Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Is Braille Still Relevant?

January 14, 2021 American Printing House Episode 21
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Is Braille Still Relevant?
Chapters
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Is Braille Still Relevant?
Jan 14, 2021 Episode 21
American Printing House

The almost 200 year-old, six-dot system we know as braille, has helped those with visual impairments thrive and succeed in everyday life. However, with talking books, audiobooks and other devices that speak and listen to you, one might wonder if braille is still relevant?

Podcast Guests

  • Mike Hudson, APH Museum Director
  • Olaya Landa-Vialard, Ph.D., APH Director, ConnectCenter
  • Sergio Oliva, EOT, M.P.A., Associate Vice President, Programs and Services , Braille Institute
  • Greg Stilson, APH Director , Global Innovation and Strategy

Additional Links and Phone Numbers

Show Notes Transcript

The almost 200 year-old, six-dot system we know as braille, has helped those with visual impairments thrive and succeed in everyday life. However, with talking books, audiobooks and other devices that speak and listen to you, one might wonder if braille is still relevant?

Podcast Guests

  • Mike Hudson, APH Museum Director
  • Olaya Landa-Vialard, Ph.D., APH Director, ConnectCenter
  • Sergio Oliva, EOT, M.P.A., Associate Vice President, Programs and Services , Braille Institute
  • Greg Stilson, APH Director , Global Innovation and Strategy

Additional Links and Phone Numbers

Introduction:

Welcome to change makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host,

Sara:

The almost 200-year-old six dot system, we know as braille has helped those with visual impairments thrive and succeed in everyday life. But the rise of electronics has changed and enhanced the quality of life for everyone with talking books, audio books, and other devices that speak and listen to you. One might wonder if braille is still relevant. I'm your host, Sara, and today on Change Makers I'll talk to four experts to learn the history of braille, their thoughts about braille assessable tech to help individuals learn braille in the national transition conversation. First off, let's talk about the history of braille with APH museum director, Mike Hudson. All right, Mike, thanks so much for joining us today on Change Makers.

Mike H.:

Thank you, Sara.

Sara:

So we're talking about braille and if it's becoming irrelevant, but first and foremost, let's talk about the history of braille. What exactly is braille for those who might not know?

Mike H.:

So braille is a code. If you want to think about it, that way, raise dots that you can feel with your fingers and the patterns of the dots. Tell you what the, what the letter is. So a has a particular pattern B as a particular pattern and so forth.

Sara:

Okay. How did, how did they come to be, where did it , where was it developed? How did it, how did it braille become to exist?

Mike H.:

So it all starts in France , uh, 1784, a guy named Valentina . We found the first school for blind kids in Paris. And he quickly realized as he's working with one of his students names , France, Wallace sewer , that they need a way to teach the kids how to read. And so they come up with this idea called raised letters where you emboss the same letters that sighted people use into the paper, and you teach the kids to trace the letters with their hands. And that's how they learn to read. So fast forward then a few years , uh , to 1809, a little boy is born outside of Paris called Louis braille. And Louis has an accident one day in his father's leather working shop his eyes. He damages his eyes. They get infected by the time he's five or six, he's lost most of his vision. And then , uh, when he's about 10, he gets to go to that school , uh, that, that , uh, we had founded in Paris , uh, 18, 19. He starts there. And so he becomes one of the prize students there. He's a brilliant young boy, 1821 , uh, another French guy named Charles Barbier. Uh, who's an inventor since a code that he has come up with over to the school for the blind, for it to experimented with, by the students there, Barbie doesn't know how his code is going to be used. He thinks it might be used or , uh , diplomatic communications. It might be useful for the military on the battlefield and in dark, you know , not situations , uh , or it might be useful for blind people. And , uh , so Louis is one of the kids who get selected to test this code out and he loves it because the , one of the big problems with , uh, Valentines always raised letters was it , you couldn't write it. So imagine, you know, you can read a book, but you can't write it. You can't take notes in class or anything like that. But with Barbies code , although it's clunky, it actually uses 12 well dots . You know, the, the modern braille.to a braille character just uses six dots . Um, but , uh, and , uh , Barbie has code is based on phonics, the way we pronounce words rather than on the alphabet. And so Louie takes Barbie's code, reduces it down to six dots that fit right underneath your fingertip. And instead of it being based on phonics, it's based on the alphabet. So with Louis code, you can quickly read and write and you can spell, and you can learn really. You can learn to read and write the same way that sighted kids smart. You're just using an alternative form of a character of something that you read, read with your fingers rather than with your eyes. But other than that, it's pretty much the same. So , uh, w uh, Louie publishes his code for the first time, teen 29 in a book that we call the [inaudible] the method, and it introduces the whole concept of, of braille to the wide world. And , uh, really the next big interview you mentioned in braille is , um, is the idea of contractions. This is the idea that , uh, you use a character for more than one letter at a time like TA inter ch or she kind of letter forms that we use all the time. Uh, that was only Louie had only experiment with that idea, but really that becomes , uh , built into the cooked into the system when braille is adopted in great Britain in the 1860s, 1870s. And , uh, uh, that idea comes to the United States , uh, with , uh, with braille, when it, when it's introduced in the United States. Another big , uh , development in braille is in 1892 when Frank Hall, who is the head of the Illinois school for the blind comes up with his haul braille writer. It's the first successful mechanical braille writer. And now you can quickly type , uh , notes or a letter or a book , uh , on this machine. And all then quickly also comes up with what we call the hall stereographs machine, which embosses braille on two brass plates, brass plates that can be put into a printing press. And now places like the American printing house for the blind can rapidly mass produce braille books and distribute them all over the world.

