Unmute Presents At Your Fingertips – Braille Then And Now

In this episode, we discuss Braille education with our guest Kay. We cover topics such as using a slate and stylus for writing, accessing Braille books, personal experiences with Braille, the importance of Braille literacy, and the practicality of labeling things using Braille. We invite listeners to join the conversation and provide feedback for future episodes.

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Hey, it’s Michael here from Unmute presents the podcast for all things technology, and.

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I’m a huge fan. I love your live calls, your in depth episodes, and your quick tips on Sundays.

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Thanks. That means a lot. Do you want to tell our listeners how they can join us?

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Of course. Just go to ACB community and find out how to join. Or you can subscribe to Unmute presence on your favorite podcast app. It’s that easy.

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Awesome. Unmute presents the podcast for tech lovers like you and me.

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Welcome to at your fingertips Braille, then and now. Whether you are a veteran braille reader or just starting out, this show is for you. We’ll talk about tools, tips, and techniques for reading and writing Braille. We’ll also visit with the past, which gives us a deep appreciation for the tools we have now. I’ll include interviews with braille learners, teachers, and those who are in the know about upcoming braille products. If you have any feedback for me, feel free to email me at Chris Chris at atyourfingertips tech that’s Chris at atyourfingertips Tech. The atyourfingertips website is just beginning, so please come back often to check for updates. Now let’s dive into the show with a conversation I had with a dear friend about how she learned Braille in Canada.

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So, Kay, thanks so much for joining me today. I am really glad you’re here.

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Well, thank you. I’m glad to be here.

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Awesome. That’s great. What I’m doing is I’m thinking of people who learned Braille a while back when Braille was the thing to know. Nowadays, everything talks and kids are not as literate, I don’t think. And there’s not as much time spent teaching it. So I was thinking, when you were at the school for the Blind in Canada, right? How did you learn braille? How old were you and how did.

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They teach braille then to you?

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I was six. And I didn’t learn the Perkins Braille writer the way they start kids now, or used to anyway. I learned on a slate and stylus.

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And I can writing well, first I’ll talk about this slate. It was probably different from any slate people would ever see right now. It was a board slate, and the slate had a guide that you put on, but you clamp the paper in and then you tighten it down. And then there’s a guide that moves up and down in these holes on the board. And the guide only had two lines.

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Yeah, two lines, so that the braille was spaced.

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Yeah. And the styluses were different from what we have over here, but that doesn’t matter. We used them the same way. But I can remember learning to write on the slate and stylus, and my teacher, they must have had a thing about writing in rhythm, because I can remember the teacher counting and playing this little melody, this little thing in three, four time. And we’d punch a dot like an a on the first beat of each one. We’d go, punch two, three. Punch two, three. And it was great fun. I really enjoyed that.

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It was musical, too.

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That’s awesome.

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Yeah. And then, of course, then when I learned to read braille back then, they taught contracted braille first.

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And we’d get these cards. They were like braille flashcards, I guess you would call them. Sure. And we’d keep our cards in these little plastic envelopes.

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Contracted braille. Wow. Why did they do that? That’s fascinating, but I think that was.

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A real disadvantage, because I bet a lot of us that learned back then are. I bet. I don’t know this for sure, but I bet a lot of us are poor spellers.

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Well, you wouldn’t remember how to spell which or that sort of thing. Yeah.

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I mean, mother was five m. Right. Why would you spell it?

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Mother? Right.

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In a sense, the way they taught reading was a disadvantage, and writing, too. But I did feel like it was an advantage learning to write on a slate first.

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Wow. Oh, there would. Kids would be up in arms. We barely get them to learn braille today. Sometimes, like learning on a slate, it’s.

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Easier to have a computer talk to them.

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Right. I know. I am so passionate about literacy. I love hearing how people learned braille and read braille. So then they probably had little braille readers for you and things.

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Little books. Yeah. I remember the first one that we used. It was called rides and slides.

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Oh, fun.

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And it was not the dick and Jane.

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Oh, good. That beats the heck out of that. Yeah.

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But this was just as bad. It was Alice and. Yeah.

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Well, you had to learn your, er. Sign to read that one.

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That’s true. But we didn’t learn er. We learned the ER.

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Yeah. Right.

