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Celebrate World Braille Day by Raising Awareness

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 09:56
Blog Date: Tuesday, January 2, 2018Author: Chris DanielsenCategories: EducationGeneral

Each year, January 4 is celebrated as World Braille Day. It marks the birthday of Louis Braille (1809-1852), the French inventor of the reading and writing code for the blind. In Louis Braille’s time, the code was only used at the Parisian school for the blind where he studied and later taught. Today, there are Braille codes for virtually every written language in the world, so that blind people everywhere can become literate and acquire the opportunities that literacy brings.

The National Federation of the Blind is proud to celebrate Braille. At the same time, it is sobering to remember that the number of blind children being taught this crucial reading and writing tool in the United States is at an all-time low. The most recent available statistics from the American Printing House for the Blind suggest that only about 8 percent of blind K-12 students in the United States are Braille readers.

Considering the Braille literacy crisis, it is important that we continue to make the case for Braille. Braille is the only method that allows blind people both to read and write independently. While other tools, such as recorded or text-to-speech audio, are useful to blind people, only Braille provides us with true literacy. A correlation has been demonstrated between knowing how to read and write Braille and better educational and employment outcomes. Yet because of the false perceptions that Braille is hard to learn or that new technologies can replace it, Braille instruction continues to decline. The irony is that technology, such as Braille notetakers and displays that can connect to computers and smartphones, has made Braille more available than ever before.

Every day, thousands of blind people use Braille for everything from shopping lists to labels for canned goods, from reading novels to solving math and scientific equations, from learning a piece of music to composing one. The increasing availability of Braille signs makes it easier for blind people to get around hotels, office buildings, government facilities, university campuses, and more. Braille is as flexible as print, can be learned in roughly the same amount of time, and can be read just as fluidly.

There is much that needs to be done to combat the decline of Braille literacy, but one way that each of us can help is to create awareness of how Braille makes it possible for blind people to transform our dreams into reality. On World Braille Day, let’s commit ourselves to showing more blind people and more members of the sighted public how this versatile code helps us live the lives we want.

Tags: braillebraille literacyworld braille day

Braille Literacy: Success for Everyone

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 09:30
Blog Date: Wednesday, January 3, 2018Author: Alison TarverCategories: EducationParenting

My son Nicholas was born into this world with a bit of difficulty to say the least. The hows and whys are not as important as the journey that Nicholas and my family have been on since April 2006. Nicholas is an eleven-year-old boy who has multiple disabilities. His visual impairment, cerebral palsy, processing issues, and epilepsy are just hurdles he tackles, not his defining characteristics. Braille has been the key to his successful journey both in and outside of the classroom.

I can briefly explain how Nicholas became a competent Braille reader in mainstream sixth grade. First, I would say get a team together. Sometimes it takes a village to support all the needs of children with multiple involvements. I gathered together people who had positive attitudes and wanted nothing but the best for my child. So “Team Nicholas” consisted of his teachers, a paraprofessional, a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Mom and Dad, a connection with the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind, and numerous healthcare providers. Next, we introduced Braille in kindergarten and focused on it daily.

Here comes the critical step when instructing children with multiple disabilities: “TAKE YOUR TIME, AND THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!” Every step involved in teaching a new process to Nicholas had to be broken down. For example, when I taught him to dress himself, I couldn’t teach him to put on his shirt and his pants at the same time. First, we mastered putting on his shirt and practiced that one skill for months until he had it down pat; then we worked on the pants. This was the same process used with his Braille learning. He could master that dot 1 was a Braille a, but initially had difficulty spelling “cat” and remembering all the Braille cell combinations as well as how to spell “cat.” It was a step by step process. But little by little, he got it and continues to get better and better. Over the years, Team Nicholas has figured out the methods that give him the most efficiency and productivity.

With the help of blind role models, educators, and fellow parents, I have been able to understand all the options available to Nicholas—whether it be hardcopy Braille, refreshable Braille, screen readers, or other forms of auditory feedback. I can tell you that Braille has always played an integral part, and Nicholas would not be as successful if he had not learned the code.

Finally, don’t forget about extracurricular activities for your blind child. Thanks to LCB, I found out about the National Federation of the Blind BELL Academy, which Nicholas has attended five times during the summer. I cannot say enough about Braille enrichment programs! They have been paramount in Nicholas’ Braille reading and writing success.