Sara:

Now, what are your thoughts? Do you feel that braille is becoming irrelevant?

Mike H.:

Not at all, not at all that the thing is that people who are blind or visually impaired use all kinds of different reading methods and some are better for some folks and some are better for others. If you are , uh , an academic, if you are in the business world , um, you're going to need braille at some point, but, you know, you can read with braille, you can read with audio , uh, you know, you could have your computer read to it. There's, there's , uh, electronic devices that make braille rapidly. So , uh, you know, we all, we need a whole range of different tools for all kinds of different people, but , uh , braille continues to be an effective tool for lots of people who are blind or visually impaired.

Sara:

Is there anything else you'd like to add about the history?

Mike H.:

I think braille is one of those things that comes along at the right time, and it was going to have to be developed by someone who was blind themselves, like Louis braille. Uh, he owned , he developed a tool that worked perfectly for people who were blind and , uh, and , uh, you know, that's the way, the fascinating thing about history is that these things come along just at the right time, right. When society is ready for them, it's all about timing.

Sara:

That's so cool. All right . Well, Mike, thank you so much for joining us today on change-makers and we hope to have you back soon. Thank you, Sarah . So now we're going to talk to Associate Vice President of Programs and services for the Braille Institute, Sergio Oliva , Sergio is braille still relevant. That's the name of this podcast? That's the goal of this podcast to find out? Is it still relevant? Is it still needed? What do you think?

Sergio O.:

Braille is absolutely , uh , so relevant. I think that braille is not dying. It is a code used to teach people with visual impairments, how to read and write. And so I think it's important to mention that , uh, because it's not going to like die and it is very much relevant to how we actually communicate , uh , people with visual impairments communicate with the rest of the world. So it is definitely , uh, relevant in this time and age.

Sara:

Now, why do some say it is on its way out?

Sergio O.:

You know, I, I was thinking about this too, and you know, what's interesting. I think that even in 2020, we have to demystify the concept of braille literacy. I'm not sure if people in our field would say that answer. Yes. I think perhaps it's a refocus of bringing awareness to the individuals outside of this field, what braille means. Um, if some people outside of our field do not see the importance, I can see how they may think that it is a dying, but especially with what the rest of the cider world and what society is putting out with the audio books. I can maybe get us how , um, I'm assuming here that this is one of the reasons why people , um , say that braille may be dying. I can share with you that you don't understand how many times when I tell people, not that not in this field, that I , uh, where I work and what I do. And the first question oftentimes is , Oh, so, you know, sign language. And at first I used to think, wait, are they being funny with me? Like , are they pulling my leg here? But in reality, that's really a very much, it's still alive. And I still get asked that question of those people, not in the field . And so I think that there's a lot of demystification that needs to take place and I can see perhaps why some people may think that braille is dying.

Sara:

Okay. So you mentioned, you just mentioned braille literacy programs. Are there any programs that help promote braille literacy?

Sergio O.:

Absolutely. There's a couple of different , uh , programs. I think a lot of the larger organizations and even those that are maybe not so large, aren't doing an excellent job in really fostering the sort of community of promoting braille via a lot of different hands-on products take American Printing House. Like you guys are just blowing like things out of the park when it comes to making sure that a lot of the products are actually being utilized and that they , um , are being utilized efficiently and appropriately in the classroom. And so talk about, you know, your federal quarter funds and you talk about even , um, uh , code jumper, like all these sort of like products that are very colorful and are very , uh , fun for students. That's what we need. We need a lot more of those programs. So, yes. Um, there's a couple of organizations for us here at braille Institute. We have two signature national programs that are free of charge. One of them, I think a lot of people may have heard it's the a , it's an academic competition to really test the braille in writing skills of students in grades K through 12. And so if you go to the website, BrailleChallenge.org, that's one word. Uh, we do have options during the pandemic as well. So I know that a lot of people sort of turn to bring a challenge to see, like, what are we going to do this last year? We had over 1200 students across North America that actually took our braille challenge contest. And the program continues to grow because braille literacy is now sort of like even , um, we're starting as early as like, you know, zero age working the parents. So that's one program that I would say, definitely check out for us here at brew Institute. We also have another free program, but I know individuals like seedlings also provide free braille books , uh , for children, our special collection program. And if you go to the website, you'll find a lot of information there free. We have two catalogs a year, but they're aimed at children and families from zero to six years old. So we take board books and we actually add Brill impossibles on top. And , uh, we also send them manipulative to really build on that concept. What does this really do? Um , you may be asking it does two things. One, it allows for the parents to actually be able to read to their children. A lot of parents, they don't know braille. Um, some of them, you know, it's a whole sort of , um, experience like when their child or they find out that their child has some sort of visual impairment. And so this program really just puts these board books into the hands of families so that they can have that sort of a same experience if you will, as their sighted counter peers, when it comes to babies. But also the manipulative that I send out it's really to build on concepts, to prepare a lot of the children and the families for what's to come. One of the titles that I'll share with you is we had a book, I forget who the author was, but it was something about going to the doctor early on. A lot of toddlers have a lot of doctor's appointments, and we had this whole doctor kit and we sent out a curriculum suggestion suggesting a lot of different activities. And so that's another sort of program that promotes braille literacy early on. Um, there's a few, but like I said, a lot of the organizations and even the schools for the blind , um , really are just, just doing such a great job at continuing to promote braille literacy

