Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber by Elizabeth Symington, Founder UEB Study Group

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. Continue reading “Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber by Elizabeth Symington, Founder UEB Study Group”

We Are Not Blind To Injustice. The 2020 College Board Experience.

July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and we are excited to feature high school student Kaleigh Brendle who successfully advocated for Braille accommodations on the 2020 College Board exams — globally!

Guest post written by Kaleigh Brendle, high school student. 

My name is Kaleigh Brendle. I am 17 years old, and since birth, I’ve possessed a condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis, which left me visually impaired.

Four of the courses I was enrolled in this past school year are classified as Advanced Placement, or AP, courses. The course curriculums and final exams are created and administered by a corporation called the College Board. This corporation also presides over the PSAT and SAT exams, among others. Under normal circumstances, I receive all my College Board exams in Braille, and before the onset of the pandemic, the AP exams were going to be no different. If I performed well enough on these high-stakes tests, I may receive college credit for the completion of the course. Thus, these exams are extremely influential. Many blind and deaf-blind AP students had Braille specifically stated in their accommodation plans. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the College Board was forced to shorten and digitize their exams. In doing so, they communicated to us that Braille would not be provided this year. For exams that feature maps, coordinate planes, and other highly visual graphics, a “No-Braille” decision meant that these images would not be embossed. One of my courses, AP Biology, is extremely diagram-heavy, so I grew concerned about the prospect of not possessing the visuals in hard-copy format to tactilely navigate. According to the College Board’s website, 65% of my exam score would be dependent upon my ability to successfully interpret a single graphic. The solution that College Board provided was something called Alternative Text, a description coded into an image or graphic so that a student’s talking software will read the written text when their cursor encounters the image it describes. So when an image of, say, a phospholipid bilayer appears on my screen, my software will start speaking at me and reading the description. It became not so much how well I could interpret the image, but how much of that description I could memorize. If a graph appeared on the screen, it would read out every point on the graph, even spelling out the word “comma”. The given student would be inundated with details. We tried to explain to the College Board that providing us with a large block of text was not a substitute for the actual graph. We need that spatial information as anyone else would; the College Board executives were adding another cognitive burden to an already stressful situation. In addition, with the exams being administered through technological mediums, I sought to clarify what would transpire if a glitch were to occur with my accessible software. For instance, what if VoiceOver does not read the question? What if Jaws shorts out my computer during the exam? When posing this question, the response I received was troubling. I was informed that however long it took me to resolve a tech glitch in my exam, I would have that much less time to complete it. If it took me forty-five minutes to resolve an issue, and the exam was an hour in length, I would have fifteen minutes. The suggestion of both a representative and an executive that I spoke to about this was “use a device with less problems”. Unfortunately, in the world of accessible technology, it is impossible to anticipate what devices will pose complications on that given day. Continue reading “We Are Not Blind To Injustice. The 2020 College Board Experience.”

Seedlings Braille Books for Children: A Small Non-profit Making a HUGE Difference

We, at Navigating Blindness, are strong believers in the power of braille! For the entire month of July, we will be featuring a variety of braille literacy resources for students, teachers, transcribers, and families. Please check out our Instagram and Facebook pages for additional features and posts. Today, we are excited to learn more about Seedlings Braille Books for Children!

Guest post, written by Katelynn Lucas
Community Outreach, Seedlings Braille Books

Have you heard of Seedlings Braille Books for Children? If not, get ready to learn all about this small non-profit in Metro Detroit that produces free and low-cost braille books for children with vision loss. Seedlings’ mission is to increase the opportunity for literacy by providing high-quality free and low-cost braille books for children. They produce three types of books: Print-Braille-and-Picture books for toddlers and preschoolers, Print-and-Braille Easy Readers for beginning readers, and braille books as big as The Hunger Games for ages 6-21. By offering these different types of books, Seedlings is opening up the possibilities for children with vision loss to read together with their sighted family members and peers. The best part about Seedlings’ books is that, thanks to generous grants and donations, they cost an average of just $10 per book! Continue reading “Seedlings Braille Books for Children: A Small Non-profit Making a HUGE Difference”

Kai’s Comforts 2019 Collection to Benefit the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in NC

Hi friends, we are so excited to kick off our 4th year of Kai’s Comforts!  This year’s collection of new, soft, highly textured blankets and pillows will benefit the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in North Carolina.

Kai is a 17-year-old with a rare, progressive, eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). RP and other retinal diseases cause blindness. Night blindness is one of the first symptoms that many children experience and it can cause severe anxiety. Kai collects new, highly textured, soft, pillows and blankets to help comfort other kids facing blindness. Your donation will comfort a child experiencing vision loss.

