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2023 Change Makers Transcripts

Episodes 67 to current

  • Narrator: 0:00

    Welcome to Changemakers, a podcast from a p h . We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision. Here’s your host.

    Sara Brown: 0:15

    Hello and welcome to Changemakers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown , and today we’re celebrating Braille History Month by examining its importance and its future. The future of Braille is high tech . We all know that’s coming, and because of that technology, it’s creating partnerships, new braille formats, new outlines and plans for APH’s Holy Braille Highway. We’ll also talk about some of APH’s products that help facilitate the learning of braille. And after that, we’re gonna take a look back at APH’s first ever Abacus Bee. Up first we’re gonna talk to National Federation of the Blind, President Mark Riccobono. Hello, President Riccobono, and welcome to Change Makers.

    President Riccobono: 1:00

    Thank you very much for having me.

    Sara Brown: 1:03

    So, World Braille Day was not too long ago. Can you talk about what NFB did to mark the occasion?

    President Riccobono: 1:11

    Well, you know, the National Federation of the Blind , uh, works on braille every day of the year. And so , um, in some ways, World Braille Day is , uh, a moment in time for us to help , um, push Braille awareness out into the public in new and dynamic ways. Um, the main thing , uh, that we did this year , uh, was to , uh, relaunch our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academies. This is a , a program that , uh, we help to operate at from the national level , um, through our affiliates having in-person braille training programs for , uh, youth four to 12 years of age , um, at , at the local level in in-person gatherings, but also because of the innovations we , um, created through covid . We’ve added , uh, and maintained what we call Bell Academy in-Home Edition . So this is a three week virtual braille training , uh, for young people , um, that we would’ve never really, I think , uh, fully explored, but for Covid when we had to flip everything to virtual. And we’ve really come up with some successful models for , uh, both sending , uh, engaging hands-on braille related materials to youth, engaging them in , uh, virtual teaching sessions through Zoom, and then having them connect with blind mentors and supporting the families in that. So , uh, that program is something that , um, we typically , uh, launch for the year on World Braille Day. We also , um, yeah , had a little fun with World Braille Day. We released a video with , um, the director of the National Library Service for the Blind, and I , um, writing on NFB’s. Braille Wall here at our building. That was kind of fun. And , um, we have some other interesting braille things that are coming up this year that we can’t yet talk about.

    Sara Brown: 3:29

    Okay. Well, I can’t wait to hear about those in the future. . Okay . So World Braille, world Braille Day, we all know it’s importance, but can you talk a little bit bigger as to why it’s important that we celebrate and share this information with the world about World Braille Day?

    President Riccobono: 3:48

    Well, you know , um, as blind people , uh, we know that braille is , uh, a powerful tool that provides us with , um, the kind of meaningful knowledge that sighted people get from print. It’s not a different language. It’s not something , uh, completely outside of the normal realm of literacy. It’s simply an alternate way of , um, conveying the world’s knowledge from print. But that’s not how most of the world understands braille. And so, World Braille Day really helps to , uh, give us a powerful platform for talking about what braille really is, and not the misconceptions that continue to , um, bounce around the public about it. Uh, so what braille really is the difference that it makes and , um, how people can get involved in helping to advance braille literacy for children and adults. So it’s an important vehicle for us. Um , last year during World Braille Day, the National Federation of the Blind , um, uh, I guess it was actually during braille month last year, but, so this is the first time during World Braille Day that we’ve been promoting, which is , uh, a domain dedicated to World Braille Day that , um, we operate. And we’re always looking for interesting ideas about how to elevate that , um, web domain, especially on World Braille Day to bring attention to braille, the great things that people are doing with Braille, but also how cited individuals can get involved in the ecosystem of producing braille, proofreading braille , uh, distributing braille , um, helping to create educational efforts, getting books to kids, and any number of things, becoming teachers in the field. We know there’s a great shortage. So , um, we see World Braille Day as really an opportunity to , um, let as many people as possible know that there are these amazing opportunities to get involved with Braille, and we need more people to be involved with braille.

    Sara Brown: 6:20

    And one more question about World Braille Day. Is there anything else you would like to say about World Braille Day?

    President Riccobono: 6:28

    You know, I think the, the thing that , uh, I would say , um, for everybody listening is , uh, there’s an important opportunity that we all have to use World Braille Day , uh, in the future. Um, I think sometimes , uh, as blind people, we think it’s a , it’s a nice day to remember , uh, Louis Braille contribution and to celebrate braille, but there’s such an opportunity for all of us to come together to amplify the message about braille on this particular day as a tool to , um, really advance so much of the access we still need to gain in society. So World Braille Day is a great tool and conversation point for us to talk about ‘why don’t we have a law that very clearly and explicitly says websites and mobile applications must be accessible to blind people?’ That’s just one example, right, of ways that we can advance our participation in society. So I guess I would use this as a call to action that , uh, none of us should just let these days pass, as another nice opportunity to , uh, tip our hat to braille. These are important advocacy moments to tell the story of how, in this case, braille has empowered independence, but also to talk about what we still need to do to gain equality in society.

    Sara Brown: 8:06

    Now we’re gonna pivot a bit and talk about the DTD. It is now known as the Monarch. We’ve talked about the DTD in the past. The official name is the Monarch. So we’re gonna talk about the Monarch and the importance of partnerships. It’s a really exciting time for us because NFB, HumanWare and APH have partnered together on the Monarch. Can you talk about the importance of partnerships on this project and the, the importance of partnerships overall?