Sara:

Now to promote promoting braille literacy is one thing, but what's the biggest challenge in teaching braille to children because they have to be taught before they can know. So what's the challenges there.

Sergio O.:

Yeah, absolutely. So I think that, you know, one of the things that when we have sort of parent conversations, we have youth programs and their enrichment programs that follow , uh , the ACC , uh, different the nine areas. And so one of the things that I realized that parents when they come to us is, and I'm starting from the beginning here, parents want their children to grow into their kids to grow up and, you know, contribute positively to society. We know that part of this being an adult is being a working adult. What are some of the things that we know, we know that the unemployment rate among the visually impaired it's pretty high. I don't know what exactly it is right now, but for the past eight years it's been at like low seventies. One of the things we do know in this field is that over 90% of those that are employed are braille readers. And so I think that we have to sort of , um, talk about that and be aware of that and why it's important to start teaching , um, you know, braille literacy early on or promoting braille literacy. But one of the biggest challenges that I sort of like have seen in my experience is access to adequate resources. One of the things that I keep, we keep stressing, and I've heard this at different workshops also at different conferences is operative word being , uh, we gotta repeat repetition is so key. So you have to start early on building on these concepts and building on braille literacy and also one of the things so that that's one really working with the parents. I think that we need to get them more involved early on. And that's, I think like a challenge, but the other sort of thing that I do , uh, have noted is that what kind of assistive technology resources do the children have in school? I still hear a crazy story, Sara, of how some kids, like it takes them like months to get access to like books or to even have the right sort of like technology , uh, whether, you know, they have low vision and they need some sort of magnet, a magnifier, or they need to sort of like sit in the , uh, at the closer to the, to the, to the, what is it, the board. And so there's a very, there's a bunch of things. There's a lot of different variables , um, that are challenging with teaching braille, but I will summarize it in three parts, one, as I said, really making sure that we're doing our work teaching early on as early as when the kid is born, those board books, just educating the parents and second making sure that people realize like their advocacy , uh, skills that they need to hone so that when you are, if you have your child that's in the mainstream , uh , is mainstream, meaning that they're at a regular school district, not at a school for the blind, you have to be like a great advocate to really get the resources. And so I would say that access to a lot of the key resources is probably one of the largest and biggest challenges that I have identified over there.

Sara:

What do you see for the future of braille ?

Sergio O.:

Oh my goodness. Um, I say so many things, but , um, one of the things that I feel that we can get very creative, but this is what I really do believe the future of real literacy is , uh , marrying digital literacy with braille literacy. We talk about , uh, refreshable braille displays, they're the new sort of like it thing. And we have to start teaching as early as we can. How do you even pair a refreshable braille display with , um , you know, like your smart devices? And so that is the future braille literacy married , combined with digital literacy. I know that there's a couple of different options that are , uh, or projects that are taking place. I know that we are still working , um, in transitioning the braille challenge to utilizing a lot more refreshable displays digital refreshable displays. So one of the things is how do you have access to those? So this is where this sort of collective agenda to promoting braille literacy among all the different key players in the field, not just from like the schools for the blind organizations like APH, like braille Institute, but also a lot of our outside vendors and partners like the Sparrow or Humanware, or I can go on, you know, like a lot of the different companies that are building a lot of the refreshable braille displays. We have to be on the same page where they collective agenda to promote real literacy , um, so that we can incorporate technology because guess what technology is not going away . And the sighted world keeps running at a hundred miles an hour with all these different gadgets and all kinds of things. And we need to stay on top of not like really try to just catch up. And so that's what I think , uh, one of the, I think the biggest thing of , of braille literacy , uh, is going to be when I think about the future of braille literacy, it's that digital component.

Sara:

And with that digital component, do you think rail can survive in an electronic digital world?

