2023 Change Makers Transcripts
Episodes 67 to current
Welcome to Changemakers, 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 have low vision. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown. On this episode of Change Makers, we’re taking it to Washington, D.C. I’m gonna hand this episode over to Paul Schroeder, that’s APH’s Vice President of Impact and Outreach. He’s going to talk about the latest news from Capitol Hill in regards to accessibility, APH’s, recent testimony before the Labor Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, and what you can do to stay involved and make a difference. Take it away, Paul.
Paul Schroeder: 0:50
This is Paul Schroeder, the American Printing House for the Blind Vice President for Impact and Outreach. Very excited to start what I hope will be an occasional series of updates on activities in Washington, D. C. That affect the blindness in low vision communities, and particularly with a focus on policy. Very pleased to start this with my colleagues from the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, to talk about two legislative policy areas that , uh, priorities, that are priorities for both organizations. For 2023 , I’m gonna start to have John Pare introduce himself, he’s with the National Federation of the Blind. Welcome, John .
John Pare: 1:34
Hey , Paul, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. I said , this is John Pare. I’m the Executive Director for Advocacy and Policy, and look forward to our discussion.
Paul Schroeder: 1:45
Thank you so much, John. I’m also glad to be joined by Clark Rachfal, who’s with the American Council of the Blind, Clark.
Clark Rachfal: 1:54
Good morning, Paul, and thank you so much for having ACB as a part of this podcast. Hi everyone. My name’s Clark Rachfal. I’m the Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind. Have been in this role for over four years now based out of our national office in Alexandria, Virginia.
Paul Schroeder: 2:13
Great to have a couple of good, good policy hands with me on the podcast. I wanna start with the websites and software applications Accessibility Act. This is something that I think our entire community is quite excited about. It’s an area of , uh, certainly a great deal of accessibility challenges, both in terms of the websites as well as the applications that we use on a regular basis. And there really are a couple of components to this that I want to touch on. One, of course, is the legislation. The other , uh, area I’m hoping we can get a quick update on is the regulatory front , uh, because though they’re, they’re sort of moving on separate paths for the moment. Uh, if of course the legislation passes, it will spawn its own set of regulations. But we’ll clarify all this in just a second. Clark, I’m gonna start with you to just quickly explain what is this Website and Software Accessibility Act?
Clark Rachfal: 3:10
Thanks, Paul. So, the, the websites and software Applications Accessibility Act is a legislative imperative for the American Council of the Blind. It’s a priority that’s shared by our partners at NFB as well as the American Foundation for the Blind. And , uh, as you stated, many organizations and individuals across the disability community. Um, so Paul, you kind of , uh, jumped the gut on me a little bit because as typically what I start by saying is that , uh, this bill underlines or codifies what we, what we in the community all already know that the inaccessibility of websites, software applications, online services, this poses a tremendous barrier to education, employment, and really full inclusion for people who are blind and low vision . In the employment setting, you could have inaccessible , uh, to HR or business management systems in the classroom, inaccessible e-learning platforms. And what this legislation would do is create enforceable regulations to say yes, in fact, that is against the law, and it would give a legal recourse to people with disabilities as well as covered entities. Um , those entities that under the Americans With Disabilities Act are obligated to make their goods services systems accessible to people with disabilities. It would give them recourse against the , uh, the commercial providers of this technology as well, because far too often at advocacy organizations, and when talking to individuals, we hear , uh, folks share stories from their employer, from a , a business or a place of com public accommodation that , uh, we would love to make our system accessible, or we thought we had an accessible system. Uh , but the, the vendor, the third party , uh, can’t do it or won’t do it. So this would provide recourse to, to reach those third party providers of the technology to ensure that accessibility is part of the conversation from beginning and not an afterthought.
Paul Schroeder: 5:35
And we are gonna probably be digging into this a couple of times, I would imagine , uh, not just the on this podcast, but on future podcasts, because there is a lot to unpack. But let me come to you, John, for a second, because I , I , I alluded and Clark alluded to , to , um, the fact that this isn’t a new issue. There have been many, many, many lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act , uh, citing web accessibility as an area , um, and, and a , a , a complaint. Um , and there have been court settlements and cases, and in fact , uh, I think probably both organizations have been involved in some of these suits. So, John, can you unpack a little bit , um, more the distinction? So we, there’s a piece of legislation, this one that we’ve just started to talk about, and there’s also a regulatory path. Um, and I wanna try to help unscramble this a little bit for folks who might be confused about what’s, what’s what. So there’s a, there is a, there is an Americans with Disabilities Act path that already , uh, has been explored to cover website accessibility, and now we have this legislation. So maybe you could help us unpack that a little bit.
John Pare: 6:42
Sure. Uh, very happy to do that, and thrilled to be here. So, the Americans with Disabilities Act, certainly our organization, the National Federation of the Blind, and and both of you would say, applies to , uh, websites and software applications. So , uh, Title II, which applies to state and local government, we would say that the , uh, a d a requires that state and local government websites and software applications be accessible to people with disabilities, including non-visual accessibility. Uh, the same for Title III, which applies to places of public accommodation. Now, companies have said that it is maybe challenging to them for them to be compliant. Uh, not nobody disagreeing that it’s the law because there aren’t very specific regulations about exactly what accessibility means. Uh, that’s because the Department of Justice has never put out a regulation for defining exactly what someone accompany or entity, or state or local government needs to do to be compliant with the , uh, Americans with Disabilities Act. Uh , good news is, at least for Title II, the Department of Justice has announced that they plan to put out , uh, a bit. It’s taken quite some time, but they are putting out , uh, notice of Proposed Rulemaking in effect . Think of that as a draft rule, and think of rule and regulation as synonymous. So they’ll be saying, here’s exactly what a company or in this case, state or local government needs to do to be compliant. Folks will then have an opportunity to comment, this is both state and local government could com comment, and anyone else here in the United States can comment. And then shortly after that, they’d put out the final rule or final regulation, those being synonymous that would say exactly what state and local co uh , governments need to do. It’s unfortunate that they, they have not announced plans yet to do Title III, which would apply to places of public accommodation. So that’s where, as Clark was describing, the Website and Software Applications Accessibility Act could help come into play. We certainly want the Title III , uh, regulations regarding , uh, the ADA, but there isn’t a specific regulatory schedule called out in the ADA for such regulations. The Website Software Applications Bill would call out for a specific regulation, and in fact, would, would help create a statutory definition of accessibility as it applies to websites and software applications, which , which doesn’t currently exist. Some folks might think, well, are these in competition or they complimentary ? Well , they’re complimentary . So we, along with 180 plus other organizations , uh, have urged the DOJ to move forward with Title two and Title three regulations as they apply to the Americans’ Disabilities Act. And we’re also urging Congress to move forward with this legislation because while there’s some overlap , uh, there are a number of , uh, small differences or just differences that, that Clark , uh, described, for example, with third party , uh, responsibilities that we think makes it important to do both of these things.
Paul Schroeder: 10:32
We’re going to try to make sure we provide some, some links in the, in the notes so people can track down a little bit more information on this. Some people might know that there, of course, is something called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines delivered by the W3 Consortium. And of course, Section 508, which is a separate law that applies to government procurement, federal government, procurement of technology, but it does include , uh, web accessibility , uh, requirements. So the , the , I think the point you were likely making , um, is that it’s not as though this area isn’t known, unfortunately. It just hasn’t been spelled out under ADA in terms of what, what rules and what guidelines apply.
John Pare: 11:18
Paul Schroeder: 11:18
The , um, I wanna , uh, just close this portion because as I said, we’re going to probably come back to this. The , uh, Clark, the ACT has not been introduced in this session of Congress. Um, as regular listeners know , uh, every two years, Congress gets a new session , uh, at the end of the last session, which closed at the end of 2022. Uh , this act was introduced , uh, as kind of a, a , a what sometimes they call a Message Bill, but a but a , but a bill that, that sort of created , uh, to , to get people to the table talking about it . Well, you can say more about it, but what are the, what are the prospects for introduction this year and what can, what can people do if they’re interested?
Clark Rachfal: 12:03
Thanks, Paul. We are , uh, our organizations are working diligently on Bill reintroduction. We’re having conversations with our partners in the, the disability community as well as our corporate partners. And we are continuing to work with the offices of Senator Tammy Duckworth, as well as representative , uh, Sarbanes in the, in the House from , uh, Democrat from Maryland for Bill Reintroduction here in the 118th Congress. If folks would like to learn more , uh, you can always visit the ACB website , um, as well as the NFB website. And , uh, you can check out the, the bills from the 117th Congress. So that was S.4998 in the Senate in H.R. 9021 in the representatives. And I mean, here we are all, all blindness organizations, right? But this bill has, this legislation has broad support. Last year when it was introduced, there were over 20 organizations from the cross disability community representing , uh, people with all types of disabilities. Not just blindness, but , uh, hearing speech, cognitive dexterity, mobility impairments. So across the board now, there are over 140 organizations at the national, state, and local level supporting this bill. So, as we will continue to work to build support as we work towards bill introductions, if folks are interested to learn more or to , uh, want to know how they can support this legislation, you can always reach out to the American Council of the Blind by emailing advocacy@acb .org . We have information about this legislation, again, on our website, and you can always contact your member of Congress to let them know that this is a priority for you, that this legislation , uh, is, is necessary. It should be passed and turned into , uh, into law. Um, because Paul is , as you just stated it , the Americans with Disabilities Act, we certainly believe it applies, but the ADA was passed in 1990, and here we are in 2023. So rather than waiting another 30 years for regulations to be implemented , uh, enforcing the ADA for websites and software applications, we need to pass the websites in Software Applications Accessibility Act , uh, which has a , uh, tight regulatory timeline for action by the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Paul Schroeder: 14:58
And one other point on this, Clark , uh, you say software applications is part of this, does that include mobile apps? The things we use on our smartphones?
Clark Rachfal: 15:08
It does include applications. Um , so whether it’s mobile applications, desktop applications , uh, I’d , I’d refer folks to the bill. There are definitions included. Uh , in many cases, the definitions mirror those of the ADA as well as the web content accessibility guidelines , um, and other international standards as well as , uh, regulatory frameworks. But there are aspects of the bill that are, that are new as well. So I’d refer folks to the, the findings in the bill as well as the definitions. Uh, one final point that I’ll make , um, you know, we, we touched on WCAG just a little bit , uh, Section 508 , uh, which are the , the standards for federal government. One other area that makes this bill, but really interesting for people with disabilities is that it doesn’t codify a single standard or guideline into law. Um , because again, ADA was passed 30 years ago, we don’t want a rigid standard in place for 30 years as technology evolves and people with disabilities are left behind. So this bill creates a functional definition of accessibility , uh, much like the, the ADA has the definition for effective communication. You know, the , the law doesn’t say how you must provide effective communication. This legislation doesn’t , uh, tell businesses or covered entities how you must provide accessibility. But it says that your, your systems, your services must be accessible, must provide same levels of privacy and independence and access for people with disabilities. So that covered entities can , uh, meet the, the goals of this legislation in the way that makes the most sense for their business, as well as for individuals with disabilities.
Paul Schroeder: 17:17
Thank you. That’s Clark Rockfall. Just completing a little point about the , uh, uh, major point about the Web and Software Applications Accessibility Act, and we’ll have information available , um, that folks can link to. I wanna switch gears and come back to you, John , on another priority that’s part of the 2023 , uh, priorities for both organizations, I think, and that’s the Medical Device Non-Visual Accessibility Act. Uh, this is an effort to address, I gather , uh, all of these various kinds of medical testing and diagnostic and therapeutic devices. But you can say a little bit more about what, what the intent of this act would be.
John Pare: 17:56
Great. Thanks, Paul. Yes. It’s to provide non-visual access to medical devices. Now, we , uh, had to limit or describe that in some way. It turns out that the FDA divides medical devices into three classes. This is something that companies know well. And so , uh, class one is , uh, very simplistic devices that probably don’t have a digital display. And class two are progressive, way more complicated. So this bill applies to class two and class three medical devices, which for the moment is, is most devices , uh, with a digital display and says that , uh, they would have to be accessible , uh, to blind people, non visually accessible. So think about the idea that you might have a blood pressure cuff, or you might have a continual glucose monitor or something of that that provides , uh, an important in it’s important medical information, medical safety. How could a blind person , uh, utilize this to the level of safety and efficacy if it’s not accessible? So this, this bill would require that they, these things are accessible. It requires that a Food and Drug, Food and Drug Administration would go through , uh, a regulatory process to describe the company’s , uh, these are the manufacturers of medical devices, exactly how to make their , uh, devices non visually accessible or what the standard would be. Uh , similar in a sense, the rulemaking process would be similar to what we described with the previous bill, and the, then , uh, it would apply to new applications. So it’s not retroactive only to new applications. I mentioned that because that helps make sure that it’s not too onerous or expensive to companies as far as existing devices, but certainly medical devices are something that are , are, there’s a lot of rapid development in that area. So there are a lot of new applications being submitted, which , uh, once this bill was passed, then the rule went into effect , uh, would apply to those new applications. This has the potential to dramatically improve the accessibility for blind people. So it’s something that’s really exciting, especially with the really increased amount of telehealth that people are doing. So, so much more people are doing this sort of thing from their home, which this could help with.
Paul Schroeder: 20:48
Um, and this bill, I believe, has been introduced in this session of Congress? Yes.
John Pare: 20:52
Yes. It’s , uh, H.R. 13 , uh, 1326, H. R. 1326 , uh, with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky from Illinois. And , uh, currently has 42 co-sponsors. The bill reflects some changes from the last Congress based on feedback we received from, from members of Congress and others. So , uh, I think that the possibility of it getting passed and the current Congress is a dramatically improved , uh, as a result of some of the changes that we’ve made. One is the clarification that it applies to only new applications as I just described. The other two changes are that this , uh, says that if it, there’s an exemption that a company could file for if they thought the accessibility would result in , um, a fundamental alteration of the product. And also if it was just , uh, gonna be so expensive that they thought it’d be an undue hardship, then they could apply for an exemption and , uh, the FDA would potentially grant it.
Paul Schroeder: 22:04
And I should note that those exemptions are both , uh, not uncommon. They’re both available to communications companies as part of requirements for communication device accessibility that were, that have been in place in a couple of different forms for a while. Clark, is it accurate that the American Council of the Blind is also supporting this bill and, and maybe add a comment or two?
Clark Rachfal: 22:26
That is very accurate, Paul? Yes. This, this legislation is also a priority for the American Council of the Blind. Uh , it was in the 117th Congress. It remains a priority in the 118th Congress, and as John stated, it has , the bill has already been reintroduced and reintroduced on a bipartisan basis. So it’s really exciting that both of the bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Disabilities Caucus, representative Dingle and Representative Fitzpatrick , uh, Democrat and a Republican are co-sponsors of this legislation. Uh, so by having the, the co-chairs of a major caucus supporting the legislation, we think that demonstrates the importance of this legislation , uh, for our community. And as, as John stated, one of the, I think one of the long tail benefits from the pandemic was underscoring just how important it is for everyone in the United States to be able to have access to healthcare and have access to healthcare where they are. Um , you know , that in the pandemic transportation became a barrier for nearly all Americans or people in the United States. Well, that’s existed for people with disabilities for quite some time. Access to , uh, in-person medical care became a hardship for nearly all people in the United States, and that’s been an issue for people with disabilities for a long time. So by making these devices accessible , uh, by giving folks access to these devices to use privately and independently in their , uh, in the safety of their own homes, will have a tremendous impact on our members and on our community as a whole.
Paul Schroeder: 24:29
I couldn’t agree more. And I know that , uh, for example, people with diabetes have been , um, very, very out front and and outspoken about the need for improved accessibility on, on glucose monitoring and insulin delivery systems , uh, where accessibility has been a challenge. We’re gonna close, and I want to ask , uh, both of you a quick point. You’ve both had , uh, members in town doing legislative visits over the last couple of months, the early months of 2023. Um , gonna go to you first , um, Clark, any, any quick , uh, comments about what you’re hearing from Congress? Are , are , are , are legislators interested in these disability issues? There’s , uh, uh, you know, I think if you read the news, you hear a lot of, of angst and anger , uh, among, among members of Congress. There , there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for cooperation, but are you, what are you hearing from your members?
Clark Rachfal: 25:23
Sure. So, ACB had our DC Leadership Conference in the beginning of March of 2023. Our members took these two priorities , uh, as well as two others. The exercise and Fitness for All Act, and the communications video and Technology Accessibility Act to the Hill. We’re still gathering feedback from those meetings. But I , I think one thing is clear that was a great way to start the conversation on these priorities. Uh, but it can’t be the end of the conversation on these priorities. So , uh, we always encourage our members and our partners to, to build those relationships with congressional staff, with their members of Congress , uh, to keep the conversation going , uh, to demonstrate our commitment to these issues. And I’d say , uh, proof is in the pudding so far as, as John stated, the medical device Non-Visual Accessibility Act has been reintroduced with , uh, over 40 bipartisan co-sponsors. We are working with our partners for the web access bill, as well as the CBTA on bill reintroduction later this year. So I think that there’s often the, the misnomer that the Republicans and Democrats can’t get can’t get along or always disagree. And certainly that’s, that’s the message that’s conveyed out to the rest of the country. Uh, certainly if there’s a , an election coming up and there’s , uh, hay to be made, but in Washington, D. C. I , I think it’s pretty common for members of both parties to, to come together , uh, to try to find common sense solutions to big problems. And we think that the two bills that we discussed today, as well as our other priorities , uh, kind of fit that mold of being, you know, thought out , discussed, debated , uh, potential solutions to these big problems that are facing our community.
Paul Schroeder: 27:38
John, I’m gonna ask you essentially the same question. Your members were in town as well, doing meetings. And also , um, if you could , uh, I know Clark mentioned firstname.lastname@example.org as a way to get a good quick note into him and the , the ACB team about legislation. I don’t know if NFB has a similar , uh, email box of that nature, but , uh, go ahead and , and if you wanna provide any contact info, that would be great as well. But what, what’s , uh, what’s, what are your members hearing , uh, in their conversations with members of Congress?
John Pare: 28:10
Uh , uh, very similar to what Clark said. One , uh, I do wanna address the, you know, disability issues are very bipartisan and , uh, as demonstrated with the Medical Device Non Visual Accessibility Act, the fact that that is bipartisan. And that’s also another issue that we’re working on. I know ACB is also is the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act. Uh, this is a bill that’s introduced in both the House and the Senate that would phase out , uh, sub minimum wages for people with disabilities over a five year period. It is bipartisan in both the House and the Senate, and there’s been a lot of bipartisan work done on that at the state level. So , uh, on these various issues, we do look forward to working , um, in a bipartisan matter to improve opportunities for people with disabilities in the United States as far as , uh, our, what, what a lot of people would generically refer to as a fly-in or a week in Washington. Our terminology here at the National Federation of Blind is our Washington seminar. That’s where we have , uh, this year, lucky back in person , about 500 people came to Washington, DC the first week of February. It was exciting to be back in person . I think , uh, members of Congress were very excited to, to be back with constituents back in person with constituents, and to be able to talk about in-person , uh, issues that would affect , uh, people who live in their district or their state. Uh, it just seemed to be a lot of positive excitement on the Hill and being back in the, in the halls of Congress. So we , um, had many productive conversations, many with , uh, senior staff, many with the , uh, actual elected official always. Uh, both are important, both are exciting. And we kind of, as you alluded to , uh, earlier, Paul, you know, there’s a two year cycle. We’re in the beginning of this really, we’re just three months into the 118th Congress. Congress lasts for two years. So this is , uh, an important time. This is, we’re , we’re in the still, sort of in the launch phase of legislation for this Congress. And maybe say that, I hope we can give you some progress reports here , uh, every couple of months as we work to get these and, and other bills enacted.