    President Riccobono: 8:38

    Well, you know , um, we recognize in the National Federation of the Blind that we are stronger by working together. That’s really the basis of the organized blind movement is recognizing that , uh, as one blind person I can can do so much, but working with two or three or 10 or a hundred or a thousand other blind people, we can bring that to scale in a meaningful way. And that’s what we’ve done since 1940 in the Organized Blind Movement. But we also recognize that there are other dimensions where we can expand on that further. And the , um, partnership with the American Printing House for the Blind and HumanWare to pursue , uh, the Monarch is really a great example of bringing together , um, different organizations with different skill sets , different authentic competencies, combining those efforts into , um, a , a unified project that’s gonna make a , a , a big deal, a big, big deal to , uh, education of blind children , uh, to employment. So many other , uh, facets of blind people competing in advanced sciences. None of us as organizations could have pursued this by ourselves , uh, because we need that diversity of expertise and the technical expertise, the user expertise , um, and , uh, the relationships that, that we each bring to the table. So it’s really about synergy and bringing things to scale. And this project really requires that, because it’s not the first time that this effort has been pursued in the field, right? I mean, the idea of , uh, a dynamic tactile display that gives you both braille and graphics in real time , not a new idea, been talked about for a long time, been dreamed about for a long time by blind people. Um, this combination of partners, though, I think has the right , um, mix of , uh, talent expertise and certainly dogged determination to get it done. And that’s why I’m just really excited about 2023 and the possibilities , uh, that this device is going to help launch.

    Sara Brown: 11:15

    Okay. And another important aspect of that is of partnerships and coming together for this Monarch, is focus groups, and NFB is hosted focus groups for the Monarch. And you all did some at your national convention last year. Can you talk about those focus groups and some of the feedback you heard and how that helps shape the final product?

    President Riccobono: 11:39

    So , you know, as an organization, we have a number of , um, individuals, whether they be , uh, employees of ours or leaders, and some of ’em are technical divisions who , um, can provide great perspective as blind people working in very technical areas. The true advantage that we bring as a movement of blind people is to , uh, boil that down more to a common denominator. So we can put our very technical folks in the room, but also with everyday users who , uh, they don’t really have any interest in caring , uh, why the technology works. They just can tell you when it works and when it doesn’t, and and, and what’s meaningful , uh, to their fingers and their brains. Um, we can put , uh, kids in the room who are, who are still learning tactile fluency. We can put , uh, adults in the room who never had access to tactile graphics. And so they can share their authentic feedback about why something does or doesn’t make sense. And that’s where , um, you know, the power of these focus groups , um, really comes into play because we have worked with APH to identify , um, who, who do we want to sit at the table and , um, give that honest feedback. And that is , um, one of the, the values that Federation members always bring is that we wanna raise expectations in society. So , um, we, we wanna give APH and HumanWare the honest truth about , um, whether it works, whether it doesn’t work, and that’s what we need to do for each other to make this even bigger and better. And , um, my hat goes off really to , to APH and HumanWare we’re being truly open and authentically pursuing that honest , uh, feedback from users. So that’s one of the most important , um, things we do at our national convention is get , uh, people around the table and, and kick the tires on, on new ideas like the DTDT.

    Sara Brown: 14:00

    And just really quick talk about why it’s important for the Blind People’s Movement to be a part of this groundbreaking project?

    President Riccobono: 14:08

    Well, you first is that authentic piece, right? I mean, for this product to be as good as it can be, really for us to be able to give it those wings that the Monarch needs , uh, it has to be based on , um, the real feedback from blind people, not what someone perceives blind people need, not what , uh, someone dreams up that might benefit blind people. It has to be very tightly rooted in a diversity of blind people. And that’s number one. Number two is that it’s one thing to, to , to develop a product. But this partnership is more than developing a product we’re , uh, pursuing to change the landscape of, of , um, braille education, tactile fluency, access to content in a digital way that, that we’ve never had before, is blind people. Um, and the Movement of Blind People will help us do that because it will challenge all of us to dream big , uh, to not place limits from the beginning on where we can go with this device and these efforts. Now, in reality, right, there’s always gonna be , uh, some , uh, roadblocks we’re going to get to, or technical challenges that in 2023 we can’t solve. But maybe in 2030 we can’t. But if we start with the prospect that it’s not possible, then we won’t get anywhere. The Organized Blind Movement through the National Federation of the Blind sets the idea that everything is possible until we figure out that it’s not. And , um, that’s what we have done , um, since 1940. Uh, and I have, you know, very personal experience with this. I , uh, was in the middle of a project that we , uh, had about a decade ago to build a car that a blind person could drive. And most people said, well, you just, we can give you an autonomous vehicle that can drive you around. And we said, ‘why? Until we tested, until we know whether we can actually build a car that a blind person can drive. We don’t know if we’ve, if the limit is a blind person needs to be driven around.’ And in fact, we showed that we could build inner , uh, dynamic interfaces, tactile interfaces that a blind person could use to navigate a car on , uh, a dynamic track, even with moving obstacles , um, with training, with that technology. And , um, that experience really was transformative to me to really understand that a project like the Monarch. If we start with deciding that there are limits on where we can go, we’re not gonna get as far as we need to. And that’s where the Organized Blind Movement, I think , um, pushes everybody involved in this project. Further.

    Sara Brown: 17:29

    Give me your thoughts that you would like to share on the Monarch. What are your hopes for this product and its impact on your members?

    President Riccobono: 17:39

    Well , um, we know that , um, in 2023 , um, information is presented in many dynamic ways. And we know that in order for blind people to continue to fully participate in society, we need to figure out new ways to expand the spatial understanding of blind people. And to allow blind people to explore , uh, information that has been assumed to be visual in a way that is authentic to tactile exploration. That’s something that we really have only scratched the surface of, because we’ve never had good access to dynamic, changeable adjustable graphics for blind people. So when I think about this product, I think, ‘wow, we don’t know what the possibilities are. We’re going to have to, to some extent, learn by observing how blind people use it. What happens in the process of learning to look at images, to zoom into images, to, to scan different parts of images? How will that inform how we teach the next generation to , um, learn the techniques to, to scan and understand images quickly?’ Um, uh, from my perspective, as, you know, someone that’s 46-years-old , um, I’m sure I’ll be able to do certain things, but someone that has little prior experience that’s gonna grow up with this device, they’ll be able to do things that, I mean, quite honestly, I could only begin to speculate about. I think that’s the exciting thing. We need to keep our minds open to where we can go with this, and then how we can best teach people to use this tool to build their own spatial understanding and then go where their mind and their intuition takes them.