Sergio O.:

I , uh , will always say yes, braille literacy is here to stay. Uh, it is just a matter of us again, coming together and realizing that we're all in this together in sort of like making sure that individuals with visual impairment are able to read and write, and this is sort of the, that's the code that we are using. And so , um, braille literacy is here to stay and I think we just need to keep at it.

Sara:

All right , Sergio, thank you so much for joining us today on change .

Sergio O.:

Thank you, Sarah. And thank you to the entire , uh , APH team. We're always so grateful for the partnership that we have , uh , with all of you guys, especially through our signature , uh, program here in North America called Braille challenge. So , uh, hi to everyone at APH. I hope we have our annual meeting in person soon because I miss everyone at APH and I miss the hospitality. So thank you so much.

Sara:

It sounds like the feature of braille is secure, whether it's electronics for children to learn about braille and educational settings or a high-tech refreshable braille device, Brill has been and will continue to be incorporated not only in the products that APH and leading access technology companies produce, but also in everyday products and here to talk accessible. Tech is APH is head of global innovation at Greg Stilson. Greg, thanks so much for joining us today. Thanks Sara for having me. All right. So we're talking to accessible tech with the topic of braille. Is it important for children to learn braille first, then incorporate electronic devices or electronic devices first then braille or just whatever you can get?

Greg S.:

You know, so I think there's, There's always this debate today because of all the accessibility that's there with, with text-to-speech engines, everywhere that, you know, your phone talks, your TV talks, everything talks, right? And so you always have the question of is braille still relevant? And I'm going to start by saying that absolutely 100% it does because it is important because students and young children and people who learn braille learn so much more than just the written word, right? They learn, they learn sentence structure, they learn, they learned , um , layouts of pages. They learn , learn grammar, they learn spelling. They, you know, all of these things unfortunately cannot be learned by listening to a , um , a text to speech , um, audio device. Having said that in , in my opinion, and this is, this is strictly my opinion. And from the time that I've , uh, I'm a blind reader of braille myself, I learned braille at , uh , in kindergarten, but just speaking to several teachers of the visually impaired, from what I understand and the way that I've, I've heard the most success come from, it is usually it starting a student with , uh , a full page of braille, right? So a, usually a , um, a textbook or, you know, a physical piece of paper, right? What that teaches them is it teaches them the spatial layout of things. Right? So when you're, when you're going through a , uh , a book, when you're reading a story , um, chapter titles or things like that are centered, and just that understanding that a chapter title is centered in the middle of the page, in today's , um, single line braille displays and things like that, that can't really be represented adequately when you're reading in a , uh , a single line display, everything is done linear in a linear fashion. Um, so the sentence structure, the , um, the, the, the, the layout of the page, things like that are really not represented in the same way that they're represented on a, on a full page of braille or a full multiline , um, experience like that. So to summarize, I would say, starting the student, if you have the capability of , uh, you know, the physical pages of braille or a , a full, full page of braille , um, to teach them those really fundamental , um, concepts, and then as time progresses and, you know, incorporating a lot of times, teachers have told me they use , uh , the electronic braille devices as sort of a reward for the student , uh , doing well with their, their written braille or they're , they're reading the physical pages of braille to then slowly transition them into electronic braille.

Sara:

Okay. So speaking of devices, what devices can help children learn braille? So there's, I would say there's three,

Greg S.:

The categories of electronic braille devices today. Um, when you look at actual refreshable braille tools that are there, you, you, I would categorize categorize them as sort of in what are traditionally classified as like note takers and note takers are very intelligent. Refreshable braille devices that often run on modern platforms, things like Android and things like that , um, that do a lot, right? So you can, you can create full essays on these docs on these devices. And they, they center around , uh, the braille language reading and writing in braille , um, and you can use modern apps and things like that. The second category is really where APH is starting to focus, and that's what we call the intelligent braille display. And the intelligent braille display is , uh, it's it's number one purpose is to be a braille display for input and output for other devices. But if you're not using those other devices, like a smartphone or a computer , uh , you can still do some things on these devices. They , they still have functions that are internal to them. So , uh, two devices that I would look at here for APH would be the , the mantis or three devices would be the mantis, the chameleon, and the braille trail reader. Um, all of those devices can function great and can control and , and receive output from , uh , connected tools like computers and smartphones. Um, but if you're just looking to take notes, if you're looking to do a quick calculation or things like that , um, they all have internal apps that allow you to , to , to use them , um, without having a connection. And then the last category is what I would call your traditional braille display. And that that's a , just a braille display whose only function is to connect to other tools , um, to provide braille output and input , uh, for those devices. So , um, those were the, really the three categories that, that I would look at there's there's younger student devices. I would say that kind of introduce the concept of, of electronic braille. Um, so things like the smart Brailler or , um, one of the, my favorite devices that we have here is the braille buzz . That's not a braille output device, but it does have a braille input keyboard that does some phonics things and , and really introduces the concept of typing an electronic keyboard, braille keyboard.