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For math, we used.

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These were the cube slates. Cube. Like, little cubes and things. Yeah, I’ve heard about those.

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Yeah. And then after that. Then later on, after the first couple of grades, then we would use. It was called a tailor slate.

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Oh, yeah.

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And the pegs were lead. Couldn’t use those now.

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So you didn’t actually do math in braille for a while. Then?

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No, not after the first couple of years when we used the cube.

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Yeah. So you weren’t actually writing them out of Perkins or anything?

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Yeah, well, we wrote our answers once we got the answers, and if we had to hand it in, then we would write our answer on a piece of paper in braille.

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Oh, okay. Got it. Yeah. Because the abacus hadn’t come into use in teaching math.

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No, I didn’t learn to use the abacus till 1967.

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Okay. By that time, you were out of school.

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Oh, yeah, I was out of school.

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So did the school have a library of books, or did you order books from anywhere? How did you keep reading when you were little?

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Yeah, the school had a library, and then when I went to the Michigan school for the blind, they had a library, too.

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Okay. Yeah. So what do you think is. Well, maybe both ends of the spectrum. Maybe. What’s the most beneficial advantage you have experienced as a result of being a lifelong braille reader, and what do you wish might have been different? You can answer those in whatever order you want.

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Okay. What I value, I value being able to use a slate, and I value that my braille instruction was very good. What I wish had been different would have been that, like I said, the first I learned was contracted braille.

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It probably would have been, in some ways better if I’d learned grade one Braille first, because, sure, the spelling wouldn’t have been an issue. I mean, I’m not a terrible speller, and I know how to use spell check on the computer, which I.

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But I didn’t always have a computer.

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Yeah, exactly. Right.

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So I think that that would have been very valuable to start off with grade one braille.

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Sure. And then what about one hand versus two hands? I know there’s been a lot of difference over the years in how Braille is taught physically to how people should read one or two.

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Well, that wasn’t stressed when I was learning, and I guess that would have been a good thing because I might have been a way faster braille reader. But I do know I use both hands, but my left hand really does the reading. My right hand kind of just kind of goes ahead of my left hand. And I know that there are people that will read half a line with one hand, and as they’re reading the rest of the line with the other, they’ll go down to the next line. I don’t do that. I never have. And I tried it, but I tried it in the interested in speed reading, but I don’t know, maybe it’s one of those things you can’t teach an old dog new trick.

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Well, you weren’t an old dog then in York now, so that’s good.

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At any rate, I know that people back in my day and teachers, blind teachers, were not fast braille readers.

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Oh, interesting.

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One of my teachers, she taught English and music and she was not a fast braille reader and the band director was not a fast brill reader. So I suspect that they were taught the way I was. It was not emphasized to read with both hands or anything like that. I was never taught any specific way to read. I was just taught the letters.

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Right. Just found your way, what worked for you?

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Yeah. Or sort of thing.

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So what do you think? If you had something to tell parents or kids now looking ahead to where we are now with Braille, because I know you’re an NFP member, where Braille is heavily emphasized and encouraged, what would you tell families or kids nowadays where Braille’s kind of had a rocky road? I think. What would you tell them about?

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I think what I would emphasize is the very importance of knowing braille because no matter how you spell it, if you can’t read, you’re not literate. Even you can have a college degree and not be literate. And I think that’s tragic. I would just tell parents, please have your kids read. Mean do. And if the school district fights, you fight.

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Because it’s so important. When I was growing up, when I was at the Ontario school for the blind, everybody learned Braille no matter how much vision they had.

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Wow, that’s great.

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And then they could use their vision to read if they wanted to. But darn it, they had a background in braille. And if I had my way about it, I’d say that has to be, no matter how much vision you have, if you go to a school for the blind, you learn braille and then you learn to read print if you want to. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with using what you’ve got. But darn it, you got to know the braille. I can’t be strong enough about that, in case you wonder.

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Do you have an opinion on that? Well, yes. And now with no schools for the blind, everything’s kind of decentralized. But if I could pass an act of congress, it would be that all blind and visually impaired children learn to read braille for their own literature.

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Actually, there is a school for the blind here in Washington.

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Yes, true, they’re kind of going on the way out, but yes, that’s true.

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Well, it’s a revolving door.