    Sara Brown: 20:05

    All right . And one final question for you. Is there anything else you would like to say about the Monarch or partnerships or anything else you would like to talk about?

    President Riccobono: 20:17

    Well, when we talk about The Monarch and we talk about partnerships , um, I want everybody to recognize that while APH and HumanWare with the support of the National Federation of the Blind, have , uh, linked arms to partner on this project, it’s everybody’s project. It’s gonna be successful. Because as many people as possible jump in, put their shoulder to the wheel , uh, put their , uh, hands on the device and test it and give feedback , uh, share their stories about the importance of braille literacy and the lack of access that we’ve had to meaningful graphics and text and adjustable graphics in the past. The detriment that that has had on our education, the difference that it can make in the future. Everybody has a role to play in that ecosystem, telling that story and bringing this into reality. So , um, you know, I think I would use this as a call to action for everyone to say , uh, the Monarch is not somebody else’s project. It’s your project. We need you to get involved. We need you to be part of the team. Even if it’s just speculating about, ‘I wish that I, that this device could help me do this.’ Um, or if it’s, you know, talking to people about it, talking to legislators, talking to , uh, maybe your uncle is a, is a big time Silicon Valley , uh, tycoon , who has lots of money, they’re looking to dump into some meaningful project, whatever it is, everybody can have a role. And the thing that I would really be disappointed about is if people said, ‘oh, APH, HumanWear, NFB, they got this, that’s cool. We’re gonna do something else.’ It’s not gonna work unless everybody is on board with helping to make the Monarch really grow wings and go to great places for us. So , um, that’s our goal. That’s certainly my goal with this project, is to use it as an opportunity for the community to get engaged in these conversations. So track the project, get involved, share your ideas, share your stories, use it as a way to , um, help all of us push the boundaries of tactile fluency, independence for blind people.

    Sara Brown: 23:05

    Very well said. And you know, I was thinking about that. You said , uh, grow spread its wings. And I was thinking in flyaway, just like the Monarch, you know what I’m saying ? . There we go. See what I Did there, . That’s right. Absolutely. And we need, we need everybody. Absolutely . We need everybody’s support, especially for this, so that’s so true. Very well said. Yeah . President Riccobono, thank you so much for coming on today and talking to me on Change Makers.

    President Riccobono: 23:26

    Thank you for having me. And , uh, I look forward to continuing to make change , uh, for blind people in society. Together

    Sara Brown: 23:42

    With the creation of the Monarch proper infrastructure and support has to be put in place, and that includes the creation of the eBRF and a Holy Braille Highway. Up next, we have APH’s, Vice President, Chief Officer, Innovation and Strategy, Anne Durham and Head of Global Innovation, Greg Stilson here to talk about the creation of that eBRF and what that’s entailed, as well as the construction of the Holy Braille Highway. Hello, Anne and Greg, and welcome to Change Makers. First off, can you give a an overview as to what the Monarch is?

    Anne Durham: 24:24

    Uh , well, I’ll let Greg talk about the technology part of it, but , um, you know, I’ll say the DTD has been the working name for the project, and, you know, going forward into 2023, it will be known as the Monarch, which is our , um, our marketable name for the, for the , uh, product. And, you know, we call it the Monarch because really , um, you know, we’re looking at , um, something here that is about the metamorphosis or the transformation of braille and tactile graphics, if you will. And, you know, before that, everyone would call it, say the holy grail of, of brail , uh, something that everybody has, has wanted to see for a long time, which is braille and multiline braille and tactile graphics on the same surface. Uh, it’s been a dream for decades, and it’s about to become a reality. So, and when it does become a reality, it changes the game entirely, I think game changer , right? Uh, Greg, that’s the name, that’s a word we hear a lot when we are able to demonstrate the prototype to people , um, it will be a game changer . So, so I’ll let , I’ll let Greg talk a little bit more about the specifications, because that’s his side of this

    Greg Stilson: 25:28

    . So the, the, the DTD stood, it doesn’t stand for it anymore, but it stood for Dynamic Tactile Device. And they don’t let me name products for obvious reasons. And so that’s why Anne and I are great partners here is , uh, um, but the, the concept of what we called the Dynamic Tactile Device was exactly that. We, the goal is to produce , uh, multi-line braille , uh, standard braille and tactile graphics on the same surface. And this really all came about the number one goal of this product is to basically change the way that textbooks or, or content in general is received by students. Um, today, there’s a huge gap and delay between the time that a , a textbook is ordered and a textbook is delivered. And, and I think myself as a blind person and many blind people listening to this, can, can probably relate to a little bit of PTSD from this whole textbook scenario. Mm -hmm . , um, you know, in this case, this is a product that will be , um, you know, revolutionary in being able to deliver textbooks , um, in a much shorter period of time. Um, but also not just for textbook, but for tactile graphics, for impromptu learning, being able to utilize this tool for , um, really the, the, the delivery of this electronic content that really has never been able to be received in an electronic format before. So a little bit about the specifications, and then I’ll, I’ll turn it back over to Sara to , uh, for the subsequent questions here. Um, but it, it does consist of 10 lines of 32 cells of standard braille, but the pins are equidistant apart, meaning that we can, in order to produce , um, multiple lines of braille, of standard braille, we don’t use all of the available pins. We , uh, use an algorithm to appropriately space them so that it looks like standard braille. Um , but when we need to, we can utilize all the pins to create , um, equidistance based tactile graphics. Um, and the really cool part, and the part that is, is such a game changer with this , is that we can put braille and graphics on the same surface, which is just something that’s never been, been able to be done before.

    Sara Brown: 27:42

    Talk about the importance of the eBRF with DAISY Consortium.