If you are the parents of a blind or visually impaired child and have fears about his or her learning path using Braille, I can without a doubt tell you, you can do it and you can succeed! With passionate teachers, likeminded parents, supportive paraprofessionals, and deep-rooted connections to the National Federation of the Blind, Braille literacy is possible.

Tags: braillebraille literacyworld braille dayeducation

Sheltered Workshop and Honda of America Manufacturing Sued for Disability Discrimination

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 14:09


Release Date: Friday, December 15, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgRegina Kline or Kevin DochertyBrown, Goldstein & Levy(410) 962-1030Sheltered Workshop and Honda of America Manufacturing Sued for Disability DiscriminationSheltered Workshop Employee who Earned Subminimum Wages Brings Unique Employment Discrimination Action

Today, Michael A. Denoewer, an individual with autism, filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against his former employer, U-CO Industries, a sheltered workshop located in Marysville, Ohio, and Honda of America Manufacturing (Honda), for which U-CO is a Tier 1 Supplier.

Mr. Denoewer alleges that U-CO Industries, his former employer, discriminated against him because of his disabilities when it failed to evaluate him for jobs in the workshop that he was otherwise qualified to perform and that provided higher pay, greater opportunities for advancement, and additional training opportunities. Instead, during the nearly seven-and-a-half years that he was employed by U-CO Industries, Mr. Denoewer was relegated to piece-rate work for which he received as little as $1.38 per hour after taxes. Mr. Denoewer asserts that these actions were based on erroneous assumptions and stereotypes about his disabilities, and not on any objective assessment of his abilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mr. Denoewer’s lawsuit against Honda is one of the first of its kind to be brought for aiding and abetting a sheltered workshop’s discrimination. Honda contracts with U-CO Industries for parts that are used in Honda’s new vehicles. As a Production Associate at U-CO Industries, Mr. Denoewer worked to assemble materials for Honda’s Owner’s Manuals. Because U-CO Industries is a Tier 1 supplier for Honda, a coveted designation that allows the workshop to supply Honda with components that go directly into new vehicles, Honda, in turn, closely monitors U-CO’s operations, labor costs, workforce composition, and workplace methods. Mr. Denoewer alleges that Honda aided, abetted, incited, and compelled U-CO into doing acts declared discriminatory under Ohio law, including discriminating against him on the basis of disability by relegating him to less desirable positions within the workshop.

“Paying workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage reflects low expectations based on false perceptions of our capacity,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, which is assisting in this litigation. “Relegating workers like Michael Denoewer to low-paying, dead-end work based solely on the characteristic of disability is the very definition of discrimination. The National Federation of the Blind is committed to making sure that workers with disabilities are valued for what we can do and afforded the basic rights to which all workers are entitled.”

“Michael Denoewer understands that he has rights like any other employee and that U-CO Industries and Honda have obligations to evaluate him on the merits, not based on unproven and erroneous assumptions about his capabilities,” said Regina Kline, an attorney for the Plaintiffs. “That an employer holds itself out as a special employer of people with disabilities does not immunize it from the obligations that attach to any other employer under the ADA. Moreover, contractors must be aware of the labor conditions in sheltered workshops to avoid aiding and abetting discrimination. It vitiates the very purpose of disability employment programs to deny employees like Michael Denoewer the opportunity to advance within the workshop’s operations.”

Marc Maurer, another attorney for the Plaintiffs, explained, “The ADA and its provisions prohibiting employer discrimination flow from the presumption that people with disabilities have value and can contribute in the workplace and society. Paying workers with certain characteristics subminimum wages and refusing to consider them for jobs for which they are otherwise qualified sends the false message that they have no value and violates the law.”

The Complaint is available at


About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at

What I Learned at NFB Youth Slam

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 14:45
Blog Date: Tuesday, December 5, 2017Author: Camryn GattusoCategories: EducationStories

I am Camryn Gattuso, fifteen years old, and a sophomore at Tuslaw High School in Massillon, Ohio. I have been totally blind since birth and have been educated in a typical public school. I have attended Space Camp® in Alabama for three years in a row, and after receiving my Advanced Space Academy® Wings I wanted to try a different STEM camp. I applied to the STEM program put on by the National Federation of the Blind and was picked to attend.