Drop Bins bins are located in Statesboro & Brooklet at Pladd Dot Music, SE Tire & Service, and SEB high school’s front desk. Collection Dates Nov. 1-30, 2019.

Here are a few great articles about previous deliveries. Please get in on the fun! Continue reading “Kai’s Comforts 2019 Collection to Benefit the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in NC”

Is Your Child Thriving In The Midst Of Vision Loss? Is Your Loved-One Succeeding Without Sight?

Seven years ago a pediatric ophthalmologist called me at work to say that our 10-year-old son’s retinas were deteriorating. I was so stricken and confused by the words he used – deterioration, progressive, no cure, no treatment – that before we hung up I asked him, “Are you telling me that he’s dying or going blind?” “Blind,” he replied.

The way the news was delivered was so shocking that the memory still brings a visceral pang of grief. With one quick phone call, our lives were changed. We learned that our precious, youngest son, Kai, would go blind. The life we had envisioned for our bright, active child would be dimmed by blindness. We were shattered. We had no template and no understanding of what it meant to live without sight. We had never even met a person who was blind.

Unfortunately, for the first several years our family had to go it alone. We live in a small rural area 3-hours from the nearest blindness advocacy group. Kai was the first child in our county to experience progressive vision loss. We had to chart our own path, figure out our options and make the necessary connections to obtain services for our son.

It’s been 7 years now and we’ve overcome so much. Our son is thriving because of a few very important factors which are highlighted in Kristin Smedley’s new book Thriving Blind.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet,
then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison

Thank goodness Kristin took Toni Morrison’s wisdom to heart and wrote Thriving Blind! Oh, how I wish that our doctor had sat us down and explained what to expect and that our son could still have a wonderful, rich, fulfilling life. Oh, how I wish our doctor had handed us a copy of Kristin’s book which introduces her two sons who were each diagnosed with blindness at 4-months of age. Continue reading “Is Your Child Thriving In The Midst Of Vision Loss? Is Your Loved-One Succeeding Without Sight?”

Hindsight 20/20 Featuring Jill Richmond

Hi everyone! I’m super excited to share a new segment on Navigating Blindness called Hindsight 20/20 which will feature parents of blind and visually impaired (B/VI) individuals who have agreed to answer 20 questions with hindsight. My hope is that their stories will encourage us parents who are still heads-down in the day-to-day thick of raising our children and advocating for their educational needs.

These interviews will each be very unique because blindness is a spectrum and each child, parent, and family has different situations, goals, and expectations.  As parents, we need to educate ourselves and consider the foundations’ advice, the doctors’ advice, the teachers’ advice and so on (the list of people weighing in on our children’s lives seems endless) but, ultimately, we are our children’s strongest advocates. We are responsible for providing the tools and guidance necessary for them to grow into adults who advocate for themselves in this big diverse world.

Join me in welcoming Jill Richmond as she shares her journey with her oldest son Aaron. Let’s navigate blindness, together.

Continue reading “Hindsight 20/20 Featuring Jill Richmond”

Unique Braille Gift Idea

I’m excited to introduce you to Lucky Touch Braille Fortune Cookie Company! The company is run by students at the California School for the Blind.  The students are involved in every aspect of the company’s operations. And as far as I know, they are the only company in the world creating braille fortune cookies! WHAT A COOL IDEA!

Lucky Touch Braille Fortune Cookie Company is run by a student board of directors at the California School for the Blind.  They make decisions about prices, pack cookies and sell cookies at events and by mail.  They also interview candidates for open positions on the board and select new members. — Judith Lesner, Board Advisor

About 2 weeks before Valentine’s day I reached out to them to place an order for 50 braille fortune cookies. I chose “plain” and “standard uncontracted braille” but they also offer chocolate dipped, contracted braille and customized messages.  The cookies arrived individually wrapped and in perfect shape — not a single broken cookie! Continue reading “Unique Braille Gift Idea”

Be Aware: Signs Ahead.

Signs. They are everywhere. Sometimes they alert us to danger, sometimes they send us on a detour. Our sign was created specifically to create a safe space for our blind son to traverse his high school parking lot filled with student drivers.

A couple of weeks ago in a Facebook forum for parents of blind kids, a parent asked how other people handle school drop off/pick up. I read several responses and decided to post a picture of our solution: a sign.  Continue reading “Be Aware: Signs Ahead.”

Preparing for Battle: Support & Organization

Hi friends, This is my final post in a 3-part series about my family’s Special Education Formal Complaint and Mediation proceeding. If you are a new visitor to this blog, I’d recommend starting with the previous posts: Special Education Mediation Experience and  Formal Complaint & Mediation Processes Explained. Continue reading “Preparing for Battle: Support & Organization”