    Greg Stilson: 27:47

    This, this is , um, you know, we talk about the technology , uh, and, and I know we’ll get into kind of this, this , um, holy Braille highway in a , in a second, but this is, if you wanna say the , uh, the asphalt that makes up the Holy Braille highway, if you will . So the other thing, as we, as we learned all these hard lessons , um, from those who, who came before us , um, you know, what we realized is that that concept of, of building for tech, tech for tech’s sake doesn’t work and ensuring that something that changes the game so heavily , um, we’re no longer dealing with the constraints of an 11 and a half by 11 sheet of paper, right? Or an eight and a half , or eight and a half by 11 sheet of paper, which is the world that we were living in. It’s the, the world that the BRF was created to, to, to produce. And William Freeman , um, who’s our Tactile Technology Product Manager here, I have to give so much credit for, because he is, he is the author of the original eBRF White Paper that we produced. Um, he’s the, the, i , it’s his brainchild, right? I, I, I always joke that, that I get, I get to come on these podcasts and things like that, but , it’s , um, it’s, it’s William , uh, ensuring that, that this is on track and moving forward, that, that makes the eBRF actually drive forward. And so we started this initiative to create a marked up navigable , uh, braille file that is used strictly for digital access , um, but can be actually embossed by an embosser if you need to. Um, but the goal being is that you get all the benefits of , um, of, of an epub or a DAISY file or things like that, but you don’t sacrifice the integrity of braille. You don’t sacrifice the formatting, the spacing, all those things that, that make braille what it is . Um, so once again, we knew we couldn’t do this alone. APH has not been at the forefront of creating these type of standards before, nor do I think we want to, we don’t want to own this in any way, shape, or form. And so , um, we partnered with an organization who has done this before, a organization who knows all the players in the spaces and can connect everybody. And that’s the DAISY Consortium. They did this for the audio book , um, concept, right? They, they created the DAISY file , um, which has been incredibly successful for so long. Um, and , uh, and we’re gonna be working with them going forward into 2023 to actually finalize this , uh, official eBRF standard. And , um, I just wanna be clear, this doesn’t remove the transcriber from the equation far from it, the transcriber is actually gonna be more important than ever before. Um , in this case, our, our goal is to , um, expedite the time to fingertips from the time that the, let’s say a book is ordered from the publisher to the time that it’s actually delivered to somebody’s DTD or Monarch. It’s gonna take me a minute to get used to that , um, wirelessly. So this, this device will be wirelessly enabled. Um, our, our dream is to be able to take an eBRF that’s fully transcribed by a transcriber, hit an upload button, and the student or teacher would get a notification on their device and in their email that says, ‘Hey, your book has been delivered to device X X X xx .’ Um, and at that point, the student will have access to, if not the whole book, at least a portion of that book , um, and be able to actually navigate that. So this partnership is going forward , um, and like I said, it’s gonna be a big piece of 2023. Uh , we’re hoping to have some, some actual navigable eBRF’s , uh, moving into the early part of 2024.

    Anne Durham: 31:36

    Yeah, it’s, it’s really , um, I have to say, one of the things I’m most proud of and, and almost just, I mean , disbelief and shock that it’s, it’s done. Um, you know, when you have this many people in the field and everybody has good intentions, right? But everybody has a different idea about how to get something done. And so it takes a while sometimes, but if you think in less than two years, you know, more than 30 organizations have come together during a pandemic to not only figure out how we should do this standard, but agree to it, that’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing. But it shows you just how hungry everybody is for this change. And, and this is an important part of, like what Greg said, building this highway that you drive the car on. You know, you can’t just have the tech, you have to have the highway to put it on. And that’s, you know, like he said, a really critical part. The asphalt , I’ll have to remember that.

    Greg Stilson: 32:25

    The asphalt of the highway. Yeah. The , the , you know, we, we could, and this is not saying that we can’t take a BRF and throw it on this device. We could, but you’re going to suffer with the same challenges that you suffer with today with physical books, right? The only way you can, you know, you don’t have the ability to turn pages on this device, so actually you , you probably would be in worse shape. The , the best thing you can do for navigation with a B with a BRF file is just do a find command for a specific, you know, word or phrase or whatever. Um, but with the eBRF, you’re gonna be able to jump by chapter, jump by section. Most importantly, it’s going to link tactile graphics with the actual textbook, which is gonna be a game changer as well. Now, you’re not gonna have to have a separate volume of just tactile graphics that you gotta line up with your, you know, your, your exercises and things like that, that you’re doing in the book . So , um, as Anne said, there was 30, 30 plus organizations. And I will say that it is, it is incredibly impressive to read who is all involved. You’re , you’re talking Oh , yeah , everywhere, everyone from consumer organizations to , uh, international organizations for the blind, to mainstream publishers , um, yeah , to the, to the pri you know, primary, main , main tech companies , uh, that are on there as well. So , um, we’re just beaming with pride, with, with the excitement that has come from this. Um, and quite honestly, when we look at the, the , the final, let’s just say, let’s fast forward three years down the road, right? I think the tech is gonna be incredibly impressive, but what’s going to live on way beyond the tech is gonna be the standard of eBRF.

    Anne Durham: 34:03

    Yeah , for sure.

    Sara Brown: 34:06

    Now, I wanna go back, you all talked about what the highway, the Holy Braille Highway, what it needs and how big it’s getting. But let’s talk about the beginnings. How, how was it built? How , how did it start out? What was it that I guess, sort of planted that seed to get this Holy Braille Highway going? Because there’s always, the beginnings are always interesting to hear.

