and ease of booking that sighted travelers have always enjoyed. Every Traveleyes holiday vacation features equal numbers of blind and sighted participants, some travelling solo, some with a partner, and some as groups of friends. Whichever of these describes you, they offer the ultimate group travel experience where sociability, flexibility and choice.

If you take one thing away from this article, it is that traveling independently can be very empowering and people who are blind can have the same great experience as their sighted peers. Whether you take advantage of sensory aspects, accessibility, technological advances, or a company such as Traveleyes, the sky really is the limit!

The Accessible Netflix Project

Netflix is a service that offers a variety of movies and television shows for subscribers to order for delivery by mail, and watch instantly on a computer, cell phone or tablet, smart TV, gaming device, or media streaming device. Many people enjoy Netflix with no problems, but those with disabilities have struggled to access content and services provided by Netflix since its launch, due to inaccessible web and application interfaces. Having used other streaming services, we know that it is possible for Netflix to make their website and applications accessible. The problem is they don’t want to.

The situation with Netflix isn’t all bad; the iOS app and website have become slightly more usable with some screen readers over time, and thanks to the work of advocates for the deaf community, Netflix has agreed to add closed captions to all content by 2014. Unfortunately, Netflix is still unusable by many individuals with disabilities, and there is no audio described content available for blind and visually impaired customers.

The inaccessibility of the Netflix website and applications prompted the American Council of the Blind (ACB) to pass resolution 2011-17, which requests Netflix make their products accessible for blind and low vision customers and add audio described content. The ACB wishes to work with Netflix on this endeavor, but there has been little change regarding these issues since.

In hopes of making Netflix more accessible and raising awareness for the issues we, as people with disabilities, face when attempting to use Netflix, Robert Kingett has created The Accessible Netflix Project. We, the Blinkie Chicks, are supporting this campaign for a more accessible Netflix, and you can, too! Check out the website for information on ways you can help, including how you can make donations, provide feedback regarding your experiences with Netflix, and much more. This project has already caught the attention of some big names in media, but we still need more exposure and support. So, please share the website and/or this blog post with everyone you know, and provide your feedback on the website.

We appreciate your support; thank you for reading!

Our #AccessChat Interview

Hey everyone, it’s Jessica. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Fedora Outlier on Tuesday for their weekly #AccessChat on twitter. Those who know me know I am a twitter addict, so this type of interview was perfect for me. I tweeted from the @BlinkieChicks account, and answered questions about what we do, and the technology we use. If you missed Tuesday’s chat, but still want to read the basic questions we were asked, you can read the questions and our answers below. Enjoy!

1. Who are you? Which Twitter client are you chatting with? And, which Apple devices do you own?

I’m Jessica: a student majoring in Sociology. I own an iPhone 5, an iPad 2, and a Macbook Pro. I use YoruFukurou, Twitterrific and TweetList Pro. Ashley is a student majoring in Special Ed. She owns an iPhone 3GS & a 4th generation iPod Touch, and she uses The Qube and TweetList for twitter. Daria is a college grad who majored in English; she owns an iPod Touch 3rd generation, and she mainly uses The Qube for twitter.

2. Tell us: What happened to form the @BlinkieChicks? What brought you three together?

We wanted to make a difference, & be a resource for others, so we began doing presentations, creating media, and tweeting.

3. What were some of the challenges you all faced in college—and how did you overcome them?

Some things we’ve struggled with at times include: making friends with able-bodied students, getting help/dealing with unwanted help, & inaccessible events on campus. We educate those we speak to, advocate for accessibility, and do presentations to raise awareness.

4. What were some resources and tech that helped you make it through college?

Our Disability Support Services is amazing! For awhile, I didn’t have much tech, so I used a computer with a JAWS demo. I saved & bought what I have. That + learning to effectively communicate with professors made college life much easier. A computer with JAWS, understanding professors, and Disability Support Services helped Daria get through college. Ashley uses an iPod Touch, and a laptop with NVDA.

5. What’s the goal behind the content and resources the Blinkie Chicks are creating? Who are they aimed at reaching—and why?

We’re dedicated to bridging the gap between the sighted and blind communities. Our content is targeted at a range of people. Many of our presentations educate sighted people, whereas our blog & a lot of the links we share are useful for the blind.

6. If folks were to follow your social media updates and blog—what can they expect to see?

We share our blog posts & presentations as well as links to news, stories, information, and issues relating to blindness.

7. What’s one word of wisdom (about life, accessibility, etc etc) each of you would share?

I say, “Advocate”. The world isn’t designed for us & society excludes us. We must speak up for better access & inclusion. Daria says “Educate”. We’re treated differently because many don’t know better. We must educate to make life better for all. Ashley says “confidence”. Confident & capable people change the perceptions others have about visually impaired people.