National Braille Press creates new technology for blind community in 21st century

National Braille Press creates new technology for blind community in 21st century

  • Technology
  • May 13, 2022
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  • 9 minutes read


A classic white colonial-style building on St. Stephen, in the Fenway district of Boston, hosts some of the most innovative and collaborative work for the blind community.

He National Braille Pressor NBP, creates braille resources for blind people in the United States and beyond with the mission of empowering the blind community.

In 1927, the organization was founded by Francis Ierardi, a blind immigrant from Italy and a student Perkins School for the Blind. He acknowledged the lack of access to news for the blind and created a site that could offer braille news to blind people in a more timely manner.

NBP’s purpose and mission expanded after settling in its current location in 1946. The organization now creates textbooks, tests, menus, and braille manuals for all of North America.

Joe Quintanilla, vice president of development and major gifts, reaches his 11th year at the National Braille Press. He stressed the importance of creating resources that are accessible and affordable for blind people.

“It usually costs three times as much to produce a book in braille as it does in print,” Quintanilla said. “We believe that a blind person should not have to pay more for the same information that is available in print. The money we raise helps make up for that difference.”

Brian Mac Donald, President and CEO of NBP, said that NBP wants to keep up with the technological movements while adhering to its roots of providing blind people with the resources to go through their daily lives. Mac Donald joined NBP in 2008 with the intention of developing the digital aspect of the braille world. He wanted the organization to continue to survive as a printing resource while adapting to changing times.

“We still produce millions of pages of braille paper every year,” Mac Donald said. “And we will continue to do so as long as there is demand for many, many more years … but we certainly want to continue to have affordable and up-to-date digital equipment so that blind people can keep up with sight. technology “.

NBP publishes its own materials for the blind, for the blind, on how to use technology such as phones, applications and devices.

“It’s … a way for a blind person to learn from a blind person’s experience [about] how to use technology because then it allows them to be independent to learn how to use computers and be able to find work, ”said Quintanilla.

Volunteers and staff compile textbooks, manuals, and other resources in braille within the NBP.

Mac Donald’s main technology initiative at NBP was the creation upgradeable braille displays. These allow those who take notes in braille to process words in text on the screen and also read through the elevated text at the output of a monitor. They were originally priced between $ 6,000 and $ 10,000; however, this was not affordable for many blind people.

“Schools were having trouble funding them. It was just a nightmare. One of our goals was to see if we could create a low-cost professional braille product with more features, “said Mac Donald.

Mac Donald partnered with more than 25 community volunteers to create more accessible technology. A product, called B2Gis a low-cost, portable, renewable braille computer for the blind.

“We wanted to make sure that blind children and adults could have access to digital braille at a much more affordable price. [Braille technology] could match the playing field for accessibility, “said Mac Donald.

Mac Donald and NBP sold the first product in 2016 for a competitive price of $ 2,495. In 2019, they cut the price in half and today have new technology for less than $ 500, according to Mac Donald.

While the board and management create these products and imagine the future of braille technology, much of the production work continues with books and paper resources in the basement of the building where NBP employees and volunteers personally link all of these resources. .

George Kamara, a part-time staff member, went blind at the age of 30. As a refugee from Liberia, I wanted to get an associate’s degree, but I had to take the GED test to apply for it. He spent four years learning braille to do a GED in braille. Today, he collects all the materials sent to the community similar to textbooks and exams that have helped him progress as a braille reader.

“We want our voices to be heard. I wasn’t born blind in the first place,” Kamara said. “I had to learn to read and write in braille and it helped me a lot. When I came to the braille press as a fellow, it created more interest in being employed. It has made me very happy … I hope to do my best to reach out to other people through this organization. “

A more recent mission of the organization is to bridge the gap between blind and sighted children and parents with a monthly children’s reading club. According to Mac Donald, the National Braille Press wanted children’s books to be available in print and braille format to allow families to read together. This evolved into the creation of tactile graphics, which allow blind children to feel shapes and animals on a page.

“For first-graders, that’s how literacy works,” Mac Donald said.

“That’s how they learn grammar and spelling and that’s something you can’t do just by listening.”

NBP is proud of the clear impact of these changes and the reading club. Quintanilla met grandparents who are now able to read children’s books and make the same connections with their grandchildren as sighted families.

“The National Braille Press has the pulse of the blind community and is trying to address the need,” Quintanilla said.

The organization welcomes volunteers from elementary school to college-age students in Boston. Samantha Bowman, a second-year mechanical engineering and business administration majoring in Northeastern, began her first year in Northeastern with the National Braille Press until Civically Engaged Students Alliance collaboration program.

“NBP gave me a better understanding of what I need to keep in mind to make the material really accessible to everyone and it’s something I can apply to all parts of my life in the future,” Bowman said. “NBP is working hard to make its name known and to support strong outreach programs in the digital age, making sure they can reach even more people who need their services.”



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