Sara:

Okay. And , you know, what's interesting. I, my, my iWatch just had an update and I was reading what it did and it's like health stuff, but nonetheless, it also says it now, can I guess pair with a real keyboard? Yeah , yeah , yeah.

Greg S.:

The , the Apple watch in , uh , I think it's watch a seven , um, allows you to connect a refreshable braille display to your, to your Apple watch and where that's really exciting is, you know, myself personally, I don't, I don't see a scenario where I'm probably going to connect my braille display to my Apple watch, but for, for people who have hearing impairments right along with their impairments, braille is the only way that they can interact with these devices efficiently. Right. So in the past, somebody who was using an Apple watch may have had very limited to no use or function , um, with that device, but being able to pair refreshable braille display to a device like the Apple watch , um, you know, today countless numbers of folks who are deaf blind use refreshable braille displays with their smartphones. It opens up that entirely new world for them. Um, that was previously not available.

Sara:

Yeah. I thought it was awesome to see that. And, you know, I'm always looking now for, you know, assessability and is this something that, you know, could work? And I was just really excited, and that was just one thing that stood out of all the things that it listed, and I never read them, but

Greg S.:

The one time that you read the release notes, I love it.

Sara:

All right. So speaking of, you know, awesome devices and feature braille, what do you think is coming for the future of braille?

Greg S.:

So , um, I think there's, there's a couple things that we'll see. And one of them I'm really excited to be leading here at, at APH. And so right now, the, the, the traditional way that somebody uses refreshable braille display as a single line braille display and braille displays come in, you know, the way that they're varied is the number of cells on that line. Right? So that the number of cells generally has gone from anywhere from 12 cell lines, all the way up to 80 cell lines. Um, and, but, but the number one restriction that's been put on these is that they're single line displays and that's, that's done for a number of reasons, cost being a significant , um , inhibitor there. Um, but the other side is also footprint, right? The more lines of braille that you create, the , the larger, the deeper the device gets. And , uh, and so there, there's a new design problem to solve. Um, and what we're working on here at the printing house is , um , a project that we're calling the dynamic tactile device. And we put out a request for information , uh, earlier this year to receive info from , uh, vendors and companies who have been working on technology to enable , um, multiple lines of braille along with tactile graphics representation. Our dream is to be able to provide a tool that can, in many ways, replicate the experience of reading a tactal textbook on a device. And we want to do this for a number of reasons. Number one is, you know, you see in the mainstream world , um, you know, E readers , the Kindles, the things like that , um, electronic textbooks, even being tied to learning management systems like canvas or Google classroom and things like that , um, being available without having a physical textbook anymore. And unfortunately our , our blind and students don't really have adequate access to that. Um, second of all, is that the cost of producing textbooks today is exorbitantly high , um, especially for , for STEM textbooks. And so , um, our goal with this project is to hopefully reduce the costs of braille transcription and production of these textbooks. And lastly, to be able to bring these textbooks to a student's fingertips , um, exponentially faster than, than we've been able to do so far. Um, so, you know, our dream is that a textbook can get transcribed, modified whatever we need to do , um, from the , the , the manual side, but then be in the students , you know, digital library, you know, as quickly as possible so that they can just simply download it, right. They don't have to get it mailed. They don't have to any of that. Right. So it, to answer your question, I believe the next frontier of braille devices is going to be a multiline full screen type of experience, where you're able to actually obtain that, that foundational information that I was speaking about before, where you're able to get not only the content, but actually understand the layout of a page in this spatial understandings that, that goes along with that. But then, you know, I would say in addition, being able to do a lot of impromptu learning , um, you know, a device like this also opens up the world of , um, you know, one of the dreams that I have here is that if a biology teacher says that, Hey, I have a , uh , a picture of a neuron or something like that. Um, they could cast it to the , the dynamic tactful device and the student could see a, a version of that graphic that was filtered so that it looks decent , uh, in a, in a , uh , a tactile representation, right. And it's never going to look as great as if you use, you know , if you have a , uh , uh , tactical graphic designer doing it for a blind person, but, you know, in this case, if I look at that same scenario that happens today without a device like this, if the biology teacher says, Hey, I've got a picture of a neuron here, and there's nobody there to transcribe that into a consumable format, the students just without that information entirely. Right. And so I see this, a device of this nature really changing the game of the concept of impromptu learning. Um, and , and to me, that's a piece of learning that, that blind and low vision students they're just missing out on entirely right now.

Sara:

Wow. Okay. So something, tell me, tell me what you're thinking. Am I thinking something like, like in the shape of like an iPad that with the refreshable braille and yeah, I think the CA image, or if I need to see it , um, uh , uh, an image display it'll create image on there. Yeah.