Paul Schroeder: 30:52
And how would you like people to reach out to you if somebody wants to be in touch with you at NFB?
John Pare: 30:57
Well, let’s do , we do have some generic email, but let’s say, I’ll give my email address. So it’s , uh, email@example.com. Uh , welcome to email. Love to hear from you.
Paul Schroeder: 31:15
Hope to have you both back to update on these in any other , uh, priority topics that are happening . John Pare, with the National Federation of the Blind, Clark Rachfal with the American Council of the Blind. Thank you both for joining me on the APH podcast.
Clark Rachfal: 31:34
Thanks, Paul. Thank you.
Sara Brown: 31:38
Now Paul is talking to Laura Kaloi about funding and appropriations.
Paul Schroeder: 31:43
We are talking about ACT activities in Washington, D.C. specifically policy work that’s happening. We’re fairly early in the new Congress, the 118th Congress, it’ll last for two years. So we’re a couple of months in and it’s a good time to touch base on some of the issues that are before Congress and being looked at by the president as well. I’m thrilled today to be joined by a good friend of mine and a colleague I’ve worked with for many years, Laura Kaloi. Laura, welcome. And tell us a little bit about who you are.
Laura Kaloi: 32:16
Hi, Paul. I’m really happy to be here today. I am a consultant , uh, but a long time advocate and policy expert in the education and special education space. I’m also the parent of a 22 year old son with learning disabilities. And , uh, I am working with several nonprofits that are focused in the education, special education, assistive technology space. I am the Policy Advisor to the Assistive Technology, Industry Association, ATIA, where I get to work with you directly again, which is really great. And I’m also a co-chair with the largest coalition here in Washington, D. C. For disability organizations. It’s called the Consortium for Constituents with Disabilities , CCD. And I’m a co-chair on both the Education Task Force and the technology and telecommunications task force . And so we do some work there, of course, related to pre-K to 16 education. And , uh, it’s just really great to be here.
Paul Schroeder: 33:19
Well, thank you. And I’m gonna , I’m just gonna plug that , um, Laura also has a , a little bit of a March Madness connection with, with one of your other children who’s a basketball player. I believe.
Laura Kaloi: 33:30
I do. My daughter is number 23 on the Christopher Newport University Captains, and she is playing in the final game on Saturday , uh, in Dallas for the Division Three finals. And so it’s pretty exciting.
Paul Schroeder: 33:44
Well, that of course, will have happened by the time we air, so that will be exciting to hear how that goes. Um, this is the time of year when there’s a lot of attention in Congress given to appropriations and funding. Uh, they, they tend to front load a lot of that work in the February, march, April timeframe. A lot of discussions and hearings. Some of you may know that the American Printing House for the Blind usually submits some kind of comments or information to the Appropriations Committees in Congress to describe what APH does. We receive a federal appropriation, so it’s important for Congress to be aware of that work. And I think we’ll have a , a , a link in the notes , uh, to some testimony , uh, that I was able to provide on behalf of the American Printing House to the blind. This was to the House subcommittee on Labor Health and Human Services education and related agencies. That’s the way the appropriation subcommittees are divided. They’re divided by federal agency. There are 12 of them , uh, and the one that APH happens to work with. It has education as well as the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services. And then some smaller , um, accounts as well , uh, in that related agency category. And actually, we’re gonna talk a little bit more about that subcommittee. Uh, there’s one in the House and Senate, so they both will be looking at , uh, funding levels for the federal government over the next few months, and as a subcommittee making a decision, passing that up to the appropriations committee. And then on , um, and we’ll, we’ll talk a little bit about that. But a lot of that work, Laura, starts with , uh, the submission by the president of the budget request for the fiscal year. Of course, fiscal 24 starts in October. So that’s the work they’re doing now. They’re looking at the fiscal 24 , um, appropriation, and the , the president does submit a budget for that. So let’s talk a little bit about the funding levels, the funding priorities, and what you think is, and what you see happening. Um, we’ll, we’ll talk a little bit about technology and we’ll talk a little bit about special ed. Those will be our two areas of focus today on the funding side. Does that sound good?
Laura Kaloi: 35:54
Sure. So yes, the President’s budget was a little bit delayed this year, so usually a President’s budget comes out in February, but this budget came from the Biden Administration around March 9. And so there is still some analysis going on, and the hearings are being scheduled on Capitol Hill and both the House and the Senate and groups , um, including all these advocacy and coalition work that we do here in D. C. Are working to make their recommendations and correct . Congratulations, Paul, that you got to actually go testify in person. That’s really wonderful. Uh, it’s a very small , uh, group of folks that get to be selected for Public Witness day. I’m really happy that they chose you. Yeah ,
Paul Schroeder: 36:34
17 , uh, witnesses. So that’s a , that’s a very small number of the groups that are interested in funding, of course, as you pointed out. So thank you.
Laura Kaloi: 36:42
Yeah. And then, you know, lots of groups submit testimony and then lots of letters go up to Capitol Hill. And then there’s another thing happening within members of Congress. They write these letters to appropriators called Dear Colleague Letters, and there are letters , um, underway and being submitted to appropriators from the member’s perspective what their priorities are. And so we’re gonna talk about what a few of those are in this climate. Just a little bit of context setting quickly. Remember, the House , uh, turned over to the Republicans this year. They are in charge. And so there are new , uh, new speaker, new chair and ranking members in these committees. And the House Republicans have a very strong message right now. It’ll be interesting to see how the negotiations ensue, but they are prepared and would like to take the appropriations funding back to fiscal year 22, which, you know, we’re in fiscal year 23 now, so they wanna take it back to the prior year’s funding levels, which would be about 140 billion in cuts. And so it would be, it’ll be interesting to see , um, what that looks like when you really need a bipartisan package coming out of the Senate to have all of this come together by a September 30 deadline, because the federal government’s fiscal year starts on October one. So just putting that in context, the House and the Senate are gonna have very different processes to work this through.
Paul Schroeder: 38:10
And , and I think it’s fair to say right, that they are really working differently because the Senate very much seems to have a very bipartisan , um, at these relationship among the top members , uh, all of whom are, are women , uh, in, in the Senate.
Laura Kaloi: 38:27
Yes. In fact, we have all four . We have all four in the House and the Senate are women working together for the first time in our nation’s history. The Chair of the Full Appropriations and the Ranking are our women , um, leaders in our Congress. You’re correct in the Senate , uh, Patty Murray and , uh, Susan Collins. So Patty Murray’s from Washington and Susan Collins is from Maine, and they have publicly issued a press release and have reiterated over the last several weeks that they are committed to working together to use regular order, a regular process , uh, and that they will try and stick to a timeline and come together with some kind of bar bipartisan agreement that is , um, easier said than done
when there’s a lot of politics around this . But having them commit at the chair and the ranking member level to do that makes it a lot more comfortable to have some tough discussions. Um , Kay Granger is the chair in the House, and Rosa DeLauro, she’s from Texas, and Rosa DeLauro’s from Connecticut. While they have a good working relationship and are very respectful toward each other, the dynamics in the house are very different. And so , uh, Ms . Granger has a lot of , uh, you know, politics there with the Republicans and, and this need in the, within the body to cut as much as they wanna cut. And she’s gonna have to navigate and manage that while the Democrats want to have the highest funding levels that, you know, that they can see in the programs for women, children, families, schools, et cetera.
Paul Schroeder: 40:04
Well, we’ll certainly come back later in the year and talk about whether, whether they were able to keep to that. And we’ll try to, we’ll try to not get into too much of the Washington speak of who’s who, but it is important, I think, to hear a little bit of the change, cuz it is very different this year. But , um, getting into some of the specific areas, there’s a group that I know you work closely with as funding for , uh, the , uh, uh, technology Act, the at Assistive Technology Act. Um, and maybe you can say a little bit more about that and, and, and what happens with that program and what is that program?
Laura Kaloi: 40:36
So that program, the Assistive Technology Act programs, there , there is a program in every state, and this is a program that gets federal funding in the state to provide assistive technology to any individual with a disability. And so this formula provides funds and there is also a program in each of the territories. And so the ASK this year from the president is $44 million, and they’re currently at about a $40 million level. And so that would be a $4 million plus up . And so there is a unified message , uh, both on the Hill and within the community to try and have the AT ACT is what the acronym, you know, with a short , uh, hand of that is to have the AT Act funded at this $44 million that’s been requested by President Biden. And so we’ll see if the appropriators will support that. The other program I would just mention is for specifically related to students with disabilities, the Part B money, this is the big state grant funds that come to states to provide , uh, special education and services to students with disabilities that is consistently, you know, well under the funding that was promised to states when IDEA was passed in 1975, but the president has proposed a $16.3 billion level, which would be a plus up of about $2.1 billion and would help really infuse and support , um, an ongoing increase to IDEA so that states can get, receive those monies to support districts and providing special education. So we’re watching that pretty closely. And then there are lots of other programs related to special education, but that is the biggest one.
Paul Schroeder: 42:16
Part B of course, as you said, is the, is the part that funds the state , uh, provision of special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And it has received some increases, hasn’t it, in the last couple of cycles?
Laura Kaloi: 42:28
It has, and they are, it’s to the tune of about, you know, one or $2 billion per year. Well , that sounds like a lot of money when you spread that across 50 states and across, you know, nearly 8 million children. It’s, it’s , um, it’s still, we still need a lot more, but it is , um, we do appreciate these increases and we really are going after, you know, supporting them with appropriators.
Paul Schroeder: 42:50
And I know something that a lot of us care about, of course, are , uh, special education teachers and personnel. Uh, and I , uh, people may not know this, but there is a , a funding provided through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and, and other areas to help with personnel preparation and what’s going on with that funding?
Laura Kaloi: 43:09
So we actually have a really great community in D. C. For all of the provisions in the education budget related to general educators, related to special educators, and related to the specialized personnel and instructional support , uh, team, the professionals that we know are part of that team that, you know, educate our kids. And so there is a coalition called the Coalition for Teacher Quality. They work together to make recommendations to Congress for all of these programs because we know that there is a shortage across the board and we want all of these programs to be infused and we’re not gonna pick one over the other. And so there is this concerted effort to have the entire pipeline to be infused to help states recruit and retain a qualified workforce for their schools.
Paul Schroeder: 44:02
Well, very good. Um, the, the , the , that appropriations process is in place now , uh, was there money included in the president’s budget to increase the support for personnel , uh, preparation and work?
Laura Kaloi: 44:14
Yes, in fact , um, so in personal preparation for IDEA, I’ll just give you one example. There’s a, a request to plus it up by $185 million. So it would get a , if, if the president’s budget was honored, it would get a substantial increase. And that is representative in that same, you know, those same types of monies are being proposed in all of the loan programs that teachers can receive. Like I said, all of the ways that we have pockets of money throughout the federal budget that do support and help states , um, educate and, you know, infuse their teacher pipeline. And so we’re trying to work in many of these ways to get, get the personnel plused out .
Paul Schroeder: 44:57
One of the popular comments that you’ll hear , uh, around Washington and people across the country probably hear this too, is the, the saying the president’s budget is always dead on arrival. And that that tends to be true sort of in a macro perspective way, the president, whichever party , uh, and e e even if their party controls Congress, often the , that some of the larger budget initiatives aren’t really listened to. But , uh, would you agree that in some of these areas that, that aren’t getting national attention, special education funding, personnel prep funding, certainly the American Printing Apps of the Blind Funding Tech Act , um, the president’s budget does have some value because it does set a , a , a , a guide, a standard, a a a sense of what , um, what spending would be appropriate for these programs?
Laura Kaloi: 45:45
Yes, generally the president’s budget is just a recommendation. Uh, but we do find in these programs for vulnerable , uh, children, families, these types of programs, the domestic policy issues, the president’s budget can be provide a great guide , uh, for appropriators as they consider and contemplate because they will set what’s called a top line number and then they have to make decisions within that top line of how to allocate all those funds. And so the president’s budget can be a guide related to what those allocations can look like. So we’re hopeful, you know, you have to be optimistic and you have to , uh, use the tools that you have. And the president’s budget is one of those tools.
Paul Schroeder: 46:26
Well, we’ll certainly, I’m sure revisit appropriations. And before we close on this topic, I’ll circle back to where I started, and that’s just to mention the folks that , um, we’ve heard earlier on earlier podcasts I should say about this new product called the Monarch that APH has been investing in and working on the multiline braille , uh, in tactile graphics device. And that’s a , a large part of the increase that APH is asking for , uh, for fiscal year ’24, is to help make sure that we’re able to distribute this , uh, this device and get it into the hands of students. Uh, braille technology as anyone in the blindness world knows perfectly well is is expensive. Uh , and yet it is , uh, so critical for education for students. So that’s a , a large part of the request . And again, we’ll have a little bit of information about that for people to know what , um, the American Printing House , so the Blind was seeking in the , uh, fiscal year ’24 appropriation. I’m gonna thank you, Laura, for the opportunity to be part of this conversation. There’s a lot to talk about. We’ll have a lot to revisit and for, for folks to take a look at. Um, it’s a busy congress and even though there’s a lot of partisan disagreement , um, there is a lot of work that we’ll need to get done somehow, particularly on the appropriation side. So they’re gonna have to find a way to work together.
Laura Kaloi: 47:43
I appreciate the opportunity. Paul,
Sara Brown: 47:46
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Changemakers. We will have check-ins with Paul Schroederfrom Washington, D.C. throughout the year whenever there’s news and information available, so be sure to listen as we continue 2023. I’ve also put links in the show notes to all the House Bills his colleagues mentioned and additional information and email addresses in the show notes. So be sure to check those out as well. As always, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Changemakers. Be sure to look for ways you can be a changemaker this week.
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 Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And on this episode of Change Makers, we’re continuing to highlight women making history right here, right now. And on this episode, we’re talking to one woman who has created her own app, and another one who has had breakthroughs with students by teaching them coding. Up first, we’re talking to Rebecca Rosenberg. She’s the founder and CEO of the app called ReBokeh. Hello, Rebecca, and welcome to Change Makers.
Rebecca Rosenberg: 0:47
Hello. Thank you so much for having me. Super excited today.
Sara Brown: 0:51
So Rebecca, let me go on and get you just to introduce yourself and let us know who you are.
Rebecca Rosenberg: 0:57
Yeah, absolutely. Hi everybody. My name is Rebecca Rosenberg. I am the founder and CEO of ReBokeh, and we develop assistive technologies for people with moderate uncorrectable vision impairment. One of those people being myself. Uh, so I have albinism, which if you’re familiar, is a rare genetic condition that basically affects the body’s ability to produce melanin, which is necessary for the proper development and maintenance of vision. Uh, as a result of that, I have a vision impairment that is not correctable by any means that we currently have available to us, like glasses or LASIK surgery. Um, but also I have a lot of good , uh, functional vision enough that I can actually drive. Um, so I’m not blind, but I fall into this sort of what we call moderate vision impairment at ReBokeh.
Sara Brown: 1:46
All right . And you just told us a little bit about yourself. Is there anything else you wanna say?
Rebecca Rosenberg: 1:50
I guess I can share my, my kind of whole story from, from the dawn of time. Uh, and so I , um, as I mentioned, I grew up with a moderate vision impairment as a result of Albinism. And basically I found myself growing up really frustrated with the extent of available assistive technologies. It seemed to me like they had really all been available or, or designed for people who are blind or very near blind . So things like the CCTVs and the digital magnifiers were just too bulky and, and really expensive and just didn’t do what I needed them to do to quite justify the price. And so growing up, I found that I really rejected most available assistive technology because I found it so difficult to use. Um, and so when I started ReBokeh, the goal ultimately was to build a technology that is customizable and portable and more affordable. And that fits into the daily lives of people with vision impairments who are really just normal human beings , uh, who don’t necessarily want to have an enormous device that they have to carry around with them.
Sara Brown: 3:04
Ok . And talk about how you got into the world of making apps.
Rebecca Rosenberg: 3:11
Yeah, absolutely. So , uh, the company started actually as a result of a grant that I received , uh, when I was 21 as an undergrad student. And the goal was for me to spend a summer kind of doing an entrepreneurial project. Uh, so my background is in biomedical engineering. I got my bachelor’s degree , uh, from Bucknell, and that was ultimately the school that provided me this grant. And so the goal was , uh, when I received the money that I would spend the summer kind of learning about the assistive technology landscape and coming up with , uh, a solution that could be , uh, brought to market that would address this kind of problem that I had experienced so personally throughout my life. And ultimately , uh, after doing a lot of research and, and talking to other people who had vision impairments, we decided that the best way to move forward would be with a, a smartphone app, because not only is it something that everybody already has with them, but it’s also a device with a really incredible camera system , uh, at no extra cost. And so ultimately , um, after about a day of messing around in Xcode , uh, which is Apple’s app development , uh, platform, I realized that despite my engineering degree, I was , uh, not going to be the person who would actually go through and , and develop the app. And ultimately , uh, a , a little while into my master’s degree , uh, also in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, I met , uh, Jacob, who is now our CTO, who took care, who took care of , um, all of the app development really based on a PowerPoint presentation that I had provided to him.
Sara Brown: 5:01
And all of this sort of led to the creation of ReBokeh?
Rebecca Rosenberg: 5:06
Yes . So , so , uh, ReBokeh is my my first app, I guess I would say.
Sara Brown: 5:13
And talk about how, how, what, how that all led to the creation of ReBokeh, and what you’ve, what you’ve learned through that process.
Rebecca Rosenberg: 5:23
Oh, gosh. Um, I think I have learned everything through this process. Um, everything from, you know, the, the ugly, you know, legal and accounting details associated with having and , and running a company all the way to learning things about myself and the, the type of vision impairment that I have. Um, I think I was, I think I was 22 before I ever really spoke to anybody else who had a vision impairment like me. And I didn’t realize how much that was missing from my life until I started connecting with other people. And so when we, when we started ReBokeh that summer on that, that grant that I mentioned, it really launched me into what has since been the, the beginnings of a career in getting to know people who are similar to me , uh, in, in this vision impairment realm. And what I’ve found is that very specifically people with moderate vision impairments , um, there, there is no place for us to go. Um, a lot of the online forums are, you know, will, will say that they are for blind and low vision. And what you find when you go onto those places is that really the only experience that is discussed is that of blindness. And while that’s an incredibly important topic to discuss , um, that lived experience is very, very different from someone like myself who, you know, growing up as a teenager has to deal with the consideration of, “well, I could get my driver’s license, but I don’t know if I should get my driver’s license and, you know, is that safe? How am I gonna deal with that?” And so part of what we are aiming to create at ReBokeh is a place that people with moderate impairments can feel comfortable and safe and supported in in coming to discuss the unique challenges to this population.