    Anne Durham: 34:29

    Uh , I think , good question, . Well , no, I think it , it goes back to, you know, again, the, the Graphiti project, which, you know, when I came to APH in 2017 was already in full swing and, and prototyping stages at that point. And , um, and it was, you know, a phenomenal device. I , I’ll just say, you know, it was one of the first times that we were able to see tactile images displayed that way. Um, but there was no highway, no plans for a highway. And, you know, what we learned through field testing and what I was able to observe myself when we would show it to teachers is like, ‘this is cool, but I, I don’t feel like I have the technical expertise to handle it. I really don’t know how to use it in my classroom. I don’t know what to do with it.’ You know? And, you know, it’s like Greg said, you have a great looking piece of technology , um, but it just becomes almost just like a fancy showpiece at that point if no one knows how to use it , um, or how, how, what the applications could be. And if they don’t have the support for that, what’s the point? What’s the point? So I think, you know, that was a very, very early lesson there. And then, then when you add a multiline braille to the equation along with those graphics, that’s a whole other level, you know? And, you know, again, hats off to the companies, you know, like Canute that have , uh, you know, Bristol Braille and Canute that have tried this before. But we’ve also learned that, you know, those books without markup, without being able to go to the chapter you want or the section you want , or find the page number you want, it’s , it’s pretty tedious , uh, for braille readers. So we knew that that was going to have to change as well. So when you start looking at all of those pieces, and, and of course the funding of a device like this with so many braille cells and those cells not being cheap. Um, they’re expensive devices, having to find the funding and , and to build the advocacy support for the funding, that’s a really critical piece of, of that highway too . Um, you know, this, this all together is, it’s not, again, like Greg said, it’s not a piece of just a piece of technology. It’s all of the things that surround that technology that make it possible. And, you know, one way to kind of think of it is like the first time we saw an iPhone, right? Um, it was different than anything we’d had before. It was different than any cell phone we’d used before. Having apps on a phone was different, you know, if we hadn’t already sort of been groomed into that with the iPod, we might have been really terribly confused, right? Um, but, but being able to be sort of ready for that experience and understand how to use that a little bit, having our phones from before, understanding that all of these things might be able to happen on a phone. We were a little, we were stepped into that experience. And then, you know, the , the brilliant thing to open up all of those apps to everybody else so that you had all of these different things to try , um, it, it’s going to be like that. You know, if we don’t step everybody into this, provide everybody with the, the support that they need to learn and to use it, we’ve, we just have a fancy showpiece, you know? That’s it.

    Greg Stilson: 37:26

    Yeah. And just to , to mention, I think there’s, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot to be said about timing. Um, you can have a fantastic idea, and as, as you mentioned, Anne not having been stepped through it, right? The world may not be ready for it at that’s right this stage. And what we learned, especially with the Graphiti, is, and, and it’s not, it , it’s gonna sound very , um, you know, plain information, right? It’s gonna , it’s , if you , if you create a tactical graphic for a blind person and you give them no context, no labels, no mm-hmm . , you know, prior information, very few people are gonna know what they’re looking at and mm-hmm . . So as we were looking, right, like the common sense thing here is tactile graphics today, many of them all have labels, right? Like, so not being able to put labels on a tactile graphic really limits what somebody can understand and what they can do glean from this. So , um, you know, that was sort of our initial idea was like, ‘we need something to give context and audio is fine, but what if you have somebody who’s hard of hearing or deafblind, right?’ Like, so you , you , right , you encounter those type of, of challenges as well. So really our, our definition point was like, okay, we need standard braille on these graphics in order to make something useful. That was, that was overwhelmingly what the teachers told us. And like I said, it’s pretty common sense, but, but you need to see it firsthand sometimes to, to get that information. So once we learned like, okay, we have to put standard braille and a tactile graphic on the same surface, once we said, okay, this is what we have to do, then all these other ideas started coming up. These multiline eTextbook reader and a , uh, a document creator that allows you to , to create spatial content and a graphing calculator and all the things that we’re gonna see on this device, all started popping up and saying, we can make a tool that is really useful in not just reading textbooks, but literally every class that a student’s gonna go through. And so , um, you know, we always say the stars and planets have to align for this to be a success , um, with all of the partners in play and all of the publishers and all the mm-hmm . technology and company supply chain , everything, right .

    Anne Durham: 39:44

    Funding All of that.

    Greg Stilson: 39:45

    Absolutely. Yep . So, but knock on wood, so far,

    Anne Durham: 39:51

    Big believers, ,

    Greg Stilson: 39:52

    They’re big believers, right? And we need you all to believers , believers. This is, this is something that has been a long time coming.

    Anne Durham: 39:59

    Yes. You know, and I wanna say too, that, you know, one of our challenges is running up against the same reason why we’re doing this in the first place. And you think about what a huge leap this is going to be for users who have been starved for braille, and especially starved for tactile graphics. You know, when, you know, we hear from a teacher who says to us, typically, a teacher will only teach 50 graphics, 50 tactile graphics to students in a year, and you’re gonna give them a device where they’re gonna have access to tens of thousands in a year. This changes how I teach this changes how they learn, this changes everything. So just that one little example shows you that, you know, this, you know, not kidding when we say game changer and it changes the way everyone has been used to doing everything, but all for a good reason. You know,

    Sara Brown: 40:50

    Anne and Greg, thank you both so much for joining me today on Change Makers.

    Anne Durham: 40:55

    Thank you, Sara. And anyone who wants to stay in the loop can email us at and , uh, and we’ll keep you posted on what’s going on as well.

    Greg Stilson: 41:05

    Yep . And in addition, we also have a mailing list that you can join as well on FreeList .org . Um, that is a DTD mailing list that hopefully we’ll be actually changing the name to Monarch. So yes. Uh , but yeah , uh, you can join that for updates , um, on, on both the , the tech project and the eBRF project as well.

    Sara Brown: 41:26

    Great. Thank you both so much.

    Anne Durham: 41:28

    Thanks a lot . Thank

    Greg Stilson: 41:29

    You , Sara.

    Sara Brown: 41:36

    In continuation with this braille conversation, I’m gonna send it over to Paul, who’s talking to an APH product manager to spotlight a few APH products that help encourage braille literacy.

    Paul Ferrara: 41:49

    Thanks, Sara. I am happy to be on the podcast today and interview one of our two bra literacy product managers. This is Sarah Bradley. Sarah, welcome to the podcast.

