Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Braille Summit: a Parent's Perspective.

About two months ago while browsing on the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (or NLS for short) website I tripped over information about an upcoming Braille Summit that NLS was having at the Perkins School for the Blind.

I read the following statement.
"NLS invites you to participate in the NLS Braille Summit at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19−21, 2013, to help determine the best ways for libraries to promote and support braille literacy. The conference will bring together librarians, braille literacy professionals, braille readers, and other stakeholders"
 I first ignored it didn't say parents. Its not for me. Than went back and read it again.  I AM a stakeholder.  I have an interest in NLS's services.  I am a parent of a braille reader. We are serviced for NLS Braille books out of the Perkins Regional NLS Library.  It was the week the kids finish school.  I checked with my husband Chris and decided I could go. That I should go. I wouldn't be able to afford the hotel room. I would have to drive in to Boston area traffic every single day to get to Perkins but I decided to register.  (Perkins School for the Blind is about an hour and half drive on a good day)

So on June 19th to the 21st of June I drove each day to the Braille Summit. I am going to give a detailed (and make that wordy summery of my experience so I am  concerned I will lose some people who are busy.  So I ask you one thing. If you do anything watch the recording of the of the panel on Braille Literacy and Promotion

So on Wednesday June 19th I dropped Abby off at Track Camp (yes she went to track camp and loved it) got ready and drove to Perkins School in the early afternoon. The summit started after lunch. I was proud I made it on time.  I registered and they handed me name badge and packet that included the final agenda.

The cover of the agenda in big bold letters said:
Ok I did a quick double take when I saw that. All the other titles for the conference said "That All May Read"  This is just something about a just saying the term "The Future of Braille" that makes me light headed. This is serious. A title is just a title but it does set the stage for all things to follow.  

While the primary focus on the summit was on NLS and how to make its braille services better I really think it was much bigger than that.  I realized at time there discussions  that may change the landscape of the braille in the future. I don't mean like the changes with the adoption of UEB.  I mean on a much more larger and hard to express sense.  Truly "The Future of Braille"   I realized pretty quickly there there were people from all over the world from some of the major braille and blindness organizations and companies. I was just a parent. I am pretty certain I was the only "just a parent" there.  I wasn't the only parent of blind child but the only one that was there because of that role.  Everyone seemed to be impressed I was there but I knew I was nothing special. I did what any parents would have done if they were in my situation.  I knew there would have been more parents if it had been promoted to them, if many parents were not dealing with school ending and all that the start of summer does.

There were so many smart and interesting people. The simple fact I was able to be this close to so many interesting people that love braille as much and even more than I do made the trip more than worth it. Many of the people already knew each other very well and while that was interesting it was also awkward at times. At times I felt like I was crashing a class reunion. That wass ok I was there to do a job.  

Day 1. Welcomes, Braille Policy and a Panel of Braille Readers. 
There was many highlights.  I heard things like  braille is on life support.  Braille on demand, how the model of 'perfect braille' needs to be adjusted. How we need to focus on the positive things about braille and how the public view of braille NEEDS to change.
It was also announced that the US Department of Education released a policy letter on braille
OSEP Dear Colleague Letter on Braille, June 19, 2013
download files MS Word (219KB) | PDF (292KB)

You can watch the first day session here (use headphones and volume way up due to some sound issues


Break Out Sessions: At the end of the day we had our first  out of 6 break out sessions. They split the group into 4 smaller groups that were randomly assigned so you were in a new group for each of the 6 breakout sessions.  This was fun, interesting. We were able to share our ideas on what we thought were important with the topic. All idea were accepted and we given 3 tokens and we voted on the group's ideas in any way we wanted to. Meaning you could vote with one of your tokens for an idea or if it was really important you could vote all your tokens for one idea. The hard part was when your tokens were gone you had no more votes It was a neat and successful model.  On the last video on the conference they go over all the results from these break out sessions.  The breakout sesssions were really where most of the 'work' happened.  Two big topics that came up was for NLS to provide braille displays to all patrons (this is nothing more than an idea at this point)  and for NLS to do a Braille is Cool campaign. (again just an idea).

After the first day there was a reception I almost didn't go but decided to stay because the traffic would be really bad to get home and it may be a little better a little later.  I am glad I stayed. There was yummy food, interesting people and they announced the release of the 3rd edition of "World Braille Usage"  A book that I knew nothing about that first was released more than 50 years ago.
More information can be found here  It pretty much describes all the way that braille is used around the world.
World Braille Usage 3rd edition cover
Day 2.
A picture showing some of my traffic adventures The traffic isn't moving at all.
Ok this day I had quite an adventure in traffic and was an hour late so I missed the first panel on Braille Selection.  I made it in time for the first break out session. Whats cool is you can see that panel right now (remember there may be sound issues so make sure your sound is way up and this panel doesn't start till more than 10 minutes into this video.) I found the whole process of selecting which books get released very interesting. I am also a bit of book nerd and this was really interesting to hear the nuts and bolts.  There was an exciting pie in the sky panel on Braille Technology. All the panels had break out sessions that were on those topics.
Video 2 Book Selection

Video 3 Braille Production

Video 4 Braille Technology

Day 3

This was the last day. I made it on time so I was very happy for that. The day started with a WONDERFUL Braille Literacy panel.  There was also the last two break out sessions. As an added bonus there was  a "Show and Share" time were some organizations shared some of their products. I got the chance to thank Perkins Products for my families wonderful visit from Marty the Smart Brailler.  I than participated in the last breakout session and rushed home to pick up Abby from Track Camp.(She had a great week.)  I missed the closing statements and the final report on the breakout sessions. I had to leave early or I would end up in the car for hours. Late afternoon Friday traffic on 93 north is always horrible. What is great is I was able to watch what I missed out on when I got home.

Video 5 Braille Literacy =

Video 6 Final Plenary Roundtable Session


So what did I think? What did I take away?  That I personally need to work harder at promoting braille. That I personally LOVE BRAILLE. This was quite a revolution considering I can't really read it. So I plan to take steps to change that.  I am very passionate about braille literacy.   That we all as a blindness community at large need to work harder at promoting braille and sharing how important it is.  I am excited and concerned over the future of braille all at once. It was a good event.

I am thankful to NLS for keep this event OPEN.  A closed event would have made this event less powerful.  There were many just braille readers who came just because they love braille and wanted to be there.

The whole event was a love letter to braille and it ended on the day the 2013 Braille Challenge final started. How great is that?

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