Category Archives: Braille

Dear Louis

Dear Louis, happy birthday buddy. At your age (200), you probably take birthdays in stride. I am writing to pass along greetings and best wishes from a few kids here in Halifax. I gotta tell you, I was a little disappointed in the overall lack of interest at the Braille 200 Day booth at the mall today. I was feeling a tad depressed about the whole thing for a while there, having schlepped so much stuff over to the community booth, including my Perkins Brailler, a Braille alphabet chart the size of Manitoba, some items for the raffle, a ton of pamphlets and information sheets telling people all about you and the system you developed for blind people. I had made (lovingly and painstakingly), commemorative bookmarks. Preparation for your celebration have taken their toll on my wallet (Braille card stock, printer ink etc) and my time. I had day-glow yellow posters  made up to  advertise my offer to Braille anyone’s name for FREE!!! I had a neat display of Braille children’s books, metal tags (you know the kind I sew into  my clothes to identify their colour- PK=pink, GN=Green, RD= red etc), phone and bank statements, playing cards etc. I got so bored sitting alone at my booth, that I started to write nonsense on my Braille machine, just to pass the time…”If one more person comes to ask me for directions to Athlete’s World or the washroom, I will ask Opal to attack…”  I couldn’t believe that thousands of people could be so hell-bent on shopping and totally uninterested in you and your special day. Finally, some kids came to ask me for their name in Braille. I cheered up instantly. I sent them off with sticky labels and cue cards with the appropriate names on each. I told them about your birthday and they asked me to wish you all the best. Only ten people picked up my bookmarks and I have plenty left…looks like I may need to do another mall shift in the next week or so (groan). Maybe they’ll have shut down the Christmas music by then…Hey! Maybe I’ll bring some to church tomorrow and see if any UU’s want to feel you up! Take care, my friend. I hope you make it to 300 and beyond.


Louis Turns 200

January 4th 2009 will mark the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth. Louis is the guy who poked himself in the eye with an awl at age three, then lost sight in the other eye, just to make things symmetrical (actually it was caused by sympathetic ophalmia). He went to the Royal Institution for the Blind Youth in Paris which turned out to be a major hell-hole kinda place with the usual bad food, tyranny and general beatings and abuse that gives residential schools a bad name. The kid had smarts, no doubt about it. He  fiddled with the cello and played organ all over gay Paris. In school, he got bummed out about the raised letters they taught him to use for reading, so he improvised a bit with Barbier’s (French soldier dude) 12 dot and dash code used for passing tippy-top military secrets in the field.  Louis came up with a  6- raised dot  cell system to represent letters of the alphabet. Voila! Braille was born and would later become  the revolutionary method of communication for the blind. Louis  later dreamed up Braille music notation (being a music buff and all) and years later, a guy named,  Nemeth would create a code for mathematics . The really sad thing about this great achievement, is that Louis died of Tuberculosis at age 43 BEFORE BRAILLE CAUGHT ON!

Look for Braille 200 events in your community. Regardless of whether you have vision or you are blind, if you use Braille or not, support Braille 200 Day activities! Buy that lame demo bookmark! Pretend you understand the explanations given by the volunteer at the mall display of Uncontracted (grade 1) and Contracted (grade 2) Braille and how they differ. Ooo and ahh when you are asked to ‘read’ sample Braille sentences and say, “This is so hard to do” in genuine amazement. Make like it matters! ‘Cause it does. It is critical to promote and maintain the teaching of Braille to blind children and adults all over the world. Why? It’s a neat method of communication.  Example; You can write obscene Braille messages all over your boss’s memo’s and he’ll never know what you said…PLUS you can read in bed without waking your sweetie (no audio, and no lights)…AND  maybe someday, it’ll come in handy when there’s  a global power shortage and all the talking book machines and computers will grind to a halt…like now!