This is what I did while attending the 2017 NFB Youth Slam. My parents and I drove to Baltimore, Maryland, where I was dropped off at Towson University to start my week at Youth Slam with the sixty other students from the USA. After registration we followed our program marshals to the dining hall and had lunch together. After lunch, we had an activity that was supposed to get us acquainted with each other. The object was to blow up a balloon and see whose would pop first. Then an instructor told us the rules for the week and what would happen if we didn’t follow them. After that I went to my room and met my roommate, Marley, from Utah.

The next day after an early breakfast, I went to my first class, Installation Art. Our instructor’s name was Ann, and she told us that we would be working all week to make an exhibit to show at the conclusion of Youth Slam. We would also be going to White Marsh wetlands the next day to collect random items or ideas that we could use in our project. During the first day we spent over two hours learning where all the tools and the other necessary items for our project would be kept. I figured I would use a motor in my project and was shown the three types of motors they had available. The one I was particularly fascinated by was the 180 motor, which when connected to a controller box, moved back and forth similar to the way a bird flaps its wings.

After we were dismissed from Installation Art, we had some free time before the evening program of Karaoke. At this session I sang two Disney songs, “Beauty and The Beast” and “Let It Go”. Then we went back to the dorm room, and I was fascinated at the Cozmo robot that my roommate brought with her from home.

The next day I continued with my project in Installation Art. My class then boarded a bus to White Marsh wetlands in the afternoon. We were supposed to listen and tell the people in charge how many different bird calls we heard, which was really fun. We were then given a project to identify by feel whether the plants in that area were living or dead. Then we put on rubber boots and went into the water and tried to catch random aquatic lifeforms with a net. Next a forest ranger took us on a nature walk along a wooden boardwalk where we were told about different plants native to the area. We then returned to the university for more afternoon session work.

My next day session was the Chemistry of Cooking, where we learned how to prepare food items. Later that day we had a jam session. I played songs on the piano and listened to others as they performed their talents.

The following day I continued Installation Art, and I came up with the brilliant plan of making a bird with flapping wings using the 180 motor. I learned how to use a hot glue gun in creating my project. I made the head out of foam, body from piece of cardboard, and the beak out of a triangular-shaped piece of paper. After making sure everybody’s projects worked, we set up our exhibits that would be display at the end of the week. Later that day, I went to a session called Hot Stuff, where I learned how to solder wires together or to a terminal.

That night there was an outdoor carnival set up for us, and we had hot dogs and cotton candy. The funniest thing that happened that night was when I was sitting on the concrete outside, this kid walked up to me and asked, “What is this?”

I raised my head and yelled, “You know full well what it is. It’s a person!” I was surprised that he didn’t know that I was the person sitting there.

The next day, I did some finishing items for my Installation Art project. The afternoon session that day was 3D Printing the Stars, where we all got to feel 3D models of stars and other things. The evening session was yoga. We got to make essential oils, and then we learned different yoga positions. There was relaxing music in the background, which sounded good and calming.

The final day was when everyone got to see what their peers had learned to make. Everyone was fascinated by my bird project, and I was most fascinated by the computer science projects where the kids programed audio games on computers. This required knowledge of JAWS to play the games. In the afternoon, we went to the NFB Jernigan Institute, where I listened to presentations on the college application process. Then we finished up with a block party in the garage at the NFB Jernigan Institute. This consisted of a dance and food for us and was the conclusion of a fun-filled and educational week-long program.

I’m looking forward to possibly attending another Youth Slam if chosen to participate again.

Tags: NFB Youth SlamSTEMeducationsciencetechnologyengineeringmathart

Organization Says Senate Tax Bill Disastrous for Education, Employment of Blind Americans

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:27


Release Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgOrganization Says Senate Tax Bill Disastrous for Education, Employment of Blind AmericansNational Federation of the Blind Denounces Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Baltimore, Maryland (November 29, 2017): The National Federation of the Blind officially opposes the United States Senate’s current Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

The organization cites a probable dramatic increase in unemployment among blind Americans, which already approaches sixty percent, as the reason for its opposition.

According to projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the losses in tax revenue under the TCJA will be so high, at least initially, that they will trigger the “pay-as-you-go” rules of the Office of Management and Budget. This will eliminate funding for vital programs and services for the blind, such as Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding. These vital services link blind people to educational and employment opportunities by providing the training and resources that they need.

The 2015 American Community Survey, the most recent data available, reported that, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 42.0% were employed.