Greg S.:

You got it. I mean, think of, think of like a , uh, uh, a tactal like array of, of pins or, or , you know, things that can pop up to form both graphics , um, and, and braille. Right. And I think that that's our Holy grail, there is to be able to represent graphics and braille in the same device, because, you know, let's be honest, we, we don't have endless amounts of funds here. So you can't have two, really two separate devices that can achieve separate things. Unfortunately, the kid doesn't have room in their backpack for that, and in our wallet for that either. So , um, so for this, and , and, you know, for, you know, APH, this is a huge endeavor because we, we do a significant amount of braille book production. Um, but we also , um, you know, work with the federal quota system and , and can, can, can get feedback from teachers and things like that to really make this device , um, a valuable tool in the toolbox. Right. And hopefully change the way that textbooks are produced down the road. Right. Um, you know, right now there's really no , uh, braille standard that allows for simple navigation. Um, you think about like the way that textbooks are produced today , um, they're embossed on paper, right? And so students are literally turning pages to go to chapters. Well, when you, when you take those braille books and you try to put them on a digital device, you now have to create a new mechanism to navigate two chapters, right. Or navigate two pages, because eventually you're going to run into the situation where the student is told by the teacher, all right, turn to print page 137 . And the student is going to have to quickly be able to go there and, you know, on a Kindle device or an audio book, you can say, go to page two 37, or one 37 or whatever it is. Um, in a braille book, we don't have that flexibility because it's just a giant stream of braille right now. And so the other endeavor that we're working on is, is really , um, reclassifying or creating a new standard that is, you know , hopefully going to be based off of the existing standards like EPUB and Daisy and things like that, where a student can, can take a braille book and use it in the same fashion that you would be able to use a digital book on any other device.

Sara:

Okay. Well, this leads into my next question, but I think I already know the answer. Do you see real incorporated any electronics? If so, how? I think he just went all over that you want to tell us a little bit more.

Greg S.:

So I think that you're going to see braille and we already see braille , um, incorporated in many mainstream places, thanks to the ADA and, you know, having braille room numbers and you see braille on things like , uh ATM's and things like that. Um, but I'm starting to see braille also incorporated into , um, other devices. I just bought a new TV at home. My, my ten-year-old TV, finally bit the dust. And so we had to replace it. And when I did, we replaced it with an LGTV and I looked at the remote and I didn't catch my, I didn't not catch my eye, but I didn't feel the braille initially. But then as I'm looking, I found that on the remote , um , there is braille next to the volume, the channel and the power buttons that actually says VC and P um, on the , on the remote itself. And I was surprised to see that I hadn't seen it before. Um, but I did notice that, you know, in mainstream devices like this , um, like a TV, for example, they, they are starting to put braille on remotes and things like that night. I'll be honest with you. I do believe that as we see braille technology , um, reduce in price and increase in functionality, being more dynamic, being able to render more information. Um, and, and to be robust, because if you think about like you think of things like signage, or you think of things like a map or a representation in a, in a museum or something like that, right. When, when braille is touched, it's going to be touched by a lot of people. Right. And so it has to be super robust as well. Um, but you know, as we look at the mainstream world , um, you know, everything is going towards , uh, you know, virtual reality, augmented reality , um, gaming is a huge space today and the next frontier in gaming is going to be tactile sensations, right? So really broadening that virtual reality experience and things like that. And so providing tactile experiences will be the next foundation or the next frontier, I would say in gaming. And I think in our world, in the assistive technology world, we can really benefit from the brainpower . That's going to be invested into that frontier because , you know, you look at braille and , and things like that. I think braille is one piece of the puzzle, but, you know, tactile representation of shapes of , um, of, of images or graphics or things like that, understanding what it feels like to hold a hexagon or to feel the sides of a , an octagon or, or things like that, that you , you need physical models to show , um, you know, to be able to do that in a virtual reality type of space , um, you know, could really, I think be sort of the next frontier, not just with braille , but with, with tactile graphics and tactile understanding as well.

Sara:

Okay. So how braille is obviously going to be incorporated in a whole lot of electronics, just in the future, braille is going to be, braille is going, it sounds like braille is going to be there. So let me ask you this last question, is braille still relevant?

Greg S.:

Oh, a hundred percent. Absolutely. Braille is still relevant and it's going to be relevant for a long, long time. Um, I think , uh, you know, as a blind person myself, I, I do a lot with audio on a daily basis. I'm not using my braille display 24 seven, but one thing that I can tell you is especially being a blind father. Um, I think it's easy to go through your day and , and, and, you know, do your work and , and use braille during my work day when I, when I do. Um, but one, one reality check that I recently had , um, is I've got a four year old and a seven month old at home. And I realized as my wife is blind as well. And we, every night we read our kids stories using braille board books, right. And without braille , uh, we wouldn't be able to do that nearly as effectively as , as we can today. Um, even to the point where we've, we've labeled , um, you know, we've got a book that's baby's first words, for example, and , uh , we've labeled, we had somebody help us label , um, items where it has, you know, instruments and vehicles and things like that. We put the braille labels directly on these, these items. So that is we're teaching our children who are both sided . Um, what these items are. We can touch the braille label to understand what they are on the, on the page. I can't see them, my wife can't see them , but if we have the braille label for a piano, for example, and my daughter points at the piano and or when she was younger and could tell us that it was the piano, we could verify that yes, your finger is on the piano. And so, so, you know, I, I look at small things like that. And, and, you know, from a literacy perspective, I was, I was privileged enough to have been taught braille at a very young age and, and, you know, built that foundational skill, but it really, you know, and tell being a parent, I don't think I really dawned on me how valuable that skill is. Um , because now I'm able to teach my kids how to read and understand the world around them. Thanks to braille. Right. And so , um, braille is one, 100, 1000% relevant in my view. And I here at the printing house, we , uh, we are huge braille advocates and always will be