Sara Brown: 7:22
Talk about the importance of having individuals who are low vision work on this app?
Rebecca Rosenberg: 7:28
Yeah, absolutely. So our technology actually spent about a year , um, from June of 2021 through June of 2022 , uh, as a beta release, which meant that it was limited to about a hundred people that we had selected , uh, from all different parts of the vision impairment community. So we had people who had vision impairment themselves. We had parents of children with vision impairment, we had optometrists and ophthalmologists and um, some, some technologists kind of thrown in there , um, but people, low vision technology specialists, people from all the different TVs from all different parts of the low vision kind of care pathway. And our goal with that one year beta test was to optimize for the moderate low vision experience. And so what that meant was making sure that the UI was intuitive and accessible, but also really catered to a population that doesn’t necessarily want things reading out loud, you know, in public to them. Um, and so how do we achieve the very specific goals of this population? How do we make sure that the contrast , uh, you know, the , the contrast enhancement ability is exactly where it needs to be or that the UI actually makes sense for a user and that all of the relevant functionality that a person with low vision would want to see is included, while also making sure that the technology we’re creating is not sort of this awful clinical feeling device, but is actually a piece of what feels like consumer technology that people are comfortable taking out of their pocket and, and using at the grocery store or in a restaurant or at a sporting event because it’s something that everybody else around them, regardless of their vision abilities, are probably doing anyway. Um, especially with the rise in popularity of , uh, videos specifically on social media. Everyone has their phone out at concerts, at events, you know, you’re, you’re always being recorded by someone , uh, for a TikTok, you just may not know .
Sara Brown: 9:49
So this podcast is celebrating Women’s History month part two, and you’re a woman in the field doing awesome things and making history right now. So as a woman in your field, have you, have you felt or seen any pushback or had any difficulties just being heard?
Rebecca Rosenberg: 10:08
Yeah, you know, I, I think that in, in entrepreneurship and in in the startup world , um, you know, there are, there are a lot of challenges and I, I, I grew up with this mentality specifically around my disability, and I think that it has generalized to other parts of my life, but I try to avoid , um, really feeling bad for myself in, in really any way, shape or form. And so I, I think that that mindset has really helped me push past any barriers that have maybe attempted to be presented to me because I just don’t know that they’re there. Um, you know , the same way that when you are growing up with a disability, specifically one that has come from birth, you know , you don’t necessarily know the world any different, so you don’t know that you are , um, having a harder time seeing the board than the other kids in your class. And I think that I have tried to generalize that mindset also to my experience in startups. You know, are there investors who maybe don’t give us money because I’m a woman? It’s possible. I like to think that I surround myself with , um, a a really incredible group of people who wouldn’t or , and , and don’t think that way. Um, but I think by continuing to just push past and through any and all barriers regardless of why they were put up, because everybody has barriers , um, it doesn’t necessarily, it , it doesn’t matter what your, you know, gender or race or, or ability is. Everybody has barriers put in front of them. And so I think I try to spend less time thinking about why those barriers are there and more of that time and energy just smashing through them.
Sara Brown: 12:11
All right . I like that. Smashing through them now. Thank You. Do you , oh yeah. Now what do you wanna see for your app in the future?
Rebecca Rosenberg: 12:23
Yeah, so ReBokah is way more than just an app. Um, the app is kind of the first step toward the world that we are trying to build. We want to see the world be a place where people with moderate vision impairments feel like they have a place to go where they feel like they are included and thought of in the accessibility space , um, where they feel like they have a place they can go to be supported on decisions like driving , um, on challenges associated with accessing their home or going to a regular school or having a regular job. Um , and all of those things that are unique to this population. And so what we are trying to build with ReBokeh beyond just this technology that enables people to help themselves is a world where they have a place to, to also come back to, to ask for help, to seek resources. Um, and so ultimately we are looking to really build that community , um, in addition to all of the exciting things that we have coming , uh, down the pipeline , uh, on the technology side.
Sara Brown: 13:36
Wow, that’s really cool. So just more, it’s more than an app, it’s almost like a lifestyle.
Rebecca Rosenberg: 13:40
Sara Brown: 13:43
Now, do you have any other apps in your pipeline?
Rebecca Rosenberg: 13:48
Um, so , uh, I would say so I wouldn’t say we have additional apps necessarily coming. We have a whole lot more technology that we are excited to be , uh, just about ready to start pushing into the ReBokeh app. We also have a really incredibly exciting partnership that’s coming up that I can’t speak too much to yet. Uh, but keep an eye out for that , um, that announcement hopefully in the next month or so. Uh, I think that people will be really excited about the possibilities , uh, associated with that.
Sara Brown: 14:24
Oh, how exciting. That’s really exciting. And my final question, is there anything else you would like to talk about? It could be whatever you want, the app, the future, whatever?
Rebecca Rosenberg: 14:36
I, you know, think that. I would just like to say thank you very much for having me. Um , this is such an important topic and I feel like this population of people with moderate impairments really tends to, and totally by accident, get overlooked. And so I appreciate you having me on to discuss the unique challenges of this population and how we can move forward in a , in a world that will include and, and consider those needs as well, because they are unique. Um, so I, I think that’s it. Thank you very much for having me. Really appreciate your time.
Sara Brown: 15:14
All right , Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on and talking to me today on Change Makers.
Rebecca Rosenberg: 15:19
Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 15:25
Now we’re gonna talk to another woman making history, by the way, she teaches students coding. We’re talking to Julie Hapeman, she’s a certified orientation and mobility specialist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hello Julie and welcome to Changemakers.
Julie Hapeman: 15:40
Hi. It’s great to be here.
Sara Brown: 15:43
So first off, talk to me about what it is that you do in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the blind and low vision community?
Julie Hapeman: 15:50
Well, primarily I’m a certified orientation and mobility specialist in Milwaukee. And so most of the time I’m working with kids on their O&M skills, traveling indoors and outdoors and taking the city bus and going places and generally just exploring the city and helping them to become more independent.
Sara Brown: 16:13
How did you get into coding? I’ve been hearing really cool things that you’ve done and that you’re doing. And how did you get into it?
Julie Hapeman: 16:21
Well, interestingly, it was kind of by accident . Um, I have a colleague, I am , um, a part of the assistive technology team and my school district and one of our , uh, colleagues in at was exploring the different coding , um, devices that our district has put in the libraries across the district. And he brought in one that he particularly wanted to show us and it was called Cubetto. And um, I looked at it and I thought, “oh, well that looks really cool because it comes with , uh, like maps or mats that are like maps where you can make this little square cube go from place to place. And I thought, well, that seems very O&M. Um, very interesting. One day I’ll get to it, I’m really busy right now, have to do it another time.” And I actually just was going through my old photos and I found the picture that I took of the day that he was showing us that. And I texted the picture to my colleagues and I said, we need to know this. But then, you know, it just was, it was too much at the time. And then it was summer, it was probably May when he was showing us that. And then it came to the next school year and he said, you and I are sharing a school, I have it for at you have it for O&M, would you like to do something with some of the students? And I said, yeah, let’s do a coding club if you’re up for. And he said, absolutely, right on. And so we, we started a coding club with one of my students who’s totally blind and three , uh, the students in the autism program. And we made a coding club that met once a week and we explored the different things that the district offers , um, in the libraries and the , it was really neat to see all the team building and the camaraderie and the encouraging , uh, between the students, especially the kids who were a little less verbal, you know, it was, it was just neat to see that interaction. So we started our weekly coding club and um, just really started to explore everything that we had and as much as we could, we , uh, tried to make it accessible to my student, but sometimes we couldn’t. And then , um, we just finally got to this Cubetto and I really got a chance to look at it and I thought, “oh my gosh, this thing’s accessible right out of the box.” It’s got , um, little coating pieces that you put in a board and they have different shapes and they have a notch to orient them so that you always know, you know, if you put the notch toward you, you can feel the shape and you know which one it is and you can tell it to go forward or turn. And it just was an , a really amazing experience to see that.
Sara Brown: 19:13
So you’ve got this coding club going on. Talk to me about how you teach your students coding?
Julie Hapeman: 19:20
Well, so the very first thing that we really found was , uh, that this Cubetto um, being accessible to my student, we could start , um, just kind of teaching him how to direct it around things. We were , he’s really good spatially with things in front of him. His grandpa works with him on putting things together and taking things apart. So if it’s in front of him, his spatial skills are really good, but, you know, bigger spatial things are problematic. And so we had this robot and we were talking about how, you know, you have to programming it so that it can go where you want and if you make a mistake, you have to do what’s called debugging, which is fixing it. And um, so my, my colleague Eric , um, from at said, let’s set up a fence. We had these red solo cups set up as a fence on the table and we asked my student to program the Cubetto to go around the fence and then turn so that it’s facing the fence again. And so we were just, it was, it was coming together kind of. Okay, this is a route he’s, he’s coding , he’s putting in these basically, essentially commands for the code for this robot and he’s getting this robot to do something that’s really can be translated into something bigger spatially. So he did on the very first try get this cubo from one side of the fence facing it around it to the other side of the fence and facing where opposite or mirror image of where it started. And so the , then I said, okay, why don’t you try this with you being the Cubetto and we’ll set up some chairs and then let’s see you do it. And so basically for me, coding became a way of working on spatial planning because then he became the, the actual route doer and he was able to get around and back just like his Cubetto. And I thought, this is something, this is really kind of cool. Um, because he had been struggling so mightily to learn routes in his school, which he had just, he had moved up to a new school. And um, so it was really cool because we had been struggling with spatial concepts in, in his routes. And then, you know, he was even struggling with spatial concepts in his classroom and yet we were just making what came from the table to something that he was doing in his room. So it was like a little bit bigger spatially. And so that’s where, you know, it all kind of started was just an accident . Um, so, but then when I started kind of looking around, I, I noticed that there were some other people in the field who had said spatial um , mapping and coding are similar because you have to put things in the right order or you won’t get the end result that you’re looking for.
Sara Brown: 22:22
That’s so true. That is so true. Have you used any APH products? We have, you know, Accessible Code and Go Mouse and Code Jumper. Have those products been helpful when teaching coding?
Julie Hapeman: 22:34
So I started with the , uh, Code Quest because it was on an iPad , um, iOS app and we had just closed for Covid and my student had his iPad at home so I could , uh, tap into him using that and working on the same sort of skills we were doing with the Cubetto , um, because he was able to follow across each row and find out where things were. And then, you know, he would track back, we would make it, you know, do it like you do your braille, go all the way from left to right, track back, go down next row, et cetera , and find out where everything was. And then he would put it all together and, you know, so we were working on these spatial skills. I mean, and this wasn’t a time where I couldn’t go to his house, you know, I couldn’t do anything with him in person. And then I thought, okay, at least we’re working on these spatial skills. Um, so then he had gotten a chance to use the Code Jumper one time and it was right. It honestly, my, my second Code Jumper kit came the day before we closed and then we were closed for , uh, I mean we were on virtual for over a year. So I got the , um, I got the second Cubetto , uh, sorry, the second code jumper and I, I, I had this feeling we were gonna close, so I raced over to my office to get it and have it with me, but we weren’t able to take things to students houses for a while either, you know, I just, we didn’t know, you know, so I finally, when I was able to get it to him , um, I couldn’t load the Code Jumper app on his login on his school computer, cuz you can’t, you know, students can’t add things. So if I logged in under me, I could add the app. But then, so I had to put together a way for me to tap into his computer from my house, which involved his mom logging in somewhat and then me tapping in and logging myself in and opening up Code Jumper. And then he, he absolutely loved it. I mean, from the very first time he used it before we closed, he took to it so naturally and was able just to go through and understand everything. And , um, so he would just start, we would make up stories and he, you know, that go along with the, the different sound sets and he would , um, tell his story and then align the sounds to match his story and then he would play them. And because you can do Code Jumper in different speeds, we would do the story in every speed, you know, so it was fun and it was, it was funny because one of ’em is , um, it involves , uh, oh gosh, I can’t think what the name of the sound set is, but it has some, some noises that are , uh, like spooky. And , uh, I said, how loud is your volume? Are the , your neighbors gonna come knocking, you know,
Sara Brown: 25:36
Yeah, Code Jumpers is really cool with all those different sounds. And it’s always fun to hear which students, which sounds the students like, like the most talk about coding and how it can help with everyday life. You, you touched on it , um, a second ago where you talked about spatial awareness. Is there any other way coding can help?
Julie Hapeman: 25:56
Yeah, so actually with the Code Jumper, this is what we’ve sort of moved to is you can create your own sound sets . So I , um, having my students create their own sound sets that include , um, directional information. And so we, with this, this student that , um, I’ve been talking about, we coded a route around the block that his school is on, but we, you know, we first went out, we set out to go and , um, find what we might need to include in the sound set . And then he recorded all of the sounds, the turn left, go straight , uh, and then some landmarks that he was passing. And then we put the sound set, we had to actually use two different sound sets. Um, but we, we, we put them in and then he had to code the directions of his route so that he could get all the way around correctly. And then once we did that , um, we double checked it by going out and making sure that he passed things in the correct order. And if he didn’t, then he had to debug or change his route. And so that has become something that he really enjoys doing because he can record in his own voice. And his favorite and my favorite of the landmarks that he marked was a little free library that’s in front of his school and he named it Little free library. Sh we have to be quiet because it’s a library and so you can totally personalize everything and it just really ups the interest from the students when they can make it creative and make it their own.
Sara Brown: 27:36
It really does when you make it your own and put your own spin on it, I feel like that’s for anything and for everybody. You have a , just a little bit more of a vested interest in it. Are there any other ways to teach coding for anyone out there listening that’s curious but doesn’t know how to get their child into it or wants to get their child into it a little bit more?
Julie Hapeman: 27:55
Well, I, I like to use some books that I’ve found that , um, describe how coding is like everyday life and then I’ll talk, I’ll read a few pages and then we’ll talk about, well, how, how does what the book says, how can you relate that to what you are doing every day and how do you relate that to the routes that you’re learning? So that’s kind of how I start. I am not a computer scientist in the, in the big sense of being able to create huge codes. I am somebody who is interested in coding, who sees a use of for it , um, in what I do and kind of specialize in that. But , um, you know, there are tons of books that I’ve found and, and APH actually has a , a list that I gave for , um, another presentation of books that I have used that just talk about what happens when you code, how coding is like everyday life. And then there’s one that, they’re a series of books , uh, called “What Should Danny Do,” and “What Should Darla do?” And they’re like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. So it gives you, you know, like a choice if it’s, it’s like an if else statement. So if Danny chooses not to get ready for school, then he’s gonna miss his bus and his mama’s gonna be upset. If Danny chooses to get ready for school, he’ll catch his bus and then everything will, you know, his day will start off better. So, you know, it it just some ways that you can just reintroduce or continue to reinforce those concepts , um, but in a fun way that the books just make it seem they’re written for kids and about kids and, and it really just, they can relate to them I think pretty well.
Sara Brown: 29:45
And is there anything else you’d like to say about coding or anything overall?
Julie Hapeman: 29:51
Well , um, I guess I just feel that it is something that’s really incredibly , um, interesting to our students and a lot of the programs that they are using in schools are not accessible. Um, code.org is a wonderful, wonderful site , um, but there’s not a lot there that is accessible to somebody who’s totally blind, at least at this moment. And so just looking for different ways to introduce the same concepts that the site at children are learning is really important. And so looking at the tools from a p h and other places, there are some others out there , um, is really important so that our kids are not missing out on gaining those concepts that are really so key , um, to success nowadays because it just can lead to, you know, a career opportunity or just even enjoyment of different activities if you know how to do these.
Sara Brown: 30:54
All right . Julie, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Julie Hapeman: 30:58
Thanks for having me.
Sara Brown: 31:00
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers. I have put links to the website for Rebecca Rosenberg’s app ReBokah and various reading materials and products that Julie uses when she’s teaching coding. I hope you have enjoyed this episode and as always, be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.
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: 0:16
Hello and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Saras Brown. And today we are celebrating Women’s History Month by talking to some women who are making history of their own right here, right now, in today’s time. We’ll hear from two trailblazers and then hear from the LEGO Foundation representatives about their Braille Bricks. They were recently at the Council for Exceptional Children’s Convention, that was held right here in Louisville, Kentucky. Up first we’re talking to Kaiya Armstrong. She made headlines late last year from flying from Phoenix, Arizona, all the way to Washington D. C. In honor of World Sight Day. Hi Kaiya, and welcome to Change Makers.
Kaiya Armstrong: 1:05
Hi. It’s great to be here.
Sara Brown: 1:08
All right , Kaiya, so you made headlines for flying from, what was it ? Is it Phoenix? All the way to Washington D. C. Which is huge. That’s a big deal. But before we get into that experience, talk about your background and your vision and everything in between.
Kaiya Armstrong: 1:31
I was 14, I was a month into my freshman year of high school, and at the time I was doing online school, so I was usually done with my school day by noon. And my routine was to always go for this really long bike ride just around our community, just to enjoy the weather and have fun. Well, one day I had left the house, not even five minutes later I was back because my vision was just really, really blurry. And you know , I’d had mom look at my eyes and, you know, they were a little red and we just figured it was allergies out in the weather. And then the very next day my pupil had blew and we didn’t know what was going on. It was really funny shapes. And we went to the hospital and they sent us to a retina specialist who told me that I had an autoimmune disease called uveitis. And so from there it was really just a long battle of keeping what eyesight I did have, because for years they promised me that I would get my eyesight back. And at 19, after I had gone through surgeries and so many rounds of all these different medications, I was told that I could see, you know, they gave me glasses, they gave me a learner’s permit. So I was driving a car <laugh> , which was beyond stressful <laugh> . Wow. But there , there was just something not right. And they weren’t really, they didn’t seem worried cuz they figured it was just getting used to new glasses. But I’d been wearing glasses for years and so had everybody else in my family. So we knew what getting used to new glasses was like, and something just wasn’t right. And it finally all came to a head when it was middle of the day, broad daylight. I tripped over a two foot tall paper shredder in our own home. And we had called the very next day because my dad had heard of this place called the Foundation for Blind Children. And they said, we can get a, an evaluation there and figure out, you know, what was going on. And, you know, they got us in and they said, “we’re sorry, but your peripheral vision is gone and chances are you’re never gonna get it back.” And fast forwarding from 2019, which was when we found out to today, we still have absolutely no idea why I lost my eyesight or, you know, everything that led up to it.
Sara Brown: 4:23
So it’s not an autoimmune issue is it? It’s just No, no, no rationale behind it. It’s, yeah . So you never got your answers. Wow.
Kaiya Armstrong: 4:35
We’re still looking, I mean, we’re still going to doctors all the time. <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative> . It’s a never ending visitation. Yeah. But They have no idea.
Sara Brown: 4:45
Just one of those things. Wow . That’s, that’s so interesting. Wow. And oh , you go for a bike riding , you come right back. Yeah. So it is out of the blue.