“The detrimental impact the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will have on blind Americans cannot be denied,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “This bill slams the door on education and vocational rehabilitation, and ultimately on employment, for some seven million blind Americans. We call upon the United States Senate either to protect these critical programs and services, or to vote no.”


About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at

Catastrophic Impact on Vocational Rehabilitation

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 15:19
Blog Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2017Author: NFB Government Affairs TeamCategories: Advocacy

Much attention has been given to Congress’s planned tax reform efforts and the varied effects those changes will have on Americans. However, one aspect of the Senate Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that no one seems to be talking about is the drastic effect it will have on people with disabilities.

Though not explicitly mentioned in the legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may inadvertently eliminate federal funding for public vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs. As this letter from the National Council on State Agencies for the Blind explains, VR programs provide critical training for people with disabilities to secure and maintain employment. Defunding of this program will not only curtail gainful employment opportunities for people with disabilities, but also negatively impact other programs such as the Social Security trust fund and Medicare.

We must strive to maintain our financial freedom and independence. Please call your two senators and urge them to guarantee that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act does not trigger mandatory spending cuts that will eliminate or reduce vocational rehabilitation funding. You can reach your senators by calling (202) 224-3121 and asking for the appropriate office.

Tags: tax reformvocational rehabilitation

Review of Freedom Scientific's ElBraille

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 12:13
Blog Date: Monday, November 27, 2017Author: Karl BelangerCategories: Access Technology

The ElBraille consists of a small Windows 10 computer built into a case for the Focus 14 Blue Braille display. The case feels quite sturdy, and the overall concept is a very good one. The unit comes with instructions in Braille and a protective carrying case which feels well-built and should do a good job of protecting the ElBraille. Unfortunately, there are several issues that, when taken together, make the ElBraille a much less appealing option.

Purchasing the ElBraille

Unlike similar devices, VFO has decided to take a modular approach with selling the ElBraille. The ElBraille is just the computer dock for the Focus 14. If you currently own a Focus 14 and/or a JAWS license, you can use those. If not, you must buy the ElBraille at $1,795 and the display and JAWS separately at their regular prices. The price for the unit itself is rather high, especially when the hardware specifications of the device are taken into account. With an Intel Atom® processor and two gigabytes of RAM, the ElBraille is roughly comparable to budget friendly Windows tablets.

Physical Description

The ElBraille consists of two parts: the dock, which holds the processor, battery, and other internals; and a Focus 14 Blue Braille display. The dock consists of a tray with an open front end, which is also higher at the back. The Focus 14 is inserted into the ElBraille back end first. The USB cord is plugged into the left side, then the display is lowered until the hooks at the front edge engage with the slots in the bottom of the display. Along the left side are a micro-HDMI port and a slot for a SIM card to connect to an LTE network. The right side has a headphone jack, an SD card slot, a USB port, and the proprietary charging port. There is nothing on the back of the device. On the top left edge there is a power button, and behind that a cover over the Focus display’s USB port and power button. Behind the display on the top of the ElBraille are four buttons, with a volume rocker in between the second and third. From left to right, these buttons access the ElBraille menu, provide battery and network status, announce and display the time and date, and open the notes application. When connecting or removing the charger, the ElBraille plays an ascending or descending tone and also vibrates the device.

ElBraille Custom Menus and Applications

The buttons on the back edge of the ElBraille provide access to a number of custom functions. Pressing the first button opens a menu with direct shortcuts to a number of programs including the calculator, Firefox, Skype, Balabolka book reader, a notes program, and Microsoft Office 365 (if installed). There is also a utilities menu which provides access to settings and documentation for the ElBraille. Pressing and holding the first button brings up a self-voicing menu where you can force restart JAWS or restart/shutdown the system. Pressing or double-pressing the second key once announces the battery or network status respectively, and the third key announces the time or date. The fourth key opens the ElNotes application, which allows for taking both text and voice notes, which can later be reviewed, and the text notes can be searched.

The ElBraille menu provides quick access to a variety of applications. The Miranda instant messaging program, Skype, Firefox, the Balabolka book reader, and Windows Live Mail all come preinstalled. The menu also provides access to the calculator, Notepad, and a submenu for MS Word, MS Outlook, etc., if they are installed. The utilities submenu provides access to ElBraille settings, where it is possible to change when the device beeps or vibrates, whether the LTE modem is on or off, among others. Also under utilities are a keyboard editor where the physical buttons can be reassigned, a firmware updates feature, and help documentation.