Voting Day Blues

I have been very hyped about this election. Why?  I have chomped at the bit in anticipation of dramatically and meaningfully casting my inaccessible ballot at the polling station. Let me remind you about the core elements of a democratic vote; secret, independent and verifiable. I have gone on and on, to EVERYONE who will listen and to some who won’t, about the importance of these elements, the sanctity of the electoral process, and how I am denied this right by virtue of inaction on the part of Elections Canada. I am blind, as are hundreds of thousands of other voters. We do not have electronic voting in Canada. We do not have telephone voting. We do not have voting machines at the polls. We do not have Braille ballots. I thought that today I would be pumped and ready to let loose my schpeel at the Presbyterian church where I would be voting. I ran through my dialogue, my diatribe, my kvetching complaint, like a Shakespearean actor preparing for Stratford.

Here’s what really happened. I made it to the church, and found myself outside with a woman in a wheelchair attempting to open a monstrously large door (no automatic opener). I opened it for her, but it was not wide enough. A worker from the poll came and helped to open another door. I commented wryly about Elections Canada and their accessible voting sites. She commiserated. By this point, I had, for some reason, already lost my oomph.  Maybe it’s the time of year, or ‘my time of the month’.  Some one came over as Opal and I walked into the large church basement. The usual useless pointing and “over there” was followed by an arm-grab which I yanked away.  Someone else gave sensible directions to the table I needed.  My ID was requested and checked.  I did NOT give a long-winded lecture on the difficulty blind people have in meeting ID requirements, given that we don’t have driver’s license and many of us have no passport. Some of us choose not to have or use a charitable ID (CNIB) for reasons which are too numerous and complicated for this blog.  I provided my stunning photo ID cards which have a photo of Opal and me posing together (CGDB and the Attorney General of Ontario), but my Guide dog ID cards do not have my address on them, so I added a phone bill. I had considered bringing a Braille bill, but I did not want to be turned away. At this point, the DRO asked if I wanted a Braille template. My interest peaked, as I thought I had discussed this ad nauseum with Silvestre from elections Canada and had confirmed there would be no Braille on the ballot, and to expect the usual flaky template. Now I had no idea what they were offering me.  I asked (just to confuse them) if it was contracted or uncontracted Braille. The had no clue, so I let them off the hook and told them that I knew both, so it did’nt matter.  The DRO put the ballot into the ‘Braille template’ and then came the offer to “come into the voting area with you”. I said I would pass, given that I had this allegedly accessible Braille template in my hand.  Opal and I parked ourselves behind the privacy screen at a little table. I started to read the template. Numbers. Just numbers! I called out, “um, there’s no names here, just numbers”.  The old lady who had grabbed me when I came in, offered to read the names to me. I said that would not do. The DRO guy came over and offered to read them “as they appear in sequence. then you pick the braille number”, he said with full expectation that somehow this would be acceptable to me. I had PLANNED to make a big ‘to-do’, maybe proclaim myself the Rosa Parks of the voting blind, given that I am repeatedly told that blind people ‘have found this acceptable for years’. Instead, I told him “no thanks”, and ” if I can’t read it for myself”…( in a country where government material must be provided in alternate formats by law),  “I’ll have to  spoil my ballot”. He apologised (as everyone always does). I scrawled multiple X’s in allthe holes in my template and ballot and handed it to the old lady. She wisely did not attempt to go into the  insufferably patronizing routine of allowing me to put it in the box, but quickly disposed of it, stuffing it into the ballot box herself.   I walked out, declining someone’s eager offer for me to use the elevator, saying, “my legs are fine, we’ll use the stairs”. I left deflated.   I did not call the media, or my party delegate, or the PM (who doesn’t give a flying f…k anyway), or the queen, or Silvestre at Elections Canada (who I’m guessing was pretty busy today). Instead, I went for my routine blood work and called it a day. I wish I was one of those clever musicians, ’cause I’d be writing a tune tonight…’Voting Day Blues’.

STOP PRESS!!! Megan Leslie, newbie NDP canditate and personal acquaiantance declared winner of Halifax riding! Go get em in Ottawa, kid…and remember your roots…and your blind friends…

Big Al To The Rescue!!!!