Kaiya Armstrong: 4:55
Yeah, it was just within a period of 24 hours. Oh
Sara Brown: 4:59
My goodness. So this is happening to you. How did, how did flying come into play? Where did that come from?
Kaiya Armstrong: 5:07
That sort of came out of the blue too. <laugh>, <laugh> , another thing. Mm -hmm . <affirmative> , I , um, I was able to attend the adult comprehensive classes , at the Foundation for Blind Children to, you know, adjust and learn how to live without my eyesight in 2021 . I got, I was able , I got into the program at the end of the year and we were just, you know, I was getting into the classes and, you know, I was learning and I was getting close to the end. And one of my instructors said that something was coming up that was hosted by the Foundation for Blind Children that they thought that I would be interested in doing. And I found out a few weeks later that they were gonna host a challenge event called Flight for Sight <laugh> . And literally the week before I found out all of the details in talking with my mom about things that I didn’t think I would ever be able to do, which was, you know, driving a car, flying a plane. And then a week later this opportunity came up to pilot a plane from Arizona to Washington DC And it was, it was unbelievable at the time, you know, I didn’t believe it the first time I heard it. And then it became a reality and applying for the position, I was just so excited. I had never ever dreamed of fly in a plane before. And then this opportunity came up and I told my mom, I have to do this because it’s not just proving to the world that people with people that are blind or people with visual impairments can do anything. It was proving it to myself. Cause I had that as myself. And this was, this was a wake up call. I guess you could say that, you know , impossible isn’t a word. You know, sometimes you just need to wait until the opportunity comes up.
Sara Brown: 7:17
I like that. And that’s really good. Or that, impossible is not a word. Just have to wait for the opportunity. And that’s the thing, you know, you might not have the best sight , but there’s another way to get around it. There’s another way to do things and, yeah. Yeah . Wow. So talk about the training and what that process was like.
Kaiya Armstrong: 7:42
A lot of extensive training.
Sara Brown: 7:44
<laugh> I bet I was,
Kaiya Armstrong: 7:46
I was working with a certified, or a certified flight instructor three times a week. And then I was working with an instructor from the foundation that would help sort of translate everything that was in like the pilot’s book. I had to read , not really translate, but put into perspective because I couldn’t see the pictures and what it was doing. They were making it, making it available for me, I guess you can say. And they were able to emboss the entire book in braille for me, which I loved. But it was so big, <laugh>. It was a very big book when it was done. Yeah . It fills up like an entire suitcase. <laugh>, oh
Sara Brown: 8:37
My gosh. <laugh>
Kaiya Armstrong: 8:38
And, oh , just carrying that around everywhere, you know, thankfully <laugh> , I didn’t have to carry the entire thing with me anytime I left. But yeah, we did that for eight months, every single week I was working them , uh, book-wise. And then I also had a flight instructor, the one that every other week to learn essentially how to pilot the plane. You can only really learn so much from the books.
Sara Brown: 9:14
That’s true. Yeah.
Kaiya Armstrong: 9:16
And so every other week we were up in the air, early in the morning on a Saturday, and it was, it was an amazing experience the very first time we met, you know, I thought it was just gonna be sort of an introduction, figuring out, you know, ways that we can get around it. But no, he threw me right in the pilot seat, you know, <laugh> threw me in , threw me in the deep end <laugh> . But it was such an amazing experience. I was just so excited. And I don’t think he really ever doubted me from the beginning. He stuck me in the pilot seat and he told me what we needed to do, and we got in the air that very first day and that very first day he was having me , um, pilot the plane. I wasn’t doing all the little minor , um, details because I didn’t know all the little minor things, but he gave me the controls once we were up in the air and it was, there are no words.
Sara Brown: 10:21
I bet. Just, just takes your breath away.
Kaiya Armstrong: 10:25
It really does. Yeah. It doesn’t matter how many times I went up, there really are no words to describe what being up in the air felt like.
Sara Brown: 10:35
Okay. So you’ve gotten, you’ve gotten the hours, you’ve logged the hours, and you’re in there getting comfortable. <laugh> how did the decision come about for a a , a trek from, from Phoenix to Washington for World Site Day? How, what made was that you, what made you decide to do , decide to do that? Or what, how did that come to be?
Kaiya Armstrong: 11:02
It was all really hosted by the Foundation for Blind Children. They host what they call challenge events. They’ve had a group of blind people hike Mount Kilimanjaro. They’ve had a group of blind students sail the Spanish Virgin Islands, I believe it was where it was. And all of this is just aimed at proving to the people that are blind and to the entire world, that we shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to what society thinks we can do. We have the capabilities, we have the tools, and if we don’t have the tools, maybe they’re in development and a few months or a few years. But all of this was aimed at just proving to everyone that our capabilities are endless.
Sara Brown: 12:00
So I met you when you stopped here in Louisville , um, Louisville, Kentucky, during your journey, and you had quite the fanfare, and it was really cool to see, really great to see news organizations out , um, welcoming you into town. And hopefully that was something, oh , I actually followed you as you made your way across <laugh> and saw all the news coverage, so that was really cool. Now, when they’re interviewing you and you’re telling your story and you’re talking about what you’re doing in this journey, what are you hoping people, what are you wanting people to take away when they hear your journey and your story?
Kaiya Armstrong: 12:35
Well, for people that are blind or visually impaired, I want them to understand that, you know, we don’t have limits. If you have a dream that people say is crazy, don’t, don’t let them stop you. You know, it may not be tomorrow, it may not be next month, it may be a few years from now, but you keep pursuing your dream. And for us, it is a lot of extra work, a lot of extra hours that we have to put into doing what most sighted people can just do. But in the end, it’s all worth it. And then for the rest of society, all of the sighted <affirmative> society all sighted people, I want them to understand that it takes us a little bit longer. You know, we can’t see. Yes. But we have the tools to be successful just like everybody else.
Sara Brown: 13:31
That’s so true. Yeah. You have the tools, the tools are there to help you be just as successful as anybody and everyone else. Do you have any more flights planned in the future? What’s next? What’s next for Kaiya Armstrong?
Kaiya Armstrong: 13:43
<laugh> No flights right now, although eventually I love to get back up in the air. Right now I’ve just really been focusing on school. This is my first year in college and that’s been an adventure of its own.
Sara Brown: 13:57
Now talk about that. Where are you going? What are you studying or thinking about studying? How’s that been?
Kaiya Armstrong: 14:02
I’m going to Estrella Mountain Community College right now. And I’m in my second semester <laugh> and I’m pursuing a, an Associates in Criminology and Criminal Justice. And I’m hoping to eventually one day get to law school. I wanna be a lawyer. It’s a few years down the line, but, you know, those few years are gonna be one big adventure.
Sara Brown: 14:32
Are there , what are your final thoughts are ? What would you say, you know, I always like to ask, you know, what are your final thoughts? Is there anything else you’d like to say? Or is there anything you’d like to say to Kaiya, you know, when she first started, experience vision problems or anybody out there that’s worried they can’t, you know, set goals and achieve big things like you just did because they’re, they’re, they’re blind or low vision.
Kaiya Armstrong: 14:57
I think for those out there that are going through something similar to what I went through that are going through just vision loss in general, that’s unexpected. That’s sort of just come outta nowhere. It can be really hard. I know for a few years there, when I was still in high school, I had a really hard time accepting what was going on, but it gets better. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a reason that everything has happened and you can’t lose hope. Sure. Life isn’t gonna be the same as it was when you could see, but maybe it could end up being better <laugh>. You never know. There’s always gonna be opportunities ahead of you.
Sara Brown: 15:39
All right . Kaiya, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Kaiya Armstrong: 15:43
Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 15:47
Now we have APHs very own Connect Center Director, Olaya Landa-Vialard. She is the first Latina president of AER. Hello, Olaya and welcome to Changemakers.
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 16:00
Thank you. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Sara Brown: 16:04
Okay, so this podcast is celebrating women’s history and we’re talking to people who are making history right here, right in present day. So you are the first Latina president for AER. Can you talk about how, how big of a deal that is? Because it really is?
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 16:25
I think it’s a , it is a big deal. Um, you know, I think , uh, at least it is for me and for my family , uh, you know, being, being second generation American , um, and, you know, having gone to, to school and , um, speaking mainly Spanish when I was younger , um, and , uh, you being bilingual , uh, and then, you know, making it to where you’re the president of a, an international organization that , uh, that that its mission is to serve , uh, individuals who are blind or low vision mm-hmm . <affirmative> .
Sara Brown: 17:01
And that’s a huge deal. And I’m sure your family’s so proud of you too. I could just imagine what they , what they’ve been thinking and what they’ve said too, and support of
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 17:09
You. Yes . <laugh> yes. And I mean, it, it is , it’s just really exciting to, to be at the helm of such a, such an awesome organization. And then knowing that I’m the first Latina, I just feel like, you know, I’m making, we’re making inroads. Um, and that that’s really important to me , um, to help diversify the field , um, so that more of us are serving , um, in leadership positions, serving, serving the kids who, who look like us. You know,
Sara Brown: 17:38
You know, that’s a really big deal too. Representation is very important. And when you’re serving people that look like you, you know that that makes a difference. And Yes. You know, so I, that’s, that’s such an amazing thing to , to, to spotlight too . Yes . For those who don’t know , can you talk about what AER is?
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 17:58
So, AER stands for the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. And we are a professional membership organization , um, that is comprised of , uh, individuals who are teachers of students with visual impairments or blindness. Um, we’ve got vision rehab therapists, certified low vision therapists , um, who are also part of our organization, certified orientation and Mobility Specialists, orientation and mobility specialists. So all the, all the vision professions , um, belong to AER , um, as a membership organization. And so we , um, we serve our members by providing , um, training, by providing , um, we have two different journals. One that is more research based and one that is more practitioner based . So our journals are available for our members to learn from and then take what they learn from those , um, from, from the journals to implement them out in the field with their clients, with their students. Um, and so we, we are, we are about 3,000 strong in the organization, and we’re very, very proud to be out there , uh, affecting change for kids of, of students of all ages into adulthood.
Sara Brown: 19:26
And not only are you president of AER, you’re also director for the APH ConnectCenter. Would you like to explain for those who just have missed every opportunity in every podcast that you’ve been on, would you like to explain for those who don’t know what the A p H Connect Center is and the services it offers?
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 19:42
Sure. So the APH ConnectCenter is , uh, comprised of websites and an Information and Referral line. Um, our Information and Referral line is staffed by two individuals who are blind themselves. And so anybody can call with questions , uh, about blindness, questions about resources for individuals who are , uh, maybe recently diagnosed with blindness or low vision. Uh , a lot of times we get , um, phone calls because people get , uh, get a diagnosis and , um, then they’re just sent along their way and they’re not given any resources or any know-how on, you know, how to live with this new , um, this , you know, with this new condition that they may have. And , uh, just so that people know, the a p h information and referral line, the phone number is 1-800-232- 5463. And like I’ve said before, it’s staffed Monday to Friday, 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Eastern Standard time. Um, and so that is one big piece of what, what we have in the APH ConnectCenter. We also have a directory of services that has about 2, 000 , um, agencies listed , um, where you can find resources that are , um, near you in your state, in your region. So that’s another big part of the Connect Center. We also have , um, the three websites. We have , uh, family Connect, Vision Aware , and Career Connect. So our Family Connect website is for families of, of individuals who , uh, are blind or low vision, mainly , um, school age . Um, and then we have our vision aware , uh, audience, which is adults with vision loss , uh, or people who are new to living with vision loss. And then we have our Career connect site, which is for job seekers who are blind or low vision . And so in with the Career Connect, we have , um, we have webinars that feature individuals from different careers. Um, we’ve had a blind embalmer, we’ve had blind , um, finance bankers. Um, we’ve had blind producers , um, you know, media producers, movies and tv. Um, and so we, we really have spanned the gamut of individuals who are blind , um, who come on and talk to our , uh, our job seekers who may be looking for jobs in any particular sector that’s out there. And so I think so far we’ve had about 12 , um, we call them career conversations. And , um, and so we are able to offer that , um, to our youth who are in the transition period and to older, older individuals who might be looking for a career change. Um, we offer the same , uh, we offer webinars as well for Family Connect. And the Family Connect webinars are typically more geared towards , um, parents and guardians of children who are blind or low vision. Um, talking about how to work with your child or your, your loved one at home , uh, helping them with concept development , um, helping them with, with , um, uh, independent living skills, things of that nature. The thing, the other thing too, with Vision Aware , we have , um, lots of webinars on independent living , uh, on diabetes care with , if you are visually impaired or blind, how do you manage your diabetes , um, you know, giving insulin injections , um, also, you know, taking your , uh, measuring your blood sugar, all those things that, that people tend to do every day that seem like everyday tasks. But when you’re blind or low vision, you just have to have a different way of doing it. And so we try to help you figure that out.
Sara Brown: 23:24
So talk about representation in the field. Do , I mean, I , you don’t have to give any specific hard finance finite stats, Uhhuh , <affirmative> . Is there a lot of diversity in this field that you’re in?
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 23:39
We don’t have a lot of diversity in the field. Um, well, for one , um, the field is dominated by women, so that’s one, one area , uh, we need to, we need to diversify , uh, gender. Um, but also there are just not a lot of people of color in the field. And so it’s, it’s hard , um, when you are trying to reach students who don’t look like you, not that it’s impossible, but remember, we’re trying to inspire and we’re trying to motivate kids and, and, and , and adults who we work with. And, you know, we really want to be able to diversify the field regarding ethnicity, regarding gender , um, so that we are serving the kids who, who look like us. Um, and so that is an issue that we, we have in the field right now. We’re trying to address that , um, by doing some outreach to historically black colleges and universities , um, to see about recruiting some of those, those students into programs that are in , uh, other universities. Um, because most of our programs are master’s level. And so if we can go and target , um, a historically black colleges and universities and also Hispanic-serving institutions, we may be able to start breaking that barrier and really , um, you know, diversifying our field by bringing in more , um, African-American, black , uh, Hispanic, Asian , um, you know , LGBTQ+ , um, into the field so that our students can see themselves in the people who are serving them.
Sara Brown: 25:36
Because just like we just said, in the end, representation really does matter. And that’s a really cool thing that you all are doing, especially with the HBCUs. And, you know, it makes it, it just makes such a big difference.
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 25:49
Oh yes. It’s, it’s gonna make it , we’re hoping it makes a huge difference by doing that outreach. I know we have one program at an HBCU, North Carolina Central University. We’d love to see a program like that replicated in other HBCUs. Um, and so that is something that AER is taking on right now. We have , um, recruitment chairpersons , um, and, and the different , um, uh, state level AER chapters and they are charged with outreach. And some of the charges are to reach out to some of these colleges and universities , um, Hispanic serving and historically black colleges and universities to talk to them about this field in particular and letting people know that this is a career choice. Um, that , and that there’s a lot of these , uh, programs that we do have , um, in the vision world are grant funded, so there’s money there as well to incentivize people to come into this field. And so AER’s really looking at taking that on. I’m , you know, we’ve never had a , um, diversity committee for AER and as the president, as the first Latina president , um, I made sure that we created a diversity, equity and inclusion committee , um, for the first time. And so we just had our first meeting in , uh, a couple weeks ago in , uh, mid-February. And , um, we are , uh, right now our charge is to identify people of color who we can name some awards after. One of the things that I noticed , um, you know, when you talk about representation, one of the things that I noticed at our last international conference in 2022 , um, when the awards were being given, I started notice . I , I just noticed the names or, or the people who these awards are named after, none of them were people of color. And I just thought, you know, that we are not being represented , um, when it comes to, you know, high accomplishments where people can be, have , uh, an award named after them. So , um, one of our, our, our first charges is to identify people of color who have, who are trailblazers themselves in this field. Either they themselves are blind or low vision or have done something innovative in the field , um, to affect change , uh, positive change in the lives of individuals who are blind or low vision. So , uh, representation really does matter. We have to see ourselves , uh, out there just like we want our clients and our students to see themselves in us.
Sara Brown: 28:37
Okay . I just got chills, so I’m just thinking that maybe one day there’s gonna be an award named after you
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 28:43
Sara Brown: 28:45
That’s so true. I didn’t even think about that. For those who don’t understand the importance of having diversity, whether it be just in a program or an organization, can you explain the importance of having a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds in a variety of colors, with a variety of experiences?
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 29:05
Um, I think, I mean, you , you kind of nailed it. People from different backgrounds, different experiences bring so much richness to the table. Um, you know, there , it’s, it’s hard to create , um, policies and programs if you only have one point of view. And, you know, people from different background, I mean, me, myself , uh, you know, I grew up in, in, in Houston , um, uh, in a, in a Mexican neighborhood , um, where, you know, everything that we needed was within our in two, you , you know, within like a two to three mile radius. And we never really had to leave , um, the neighborhood in order to, you know, go buy groceries or go to the doctor or those kind of things. And so our worlds are sometimes very limited. And so , um, when you bring that to the table where someone else was, you know, had different experiences or more vast experiences, you’re able to learn from each other and then be able to , um, how do I wanna say, kind of like respect and be open to the experiences and needs of other individuals who may have a different , uh, experiential background than you. Um , I mean, there are, there are so many things that are conceptual , um, that individuals from different backgrounds may not know because , uh, you know, we grew up in a more limited environment than others. And so when you’re able to bring that to the table, you’re able to make policies and programs so much richer , um, because you’re having those different opinions and points of view. Um, sometimes people can’t imagine a scenario if they’ve never had the experience of a particular scenario, if that makes sense. And so , uh, you know, there, there, there may be a , uh, a situation where someone can’t imagine that a student in a, in a middle school wouldn’t have access to current information in a textbook because their high school or their school always had the most current textbooks available. Well, sometimes the high schools or the middle schools or elementary schools that other kids go to who are from different, who are from different neighborhoods, different backgrounds, they don’t have access to the newest available textbooks around or the newest information, but some of them don’t even have access to internet still. So, you know, you, you think about those experiences coming through and helping to inform , uh, policies and programs that are being developed for those very people who we’re trying to serve. So that’s why it’s so important to have that, that mixture, that representation to know that others exist. Otherwise, it’s always gonna be one-sided, and it’s always gonna be me not meeting the needs of the kids who we are actually serving, because we’re only listening to the small 1% of the, of the population that we do serve. So that’s why we really need that mixture. We need the diversity because it just makes the, it makes it so much richer for everyone.
Sara Brown: 32:37
Olaya, is there anything else you wanna say before we wrap up this interview?