    Sarah Bradley: 42:01

    Hi. Thank you, Paul. It’s nice to be here. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? Sure. I am , uh, new to a p h . I came in at the beginning of September. Um, prior to that I was at TVI , um, in Tennessee. I worked as an itinerant for a while, and I was also at the Tennessee School for the Blind for several years as well. Um, teaching primary technology as well as braille , um, to grades pre-K through , um, my oldest was 21,

    Paul Ferrara: 42:31

    So quite a range there.

    Sarah Bradley: 42:33

    Yeah, I’ve kind of taught it all.

    Paul Ferrara: 42:36

    So we’re obviously talking a whole lot about braille in this podcast. So why is Braille so important to you?

    Sarah Bradley: 42:43

    I saw a need for it. I saw students that were struggling , um, maybe dual media learners or learners that were struggling with the low vision and we were transitioning into braille. Um, and that became a passion of mine. Um, as you learn the code, you wanna learn more , um, and then you learn the nemeth and the chemistry and music braille and Spanish Braille, they’re all different codes. And so it became something I loved and something that I did in and out and learn to transcribe my own materials. Um, because I saw the need for students to be able to access things with just like their peers. Um, reading aloud by an aide is not the same as being able to touch and feel the words to be able to , um, encounter the stories and, and be there, right with your peers doing the same things. And that was really important for my students to be able to access and to be , um, equal with their peers.

    Paul Ferrara: 43:39

    So did you notice tangible things? Did you notice things that, that , did they make comments about it? Or how did it improve their situations? Having the braille?

    Sarah Bradley: 43:48

    Uh, excitement that they could do it, that they were getting involved. I also saw excitement with the other kids wanting to , um, engage more because they, they felt less intimidated if an aide was sitting next to them reading. Um, if the student was just reading a book on their own with their hands, they wanted to know more about it. Um, and just the excitement of getting to be able to do it. Um, a student giving a speech on their own, being able to read their speech. Um, I have a , a particular student who is a high school junior now, and she was an AP student honor student, and she was able to go do debates and speak to lawyers and judges and, and things like that all on her own , um, without needing any assistance in , into her. She was just kept saying, ‘I’m independent now, I can do it on my own.’ And that was a big deal. Um, because prior to that, she had dependent on , uh, on others.

    Paul Ferrara: 44:40

    Those are really great stories. Love hearing those stories. As someone who started with braille at the age of four , I understand a lot of that myself. So it’s , it’s great to hear that that’s still the case and people still feel that way. Now, I mentioned that there are two of you who are product managers for Braille products. So can you talk to us about the products that you manage in particular?

    Sarah Bradley: 45:00

    So I manage more of the tools that we use for Braille, the Light Touch Perkins Brailer , uh, the Smart Brailer , um, Slate and Stylus that we use , uh, for taking notes. Um, there’s different models of that, and so I have those as well. Um, as well as the Bana code books that transcribers or , uh, teachers use to , um, know the rules of the code and to be able to transcribe things appropriately. Um, we’re in the middle of updating the chemistry , um, code right now with Bana and then as well like the , um, classroom calendar kit, which allows students to participate in calendar time in Braille, in English and in Spanish , um, and things like that where kids are able to , um, utilize tools in the classroom , um, as well as that home.

    Paul Ferrara: 45:48

    Talk to us a little bit more about the Light Touch Brailer. It’s a product I’m not as familiar with, but have wanted to kind of get an understanding of how it works. Can you talk a little bit about that one?

    Sarah Bradley: 45:57

    It’s built , uh, primarily like the Perkins Brailer that the traditional brailer that you’re used to , um, it just has a lighter touch to it, a lighter feel. Um, you don’t have to pr apply as much pressure, which is good if you are a small child who is struggling with pressing those fingers down individually or a , a person with some dexterity issues. I had students with multiple disabilities or , um, some other , um, Cerebral Palsy and things like that where your hands aren’t able to have this much mobility, so you have to pre , uh, apply a little less pressure, which is nice. It’s a slightly lighter. It’s also a , a fun bright blue color , which kids like , um, so it’s, but it’s built exactly like your Perkins Brailer in , into the field and touching it is very similar.

    Paul Ferrara: 46:42

    So would you say then that most of these products are for people that are helping others to learn braille?

    Sarah Bradley: 46:49

    Yes. And then , uh, as well as to use , uh, like the Perkin Brailer as well as the , um, the Slate and Stylus, those are devices that to students use to create their own braille to be able to write , um, take notes in class , um, shopping lists , um, homework assignments , um, note cards for speeches, things like that. So they’re also devices for students to be able to , um, be independent with braille themselves and write the code.

    Paul Ferrara: 47:16

    These are all really, really helpful and useful things. One of the thing that comes up though, a lot of people seem to struggle trying to learn braille later in life, either as an adolescent or an adult. So do you have any , which of those products do you think would be most helpful for, for those folks?

    Sarah Bradley: 47:34

    I feel like the Perkins Light Touch Brailer does , uh, allow you to give to the feel of the braille itself , um, to be able to write it and feel it as you go. Um, and as well as if you are able, if you’re still a sighted user, you can also use the , um, Slate and Stylus. It allows for quick and easy to be able to write. It just takes a little more , um, a little more practice as you are writing it backward , , um, in my brain it takes a a minute to be able to twist it around. Um, but as an older user, I feel like, or as someone, as an adult who I learned brail as an adult , um, I enjoyed using the Light Touch Brailer because I was able to write it and read it at the same time , um, to be able to confirm that I was doing it correctly.

    Paul Ferrara: 48:18

    All right . And is there anything else that you’d like to say about the topic, either any other products you wanna talk about or just anything else you wanna say about Braille and its importance?

    Sarah Bradley: 48:27

    I feel like braille is just so important and I am the huge advocate for learning it as early as possible, but I feel like it’s also never too late. I’ve had students learn it in middle school, high school , um, and become quite successful. Um, and I also encourage, like parents to learn the braille as well, to be able to write notes and Christmas cards and , and be able to , um, engage with your student with a braille because I don’t, I don’t want them to feel isolated. I don’t want them to feel different. I just want them to feel like included. Um, it’s a , it’s a pretty neat code. It’s something interesting to learn in the state of Tennessee. You are required to learn about Helen Keller and learn a little bit about braille. So I like , I love going into classrooms in second grade and talking about braille , um, so that everyone has exposure to it. Um, not just the dots on the elevator.