Sara:

That's. Right. Okay. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Greg. We are looking forward to everything that's coming out of your, your department. It's going to be some exciting things. It's going to be a busy few years. They're a busy few years. Oh man. Well, thank you so much, Greg. And we'll talk to you later. Sounds great. Thanks for having me on now. We're going to talk to APHS ConnectCenter Director Olaya Landa Vialard about the National Transition Conversation. Hi Olaya, thanks so much for joining us. Hi, Sara. Thanks for having me today. Great. So tell us what is the national conversation?

Olaya L.:

Well , um, the National Transition Conversation , um, was originally started by Joe Strechay when he was with the American Foundation for the Blind. Uh, the National Transition Conversation is a centralized forum offered through APA inches connect center and career connect for practitioners whose primary goal is working with transition age populations of students who are blind and low vision , um, and students meaning teens and young adults. So that, that 14 year old transition age to about 22 years old, sometimes extending into 24. Uh , but officially when you're looking at the definition of transition, when we're looking at , um , the individuals with disabilities education act or Ida , um, we're looking at that, that transition age between 14 and 22. Um, and so the national transition conversation or NTC is both a forum within APA career connect. Um, that also provides a series of quarterly webinars that are hosted on the connect center , uh, APH career connect platform, arm , we're focused presentations on , uh , the implementation or delivery, creativity and outcomes and achievements of residential and day long transition and employment programs are facilitated. Uh, excuse me. Um , there's also a national discussion listserv for rehabilitation counselors, transition program managers and related support staff promoting the sharing of program information, goals , and outcomes. Um, and then also resources that are specific to preemployment transition services or pre ETS is something you might be, might hear more often people referring to, but you know, this , this field is always such full, a full of alphabet soup. Uh, it's always nice to have somebody explain or spell out what all these acronyms mean. And so , uh , but , uh, yeah , and I will also provide some , um, links and information to how people can connect to career connect to get more information about these pre employment transition services and , uh , more information about that as we go on. So, but that right there is , is kind of like the, the summary version of what the national transition conversation is.

Sara:

So it sounds like it does a lot, obviously it's important, but can you do a little bit further explanation as to why it is so important?

Olaya L.:

Well, I mean, you're , when you're looking at transition, right, as, as a National Transition Conversation, it is a form for that gathering and sharing out of best practices in the field of transition services. So that's why it's really important. We need to make sure that we're getting people together to talk about these best practices that, that are, that we have been that guide us right through what we need to be doing to help prepare our students so that when they're going to college or entering the world of work, they are prepared and ready to sustain that employment and be successful , uh , and independent in their life. So, you know, it could become, and this national transition conversation, it has definitely become and continues definitely to be an influential part of the APH career connect offerings , uh, for both expert and seasoned professionals where they can share out their ideas. And then of course, trusted practices with new print practitioners and even some seasoned practitioners who, when you've been in the field a long time, sometimes you get in the, in the habit of doing it like this is how we've always done it, but when you're part of a , of, of, of this transition conversation and you're dealing with new new practitioners and, you know, new professionals coming into the field that are working on , um, working on transition practices, even seasoned professionals , um , tend to learn a lot more , uh, and keep up with the times, right, and keep up with like the new ways of doing things so that because times change, you know, things change and technology has changed and technology is such a huge part of, of, of employment. Now that you're , we want to make sure that that information is, is new and timely and continues to move forward so that our students who were preparing for transition can move forward and be successful in their careers. Um, and of course, there's the forum itself. The national transition form is becoming the trusted source for timely and accurate information from peer practitioners, but that's who are that's, who runs the national transition conversation. I mean, we , we organize it, but the people who are actually talking and presenting and giving ideas are people who are actually in the field. So it's not theoretical. It is actually practice-based information. Um, a central offering and component of the, of the national transition conversation includes sharing and better understanding the workforce innovation and opportunity act. Um, and the , uh , acronym for that is w I O a and just as a side note , um, the w I O people used to say it like a word, but apparently , um , saying w Iowa as a word, putting it together as the word is , uh , it is offensive to native American populations. So we , we don't pronounce the acronym as a word. We just, we spell out the acronym. W I O a . So I think that's really important for the audience to , to recognize also, and we talk about , um, including that preemployment transition service or that pre ETS service. So part of the national transition conversation is to make sure that we are addressing how best to , um, use and take advantage of that workforce innovation and opportunity act. Cause there's, there's funding tied to that. And of course, including that information about preemployment transition services. So to kind of a brief description of what creates pre ETS is it's basically job exploration counseling, right? Cause this is before you're getting employed. We , we want to provide some information about , um, what jobs are out there, you know, counseling, our transition age, students about that , uh, work-based learning so internships possibly, and , um, counseling about opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or post-secondary education programs at institutions of higher learning. So that's also part of that pre ETS , uh, and workplace readiness training , uh, excuse me, to develop social skills and independent living. So those social skills, those soft skills are something that we feel is, is, is really important , um, to make sure that we are , uh, counseling our students on and helping provide training because so many of those soft skills are dependent on , um, incidental learning that , that we get from being able to see how people react to what we're saying or what we're doing. And if you're blind or have low vision, you may miss those kinds of , um, nonverbal type cues. And so you, we, we have to be very , uh , upfront and very deliberate with how we are addressing , um , those social skills so that those soft skills can be developed and , uh, will then help contribute to successful employment , um , and independence it's throughout their life. And then of course, part of that pre ETS is advocacy skills. So understanding how to explain to your , uh , potential employer that you have a visual impairment or are blind, and here are the types of accommodations that you require in order to be successful in the job that you're being hired to do. Uh, but also if you are losing your vision and explaining to your , uh, to your future employer, that right now you have low vision and that you can see a screen as long as it's enlarged , uh, or what have you, but also that over time, you're going to probably need , uh, additional accommodations to accommodate for the , the, your vision loss as it's progressive. And so being able to explain that to your employer, that's that part of that self-advocacy, that is really important so that you don't get into a job. And then, then you tell your employer, Oh, by the way, I can't see this. And , and then that can cause issues down the line. Uh, so being able to stand behind your , uh, you know , your visual impairment, being able to explain it and being able to explain, even though I have this visual impairment airmen , I'm , I'm just as employable and capable as anyone else, I just need a bigger screen, or I need a screen reader or magnifier those kinds of things. So that falls into that , um, pre ETS. Yeah . So there you go. That's why it's important. Yeah .