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 32:43
I’m just trying to think , you know, don’t let the color of your skin, the language or languages that you speak, hold you back. Um, don’t let people’s perceptions of you , you know, color your world and hold you back. Don’t let numbers that we tend to use numbers so much to represent who we are. Um, numbers, meaning like test scores , um, grades, things like that . Don’t let those things hold you back because you are so much more than what is, what a number represents or what a person might , um, perceive how they might perceive you. Um, especially if you have an accent , um, people will perceive you as, you know , uh, as illiterate or uneducated when sometimes those are the most, those are the smartest people in the room. Um, because I know myself, if, if I was solely judged on the numbers on a piece of paper , um, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I , I can tell you that right now , uh, I, with, with the help of my family and the, the confidence that my parents had in me to, to, to rise above , um, those, those particular things in life that, that tend to make you feel you’re, you’re not worthy. Um, you know, I wouldn’t be here today if I let those things define me. Um, you know, and so I define myself and my, and who I surround myself with define me as well. And so I think that’s important for people, young people, women who are, who are trying to, to make a difference, to, to know that , um, you are far more than what, what people think of you. And sometimes you’re far more than you think of yourself. Um, you just have to give yourself a chance and believe in yourself enough to continue to push forward and, and know that you are worthy.
Sara Brown: 34:58
All right . Olaya, you’re about to start preaching right now. <Laugh> .
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 35:00
Oh girl. Full .
Sara Brown: 35:01
Love that. That’s so true. All right , Olaya, thank you so much for joining today on Change Makers.
Olaya Landa-Vialard: 35:09
Sure. Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 35:14
Now we’re gonna shift gears and talk to some members from the LEGO Foundation. As I said earlier, they were recently here in Louisville for the CEC Convention. I spoke with Maria Oddoux, who is the LEGO Foundation Braille expert and Marc Angelier, he’s also a LEGO Foundation Braille Bricks expert as well. During this interview you might hear some noise in the background. That’s just part of the wonderful renovations that are currently underway at APH. You’re, you all are here in Louisville, Kentucky right now. Can you talk about what you’re doing here in town?
Marc Angelier: 35:52
Yeah, we are very happy to be here in Louisville, Kentucky because uh , we are visiting APH framed at APH and we are organizing , uh, two workshops on in CEC 2023. So the first workshop will be an introduction to learning through play to all the people who are interested in learning more about learning through play with LEGO Braille Bricks, mainly practitioners. So it can be teachers, it can be OT, PT and educators, whatever. And that’s free , that’s organized by APH. And the second purpose is also presenting at CEC for a shorter , uh, presentation on learning through play, but with for children with an autistic issue and for children with visual impairment.
Sara Brown: 36:42
Okay. So another question. Do you mind just explaining a little bit what you do here, what you do at LEGO?
Marc Angelier: 36:48
Yeah , so Marie and I are working for the LEGO Foundation. We are experts . So I was previously a TVI and Marie, an occupational therapist. And we are working on the LEGO Braille Bricks concept. Uh , that is to say we have prepared a lot of activities related to learning through play skills that can be developed using LEGO Braille bricks.
Sara Brown: 37:12
Talk about learning through play, that’s a big deal with LEGO and especially the LEGO Braille Bricks. And sounds like both of you all come from the blind and low vision world. Talk about how learning through play is so integral with these Lego braille bricks.
Marie Oddoux: 37:25
Okay, so at the LEGO Foundation, we truly believe in learning through play and Lego Foundation is here to redefine play and reimagining learning. And it means also reimagining learning for children with visual impairment. So what we try to do with the LEGO Braille Bricks project is to include learning through play with the braille bricks for children with visual impairment. We know we truly believe that brail is , uh, really , um, powerful tool that we need to use with the children. And it can be really fun to teach and learn braille through play with the brail bricks.
Sara Brown: 38:04
Okay. And then my final question, talk about the training. What the , what type of training goes in to either getting the student to understand and learn the how to use the LEGO Braille Bricks with that? Or just how to explain it to an adult that’s teaching a student or their child how to use the LEGO Braille Bricks.
Marie Oddoux: 38:23
So we try to adopt the same philosophy with our trainings for the teachers. So it means our training are also including learning to play. We will , you will have trainings that are joyful where people will enjoy the activities we hope , uh, so we’ll have fun. We’ll also participate actively in the activities. They are all socially really interactive and we try to uh , explain the meaning and purpose of each activity for the teachers because if you have fun , um, learning about this method, then you will have fun using it with the children and everyone will enjoy. And yeah. And
Sara Brown: 39:06
I understand sounds like if you’re learning and you’re having fun where there , there’s learning and everybody won . So I understand. Is there anything either one of you all wanna say about LEGO Braille Bricks or your time at CEC By the time this podcast episode airs, CEC will be over, but is there anything you all wanna say?
Marc Angelier: 39:23
Yeah, may uh , we are also very happy to be in the U. S. Because we are having like a LEGO Braille Bricks tour over the U. S. So we, yeah, we will be in both sides of the U. S. East and West and finish in the middle. And we are very happy because we have a lot of practitioners using Lego breads or new to LEGO Braille Bricks. But we would like to know more about the Bricks and they are all coming and attending the workshops and are really passionate of learning more and using LEGO Bricks with their students.
Marie Oddoux: 39:54
So if they are not, if you are not aware or if you cannot attend any of the next conferences, we will have this month , uh, there is a huge community of practitioners in the Facebook group. So all you have to search is LEGO rubrics on Facebook. But we also have a YouTube channel where we record most of our sessions online or physical. And we also have the website where everything is written. So it’s legobraillebricks.com and we are really happy to share all these events with APH. And we also have lots of , uh, webinar online on the APH.
Sara Brown: 40:33
Awesome. Thank you both so much for doing this interview with me and enjoy your time here at Louisville at CEC and traveling across the U.S.
Marie Oddoux: 40:41
Thank you. Thank you. Are really happy to be here and have the chance to visit APH.
Sara Brown: 40:47
Wonderful. Thank you again. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers. I’ve put links to the local Louisville headlines that covered Kaiya’s journey into town and the recent local news story that covered the LEGO Braille bricks. There’s also a link in there to the Lego Foundation. As always, be sure to find ways you can be a change maker this week.
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 have low vision. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:27
Hello and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown, and today we are still celebrating Black History Month. On this episode, we’re gonna talk to Monique Coleman about her childhood college life and how her journey led her to become a TVI and President of Vista’s Education Partners. Hello Monique, and welcome to Change Makers.
Monique Coleman: 0:51
Hello. Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 0:53
Okay, so welcome and this podcast, this episode is in honor of Black History Month and our changemakers. I wanna make sure we spotlight them. And so that’s why we are having you on today. And we just wanna just, just talk about you, your life, your experiences, your journey that’s gotten you to where you are today. So can you talk about your childhood and your, your, your formative years? <laugh> ?
Monique Coleman: 1:19
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, yeah, I mean, there’s a lot there that I could say, but I think , um, what I would highlight is, first I was born and raised in New Jersey. Um, and since we’re talking about Black History Month, I will just also say that what I love the most about Black History Month and what it reminds me of the most , um, personally, of course, there’s a collective aspect of Black History Month, but personally, it reminds me of my grandmother, who is no longer with me, for us , um, because she was very much , um, active in the association for the study of African American Life and History, which is an organization that was started by Carter Godwin Woodson, you know, the father of , um, black History Month. And so, you know, this month has special significance again for me personally, because growing up a lot of my time when, you know, I was maybe on weekends and summers, you know, with my grandmother , uh, I would be kind of her road dog. Go around her different meetings and activities and, and, and , um, sometimes like book fairs and resource fairs all focused on , um, promoting and , um, raising awareness around black culture and history. Um, so that said , uh, I was raised , um, you know, in New Jersey, both of my parents’ families are actually rooted in the south, which is, you know, very typical for , um, African Americans . Right. So they, their families were both , um, made their way up to New Jersey during the Great Migration were millions of African Americans , um, moved out of the south by force , actually. Right. You know, when you have conditions of, you know, racial terror and , um, lack of economic opportunities, millions and millions , um, you know, black Americans moved up north and northwest. And so our, both sides of my families are from Virginia and I think like North Carolina area. So yeah, so similar to what I think many people , um, African Americans who live in Northeast or in other parts of the northern , um, parts of the country experience was in my childhood in the summers were often spent going down south. So we’d go down south and visit family, usually like a grandmother. There’s always like a grandmother, a great-grandmother who stayed down there, some kind of older relatives who did not come up. Um, and then of course their children and children’s children. And so you have, you know, a bunch of cousins and uncles and aunts and so forth that you’re and great-grands that you’re , um, sometimes really only, really only seeing that one time a year like in the summer or for family reunions as well. But yeah, for my childhood was really centered around sort of the larger family too, you know, very closely connected family . So even though again, we still had our roots down south , um, the family made sure that , um, they stayed connected through the , this kind of ritual of, you know, going down south. Um, and I think also it was about staying connected to their, their roots and their southern roots. Um, so, you know, as a kid it’s, it’s fun. It was fun as a kid going down south and you just, you know , just have so much room to run around and , uh, you know , just breathe in this country air and be a little bit more free than you could be sort of where, you know, I , um, in some parts of New Jersey and in New York area. Um, but then as you know, I got older, it’s like not as fun anymore necessarily to kind of have to go down to, you know, so go down south every summer. Um, but yeah, I do kind of, you know , now think back with more nostalgia on that time and how important it was. Um, and to this day , uh, you know, my family members that stayed down south in different parts of down south will , I usually see them for family reunions and things like that and special occasions. Um, and, you know, we often reminisce on those, you know, summers, summers that we would have together. Uh, and then, you know, where I was raised in New Jersey primarily , um, was uh, would be considered a suburb. Um, but it was , uh, like many suburbs in, in New Jersey, and definitely in different parts of the country, it was very , um, segregated re in terms of the residential , um, living. Right. So you, you had your clearly obvious sort of more lower income working class part of the neighborhood , um, that was most, not mostly, but that had the population of black people Right. That existed in the town for the most part. They kind of all, we all sort of lived in a particular part of the community that I , um, this , the town that I was , uh, born in, which is Scotch Queens , New Jersey. Um, and then all around us you would see, you know, this wealth and white wealth really, to be honest with you , um, uh, in other parts, the majority of the, of the town. So I grew up again, very early with an awareness of , um, sort of the racial economic divide. Um, both, again, just the , from my experiences living it and then learning from my grandmother primarily, who was the main one who was kind of this really strong , um, advocate. And , uh, she knew a lot. So, you know, growing up in school, for example, you know, you’re , you’re , you’re a black child in a school district that’s, you know, predominantly white. And at that time it was predominantly white or, you know, black, one or the other really wasn’t, we didn’t have a whole lot of other diversity at that time or we were , um, and, you know, just kind of navigating that and , um, sometimes just feeling like, okay, I’m the only one in this classroom, not necessarily feeling like I’m, my needs are being, I’m being seen for who I am by full self. Right? So, because of course when I go home and my life at home and on weekends in many ways is quite different from the kinda experiences that and experience I had at school. So I think , um, what a couple of things that I experienced growing up as a child was just, yes, having play, having friends and playmates , um, who were, you know, diverse. Of course I had my black friends and I had plenty of white friends when I was growing up, especially when I was younger. But as we got into those adolescent years , uh, we started to , uh, you started to find more , um, kind of segregation in terms of the friend groups even, right? So, you know, the black kids would tend to more associate together. Um, and , and which , you know, again, when you’re dealing with that kind of , um, when you’re that kind of numerical minority <laugh> in the sense , um, and you do feel in sense sort of some of the inequities in the school system sort of, for example, like, you know, like all the black kids are like kind of , kind of getting tracked into sort of the, you know, lower classes in high school, for example. Um, and not necessarily on kind of more the college track, you know, the , the kids and many of the families see these differences. And so , um, just even just culturally sort of , uh, your relationships and who you connect with , uh, again, are going to kind of reflect , um, your larger, broader, bigger life right outside of the school. So again, I think that for myself and many others who are African-Americans in that community, we really had to, we had a bond like a , you know, special sort of bond. Um, because sometimes it’s just like we have to look out for ourselves too, right? And make sure that we are , um, um, supporting each other and getting , um, making sure they’re getting kind of equal treatment in that environment. So, for example , um, my grandmother at one point , um, we got to that suburb , um, through a different migration from New Jersey in the , in the city in Newark, down to Scotch Plains in the suburb. And my grandmother made sure that my father , um, who was coming from north urban area, black male , um, into the suburb , um, did not get trapped into those classes. She was very aware of what was happening and really advocated hard to, you know, for him and of course by extension others like him, to not kind of experience that sort of racial tracking. Um, and so when it came time for me to, you know, go through that same sort of school sy that same process in terms of working your way up the hierarchy of , um, academic academics, I found that , um, I was able to, you know, advocate for myself and I was able to really just see , um, step back and sort of see what was happening, kind of look , um, almost as an outsider , uh, as to kinda the social dynamics in that environment. So , um, I got involved with the , um, black student union, and I was , um, you know, vice president or co co-president, whatever we called ourselves. Me and my best friend , um, ended up being , um, co-presidents of the Black student Union , um, in the middle school and then for a time in the high school. Um, and, you know, part of it was just, again, more cultural awareness and pride and activities and everything, but also just about, yeah , we, we have this , uh, support system for each other, and that sometimes that means we’re gonna need to advocate and we , uh, for fairness and equity in what we were, what we were , um, experiencing there. So, so yeah, I mean, I , I think that, and when I think about my childhood, my upbringing , um, I was fortunate to be in a situation where I was able to learn early , um, I think and, and, and also learn through experience, but also, again, through knowledge and understanding from my elders, like my grandparents and other family members , um, what it means to be black in America. Um, and so I did not have any sort of mis , uh, misconceptions probably the right word , right word. Um, I was very, you know, I had to be very clear. I learned to be very clear about what it means , um, and how complicated , um, it really gets when we think about what it means to be a black person in America. Right.
Sara Brown: 10:43
Yeah. Talk to me. You’re in school. Tell me how was, what was college like, what, what , what got you on the path to where you are today?
Monique Coleman: 10:51
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, I mean, again, as I was very much , um, into school as a little girl, you know, I was not talk about stereotypes and images. I was not like the black girl that would just be in all the dance groups and, you know, doing the step teens and the drill, cuz I just wasn’t that good at that stuff , <laugh>. So even though that was big and step teens were big and , you know, you’re doing your little dance groups, you know, that just, I couldn’t get it. So I , I would be, I was very much into my books. Um, and I actually , uh, uh, me and my best friend started our own newsletter , um, when we were very, very little. My mother actually just recently shared the original copy of it. We started, we were like nine years old and we would interview , um, local people, business people and professionals or whatever. And we did that for a couple years. So I’m think I’m going back to that time because , uh, I think at that time what others around me were seeing in my family, which I wasn’t seeing, I was just doing what I like to do, is that okay, you know, this is a child who is really trying to , um, you know, is trying to, we have a path that we see her going on, right? And so part of that is, was a path of me sort of wanting to , um, speak to issues of fairness and issues of , um, I think just people’s stories and lives. So that’s what the newsletter’s all about, exploring people’s lives and their perspectives. And particularly we focus on a lot of African Americans who were in particular positions of authority or power like a mayor or business owner and things like that. Um, and so that stayed with me. Uh, and then of course couple that with the experience of , um, you know, being , um, kind of co-president of the black student union. Um, and then in high school when we worked, we had to always work like, you know, all black kids usually had jobs for sure. And so, you know, we needed it. And on weekends my job was at what was in kids or us, which is no longer around the kids are our store . But then I would advocate with my other teenage coworkers for our rights in that environment. Cause it was just like, you know, we, I would see sort of the dynamics when you have a whole bunch of high school kids, right? Most of us, black and brown, you’re getting in there. And really we were being overworked <laugh> . And it’s started to do a lot of things that I really question. And again, that tied to the way I was raised and how I was taught to be , to think again about these complicated , um, truths that we live within our society. And a lot of those truths fall along those racial right. And , um, class lines and other forms of marginalized identities . So I took all of that with me to, and decided to attend Spelman College in Atlanta. That was actually the only school I wanted to attend. So I only applied to one school. I’m not proud to say that because never advised anybody to do that, right? So <laugh> thank goodness I got in, I mean, I had no backup, no safety school. There was no such thing, right? Um, but I got in, it was my dream school and, you know, it was just the best , um, the best time of my life actually. Um, those college years. Uh , although I , I was really homesick at first going all the way down to Atlanta. Like yeah, I wanted to be a Spelman , but that distance from going down to Atlanta and I couldn’t come home regularly. Um, so that was tough, but there were so many kids from all over and there a lot of us from the northeast. So I was able to kind of first start my friendship group out with people who were similar to me in terms of , um, kind of how we grew up and surroundings and so forth. And then eventually expanded those friendships , uh, in Atlanta. So , uh, there it was just a mecca <laugh> , right? Well, Howard likes to say there the mecca, but you know, the , we had the Clark Atlanta University, brown , uh, Morehouse Spelman all together in this, you know, one beautiful community. And , um, it was just , uh, a really good time to come of age and a really good space to come of age, right? Where you’re, and you’re around surrounded by these professors that are various scholars in their particular fields. And , um, really , um, just imbu and vibe , kind of this idea of black intellectual and black creativity , um, that really inspired, I know for me, inspired me to wanna just be better and do better and learn more about myself and my people. Um, and so, you know, the other thing though is that during that time, that was the time of the Rodney King , um, incident that, cause that was 91, went to filming in 91. And so by our sophomore year was when wa , Rodney King , um, beating, horrible beating happened . And there , there was a major, major uprising in Atlanta and among the college community , uh, there where I was. And guess who one of the main leaders was of that movement at the time? Student leaders.
Sara Brown: 15:48
Um, Let me think, let me think, let me think. I don’t know…who?
Monique Coleman: 15:51
Student leader Stacey Abrams.
Sara Brown: 15:54
Oh my gosh,
Monique Coleman: 15:55
Yes. So I went, I was at Spelman in the same class as Stacey Abrams. And she is just such a real deal because like I said, back then we were students at Spelman and she was clearly, you know, sort of cream of the crop in terms of her commitment to first student activism and, and community activism. And also obviously just her brilliance and how smart she was. Um, which is a really cool kind of person, right? So , um, yeah , she was heavily involved in that , um, the kind of the, the protests and the uprisings that the co the college community experienced in the, in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. And so I like to tell that little story cuz I’m like, yeah, I was right there with , uh, <laugh> Stacey Abrams .
Sara Brown: 16:39
No, that’s So cool. Yeah . And everything that she’s done is amazing, so yeah.