Using the ElBraille

When the ElBraille is turned on by pressing and holding the power button, the device will vibrate, then start emitting a series of short beeps. As each stage of the boot finishes, the device will vibrate again and the beeping will pause. This repeats a few times until the beeping stops and JAWS comes up talking. The Focus will also turn on and off several times. The first time JAWS loads, it will present you with the update authorization screen. Otherwise, there is no first run experience; you are dropped at the Windows desktop. For anyone who has used a Braille display with JAWS as the primary means of accessing a computer, turning on the ElBraille will be just like booting up any other Windows PC. For those who haven’t used a Braille display with JAWS extensively, a tutorial would come in quite handy. There are a lot of keys to learn, some of which are layered, some context specific, and while having the Braille manual is useful, a simple on-device tutorial to familiarize users especially with the keyboard emulation, would make the learning curve a lot less steep. Having no first run setup means that users will have to know where to look to connect to Wi-Fi, set the time and date if it is incorrect, add their Microsoft account, etc.


With a processor clocking in at under two gigahertz and just two gigabytes of RAM, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of the ElBraille. After using it and putting it through its paces, it generally holds up well when doing one thing at a time or using a couple light duty applications, but it slows down once you get a few windows open. The most immediate thing I noticed was the lag when using alt+tab. With only a few things open, moving between applications regularly took over a second, sometimes as much as two. The next issue was that, in some situations, the display would update long after JAWS had started speaking. One area where this was particularly noticeable was in Excel. For example, if I wrote the sentence, “This is a test,” in cell A1, then moved away and back, JAWS would announce “This is a test.” The display would update, then JAWS would announce “A1”. Instances like this make the ElBraille very difficult to use without speech, as it would be very easy to move past content unintentionally if the display isn’t keeping up. I also noticed fairly frequent long loading times, which would sometimes cause the device to stop responding entirely for a few seconds, slow download speeds compared to other devices on the same network, and a couple of hard crashes with nothing particularly strenuous going on. These crashes required a hard reboot by holding in the power button until the device turned off as the emergency menu even stopped working.

Other Observed Design Oddities and Issues

The ElBraille comes with a version of Windows 10 that is from sometime in the first part of this year, as it is before the creators’ update. Furthermore, the 32-bit edition is installed rather than the 64-bit. While neither of these are deal breakers in themselves, it is not possible to directly upgrade to the 64-bit edition without doing a clean install, and it is disappointing to see a new device starting behind the curve, especially given the accessibility improvements in the creator’s update.

No Sleep or Hibernate

It is not possible to put the ElBraille into any form of standby mode. There is only full on or shut off. This is very unfortunate and has several implications. First, there is no way to carry the device around without potentially causing unwanted button presses. It is possible to use a JAWS-specific lock command to lock the keyboard keys, but then JAWS makes an announcement that the keys are locked every so often. The next problem is that there is no way to preserve battery life without a full shutdown. While the battery life is very good, if you’re not going to use the ElBraille for a while, it is necessary to do a full shutdown, then wait for it to boot when you go to use it next.

Occasional Extra-Long Startup

With no apparent cause, upon turning the ElBraille back on after a normal shutdown, the unit will take several minutes to boot, rather than the usual 20-30 seconds. The system eventually boots normally, but this can still be disruptive and confusing.

Potentially Inadequate Ventilation

While the ElBraille does have a fan, there are only a few holes which might be ventilation, some under the Braille display. The carrying case looks like it may even help the device retain heat. This means that the ElBraille can get quite warm under even light operation, and adding in charging the battery can be enough to make the fan come on. This isn’t helped by the speed problems feeling worse when the unit was warm, which leads me to believe that the ElBraille’s processor has some aggressive overheat protection.

Final Thoughts

As a media consumption and light duty productivity machine, the ElBraille works just fine. It runs well with just one or two things open, the speakers sound good, and the battery life is great. However, with specs in line with under $200 Windows tablets, the ElBraille doesn’t hold up as a productivity device. The Braille lag, long load times, and delays when switching between applications all contribute to a significant blow to efficiency when attempting to work on multiple things at once. Given all of that, the steep price, and that it is based around the relatively fragile Focus 14, potential users should consider carefully what they plan to use it for before purchasing.

Tags: ElBrailleaccess technologybrailleBraille display