Sara:

That's very important. All right. So you're with the connect center, tell us more on what the connect center does to help with the transition.

Olaya L.:

Okay. Well, the connect center, you know , the career connect APH career connect that org site , uh , does provide information for students there who are interested in careers , uh, provides blogs on topics, including how to interview, right? How do you, how do you act in an interview? How do you go dress for an interview , uh , and how , you know, how you get your first job , uh, as well as information on how to succeed in college , uh, in the near future , um, our , uh , Richard [inaudible] , who is our content lead for APH career connect will be publishing video blogs on our website , uh , APH career connect that org. And through these video blogs, students will be able to access 15 to 20 minute videos of short presentations hearing from successful working professionals who are blind or visually impaired at their place of work. Uh , this will offer up some curriculum for teachers , uh , providing career education and career exploration and class activities, as well as for blind and low vision job seekers, who are eager to hear more about how blind people do their job. And so that's really what our APH connect center at right now with a transition focus. That's what we are doing right now to help individuals get that information that they are looking for so that they can be successful when it comes to looking for their job. How do you interview, you know , how do you dress again, kind of going back to those soft skills. Um , and so that's really where we're focusing right now when we're talking about transition.

Sara:

Yeah. And those skills are so important dressing for an interview. How do you, how you carry yourself and hold yourself in an interview important and , you know, so yeah, that'll be really helpful. And where else can, where can people go for more information? So , um ,

Olaya L.:

The National Transition Conversation listserv , um, that of course connects, you know, interested practitioners in the field of transition to rehabilitation and education professionals in the field. So you can subscribe to the national transition conversation listserv . You can email , um, National Transition Conversation , uh, plus like the plus sign, not the word, subscribe at groups dot I O you can also visit , um, the , uh, HTTPS colon, double backslash groups dot I O backslash G backslash national transition conversation. One word , uh , additionally, you can also visit the APH career, connect our website for information on transition and preemployment transition services that pre ETS , uh , and that that's a really good starting point as well. Our connect centers INR line can also be helpful. Um, we have , uh, the phone number for our connect centers , uh, INR line, which is information and referral line. The phone number is +1 800-232-5463. Um, and our ConnectCenter email, if you want to email us with any questions you have, if you , uh , want to email us about, you know , getting the, how to join the national transition conversation listserv , you can email us at connectcenter @aph.org . So that's one way that you can also get some more information about the transition initiatives that we are working on.

Sara:

Thank you so much Elia for joining us. We're glad to have you on the show and we hope to have you on in the future. Great. Thanks .

Olaya L.:

Thank you so much, Sarah. I'm , I'm always happy to be on and , and, you know, let everybody know how

Sara:

And help them. So in this podcast, we set out to answer the question is braille still relevant? And the four experts we spoke to made it very clear that it is the rise of technology. Hasn't signaled the end of print for those with sight . Why would it signal the end of braille for those with visual impairments? That's it for today's episode of Changemakers , be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.