National Braille Press creates new technology for blind community in 21st century

 National Braille Press creates new technology for blind community in 21st century


A white classic colonial style edifice in St. Stephen Street in Boston’s Fenway district has some of the most recent and collaborative work for the blind community.

the National Braille Pressor NBP, creates a braille resource for the blind in the United States and beyond with the mission of empowering the blind community.

In 1927, the organization was founded by Francis Ierardi, a blind immigrant from Italy and a student of Perkins School for the Blind. He recognized the lack of access to news for the blind and created a place that could provide braille news for the blind in a more timely manner.

The purpose and mission of the NBP expanded after settling in their current location in 1946. The organization now produces braille books, tests, menus and manuals for the entire North America.

Joe Quintanilla, vice president of development and major gifts, is in his 11th year at National Braille Press. He emphasized the importance of creating resources that are accessible and affordable for the blind.

“It usually costs three times as much to make a book in braille than it does to print,” Quintanilla said. “We believe that a blind person should not have to pay more for the same information that is in print. The money we have raised helps to balance that difference. ”

Brian Mac Donald, president and CEO of NBP, said NBP wants to keep pace with technology while also staying true to its roots in providing the blind with the resources for them in everyday life. Mac Donald came to NBP in 2008 with the intention of developing the digital aspect of the braille world. He wants the organization to continue to survive as a printing resource while adapting to the changing times.

“We still produce millions of pages of braille paper every year,” said Mac Donald. “And we’re going to continue to do that as long as there’s a need for it for many, many more years to come … people about technology.”

NBP publishes its own materials for the blind, the blind, about how to use technology such as phones, apps and devices.

“It is… a way for a blind person to learn from the experience of a blind person [about] how to use technology because it empowers them to be independent to learn how to use a computer and find a job, ”Quintanilla said.

Volunteers and staff gather books, manuals, and other braille resources within the NBP.

Mac Donald’s flagship technology initiative at NBP creates refreshable braille display. It allows braille notetakers to process words into text on the screen and also read through the raised text at the monitor output. They were originally priced anywhere from $ 6,000 to $ 10,000; however, it is inaccessible to many blind people.

“Schools are having trouble funding them. It was just a dream. One of our goals is to see if we can make a lower cost professional braille product with multiple features, ”Mac Donald said.

Mac Donald has partnered with more than 25 community volunteers to make technology faster. A product, called B2Ga portable, lower-cost, refreshable braille computer for the blind.

“We want to ensure that blind children and adults have access to digital braille at a much cheaper rate. [Braille technology] You can… level the playing field for accessibility, ”Mac Donald said.

Mac Donald and NBP sold the first product in 2016 for a competitive $ 2,495. In 2019, they cut the price in half and now, they have new technology for less than $ 500, according to Mac Donald.

While the board and management create these products and envision the future of braille technology, most of the production work continues with books and paper resources in the basement of the building where NBP employees and volunteers personally binds all of these resources.

George Kamara, a part-time staff member, went blind at the age of 30. As a refugee from Liberia, he wanted to get his associate degree but had to take the GED test to apply. She spent four years learning braille to get the braille GED. Today, she collects all the materials sent to the community similar to books and exams that have helped her progress as a braille reader.

“We want our voices to be heard. I was not born blind before, ”Kamara said. “I had to learn to read and write braille and it helped me a lot. When I went into braille press as an intern, it generated more interest in becoming an employee. I am so happy… I hope to do my best to reach other people through this organization. ”

A new mission of the organization is to bridge the gap between blind and visually impaired children and parents with a monthly children’s book club. According to Mac Donald, the National Braille Press wants to use children’s books in print and braille to allow families to read together. It evolved into creating tactile graphics, allowing blind children to hear shapes and animals on a page.

“For first -time readers in the primary grades, that’s the way they can read and write,” Mac Donald said.

“That’s how they learn grammar and spelling and that’s something you can’t just listen to either.”

The NBP is proud of the clear impact of these changes and the club. Quintanilla met grandparents who are now able to read children’s books and make the same connection with their grandchildren as seen families.

“The National Braille Press has a pulse on the blind community and is trying to serve the need,” Quintanilla said.

The organization welcomes volunteers from elementary to college students in Boston. Samantha Bowman, a third -year mechanical engineering and business administration double major at Northeastern, started National Braille Press in her first year at Northeastern by Alliance of Civically Engaged Students partnership program.

“NBP has given me a better understanding of what needs to be considered in order to make the material truly usable to everyone and it’s something I can use in all aspects of my life going forward,” Bowman said. “NBP is working hard to make their name known and support strong outreach programs in the digital age, ensuring they reach the many people who need their services.”



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