Big Al  (AKA ‘Aluion’) is reportedly heading for Canada today. Upon learning about the plight of Blend (Blind) Canadians as they face an inaccessible voting non-machine on Tuesday, Big Al, a resident of Alabama,  boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Nova Scotia at 4 am this morning.  There was some confusion at the bus depot in Mobile, as Big Al dumped a 63- pound  sackful of Canadian coins onto the ticket agent’s counter to pay for his fare. Further disruption  occurred when bus terminal Security spotted him donning an outfit that included hockey equipment and pieces of a 17th century suit of armour.  He claimed that he needed to feel safe and to protect himself while riding the Greyhound, saying, “I can’t be losing my head on this trip”.

Wise Advice summoned Big Al to the Great White North, upon learning that his expertise might bolster the cause of the blind (blend) {See recent comments from Aluion} and lend support to her plan to ‘make a point’ when casting her ballot tomorrow. Big Al has been known to write clever comments and insults on doors in public spaces…in Braille. “He kinda scares me”, said Wise Advice of the southern guru, “Definitely a smart guy, but he must be crazy from listening to several synthesised speech voices on various computers simultaneously”. When asked about her plan to bring public  attention to the inaccessibility of the Canadian Election, WIse Advice said, “Look, I can’t do this alone. If Big Al can fake a Canadian accent, we’ll get him one of those spare ballots floating around to do whatever he chooses with”.

Eve Of Destruction

I love those sixties tunes mum plays. Protest songs are big in our house (go figure!). Sometimes, mum plays a song by Barry McGuire called, “Eve of Destruction”.  I wasn’t around in the sixties, so I don’t really understand what the words mean, but I’ve been trying to figure them out.   …”The eastern world it is exploding…”  That’s probably about the nutty cannon they set off at noon every day on Citadel Hill here in Halifax. It’s soooo loud and  scares me every time!  Then, there’s the part  “If the button is pushed, there’s no running away…” I’m pretty sure that means that when I find the button and mum presses it to call the lift (elevator), we must wait for the door to open, right?  and, “You tell me over and over and over again my friend, ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction?…” Now THAT’S gotta be about the way my mum KNOWS that in the morning, I am going to try to get her attention by grabbing the Braille phone bill and  ripping it  to shreds. Then she’s going to shake her head and say, “Hey, Destructo! I don’t believe you just trashed my Aliant bill”.

Accessible Voting–I’ll Vote For That!

The electoral process is still held in high regard by most of society. The right to participate in the democratic process has been hard fought by many groups. It continues to be fought in countries such as Zimbabwe.  Some Canadians take for granted the opportunity to participate FULLY in the democratic voting process.  This includes seeking nomination as a candidate, participating in candidate meetings, informing oneself about the party platforms, voting in secret, and being able to independently verify how one voted.   My parents instilled in me a healthy sense of responsibility about my ‘duty’ to vote. I have done so, at all levels of government, since I reached the age of majority. I have voted by proxy when I was out of the country. I have struggled to the polls on crutches.  There are three components that are essential to voting: 

  1. Secrecy: privacy
  2. Independent: without assistance from another person to choose and mark your choice.
  3. Verification: being able to check how you voted after you have marked it.

Voting has become more accessible for people who are disabled, however, it remains unacceptably inaccessible for most people who are blind, deaf-blind, or partially sighted.  Most often, a template is offered, but this offers no means of verification. Blind people usually must depend on voting with another person to set up the template etc.. Braille ballots are sometimes available, but Braille is not used by over 80% of adult people who are blind.  Some jurisdictions are attempting alternative means of voting for the blind. These include using on-site computers with audio, tactile, sip and puff interfaces which make it possible for people who are blind or quadriplegic to vote independently. Electronic (Internet) voting is also being tried (Halifax’s next municipal election will allow people to vote over the Net or with a cell phone and a pin number which they will receive in the mail). Intelivote Systems of Dartmouth NS is working to convince cities in Canada that electronic voting will increase voting stats, particularly with younger voters.  It also has environmental appeal. Me? I prefer the on-site buzz at the polls. BUT, I want to see the next provincial election here, to be fully accessible to me and others who have vision loss. I want the candidates to provide me and others who are partially sighted with their platform and  ‘pitch’ in alternate formats. I want to go to the polls and be given an accessible list of candidates names on the ballot (in Braille, audio electronic or large print) and I want to vote ALONE, and to CHECK MY CHOICE on my ballot MYSELF before I put it in the box. Tomorrow, I meet with my MLA, Graham Steele and a representative from the Elections Nova Scotia. Hmm. 