Monique Coleman: 16:46
Yeah , yeah. Exactly. So yeah, she was honored, you know, multiple times, but recently, and I didn’t make it to our last , uh, reunion film reunion. She’s honored. Um , but yes , she’s just doing really amazing things and I’m not, none of us who know her are in any way surprised. Um, but that was the kind of, you know, she’s one person, right? And she’s just really obviously , um, an exemplar in many ways. However, this was kind of just this community that we were in, right? There’s so many , there’s so many bright, brilliant minds and minds that were just at that time were trying to figure out who we are. And it was really a , a moment of like black consciousness too, during that time. So, you know, really trying to get closer to our roots and who we were and be proud of that. And that was the perfect milieu for that. Um, so yeah, college year is best and you know, I really love it. Love that time. Um, and then, you know, I just, for me , um, I came back up north after I graduated cause I did not want to stay in the south, to be honest with you. Although some people did <laugh> and many people as you know, kind of migrated back down south , um, for different opportunities. But I , I knew I wanted to come back up north, and so I did and , um, ended up finding my way to the field of blindness and visual impairment in grad school up up here in New , in New York. Um, but yeah, I, I really had no , um, knowledge of the field of blindness and visual impairment until I got to grad school. Prior to that I was , um, teaching here in, in New York and I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I mean, I kind of knew that from a little girl, either like a teacher or journalist. Um, but teaching always sort of felt right for me. Um, and so, you know, again, when I graduated Spelman with a Sociology degree, it’s like, all right with that you’re either you’re going to grad school or you know, what are you doing? Um, and I knew I wanted to teach, so I was able to go into teaching , um, in early childhood ed and in the pursuit of my master’s , I just kind of stumbled upon blindness and visual impairment in a , uh, presentation that a professor was doing in that department. And , uh, that really just opened my mind up to thinking , um, more broadly about what I could do with my interest in reaching underserved communities. I knew I wanted to work with kids who needed it needed , um, what I could offer the most, at least in my mind. Um, and that to me were, were kids who were in, you know, kind of urban , um, you know, low income working class sort of settings, black and brown kids. That’s tho that’s the population I was really sort of focused on , um, working with in my early teaching years. Um, so when I was introduced , used to the blindness visual education field, and I heard about, you know, just how much of a need there is in the field, right? The lack, first of all, the short , the extreme shortage of certified teachers to work with this population , um, the low incidence of the disability and what that means in terms of getting services. And so I’m like, okay, well this does sound like something that is, is also would suit sort of my need , um, to feel like I’m working with a population that really , um, needs to have someone like me who, who like others, you know, are really interested in trying to make a difference with our most vulnerable students.
Sara Brown: 19:56
So when you started and you graduated grad school, what was, what was that career ? What , what , where did that take you after you got your, your master’s ?
Monique Coleman: 20:05
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Well, also on a personal level at that time, <laugh>, I finished my master’s program with a baby in until, so I had a newborn <laugh> , literally. Um, so what I, my initial plans <laugh> right after graduation did not go as I as expected. Um, I was going to be working in on New York City in the Department of Education working with blind , um, students. Um, I ended up moving after about a year, so moving to Jersey. And , um, what I ended up doing was working with st working at a school for the blind, St . Joseph’s School for the Blind, New Jersey. Uh, which allowed me to , um, have some flexibility as a classroom teacher, but , um, you know, raising one small baby and then I had another one 18 months later, I just had to really think about family too. So I started with at the school for the blind as a classroom teacher. Then I moved into early intervention working with the babies to three year three , uh, year olds , which was , um, again , uh, partly just because it’s, I loved working in early childhood and so working with that, the early year babies and, and up to three year olds and their families and really sort of the whole package right , um, at that early stage was really something that I’ve been interested in, always interested in. And it just also fit with sort of where I was in my life too, right? Just raising my own children and wanting to be able to have some flexibility with my schedule, work schedule. Um, but yeah, that was a time because I would go for early intervention. I would just drive around house to house. Sometimes I’d be, you know, kind of in a little tiny corner in the living room, you know, with the child on the floor or you know, at the kitchen table or you know, wherever we can get some space and all kinds of families, you know. And part of it is almost like therapy or therapeutic. I’m there maybe hearing the mom, you know, having an emotional , uh, moment of crisis almost. And so, you know, there’s so much , there was so much more to it than just providing a service , um, for that child, but is really working , uh, again, with their caregivers as well, which I, I really love that part of it, cuz again, I was more into that, the ecology, the holy ecology of what it takes to , um, teach and educate our young people.
Sara Brown: 22:14
Vistas Vista . Yeah . Mm-hmm. <affirmative> talk about that. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , how did you get, how did that happen?
Monique Coleman: 22:20
Yeah. So , um, now again, I’ll, you know, tell a little bit about my age that I graduated my, my master’s program when I , in 2000, cuz that was when my son was born , um, so quite some time ago. And I spent , uh, the first few years at St . Joseph’s school are blind. And then I went into working in the public schools as an itinerant TVI , um, and I worked sort of what you could call freelance or independent, but would go in and , um, you know, kind of contract with schools to provide services for, for blind and low vision students. And I was working with children as young as preschool up to high school age. And what I, again, in my, in my, I think ever present desire to reach and , and have as many kids and families as I could and have , um, you know , impact , um, but also in my desire to, I think , uh, make sure that in our state of New Jersey , um, students who are blind and low vision in , in public schools, and I know this is, I’m sure the case in many other states , um, I was really interested in making sure that they have quality, you know, quality TVI services , um, that would really make a difference. Um, and so this just came about because I felt like I needed help honestly with just what I was trying to do in terms of , um, working with students and their educational teams in this case, including their families, families, but certainly their teachers and , uh, related service providers. And so I kind of partnered with a couple of other TVIs and we , uh, started Vistas as a way to reach more students, but also to do more programming outside of the school day. So , um, like a Saturday enrichment program and we could do , um, you know , Brailler Richmond or other , um, types of enrichment op , uh, activities in the Expanded Core Curriculum, getting the mountain community and trips. Um , that was my fav , that’s been my favorite part is just doing , um, trips. Haven’t been doing that as much , um, since Covid <laugh> , um, um, doing the Braille Challenge, you know, just trying to think of , um, implementing as many programs and activities , um, that , uh, brought sort of the blind and the vision students and their families more into community, right? With each other and the broader community. So , um, and that’s, I’m a big advocate of partnerships and col collaborations. So Vista’s collaborates with , um, local nonprofit organizations , uh, to do kind of inclusive programming. Before the pandemic, we were doing an inclusion camp with the nonprofit , um, group in the community , um, which was, I think really welcomed by families , um, kind of across the board. So this is , you know , has allowed me to branch out a bit more and created a team of providers here in New Jersey that are really working toward this goal of , um, the highest quality of inclusive education that has , that really focuses on , um, the whole team of team approach and integrating our instructional services with other types of supports.
Sara Brown: 25:21
Wow. And if anybody’s out there listening that wants to know a little bit more, what can they do? Where can they go?
Monique Coleman: 25:28
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, so, well, VISTAS is easy to find. It’s just , uh, www.vistaseducation.com. So vistaseducation.com, and that’s information, that’s where you’ll find information about vistas. Um, and, you know, I think that’s a great starting point. You’ll notice on that website that we also run a hotline called the , um, national Homework Hotline. And this is a service that we started during the pandemic. And yes, APH actually honored the hotline at their 2022 , um, Annual Meeting. And , uh, we received an award and the Navigator Award , um, board , and I say we am talking about the , i , I accepted the award on behalf of the hotline and all of the volunteers of this particular service , uh, which started actually , uh, the , the second week into the pandemic when all the schools shut down in March of 2020 across the country. Um, myself and some of my colleagues in VISTAS and a few other , um, blind adults in the community here in New Jersey that I knew put our heads together and figured that we would start a service to , um, assist families and students in navigating this new terrain remote education. So it was te it’s a telephone-based homework assistance service, and to this day, we’re still doing it because even though schools are open again, and we’re pretty much, you know, really finding our way back to quote unquote “normal or new normals,” people like to say , um, we know that for our students , um, there’s still, there’s still gonna be a need for getting help at home, right? So if you come, you’re working on something in braille, you’re working on something on your Abacus or your , um, access technology tool in school, and you get home and there’s no one there who knows what you’re using or how to do it, and you need some reinforcement help, you can call the hotline , um, and , uh, we will help you and work with you with , with a one-on-one , uh, support. So that particular service is accessible through our website. There’s a form that people would fill out to request assistance, and typically it’s the , you know, obviously a parent or sometimes a teacher or social worker will fill out the form requesting an assistance for their student.
Sara Brown: 27:39
Okay. And to wrap it up, just since we’ve talked about everything, your childhood, college life, this does, what would you say to the 7, 8, 9 year old Monique Coleman, if you could go back in time?
Monique Coleman: 27:56
Oh , that’s a great question. Well, now that I’m al I’m almost the 50 year old Monique Coleman <laugh> , what I would say in the spirit of positivity and thinking about life’s journey, right? And all the changes and , uh, that it in involves, and the twists and the turns, it involves, I would say, to that eight year , eight to nine year old , look at you. Look at how far you’ve come, right? Look at all of the people that you have , um, taught really. I mean, I think about all this , the kids that I’ve taught and the families that I’ve worked with, and the , that little girl, that little eight, nine year old girl that had her stuffed animals lined up on the bed, well, you know what <laugh> that, that meant something that led to something. And it led to a career where I’ve been able to really give back to so many , um, children and students and families , um, and my community too. I haven’t even talked about that, but a lot of the community work that I’ve done too is all rooted in that little girl who, you know, wanted to, was always thinking about, honestly, always thinking about fairness and, and what was happening around her , um, and the people and the interaction, that social context. Um, and I think that I would say you should be proud and happy.
Sara Brown: 29:05
Sounds like you are a natural born change maker , right there. Sounds like changemaker at the ripe ol’ age of eight, <laugh> <laugh> . That’s what it sounds like. So is there anything else you’d like to add about VISTAS, about your life, black History Month, anything?
Monique Coleman: 29:20
Yeah, I mean, I think I just wanna point to just the idea of community, which is really important for me and , um, collectiveness and collective action. Um, because I know this is all about changemakers, like an individual changemaker that you’re interviewing on this podcast, but all of us who you’ve been interviewing for this podcast , this series , um, you know, we would, would not be who we are if it weren’t for some sort of community, right? Some sort of , um, collective that nurtured us and raised us. And so I’m always coming back to that and remembering that any work that I do , um, it’s, I try to make it in unison with a collective. Um, because through community, that’s where you have struggle and that’s where you have growth. And I think that’s kind of the most important thing is to remember that it’s not always just about sort of an individual in our individual selves, individual leaders or changemakers. That’s great. But it’s also about what are we doing as a collective and moving us forward.
Sara Brown: 30:17
All right , Monique Coleman, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Monique Coleman: 30:21
Thank you for having me. This is a really nice conversation. I appreciate you again thinking about me and inviting me to be interviewed.
Sara Brown: 30:32
Okay. I’ve put links in the show notes to VISTAS Education Partners, that’s www.vistaseducation.com, so you can learn a little bit more about that awesome organization. I’ve also put some info about the National Homework Hotline Monique mentioned. And as always, thank you for listening to this episode of Change Makers. And be sure to look for ways you can be a changemaker this week.
Welcome to Changemakers, 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 have low vision. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:16
Hello and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown, and today we’re celebrating Black History Month. On this episode, we’re gonna talk to Anil Lewis about his childhood challenges, victories, and how he became Executive Director of Blindness Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind. After that, we’re gonna hear what’s new with LEGO Braille Bricks. All right , Anil , thank you so much, and welcome to Change Makers .
Anil Lewis: 0:47
My pleasure to be here. I’d like to consider myself a change maker .
Sara Brown: 0:51
Yeah, you certainly are. You certainly are. So, this podcast is about Black History, is is in , is for Black History Month, and we’re mm-hmm . <affirmative> , we’re spotlighting you . So we just wanna hear your story. We wanna spotlight your story in here , in your own words. Last year , um, I’ve interviewed in the past two years, I know I’ve interviewed Everlee Hariston.
Anil Lewis: 1:13
Oh, a phenomoninal woman.
Sara Brown: 1:15
Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Louis Tutt. And I’ve also done, is it Denna Morgan? She’s at NASA.
Anil Lewis: 1:23
Oh, Dina . Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . Yes. She’s a sweetheart.
Sara Brown: 1:25
Anil Lewis: 1:26
She’s a mom now. I don’t know if she’s a mom. When you interviewed her,
Sara Brown: 1:28
She just became one. Yeah. So , yes. So you’re, you’re up there with , without , with that list. Yeah . Denna Lambert! She’s awesome. Mm . Mm-hmm . <affirmative> Denna Lambert. That’s it. Yes. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . So you’re, you’re my , you’re my 2023. You and another individual , Monique Coleman.
Anil Lewis: 1:42
<laugh> . Oh, Monique Coleman. She is an impressive lady, Dr . Coleman. Now that’s , yeah, man, good to know . I, I feel honored to be in such company with all of those individuals. So thank you for selecting. Yes.
Sara Brown: 1:57
So, for, for these types of interviews, I just wanna hear your story. I wanna hear mm-hmm . <affirmative> , you know, your childhood, your early life. I understand 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia. Yeah. So, talk about your childhood. What was that like? Okay .
Anil Lewis: 2:11
Yeah. I , I was born in 1964 , uh, inner city , Atlanta, Georgia. Uh, I, I think in perspective of this particular conversation, it’s important to understand that Atlanta was the mecca of, of black equality and power, especially at that particular time. I recognized wholeheartedly that being born in 1964, that I’m the beneficiary of all of the work that all of those civil rights leaders did in the past. You know, the Civil Rights Act passed at that time. And I’m in a city where the mayor’s black, many black owned businesses. I really didn’t come into this world with a sense of inferiority. Uh, I felt that I was in the majority. I, I felt in a strange way, that I was privileged in a lot of ways. So, and I , I could dig deep down to several things, but the things I like to really highlight is one, yeah , we lived in the city. Uh, my father died when I was six-years-old. So my mom had to raise four of us with a very limited income. And realistically, I never felt that we were poor , um, because everybody in our community had the same economic status. And as long as I stayed within that incubator, you know, I felt that I was just equal. So, I, I attribute that to the fact that I feel that I have the right to be wherever I am <laugh> , because that was instilled in me very early on through that experience. It wasn’t until later, and we can talk about that as we progressed, that I really started understanding that I was a, quote unquote “minority ,” uh, within this country. And their , their worth was some real, or is still some significant discrimination that needs to be dealt with. But for the most part, during my developmental years, and I was cited at the time, I didn’t become blind until much later in life , um, that those developmental years gave me a sense of self , um, had very positive self-concept. Uh , I, I had , uh, a sense that my voice mattered , uh, because I came from a strong household. My mom, I tell people, my mom , uh, made me a stronger man than most men could have. And I really love and respect her. Uh, I miss her so much in every day . So, growing up in that particular space, again, I, I felt very empowered in the whole era of, “say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.” Um , you know, coming into an identity of, of , uh, empowerment through that whole experience. So my, my perspective on life is, I guess, fairly unique, because again, that was balanced with the fact that in those early years, my mom was a domestic. So she worked as a maid , uh, with my grandmother , uh, to clean the homes of this very affluent white family , uh, near the governor’s mansion here in Atlanta. And again, that provided a unique lived experience for me that helped shape my perspective around race, because even though she was a domestic , um, they treated her with respect. Uh , that family actually loved my grandmother. Um , when she passed away, they made a significant donation to , uh, erecting a pavilion in her honor , uh, at her home church down in Woodville, Georgia , uh, where I used to spend my summer. So I , I have the balance of being inner city and acquiring the courage that it requires to live in that particular environment, but also the work ethic that was required. When I went to go visit my grandmother , uh, she , uh, also was widowed very early and raised a large family, and she used to send us out to cut the neighbor’s yards and all that stuff. So in the inner city, I had a hustle about me, but my grandmother says, “well, you go cut Ms. Jenkins yard, and don’t you charge her a dime <laugh>?” “So, and you go over there, you pick these blackberries, and don’t you charge them a dime?” So it , it showed that there was a sense of community, a responsibility to care for others. And I also learned that sometimes bartering is better than getting money up front , because we would pick those blueberries till our fingers were sore, but we get the best blueberry cobbler this , uh, world could ever offer. So that was really, the compensation was much better than the money that we could have gotten for picking <laugh> , picking those blackberries and blueberries, et cetera . Um, so I’m trying to make , put this in context. So you let me know if I ramble in a direction that’s No ,
Sara Brown: 6:14
Just hearing you talk about your childhood, that’s that sense of community. And I, I, I mean, I, as an adult, but I don’t have children. I don’t feel like it’s maybe it’s still there, but things have obviously changed. But I like that they instilled that hard work ethic in you. Yeah . And , and then told you upfront , don’t you charge them anything,
Anil Lewis: 6:33
<laugh> . Exactly. Exactly. And I , and all of this, I , I , I think I’ll tie it together, hopefully near the end.
Sara Brown: 6:38
No, but that really shaped you that Exactly . And their, their voice is always in your head.
Anil Lewis: 6:43
Exactly. Those memories. Exactly. Exactly. And the, and the beauty of the fact that despite the race piece , I never felt lesser , uh, I grew up with, with their son , uh, in that environment. So while my mom and grandmother were cleaning the house, me and Mark , we were out playing , uh, he actually taught me how to ride a bicycle, taught me how to tie my shoes. Um , I, I never felt lesser. Um, so the , the race issue never presented a problem for , for me. So I , I really, again, know that I’m the beneficiary of all that good work. The unfortunate part about all of that, though , is it gave me a false sense of what the real world was like. Um, so as I grew older and started experiencing things outside of that controlled environment and recognized that racism did exist , um, I was well equipped in one way, right? Because, again, I had a very positive sense of self. Uh, I never felt lesser based on race. I had relationships, you know, that were intersectional around race. Uh , but then when you run into individuals who don’t share that same perspective of equality and respect for each other, despite these various characteristics, then you have to acquire a skill set that still defines you in that space so that you can continue to be authentic to who you are and command the respect that you deserve in those environments. So , uh, I was academically successful to my detriment because I never had to study cuz things came so easy. And I ended up getting a scholarship to Georgia Tech. And when I went to Georgia Tech, my whole world flipped upside down. So now,
Sara Brown: 8:22
Now talk . Yes. Okay . Yeah . <laugh> , why was your world, for those who can’t figure it out, would you talk about, you’re getting ready to, but just in a nutshell, was it because you were in a whole , you were in a whole new world?