    Paul Ferrara: 49:17

    That’s a really good story about, you know, having other students learn braille. I actually had one do that in high school and , uh, you know, I’m not used to people pass notes around in class and that sort of thing, and you can’t do that as a braille user. Not, not very useful .

    Sarah Bradley: 49:32

    But I’ve had , yeah, I’ve had several that learn , had their friends learn it with the Slate and Stylus and pass notes, and I never, never got them in trouble because I felt like that’s just a normal kid thing to do. Pass those notes, and it’s great. It’s a great way to engage with your peers.

    Paul Ferrara: 49:47

    I would find notes on my desk at certain points and, and it was just funny to have that happen and to know that that was a message that, you know, he and I knew what it was and nobody else knew what was new thing said. It was just a kind of a, a neat thing. It it , it made a friendship grow. It really did. So

    Sarah Bradley: 50:04

    It’s, it’s a lot, it means a lot to , um, to have that engagement. I think.

    Paul Ferrara: 50:10

    I appreciate the time. I’m glad we got the chance to stand and talk about some of these products. And , uh, thank you for joining us on the podcast today.

    Sarah Bradley: 50:18

    Thank you so much, Paula . I appreciate it.

    Paul Ferrara: 50:22

    What we’re going to do here is we’re gonna include some links to some of these products that Sara had mentioned today. So if you wanna know more about those, you can check those links out or just go to and get more information about all the products we offer. And , uh, now back to you Sara.

    Sara Brown: 50:43

    Thanks so much, Paul. Now we’re gonna revisit the APH Abacus Bee. Held back in December. Students aged five through 21 traveled from Florida in Washington State to test their mathematical skills using the Abacus. We have APH’s Director of Outreach services, Leanne Grillot here to talk about the event and what to expect in the future. Hello Leanne and welcome to Change Makers.

    Leanne Grillot: 51:11

    Hello, I am so happy to be here. Today

    Sara Brown: 51:14

    We’re talking about the Abacus Bee that was just a few weeks ago. Talk about the event overall, and this was the first of its kind for us.

    Leanne Grillot: 51:25

    It was, so the Abacus Bee was a little tiny brainchild of mine to try to encourage students at an early age being involved in mathematics. And so , uh, similar and based on the thought of how Braille challenge has encouraged people to learn braille, I wanted that same feeling for mathematics and utilizing a tool, the abacus, which actually is utilized across the world, but in our students’ hands, it gives ’em that hands-on way to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and do more. So we started with preliminary rounds in the early months of fall. So as schools , right , getting back, we were asking , uh, different entities to host their own regional Abacus Bee. And then those winners from those events came to APH for the very first Abacus Bee finals in December.

    Sara Brown: 52:23

    Talk about the importance of learning how to use an abacus for a student who is blind or low vision?

    Leanne Grillot: 52:31

    So an Abacus that’s built specifically for students who are blind or low vision would be the, the Cranmer Abacus, which kind of has this felt backing behind it so that the beads while they still move, are stiffer and will stay in place when fingers are touching or reading the beads. So that, that is why an abacus is so useful. Now, an abacus is useful for any person to use. It is, people like to talk about it as a calculator. It’s not a calculator unless you know how to use it and use it appropriately. You still are doing math, but it allows you to compute quickly. And in fact, some people found that that was faster than a calculator. And in contests it has beat people who are using a calculator. So this tool allows students of any age, with any site level to understand mathematical fluency with numbers, and it makes them more fluent. It allows them the flexibility to understand how different groupings of numbers add up to a number. So one of the big groupings is the groupings of 10. So two and eight make ten five and five make ten four and six make 10, but so does six and four. And that understanding of how these numbers are flexible and put together equal 10 is the beauty of the abacus.

    Sara Brown: 53:54

    So we just had our first Abacus Bee and now we know the importance of it because it is a very important tool. Talk about what’s, what’s next for this Abacus Bee here at APH? What can we expect in the future?

    Leanne Grillot: 54:08

    Uh , our hope is that more people will want to join in. This was a pilot program to learn lots, and we did, we learned lots, everything from how do we format these math problems on a page so that we can have both students with low vision and students with no vision competing at the same time to how do we organize a desk, how do we set up the room so that people can compete together? So all of that was learning. We are hoping we will have more groups join in for year two, meaning more preliminary rounds in different places across the United States, whether it’s a school for the blind or uh , a local event, or even that an individual teacher would like their student to compete in an Abacus competition. Uh, trying to work that out so that more people can compete and then those winners would come to the state level. We have the ability to , um, think about it in a virtual , uh, component as well as in-person , um, competitions. And the math that students are doing does not necessarily need to be done on an abacus. Our goal is to move people away from the paper and pencil or braille writer and fingers , uh, advocate , um, mathematical computations. We want them either doing mental math or using the abacus as the tool. So if you are a little rusty on that abacus or your students just has this real strength in mental math, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Go for it.

    Sara Brown: 55:47

    You just said mental math. Can we talk about that really quick? Talk about the importance of mental math. I, I was at the Abacus and I heard that phrase used a lot and it made me think about if I’m, do I use mental math or am I writing stuff out or just whipping out a calculator? But can you talk about the importance of mental math, especially in the blind and low vision world?

    Leanne Grillot: 56:09

    Right, because in the cited world, we tend to rely on that paper pencil , uh, algorithm , uh, quite quickly. And, and probably the, the place that a lot of people exercise, this is in the United States, we have the practice of tipping and so many of us are doing some type of mathematical computation in our head. Or maybe you’re a person who doesn’t have that strong mental math capability and you’re pulling out your calculator or using some type of cheat sheet to figure out what tip you wanna give. Or if you see a discount in a store and you want to figure out how much you’re going to pay, you are doing mental math. Rarely do we pull out some type of tool or device to figure out about how much we’re paying. So those are basic simple examples of mental math. If you exercise or practice this skill enough, you can do quite lengthy and large computations mentally. And the Abacus actually teaches that because what happens is a student’s, people gain a mental image of the movements of the Abacus and it , um, uh, makes the speed of that mental math faster. They no longer need to move the beads, they’re moving them in their head, if you will.

