July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and we are honored to feature a blog post by Elizabeth Symington, CBT. She is a fearless leader in the Braille Community and a dear friend.
My Story of Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber
By Elizabeth Symington
I was introduced to braille while attending art school in San Francisco, CA. One day while at the library, I discovered a picture book for children who are blind. At this point, I’d never met a blind person, nor did I even know there were picture books for the blind. I was instantly captivated.
The braille picture book is one of my childhood favorites, “A Color of His Own,” by Leo Lionni. The pictures looked like a wall fresco; they rose off the page. Instead of using color, different textures were utilized to describe the pictures. It was also a fun decoding game since the story was in braille and in print.
Post-college I pursued my love for detail-oriented art by working as a custom picture framer, a finish carpenter, and an illustrator for patent applications. Then in 2018, I circled back around to my love for braille and I enrolled in the Library of Congress’s course to become a certified braille transcriber (CBT). I wanted to make picture books about nature for kids who are blind.
By the time I made it to Lesson 11 of 20 for the CBT certification, I was really struggling. I’ve always been an A student, but for this correspondence course, I didn’t know where to look up my transcribing questions or where to find online resources for learning braille as a sighted person.
I needed to surround myself with CBTs who wanted to pass on their knowledge, to teach me how to think like a transcriber, to show me where to look up my questions about braille, and to be around fellow students so we could encourage each other to keep studying.
Since I couldn’t find an online community to help me to learn braille, I started a Facebook group called UEB Study Group. Ends up I wasn’t the only student needing help with learning braille and in just under two years, the study group has reached 500 members! Thanks to the support of this community, I aced the final project and I became a CBT in 2019.
If you are interested in learning braille, whether it’s basic sight-reading or if you want to become a certified braille transcriber, please join our study group! The UEB Study Group is on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. You’ll be surrounded by folks who understand how learning braille can be overwhelming, but at the same time, point you towards great learning resources.
Some of the resources in the UEB Study Group on Facebook:
- Free mini-course showing how to write the alphabet and numbers in braille
- Fun braille challenges, like how to use a slate and stylus and various reading challenges
- Virtual celebrations, like Louis Braille’s birthday and a graduation ceremony for the newly certified braille transcribers
- We play games on Zoom, like a braille version of Boggle
- You could post a question to the group that you’re looking for a braille pen pal so you can practice your literary skills or ask for clarification on a braille transcribing rule
Another helpful resource is the UEB Study Group’s shared Google Drive. I’ve curated a crowd-sourced Drive of free UEB study material. The Google Drive has 100s of files, so I recommend starting with the folder called “Getting Started in Braille.”
Open up all of the files in the “Getting Started in Braille” folder and see which ones are applicable to you. If you’re completely new to braille, start with the activity booklet that explains the logic behind braille in the file called “Crack the Code.” In this folder, there are reference sheets for identifying the braille signs and templates for writing to your sighted braille pen pal. Check out the file called “Resources for Learning the Slate and Stylus” to learn how to keep a gratitude journal on 3×5 cards using a slate and stylus.
Besides being plugged into a supportive community, daily reading braille was the biggest factor for improving my braille literacy speed and confidence. From the main folder in the Google Drive, open the folder called “Braille Books.” In there you’ll learn where you can download free ebraille books and how to save these braille files as pdfs so you can read them on your tablet. I recommend choosing a book that matches your braille reading speed.
We’d love to help support you on your journey to learn braille. No matter what brought you to braille, I recommend finding a community to encourage and support you and to make it a habit to read braille every day.
Short Video: Affordable Braille Books for Sighed Readers