Anil Lewis: 8:34
Yeah. An extremely new world. Exactly. Um , definitely not. Black was not the majority on the campus of Georgia Tech. I was no longer the stellar academic student because everybody else was as bright, if not brighter. It, it was really a , a , uh, I don’t know, I don’t wanna call it a sad awakening. It was really, really a necessary awakening. So in that particular space, I did run into instances of racism. Uh, people that thought lesser of me because of my race. Uh, and it was challenging for me. But luckily for me, I was able to build on, again, the sense of identity and self, et cetera , to assert myself in that environment. I wasn’t successful academically, but what I learned with respect to interacting with people during that experience was an education in itself. So, when we’re talking about black history in the context of black history, I did not have a full knowledge of black history because I had a uniquely different lived experience that kind of carried me through. But now I’m at the place where I need to really understand where I came from, if I’m really gonna be assert that I’m able to assert that I belong because people were making , um, assertions about me as an individual. And I had no way of rebutting them because they were basing it on , uh, historical, I guess they would call them facts at the time, <laugh>, that that really were skewed. But I had no way of rebutting them because I didn’t have the knowledge that I needed around , uh, my history as , as, as a black person in this country. So that challenged me to learn and grow. But unfortunately, at that particular time, that’s when the retinitis pigmentosa, so I have Retinitis Pigmentosa. That’s how I lost my sight in 1989. Both my older brother and older sister have RP as well. And they became blind very early on in their lives. Um , and unfortunately, they became blind in an environment where , uh, the people who were there to serve, whether it be the education professionals or the employers, they didn’t believe in the capacity of blind people. My brother worked at a shelter workshop. He actually got paid sub minimum wages. Uh , and that’s unfortunate because I believe he was much brighter than me. Um , he just wasn’t pushed. He didn’t , wasn’t provided training and support. He went to a school that did not think that he needed to learn how to read braille because he had just enough vision to put paper up against his nose, which we know that’s a flawed philosophy that didn’t teach him how to use a white cane because he had just enough vision to travel, quote , unquote , safely. But that’s subjective. Um, so many things he was denied that would’ve really made his life completely different. And my sister luckily, came right around the threshold when the Georgia , uh, agencies were really doing a good job of actually providing training and real employment opportunities. So , uh, the long story short, with her, maybe she’ll get interviewed some days. Uh , she came up through the, the , uh, workshop system, but then she is now employed as a supervisor , uh, for the general services administration for the federal government. So it shows that the capacity is there. But when I lost my sight , they were still on the other side of the door. I didn’t see any real , uh, potential of me living the dream that I had in mind. And I’m plagued with a crisis at this particular point, because now as I’m struggling to understand myself as a black person in this new environment, I’m also struggling to assert myself as this blind person, which I had no real , uh, understanding of blindness. I only had those experiences that were demonstrated to me by my brother and sister. So, so I, I’ll offer this though. Um, the beauty of my mom instill in me a sense of self and a positive concept, regardless of what comes in , making sure that I’m authentically who I am or whatever environment that holds true for me. And that’s what helped carry me through. But , um, I pinned an article , um, during the whole George Floyd dilemma , uh, that really showed how the intersection between my blindness and my lived experience as a black person helped really support one another. Um, so I really wanted to really highlight this part in the whole black history context of what’s going on, because I think the intersectionality of it is important, cuz I mean, it is the American Printing House for the blind. So I wanna make it relevant to both, both characteristics. Uh , when the incident with George Floyd, George Floyd happened , I mean, let me deviate interview you real quick for a quick question. Yes . Did that have an impact on you?
Sara Brown: 13:16
On me personally, yes. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , I was not at APH at the time. Mm-hmm.
Anil Lewis: 13:22
<affirmative>. Tell me a little bit, how did that impact you?
Sara Brown: 13:27
Um, the sheer stunnedness, the , the , I think the sheer shock of it all mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that something like that would happen in these, in this era, in this time. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> , just a sheer shock of it all to the point where I watched the video maybe once. I know I didn’t watch it more than twice mm-hmm . <affirmative> , and then I can’t watch it anymore. Yeah.
Anil Lewis: 13:48
Much like you, I watched it at one time. I didn’t need to watch it again because it was, it was stuck in my head. I mean, I, I could play it over and over in my head. And so much of that really well, without going through the counseling <laugh> go, go through the National Federation of the Blind , um, Beil monitor and look at, I forget the article, but it’s , uh, how Black Being Black helped Me Be Blind. And you can go through the cathartic , um, confession that I made in the article. But the key part for me is it energized me to do a deeper dive around black history. Um , so my blindness helped me really deal with a lot of the discrimination in a way because , uh, well, I learned to deal with discrimination, period. Because growing up in a black environment when I went to Georgia Tech and really experienced it, those types of things, but that also helped me deal with my blindness , um, in , in those different ways where I was experiencing a discrimination. Uh , just a quick tangent. One of the nuances though, of dealing with discrimination based on race , uh, as opposed to dealing with discrimination based on disability, is , uh, discrimination based on race. It was usually people who, out of their ignorance, were afraid of me, whether they admitted it or not, you know, they may have come across aggressive, but they were being aggressive because they were afraid of me. I, you know, I’m the super predator as , as it as named . So I was able to deal with that in a way that was kind of equally aggressive when they were experiencing some aggression. Um, it wasn’t really in a place where educating them about being black was really gonna be the answer, but as a blind person, they’re not doing it. Ignorance out of hate , um, and fear , uh, they’re discriminating to me against me based on love. You know, it’s misguided love, but I mean, no, no one <laugh>, they’re not being mean by “here, here, baby. Let me do that for you.” They’re , they’re not, they’re , they’re doing it outta love, but they’re recognize that that’s just equally disabling if they’re prohibiting me from one, acquiring a skill set to be independent, and two, demonstrating that skill that I can <laugh> . So it , it , that was the, the nuance, but still, it was recognizing it and then dealing with it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> , um, I bits and pieces. So I come back on the main track. So with George Floyd and that whole instance making me recommit to studying black history, I start reading books and, you know, we could have a whole different discussion about , uh, critical race theory and the whole deal. I just wish they wouldn’t have called it critical race theory and called it History <laugh>. It would’ve been accepted more. The , the George Floyd thing awakened the side of me , um, that I’m so proud of. I was initially ashamed, but now I’m very proud that at least took enough of , um, initiative to really educate myself in a real way. And I, every opportunity I get to talk about this, I talk about it because I think it’s important.
Sara Brown: 16:46
During your time at elementary school, you were labeled disabled, mentally Disabled. And then that changed to gifted. Talk about that experience and what that meant, and how, how that came to be
Anil Lewis: 17:03
Around the third grade when start instituting the standardized test , we took the , I would test the basic skills, and I’m in the third grade testing at the seventh grade level in sometimes . So all of a sudden now that label that I have of being educationally retarded and then taught to have to check that. And then they gimme the label of gifted.
Sara Brown: 17:23
So what were you?
Anil Lewis: 17:24
How did it I’m both <laugh> . I , I have a developmental disability, but luckily my mom, through her insistence around certain things , she helped me cope and learn skills to deal with it. And I deal with that today. And I think that I’m gifted, but I don’t think I’m unique. I think that’s everybody. I think everybody has some degree of development of disability, and everybody has a degree of being gifted. But I’ll tell you, that label of gifted was more disabling than the retarded label. Really. It took me out of an environment. All of my friends had that la we, we hung out together. We enjoyed each other. We didn’t try to compete in any real way that made one person feel lesser. Soon as I became gifted, that changed, you know, and, and it , it isolated me. And from that point on, you know, I, I became an extreme introvert. I’m still an introvert now. A lot of people think I’m gregarious and I , and extroverted, but I’m not. I’m still very much an introvert. Uh , but I’ve learned, again, to deal effectively in crowded situations, et cetera . But once I do that, that spends a lot of energy and I have to shut down and re recoup. And now what ? Whatever. But the, the, the, the, the , um, the gifted label really kind of attributed to that because it , it ended up isolating me from my peer group mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the, the new peer group that I established, you know, <laugh> , uh, it , it , this , it wasn’t very comfortable mm-hmm . <affirmative> . Um, and not because the, the other students made me feel uncomfortable. It was just something I didn’t , I never really adjusted to. And again, you know, I send it through the rest of my academic life up through the 10th grade, you know, not really anyway, that, that’s a whole different story for a whole different time. But the thing that I think today when we’re talking about black history, is I really want individuals to be empowered with understanding of the past. And, and I talked, you know, more around the policy stuff, but , uh, I, I read a couple of books that really reframed a lot of the violence around black people in a way that , um, shook me to my core. Um , and , and I, and I again, hate that I had , um, desensitized myself to all of the atrocious , um, you know, I, you , you read in history and, and you, you, you read, you know, the Civil War victories and that kind of thing. And you don’t really put it in the perspective of , uh, slavery rules. One of , if not the major catalyst for the Civil War. Uh , the , the atrocities , um, that were committed. Uh, we , we, we hear about, you know, the, the , um, things like the, the , the Nat Turners and the Rebellions. But, you know, we never learned about Black Wall Street in Tulsa. Uh, we never learned about <laugh> . You know , we never learned about the, the , the, I don’t wanna call ’em reciprocal. Cause I don’t think it’s, we never learned about the atrocities committed on the other side. And I think that that’s unfair. And I don’t, I don’t wanna learn about that to make people feel guilty. I want people to feel uncomfortable because we all have some skin in this game. Yeah. And, and if we don’t educate people about it in a real way, then we’ll always continue to suffer from the, the racist impact of the ignorance that we all <laugh> . Yeah . We all have.
Sara Brown: 20:52
Yeah. I’m hearing more and more about history that’s just never been reported on.
Anil Lewis: 20:57
And I don’t think it’s harmful. It’s gonna be uncomfortable. I , and I think that people need to acknowledge that, but without full information, we can’t make better decisions. And that’s what’s frustrating for me. So in, in the context of black history today, so really focusing on using those holidays in a more per purposeful way. The same with , with Dr. King. You know, not just taking the day off, but doing something. Even if you don’t do , um, the public service or whatever, take time to, to educate yourself , um, around that. Because the , the , the pieces that we learn when we do that deeper dive is that we can be those change makers . Right. I, I talk about people, I , I talk to them about Dr. King and I , I grew up in that environment, of course, where King, you know, everybody , I have a dream setter . And I grew up thinking that I can’t be a Dr . King because we always had him up on that pedestal. He was divine. But then when they wrote the book and they told, you know, king hanging out, shooting pools, smoking cigarettes in it , like , maybe I can be Dr . King. That one , once we make them make him real, it doesn’t take away from what he did, the sacrifice that he made, and the strides that he , but when you make people real, then more people feel that they could do it too. And that’s what I really wanna focus on. I think Black History today needs full information. And we need, when I say full information, let people know that they’re real. I had the luxury, joy, honor of meeting John Lewis in a real way. Ambassador Young in a real way. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , Jesse Jackson , peripherally. Jose Williams peripherally a lot of these Civil Rights icons. And I got to see them as men, you know, regular men,
Sara Brown: 22:34
Humans. That’s right.
Anil Lewis: 22:35
And yeah. And that inspired me. You know what, I , I can do it. And that’s what I, black history today, that’s what I, I want black history to empower people with information so that they can create better black futures. Mm-hmm.
Sara Brown: 22:46
<affirmative>. All right , Anil , is there anything else you wanna say about Black History Month, about your live, and your journey, or anything on this podcast?
Anil Lewis: 22:56
Uh, I’ll offer the disclaimer that what you’ve listened to is the lived experience of Anil Lewis. And I am entitled to have my opinion and perspective, and I just want you to know that I respect , uh, anyone else with their opinion and their perspective as well. And I think that when we come to a place where we have that greater understanding and appreciation for people, and respect for people to feel the way they feel, then we can all get along in a so much better fashion. But with Black history, I just want full information so that we can real , really build real features , uh, for black people. That that’s black history, that’s what I, history in a way that informs and educates and empowers.
Sara Brown: 23:33
I love it. Anil thank you so much for joining me today on Changemakers.
Anil Lewis: 23:38
Oh, this has been my pleasure. This has actually been fun.
Sara Brown: 23:43
Now we’re gonna pivot and talk to, to APH’s Braille Product Manager, Rachel Bishop, who’s here to tell us about the updates and exciting things coming with Lego Braille Bricks . Hello Rachel, and welcome to Change Makers.
Rachel Bishop: 23:57
Sara Brown: 24:00
So we’re talking about LEGO Braille Bricks. Tell us what’s new with LEGO Braille Bricks?
Rachel Bishop: 24:06
Um, well , um, most recently , um, we are going to have a training , uh, on LEGO Braille Bricks at the CEC conference, which will be on March 1st. Um, and this is gonna be with Marie Oddoux and Marc Angelier. Um, they are consultants with the LEGO Foundation, and they’re gonna give , um, a training on how to use these bricks.
Sara Brown: 24:38
Okay , cool. Now, for those who aren’t aware, tell us what LEGO Braille Bricks are and how, how they can really help facilitate just the learning of braille?
Rachel Bishop: 24:48
Yeah. Um, Lego Braille bricks , um, are , um, a part of the LEGO Foundation. Um, and APH is the distributor of the LEGO Braille bricks in the us . Um, and these are used , um, for kids , um, who are blind or visually impaired. Um, and they can be used with , with blinder visually impaired children , um, along with their sighted peers. Um, and they’re just little bricks , uh, with braille , uh, characters on them. Um, and , um, students can play with them and through play , um, can be introduced to braille. And there’s a lot of different activities , uh, that you can introduce the student to. Um, and , um, let’s see, what else? Um, so it’s, it’s learning that integrates a child’s physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and creative skills. So it engages all those skills , um, in relation to braille, if that makes sense.
Sara Brown: 25:54
And I’ve always heard LEGO brick or LEGO Braille Bricks, they’re a really cool thing because it’s not just blind and low vision children that can play with them . It’s pretty much anybody that loves playing with LEGOs. Right. Talk a bit about that.
Rachel Bishop: 26:08
Yes. Um, anybody can a any kid can play with them, any adult can play with them. Um, so if a kid is in an integrated classroom , um, with sighted peers , uh, the student can play, the student with visual impairments can play , um, but then they can also have their sighted peer come over and play. Um, and they work just like regular bricks. You can build different things with them. Um, and then it also introduces , uh, the side of children to braille as well, so they can start to get an understanding of, of what the other kids , um, are, are, are working on, basically. So it’s a good uniting toy, well, not toy, but a good uniting , um, uh, uh, product. Now , talk to us, I know a lot of people are wishing they could purchase LEGO Braille Bricks just outright, but can you talk about how one can get LEGO Braille Bricks? Yes. Um, if you are a teacher , um, or work with students who are blind or visually impaired, you can go to the APH website , um, and , um, you would fill out a form , um, and this form would ask you to , uh, basically , uh, not sell , um, the kits , um, to people outside your group. Um, and so you can go on there and then , um, and then APH um , will approve the form and then they will send you your bricks.
Sara Brown: 27:47
And is there anything else you wanna say about LEGO Braille Bricks?
Rachel Bishop: 27:52
Um, that it’s a great , uh, tool for learning braille. Um, it also engages students in play, which is a wonderful way , uh, for students to learn. Um, and part of what LEGO is presenting at CEC is the concept of learning through play , um, that children learn most naturally when they’re playing. Um, and then we introduce braille into that , um, which , uh, we believe is really important , um, for students to learn , um, so that they can be literate adults and , um, and , uh, acquire academic skills , um, in their future.
Sara Brown: 28:35
And can, do you wanna talk about CEC for a second? You wanna just wanna talk about what that is and what people can expect at that conference?
Rachel Bishop: 28:42
Yeah. Um, CEC is the Council for Exceptional Children , um, and that’s, they’re having a big conference in Louisville. Um, and , um, uh, people from the Lego Foundation are coming to present trainings , um, and they’re gonna talk about , um, three different , uh, modules and , um, within those modules , um, we would expect , um, TVs and teachers , um, to learn how Lego bricks enable learning through play , um, reimagine learning that integrates a child’s physical, social, emotional , cognitive and creative skills. Um, explore and experience what Lego braille, bricks, pre braille bra braille activities are , um, and learn to use these bricks to motivate students through play. So there’s a lot of things that they’re going to be doing training on, and it will also be really hands on . Um, so they’ll have kids there , um, for, for teachers to use and play with.
Sara Brown: 29:52
Awesome. Rachel , thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers. Thank you so much. I’ve put links in the show notes to Anil Lewis’ article. “Being Black Helped me be Blind, and Being Blind Helped me Understand that Black Lives Matter.” Links for more information about LEGO Braille Bricks and information about c e C that will be held in early March. As always, thank you for listening to this episode of Changemakers, and be sure to look for ways you can be a changemaker this week.
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 have low vision. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown, and we’re still celebrating Braille Literacy Month on this podcast. And we’re gonna take a look back at how Braille came to be. We’ll also hear more from our interview with Anne Durham and Greg Stilson about The Monarch, and we’ll even hear from an individual who has tested it. First, we have APH Museum Director Michael Hudson, here to talk about the origin of braille. Hello Michael, and welcome to Change Makers.
Michael Hudson: 0:47
Thank you, Sara. Happy Braille Literacy Awareness Month.
Sara Brown: 0:51
Yes, it sure is. And let’s talk about the history of braille. How can you talk about its beginnings, the middle, and pretty much where we are today?
Michael Hudson: 1:01
Sure, of course. That’s a, that’s a, that’s a pretty big softball question there, right? So, so we call it Braille because it was invented by a kid named Louis Braille , uh, who was born in 1809 in Paris, France. Uh , lost his vision in a accident in his father’s workshop. And at the time , uh, France had the only school for kids that were blind or low vision . And Louis got to go there. And when he was 12 years old, he was exposed to a dot code that had been invented by a guy named Charles Barbier. And , uh, Barbier’s, this fascinating character who had to flee France during the French Revolution and was an inventor and a , you know, he just was interested in codes and communication. And he’d come up with this dot code, right? It used 12 dots, six dots high, two dots wide. And it wasn’t based on the alphabet, it was based on phonics the way we pronounce words. But Louis and his buddies at the school for the bond loved the braille code, I mean, the Barbier Code, because for the first time they could write, they could take notes in class, they could send messages to each other that no one else in the school could read. They loved it. But, but Louis , um, quickly realizes that the Barbie code is too clunky. It’s got too many dots. So he simplifies it down to just the six dots we use today. He based in on the alphabet, so you could learn how to spell and punctuate and capitalize on all the things that we do when we, when we write in print. And then he publishes his book for the first time in 1829, but the system is not immediately adopted anywhere, even in France. Um , and it kicked off , uh, this whole period that we call the “War of the Dots,” where different competing systems were kicking around, and there were raised letter systems , um, which were just embossed, you know , uh, uh, letters. And , uh, so it, it would, would not in the United States. Uh, it took until 1932, actually long after Louis had died, before we adopted the Standard Braille Code that , um, that we’ve used for so long. Um, and of course, braille, the code is alive, Sara, that’s the cool thing about it. We’re constantly, you know, tweaking it and adapting it so that it reflects the way that everybody uses print, right? And so we’re constantly ch you know, you know, 20 years ago no one used the hashtag, right? And, and 40 years ago, nobody used the little at symbol to go, you know, “@ aph .Org ,: right? So we changed the way we use the language. So the braille code has had to, you know, constantly be edited and a and added to, and that’s why we, the , the , the code that we, that we use right now is called UEB, right? Unified English Braille. Um, but , and then there’s all the technology that surrounds it, right? Uh , for, for , for decades, if you wanted to write braille, you did it with a little hand tool , uh, called a Slate and stylus that had little windows, and you would use your stylist to poke the dots in. And then, uh, in 1890, a guy named Frank Hall at the Illinois School for the Blind invents the first successful mechanical braille r ider, a nd then we c all it the H all B rail writer. And, you know, every brail r ider that’s still around, uh, uh, is based on Hall’s original machine. And then in the 1970s, uh, this French guy named Oleg Tretiakoff came up with this thing called the Refreshable Braille display. And so when you look at modern devices like, uh, we sell in our catalog like the chameleon and the Mantis, they use these refreshable braille displays that, uh, connect to your phone or to your computer, or, or even as independent note takers, and they raise the pens into the patterns of the braille. U m, so you can download anything you want off the internet if it’s in p rint, and you, then you can read it yourself in braille, uh, you can send p iece people, uh, messages in braille, but t hey, i t arrives, uh, u nder their computer i n print. So, um, you know, braille h as just proven to be this just amazing flexible, uh, elegant, uh, little code that has made it possible for, you know, now, you know, uh, over 200 years of, uh, of braille literacy for people that are blind o r low v ision.