Equitable Library Service in Canada—We’re Still Waiting

I recently attended the Annual General Meeting of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians in Toronto. A lively debate ensued when a  Library and Archives Canada representative updated us on the Initiative for Equitable Library Service (IELA). The IELA web site claims that their mandate is to “create the conditions for sustainable and equitable library access for Canadians with print disabilities” .  There are over three million Canadians (10%)  who can not read print because of visual, perceptual or physical disability. We require publications in alternate formats, such as Braille, Large print, audio and electronic text. IELA’s stats indicate that only 5% (five) of all  published Canadian material is available in multiple formats. We provided our opinion on what we would like to see in the Canadian public library system (again).  It seems that we are often consulted, but I have to wonder why we are still waiting for change. The endless rhetoric about ‘stakeholders’ is getting stale. Robin East, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians president, echoed my sentiments when he stated that “we are not stakeholders…we are rights holders”. The difference?:  The erroneous  mindset that blind people deserve consultation in the process of achieving equitable library service in Canada instead of the more accurate belief that blind people have the RIGHT to equitable library service. What do I personally feel I have a right to find when I walk into a public library in Canada? Here’s my list.  I suggest that the rights of the blind to equitable library service be honoured very quickly…before we become an ultra-organized force with a common judicial application forcing the change we have RIGHTS to.

  • I want books made available to me in any format I choose: audio, Braille, electronic and large print.
  • I like audio books. The publishing industry needs to realize that the audio version of ANY BOOK PUBLISHED must be released simultaneously in audio format. If that means forcing the Canadian government to amend copyright and publishing legislation, that is what we must all support. 
  • Audio books must be unabridged….I don’t like half a book.
  • Release the stranglehold you have on independent  multiple format information producers in Canada. They are the answer to filling the gap by providing multiple format information; Braille transcription, audio books, etc.
  • Provide accessible technology within the library; computers with screen-reading software, scanners, braille printers, CCTV’s, etc.
  • Someone needs to know how to use, troubleshoot, and teach the use of all of the above equipment. 
  • Make your catalogue accessible within the library. IE. I can use your website at home to search for something, but once I’m in your library, I am unfortunately forced to rely on your staff.
  • Update your large print collections. People across the country are complaining about small, outdated, and dog-eared LP books collections. Put your large print collection in an area with good lighting.
  • Your audio books must have Braille and large print labeling.  I want to  ‘browse’ the books like other patrons. As it is now, I must rely on a staff person to be available to read the titles and descriptions for me.
  • Libraries are big on displaying community information. the bulletin boards, notices, guides, pamphlets must be made available to everyone. How about an information line linked into your phone system? Tweak a grant or student placement to provide for  conversion of  information pamphlets and guides into audio, Braille and large print.
  • Sometimes, your accessible computer is nowhere near the reference materials. Ensure easier physical access to this technology.
  • Train your staff and employees to be ‘sensitive’ (I hate that term) to the needs of blind and partially sighted patrons.
  • Blind students have a hard time finding accessible  research materials in a timely manner. It is not up to the ‘charitable library’ (AKA CNIB)  to provide everything. (they do a poor job anyway). Publishers, particularly of textbooks must realize that audio/electronically-generated information often ignores describing or interpreting  graphs, scales diagrams, photographs and tables. This information is critical if education is to fair and equitable. 

I’ve just started a list. I hope to hear from others.