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You learn your blindness skills, and then you go back into the public schools, which I think is fine, but learn braille.

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Yes, absolutely.

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To think that it’s going out of fashion is very, almost painful.

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Yes, absolutely.

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A bunch of illiterate blind people with college degrees.

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No, we don’t. And then as a rehab teacher, I get them when they should have learned it and they don’t know it and should have, and then we learn it again.

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They would be resistant to it because, I mean, I’m functioning all right. I don’t know why I need this.

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Yes, I have daily headaches and Eye strain, but doggone it, I’m going to read this print if it kills me. Yeah.

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If it takes me 5 minutes to read a sentence, by gosh, I read it.

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Yeah, that’s right. Well, from our perspective, having no vision, we have a valid perspective because we know we’ve seen what happens with folks whose vision goes down and then they don’t have that literacy.

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I know, and it’s so hard. I’ve seen cases where the student wanted braille and didn’t have the support of the parents or school district.

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Oh, my. Well, now they try to cram so much into their day that they have precious little time for blindness skills.

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Yeah. Right.

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So therefore, I think they should get some tutors after school on the weekends and learn it because there is no replacement for literacy. There really isn’t. And that stat, about 90% of blind people who are employed read braille is huge.

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Well, I think the school districts have to be held accountable. I guess. I feel like it should be taught in the schools, I think the school districts really need to own that.

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Yes, absolutely. Well, as much as I can encourage the adults to learn it, which I’m always beating that drum. And as much as you can tell your story of how things were and how things are now and kind of having that perspective is great.

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That’s awesome.

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Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today about braille then and now and your experience.

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You’re welcome.

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We’ve had a great visit with braille then in the past, and so now I thought I would turn to the present, where we could talk about some useful ways of labeling things. I’m a rehab instructor, and I often tell my students that I have so many labels at my house, I would.

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Label myself if I thought it was.

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Helpful, but I try to introduce labeling as soon as I can.

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If you know which medications you’re taking.

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Which canned food and item you’re opening. You definitely can use braille for this.

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There’s so many ways to use braille.

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In labeling, and there are really practical ways to do it as well. And you don’t need any really fancy tools.

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So, first of all, probably the easiest.

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And most accessible tool for blind and visually impaired as well as sighted people is the labeler that looks very much like a dymo labeler. And so it has a wheel that you can turn to a particular letter. And on the dial, there is both print and braille. And then you squeeze the handle to make the braille come out onto the tape. And those about 40 years ago were made of metal, and they were very durable.

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Now they seem to be a bit.

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More cheaply made and are plastic. And so if you have any difficulties with them, they’re about $25.

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I know that there are a couple.

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Of companies that make them, and they’re pretty readily available from the various blindness companies that sell products for. Then, you know, if there are people in the household who need to make labels, then it is completely doable for anyone. And then we have some other options if you’d like to use a Perkins brailler. I know that the american printing house in particular sells these fantastic label sheets that have various size labels. Anything from a whole sheet that’s just one big, plastic, sticky backed piece of material that you can roll in the Perkins braille writer and write on. And then there are sheets that have shipping size labels, and then also sheets that have 18 labels, each sheet that look like the size of an address label. And there’s also the braille superstore, I believe it is, who has a stack of 100 labels in each pack. And they can accommodate four lines of braille, 13 characters each. Whereas the labels from the printing house can usually accommodate just two lines of braille if you’re using the address size labels. So what I do is I, as soon as I can help my students make labels for their spices, we label the debit card in their wallet or their insurance card or id card, and we really encourage them to make use of braille as soon as they can.

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Because if you know what the cards.

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Are in your wallet, you’re not fumbling around and fiddling. So then we can label canned goods. You can also label cosmetics. You can label shampoo and conditioner. And the labels do not come off in the shower, by the way. I have found that they stick around for quite some time, pun intended.

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And it’s just really great to know.

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The difference between your shampoo and your conditioner. So those tools and supplies are accessible to anyone, whether you have a brow rider or not. And it’s just great to label your stuff. Thank you so much for joining me today. If there’s anything you’d like me to include in the show, please feel free to send me your feedback at Chris at atyourfingertips tech. I look forward to visiting with you next month. On at your fingertips. Braille then and now.