Sara Brown: 5:23
Now, I know there’s been some instances in the past where APH has partnered with other businesses and organizations to help advance braille talk about that?
Michael Hudson: 5:32
We’ve been responsible for some of the big advances in braille, like we worked with IBM in the 1950s to figure out how to computerize the translation of printed braille. And that sped everything up. And that’s at the heart of all these, or organism. I mean, these , uh, um, um, uh, machines that we used , but at the same time, we also, we had this thing called, and , and the braille users out there , uh, will remember the old , uh, lavender braile writer, which was a , an attempt to substitute a lot of plastic parts so that the brail rider would be lightweight, right? But it turns out that the plastic wasn’t very durable, and so the machine broke all the time, right? And so it , in the end, it is the , it is usually the marketplace that determines, you know, what, what is the right product at the right time.
Sara Brown: 6:18
So true, so true. And , and timing is a big deal too, you know, timing.
Michael Hudson: 6:23
But yeah, sometimes things come along too, too early, right? They, they’re ahead of their time and pe and the people are just not ready for them.
Sara Brown: 6:30
So true. So true. Now, you talked about how braille has, has changed, or just it’s a living thing. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , you know , for , like you said back in years ago, they wouldn’t have known what the hashtag was, right ? Or, you know, how it’s evolved. Can you talk about what braille shortcomings, any additional shortcomings that there are with braille?
Michael Hudson: 6:49
Well, I don’t, I don’t think I know , uh, of any shortcomings in braille today, but the, the big problem historically has always been bulk, right? So, so in the 19, 19 59, 19 60 APH undertook, the largest braille project ever attempted. It was a translation of the World Book Encyclopedia. And , uh, and so there are great pictures of , uh, staff in the front yard at APH with the print version of the encyclopedia. And behind it were stacked the five or six volumes of braille that were necessary to make the print. You know, so it’s like, if if the thing fell on you, it would’ve crushed you, right? It was that bulky. And that was, that was from the beginning. It was always a , a complaint that people had that because the character needs to be big enough to fit right underneath your fingertip, it meant that the overall book was a lot bigger. And that’s still true today of our paper books. When, when you, you might get a , a a , a high school physics or a chemistry book that might come in 30 or 40 volumes. And so that’s where the Refreshable Braille display, or even, you know, the new , uh, uh, the Monarch, the tactile dyna , the dynamic tactile display that we, that a p h has been working on the Holy Braille, right? Uh , the Holy Braille of, of braille is, is , is this, is this Refreshable Braille full page refreshable braille display that also includes graphics. Well, that’s very exciting that, that , uh, we’re on the cusp potentially, bearing in mind, you know, the caveat we mentioned about picking winners, technological winners, we , we might be on the cusp of a , of a time when a kid might be able to carry all their books around on one convenient tablet that fits right into their backpack. And isn’t that exciting? And it’s still uses the same “a” and the same “m” and the same “z” that Louis invented as a 12 year old boy back in the early 1800s. I think that’s cool.
Sara Brown: 8:51
And I think you just answered my next question, which is the future of braille is currently in the works as a museum director. As a museum director of APH museum. How does that feel knowing something’s in the pipeline that will truly change the the way braille is received? Because it will.
Michael Hudson: 9:09
Yeah, I’m, I’m , I’m very excited about it because it , it basically brings to , uh, the Braille community the same benefits that people who use a Kindle or, or, or any of these e-readers have, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s really an , an awesome idea to imagine that you would, you would take the single most big objection to braille , which is its bulk and wipe it away. Um, but I, but I actually think one of the biggest challenges, Sara, is, is not technological. It’s, it’s educational and systemic. And that is that we need to encourage Braille literacy for those people in the community for whom braille is the best reading , uh, medium, right? So whether it’s braille or large print or audio, whatever the best medium is for you based on your abilities, we need to, we need to not let braille get , uh, swept under the, under the car , under the carpet. And we need to, we need to focus on braille literacy here in, in the United States for our kids.
Sara Brown: 10:13
Well , so true. So true . Now, is there anything else you wanna say about Braille, whether it’s the this, the past, the present, or its future?
Michael Hudson: 10:22
Um, you know, braille is literacy. Sara, braille is literacy. And so it’s a tool that, you know, very, a really simple little elegant tool invented a long time ago, but it’s still very, very relevant.
Sara Brown: 10:37
They say the classics never die, and this is a prime example. And if it ain’t that’s right . Don’t fix it.
Michael Hudson: 10:42
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Sara Brown: 10:44
In here, and it’s still in you . So that’s true. Now, we’ve got some exciting stuff going on at the APH Museum. Can you let our listeners know what’s going on?
Michael Hudson: 10:53
Sure. Oh gosh. Wow. Um, so, you know, back in 2020, we became a partner with the American Foundation for the Blind to bring the Helen Keller Archive, AFB Helen Keller Archive to Louisville. And as a part of that partnership, we are going to be closing our museum this summer. And, you know, Helen and Anne Sullivan gave all of their collections day f b with the dream that one day they might be , uh, that they might be put together into a museum exhibit. And so we are gonna collab , we are collaborating with AFB to make that dream come true. And we are gonna reimagine the way that museums work for people with disabilities. We’re gonna be telling all kinds of great stories. We’re gonna be demystifying blindness. We’re gonna be, you know, introducing Helen , uh, Keller as a , as one of the greatest , uh, women of the 19th and 20th centuries. We’re gonna be talking about APH and innovation, and we’re gonna do it all in a brand new facility that is going to defy a lot of expectations for how you tell stories both to and about people with disabilities. It’s gonna be the most accessible museum in the world.
Sara Brown: 12:06
Yeah. It’s some exciting things. And when can a person see the museum now before it closes?
Michael Hudson: 12:13
Right, so we , uh, we are open , uh, 8:30 to 4:30, Monday through Friday, and 10-3 on Saturdays, and we’re gonna be open through June 3, and then we will close for about two years and open sometime in 2025.
Sara Brown: 12:30
Michael Hudson: 12:30
So if you want to come see us, you need to come see us before June 3rd of, of this summer. And then when we, when we reopen, obviously there’ll be lots of opportunities to see the, the new installation.
Sara Brown: 12:40
Absolutely. All right , Michael, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Michael Hudson: 12:44
Thank you, Sara.
Sara Brown: 12:47
Now let’s take a look at the future product that’s going to make changes in the way we access braille and tactile graphics. The Monarch, a multi-line device that displays both braille and tactile graphics will transform the way teachers and students engage with materials in the classroom. Let’s hear from APH’s Vice President and Chief Officer, Innovation and Strategy, Anne Durham and Head of Global Innovation, Greg Stillson on the feedback received during the Monarch’s prototype testing, and what’s next for 2023? Now, talk about the reception or the feedback you’ve all received from the, we can call it the Monarch now. So talk about the reactions to the prototypes and I guess in the field testing.
Anne Durham: 13:35
Well, I think, you know , um, before we would do the field testing, you know, Greg and I, you know, sort of in evangelizing the highway , uh, would go and visit a different organization, blindest organizations, tech companies, whatnot , and , uh, take the prototypes with us. And I would say that first of all, there was skepticism before we we’d show them anything, wouldn’t you, Greg? We were kind of walking into a room of skeptics. Typically.
Greg Stilson: 13:58
We, we did a, what we called our “prove it” tour and <laugh> the very beginning, right? We, we didn’t even have the full device. What we were doing were basically showing just the technology at work. We had these very rudimentary , um, tactile, I almost like tactile windows that we were bringing around, showing mm-hmm . <affirmative> examples of what could be displayed. And before we showed this, you’re right, it was all it , it was this whole, “I’ve heard this song and dance before” because they all had wanted to make, I wanna , I wanna make sure that we respect that, right? Like this has been, yeah , we , we had this whole thing that we had to prove why, why you should believe us that this, this stuff really does work now. Um, but yeah, there was a lot of skepticism at First.
Anne Durham: 14:42
Yeah, there , there was. And then, you know, and Greg is, is very good as, as a person, and usually I let him do the demonstration of the technology. Um, and he’s very good about slowly introducing the concept, starting with a little bit of braille, and then moving , um, maybe to a tactile graphic of a car , um, and then onto a, a chart bar chart or pie chart and graph, and then to a more complicated problems. And , um, I have seen , um, this, this is kind of actually emotional talk about, I have seen a wide range of emo emotions from people. I see joy, I see huge smiles. I see people break out into laughter. I see them astonished , um, gasping. Um, I see I’ve seen people break down into tears. Um, they’ve, they’ve said things like , uh, this is something I’ve dreamed about my entire life and I can’t believe I’m holding it in my hands right now. Um , you know, that, that, starting with that disbelief of can’t believe it’s actually happening to, I can’t believe I’m holding it, you know? Um, that whole range . And, you know, I always say to everybody, back at a p h , I wish you could be in the room when this happens, because it is the kind of thing when you’re working through a very difficult project like this that lets you know, yes, we’re on the right track track , um, we’re doing exactly what we need to do. And it gives you that , uh, that fire , uh, to keep going.
Greg Stilson: 16:05
Yeah . I think some of the most impactful stuff is also from the teachers, right? Like teachers, oh gosh, teachers today, you know , I remember my TVI that I, that I had in my, you know, pre-calc classes and things like that. They oftentimes the teacher, the classroom teacher, forgot to get them a graphic to be turned into a tactical graphic , right? So these teachers, the visually impaired are some of the most creative folks to do this on the fly gymnastics or, you know, MacGyvering a a , a tactile graphic out of like pipe cleaners and rubber bands, right? But they do it, and it, it , it creates a , an environment for learning in some way, shape, or form, right? But now with a device like this, being able to , uh, essentially draw a , one of the apps that we’re gonna be working on is an impromptu learning tool where a teach a teacher’s visually impaired could draw a graphic, a very rudimentary graphic, but draw a graphic on their smartphone or tablet and cast that graphic over to the tactile display. And when we talk about that and show them that this is a possibility, it changes the entire game for impromptu mm-hmm. <affirmative> . Now obviously you want to have a, a, you know, fully fledged, tactile graphic created, but in the event that the classroom teacher forgets to do that, which they inevitably will, the teachers have a, a much more productive solution at that stage and, and something that they’ll be able to, to really take full advantage of. Um, and that’s, that’s something that I think kind of is emotionally connecting to me, is watching these TV eyes go mm-hmm . <affirmative> , oh my God, I can do so much with this. Right?
Anne Durham: 17:37
Or I get, I get so many hours of my life back every week ,
Greg Stilson: 17:40
<laugh> <laugh> . It’s a true statement . Yeah, exactly.
Anne Durham: 17:43
Yeah. Yeah. And, and there’s a lot of joy for the teachers too, and just amazement , um, because, you know, as, as, as quickly as they say, I get so many hours back of my life, they quickly are filling up those hours with all the things they believe they can create with the Monarch. So, you know, it’s , uh, it’s really, really fun to watch and , uh, the teachers , uh, imagine what is possible. And, and every time we take these out, someone else has another fabulous idea of how it could be used. And, and, you know, we, we need like, oh my gosh, volumes and volumes of these big ideas. And you know, Greg, Greg probably gets annoyed at me because I’m always saying “textbooks first, everybody,” you know, because everybody’s ready to do just about everything for this device, but we’ve got to get it when it comes out. That’s the number one thing we have to achieve, as is the textbook , uh, user example. But, but the things that the mark will be able to do as it grows and develops , um, and as we implement, a lot of these ideas are just astonishing.
Sara Brown: 18:43
What are the plans for The Monarch in 2023? Just what you would like to see happen or what you got in mind, even though we know they could change mm-hmm . <affirmative> , what do you see on the horizon?
Greg Stilson: 18:54
So, I’ll tell you where we are right now. Um, you know, we, we, we talk like we’ve been ha we, we’ve had this alpha unit forever, and it does feel like a long time, but the reality is we got this
Anne Durham: 19:04
Alpha, the travel
Greg Stilson: 19:05
<laugh> in September, right? <laugh> . So we’ve done, we’ve packed like a year’s worth of travel in just
Anne Durham: 19:12
A couple weeks , four or four of this year , <laugh> . So yes, ma’am .
Greg Stilson: 19:15
Um, and so where we are right now, we produced our first Alpha prototype. We’ve been getting a lot of great feedback. Um , we know we’ve had to make some changes to it. It’s also incredibly alpha “e” if you will , <laugh> , you know, it doesn’t always turn on sometimes. And there’s, you know, there’s things that happen in every, as somebody who’s developed numerous products throughout my career, like, I always joke with Anne , I’m like, I always love to see these weird things that happen in the alpha units and <laugh> . Um, like the fact that when you put it to sleep, it just wakes itself up randomly. It’s awesome. Um, but you know, that that’s where we are right now. We’ve been traveling around getting feedback. Um, we’ve been hard, hard, you know, the part of this is that there’s a lot of pieces that are happening in parallel as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> , um, the eBRF, the , um, eBRF committee, which William is leading, is happening in parallel. We’re gonna be contracting with , um, with DAISY Consortium next year to really make this, this eBRF dream a reality. Um , in parallel, we’re gonna also be building a BRF to eBRF converter tool next year so that all of the thousands and hundreds of thousands of B RFS that are out there will be able to be converted , uh, with a web tool to eBRF and give some markup to that as well. Um, and then also in parallel, we are ordering parts and, and, you know, trying to get ahead of the supply chain challenges to ensure that our, our beta units come on time. And we are very hopeful that, you know, spring of of 23, we’re gonna start to see the rolling in of, of the first beta units , um, that are very well spoken for. I can tell you that we’ve had a lot of folks that , uh, are part of school districts and mm-hmm <affirmative> testing centers and, and such that , um, are, are looking to give us feedback. And we’re also obligated by the federal government to do a round of specific field testing in the education system as well. So we are , um, gonna be doing our initial beta testing in , uh, the, the majority of 2023, making software changes , uh, and things like that. And then we roll into 24 , um, where we are gonna be focused heavily on the teachers and ensuring that the teachers are trained on how to teach all of these new concepts. These are all concepts that have never been taught before , uh, to blind students, you know, concepts of zooming in and out of graphics and panning around graphics and things. If you born blind, you’re, you’re not born with, you know, an understanding of these concepts. And so teaching those type of concepts and teaching how to, how to integrate this device into your daily workflow , um, our, our hope is, and we say hope, cuz there can be a lot of things that can go wrong between now and the end of 2024, but our hope is to have this available by the end of 2024.
Anne Durham: 22:12
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yep .
Sara Brown: 22:16
Wow. Well that’s exciting because that will be here, gosh, before you know it. So there’s a
Anne Durham: 22:21
Lot . It’s a line , you know . Oh my gosh .
Sara Brown: 22:28
Now we’re gonna talk to education programs coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind, Karen Anderson. She’s being interviewed by a P h’s Senior Director, engagement and Experience Leslie Farr Knox . Karen shares her thoughts on the way the Monarch referenced in the interview as the DTD can change the way Braille is taught and how it can provide children with unprecedented access to books and graphics.
Leslie Farr Knox: 22:56
So I’m gonna start with the same question I asked President Mark Riccobono, you just got to see the, the alpha prototype of the DTD. Tell us what your first impressions were?
Karen Anderson: 23:07
So getting to see the Alpha prototype really get my hands on it, it was the first time that I was able to manipulate the multi-line braille display. Um, the first time I was able to manipulate the graphics myself, and it just makes me wonder what’s gonna happen next? What’s gonna happen when we get these in front of kids? Um, how many possibilities is this gonna unlock for kids and for teachers, for blind people of all ages? Um, it’s the dream that we’ve had for so long and it’s unbelievably exciting to see it starting to come to fruition.
Leslie Farr Knox: 23:56
So as the person at the National Federation of the Blind who oversees programs like the Bell Academy that teach braille and other kind of skills, tell us how the DTD is gonna change approaches to early literacy and teaching braille?
Karen Anderson: 24:10
I think the DTD is gonna make teaching braille and teaching braille well and teaching the reading mechanics of braille well, easier. Um , or at least that , that’s my hope. I hope that teachers now are going to have an easier time understanding why it’s important to teach kids to read with two hands and to teach kids to read With multiple fingers on each hand, to teach kids how to finish a line with one hand while they’re starting the line with the next , um, you know, for a long time now we’ve been hearing, well mostly they’re gonna read on their braille display and that’s only one line, so it doesn’t matter and it, it does matter. That’s how you really build up a lot of your speed. So I think it’s gonna put braille in front of kids more readily. I think it’s going to make some of those mechanics at least. I really hope it’s gonna make teaching those mechanics more common. But I also think the tactile literacy that’s gonna be available is gonna be really powerful. Getting graphics in front of kids at a really early age. Um, you know , you mentioned the Bell Academy and Bell is for kids ages four through 12. What kind of graphics do we wanna get in front of our blind four year olds and get them really starting to explore tactile graphics at a really young age, just like our sighted kids are exploring print pictures? Um , um, I think we don’t know how far a blind person’s understanding of tactile graphics can go because we’ve never been able to get Multiple graphics in front of blind kids at such a young age. Um, so I , I think the answer is we really don’t know, but I really hope, at least in terms of braille education and reading mechanics, I hope that that will , uh, be a , a really big stepping stone.
Leslie Farr Knox: 26:23
So same question, a little bit different focus. How will access to a device like the DTD affect things like reading speed and overall literacy? If you had to guess what , what would your thought be?
Karen Anderson: 26:36
I hope, I very much hope that it’s going to bring kids reading speed up because they’ll be taught , uh, reading mechanics better. Um , they’ll be taught to use two hands at a time. They’ll be taught to use multiple fingers on each hand at a time. Um, I think we, we know from research that’s been conducted that that’s how you really build up that speed. That’s how you get to three and 400 words a minute in braille is by using multiple hands , both hands, multiple fingers on each hand. Um, and I think convincing kids to do that when they have this cool piece of technology is gonna be a little bit easier. I also think it’s going to make getting braille in front of kids easier. Uh , when it comes to like textbooks right now, it takes a substantial amount of time for a blind kid to get their textbook and hopefully with this device we’ll be able to get those textbooks to blind kids a lot earlier, a lot faster. So there won’t be as many opportunities for teachers or whoever administrators to say like, well, we don’t have the textbook so they can just listen to it. We don’t have the textbook in braille so they can use what little vision they have and try and read it under a CCTV or under magnification. I really hope that Being able to digitally deliver textbooks in braille with tactile graphics is gonna make the textbooks easier for students to get, which will then make it easier for students to, to be using braille in their classrooms and kids using braille in school. It being in context , them using it on a regular basis is really how they become proficient.
Sara Brown: 28:44
This is such an amazing and exciting time here at APH and I hope you all are finding that too from these interviews, especially learning about The Monarch. I wanna thank you so much for listening to this episode of Changemakers. I’ve put links in the show notes to a p h products that help encourage braille learning and links where you can sign up for more information about the Monarch. As always, be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.
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 braille.day, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 aph.org 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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Um , I’ll , I wanna be a YouTuber, something like that .
Sara Brown: 1:00:35
? Okay. What about you Louis ?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.