    Sara Brown: 57:30

    Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Abacus Bee ?

    Leanne Grillot: 57:34

    I just wanna make sure I take the time to state how much we appreciate the Science Sandbox, which is an initiative of the Simon’s Foundation, because it was their initiative to be able to even have this very first Abacus Bee. We also received additional support from PNC Bank and Peter Papano. And without all of this, it wouldn’t have even happened.

    Sara Brown: 58:00

    Is there anything else?

    Leanne Grillot: 58:03

    Uh , just that I hope people practice that love of math around their students because these students who attended, of course, they were the , the winners of their preliminary rounds, but they were excited, they were thrilled to be there and thrilled to be actually solving math problems. That was the thrill. That’s what we need to continue to grow in all of our students.

    Sara Brown: 58:31

    Yes, and you’re so true. And, and look and just, just the , the excitement on their faces. Like I say , when I, when I was just talking to them, they were so excited to be here and to, to prac , you know, to, to do their math, to to practice what they’ve, to do, what they’ve been practicing and just, it was just very, it’s just an exciting event. And seeing the smiles on those cute little faces was just really wa it’s just really precious. So congratulations for such a well run event and we can’t wait to see what Abacus Bee 2023 looks like.

    Leanne Grillot: 59:02

    , definitely. We look forward to seeing all of you with us next year.

    Sara Brown: 59:08

    All right , Leanne , thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.

    Leanne Grillot: 59:12

    Well, thank you for having me in Go Mathronauts!

    Sara Brown: 59:17

    And now let’s check in with some of those Mathronauts. We have Emir, Louis, and Luke ready to talk about their time at the APH Bee. Okay. Now tell me, how are you feeling, Louis? How are you liking the que speed today? What’s, what’s your thoughts on today’s event?

    Louis: 59:34

    I’m very happy with it. I think it’s really cool they get to put all of this together to really support people. I want to go into the math, scientific fields of jobs, and even people that just enjoy this thing. Yeah,

    Sara Brown: 59:46

    . Okay. And what about you, Emir?

    Emir: 59:47

    I also like it , um, and it’s like, and I feel like it’s like a good way to like, get like math into our brains.

    Sara Brown: 59:55

    What, what got you into the Abacus?

    Louis: 59:57

    My, I have a TV that teacher visually impaired. She , uh, told me about it. She taught me how to use one and , uh, she told me about this event and signed me up pretty much .

    Sara Brown: 1:00:09

    Okay. Now tell me about today’s event. How are you all doing? How are you all feeling?

    Emir: 1:00:14

    Um , I’m feeling good about this. I hope and I hope I get first pace.

    Sara Brown: 1:00:18

    . Okay. What about you?

    Louis: 1:00:19

    About you? I’m a little nervous, but I mean , uh, the time crunches and everything, that’s , that’s really all I’m nervous about. So nothing really too crazy.

    Sara Brown: 1:00:27

    And one final question, Emir. What do you wanna be when you grow up?

    Emir: 1:00:32

    Um , I’ll , I wanna be a YouTuber, something like that .

    Sara Brown: 1:00:35

    ? Okay. What about you Louis ?

    Louis: 1:00:37

    I want to either be an astro , uh, pH uh , astrophysicist or a , a mathematics college teacher.

    Sara Brown: 1:00:44

    All right . Thank you both so much. Thank you. You all have a good rest of your time. You too. Thank you. Thank you . Thank you . So tell me about the Abacus Bee and what does it feel to be like at the, at the , at the Abacus Bee?

    Luke: 1:00:57

    Um, it’s exciting but also kind of nerve-wracking because I wanted to put my best foot forward and I just wanna have fun doing it and it’s been a lot of fun so far.

    Sara Brown: 1:01:13

    So tell me, what’s your day been like? What all have you done?

    Luke: 1:01:17

    Um, I’ve done a lot of like addition, multiplication , um, yeah. And told some math jokes. It’s just been fun hanging out with the other kids.

    Sara Brown: 1:01:32

    Have you met a lot of new people?

    Luke: 1:01:36

    Um, quite a few, yeah. Uh , like a , um, girl from Washington, she is, even though she’s in only in eighth grade, she’s in the top group, which is fantastic. And she’s just really good at math .

    Sara Brown: 1:01:57

    Okay. And one last thing. So what do you have to say to anybody listening, wanting, wanting to know more about the Abacus and the Abacus Bee? What would you tell them?

    Luke: 1:02:07

    Well, it’s just a lot of fun. It’s just like hanging out with kids my age and kids I skill level with math. Just, it’s just fun. Like, because I , math is my favorite subject. It’s just fun being around my favorite, what I like to do.

    Sara Brown: 1:02:33

    And one more question then. So what do you wanna be, math is your favorite subject. What do you wanna be when you grow up?

    Luke: 1:02:40

    Um, probably an accountant. Accountant , um, because it has a lot of math involved.

    Sara Brown: 1:02:48

    . Okay. . I think it does. Luke, thank you so much for coming and talking to me and good luck with the rest of the Abacus Bee.

    Luke: 1:02:55

    Thank you.

    Sara Brown: 1:03:02

    Thank you so much, Amir, Louis, and Luke for taking time to talk to me. I would just like to say all those kids at the Abacus Bee were so sweet and so excited to be there. The energy was great. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers. I’ve put links in the Show Notes to a Braille is Beautiful Song that can be found on YouTube. I’ve also put links in the show notes for more information on the Monarch and APH products that encourage brail learning. And even though it’s passed, I’m put a link in there to the Abacus Bee. That way you can find out just what the event is. And pretty soon look for information about the 2023 Abacus Bee. As always, be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.