“There is no substitute for the ability to read.
For blind people, braille is an essential tool in the process of becoming literate.”


November 2016 • Issue #6


This newsletter is designed to keep you up to date about what is happening in your BLC, to share with you upcoming events and useful resources. Please send feedback or items to include in the next newsletter to info@blc-lbc.ca. Please share this with anyone who may be interested in reading it. If you are not a member please join BLC.

CNIB Braille Creative Writing Contest

$2,350 cash prizes available to be won!

This annual contest is open to primary and secondary students in Canada who are blind or partially sighted.

New braille user? Proficient braille user? All are welcome to enter!

Stories or poems may be submitted in uncontracted, partially contracted or fully contracted braille. Computer braille accepted, as long as braille contractions represent the work of the student rather than braille translation software.

Information about the upcoming contest will be mailed in the spring. Next contest deadline: May 31, 2017.

Full contest rules, entry form and details about the current contest: http://altlit.ca/braille-creative-writing-contest. To see entries from 2016 winners visit http://altlit.ca/2016-contest-winners.

Impressions of the Braille Conference

In this submission Kim Kilpatrick and Jen Goulden share their thoughts on the 2016 CNIB Braille Conference.

This was only my second ever braille conference. I enjoyed it immensely and found the workshops I attended very worth while. But, what I appreciated even more, was being in a room filled with people who are as passionate about braille as I am.

I loved hearing the winners of the braille creative writing contest, reading confidently and fluently in braille their winning entries.
To read them go to cnib.ca and search for the 2016 winners.

I appreciated having braille hand outs that I could use to follow along in one workshop. Having braille hand outs in any presentation always makes workshops much more enjoyable and enlightening. I was on a panel in one workshop talking about many different refreshable braille devices. It was nice to be in a group of people who loved to talk about refreshable braille, and the pros and cons of each device. The key note speech by Cay Holbrook was also a highlight for me and wrapped up the day beautifully.

Kim Kilpatrick

Writing about my impressions of the 2016 CNIB Braille Conference presents me with a challenge. I was either a presenter or a panelist at three of the four sessions I attended, so any of my comments on the quality of the workshops could certainly be considered biased.

The session I presented was intended to promote BLC and to encourage people to become members and get involved. I’m pleased to say that the workshop was well attended and that we have since gained some new members. I provided a brief history of BLC and then we discussed current and future projects. In keeping with our Brailler Bounce Initiative, I announced that anyone who stayed until the end of the session would have a chance to win a free Perkins Brailler. Participants had to figure out how many dots there are in the word brailler (no capitals, contracted or uncontracted). The first person to call out one of the correct numbers is an educator who will be giving her prize to one of her students who does not have access to a brailler at home.

When I look back at the conference it feels as though it was a bit of a whirlwind. As much as I enjoyed the sessions and the speakers, I believe that one of the best things about this event is that it gives us a chance to connect with others in the braille community. Whether we’re reconnecting with those we haven’t seen in a long time or meeting new friends and colleagues, it is truly a source of encouragement to be in a room full of people who, in one way or another, are all committed to braille literacy.

Jen Goulden

The BC Braille Challenge

The Braille Challenge is a North America-wide contest for students from grades one through twelve organized by the Braille Institute. Beginning in 2000 as a local event at the Braille Institute, the Challenge has expanded each year and now includes regional events throughout the US and Canada. Participants are grouped into five categories based on age: Apprentice, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior Varsity, and Varsity. Students within each category compete to test their skills in reading comprehension, spelling, writing speed and accuracy, and reading tactile charts and graphs. The top ten finalists in each category from across North America are invited to Los Angeles to take part in the National Braille Challenge in June.

Until recently, students in BC participating in the Challenge did so independently by writing one-on-one with their teacher of students with visual impairments. In 2012, the first regional challenge was held in BC, and it has continued to grow each year. Hosted through a partnership between the University of British Columbia and the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired, the day-long regional challenge takes place on the UBC campus. In addition to the contest activities, the day includes activities for parents and caregivers. Community partners such as BC Blind Sports and Blind Beginnings provide additional activities for students to take part in. The day is much more than a contest and fosters an atmosphere of celebration around braille and literacy.

The Challenge has evolved over the years to meet changing student needs. In 2015, the BC Braille Challenge developed a Foundational level for the first time, so that students just beginning to learn braille could participate both in the challenge and celebration. The Foundational level includes the same components as other levels, but is customized for students with beginning braille skills. The new category was a huge success last year, with students excited to take part and eager to return again this year!

Each year since the Braille Challenge came to BC, the province has sent several students on to the finals in Los Angeles, with one or two of these students achieving a spot in the top three finalists in their competition category. This is a great recognition of the hard work of students and their teachers!

For more information about the Braille Challenge, visit the Braille Challenge Homepage at www.brailleinstitute.org/braille-challenge-homepage.html. The 2017 BC Regional Braille Challenge will take place on Friday, February 24. If you are a student or teacher in BC who would like more information, contact Adam Wilton at awilton@prcvi.org for more details.

Using a Braille Display

by Jen Ferris

The following is a letter from a member of the BLC communications Committee, which vividly describes the role that braille plays in her work and everyday life.

Dear Readers:

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jen Ferris and I have been blind since birth. I’m certain I feel the same as many of you when I express that braille has been a game changer for me in every stage of my life. My family viewed attending school and learning as our work during those growing up years. I went through the public school system using braille as my primary reading mode. All of my lesson books (from math, social studies, English and French to reading material) were in braille from grade one onward.

Then I went through a terrible transition when I was in university because nothing was in braille. I struggled so much. Everything was on cassette tapes, and JAWS as a viable screen reader was gaining widespread popularity for use with the Windows operating system. For most of my university years I forgot about braille and I was convinced that it was no longer necessary. … Then, one glorious day, I was introduced to the Braille Lite with 18 refreshable braille cells. (insert choir of heavenly angel voices singing “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”) The student that I was in high school had found a revival in the final years of university with the ability to write and read in braille. Once again I aced all of my courses. Now I was an active learner and a better participant in lectures. Also, by using braille and the braille display, I had a stronger grasp of and liking for advanced statistics.

After university, I entered the world of work. Once again, JAWS dominated my life and I was convinced I no longer needed braille. “What for?” I thought. “The world is moving away from printed material, and I can access so much more stuff on the Windows computer with JAWS.” Also, I no longer could afford to buy, print and store braille material. So I was definitely done with braille.

After a few years of working exclusively with the screenreader, I was introduced to the BrailleNote Empower. Yet again, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of possibilities. Now I could read, in braille, all the webpages I visited using the screenreader. Words came alive and had greater visual and contextual meaning for me again. I no longer had to rely on my memory while attending meetings because I could take notes and refer back to them when writing minutes, reports, briefings or position papers. My work improved. I became more productive and more efficient at completing tasks and my writing became stronger.

Now the voice I heard in my head was my own rather than synthesized speech. For one of my jobs, I had an hour-long bus ride to and from my workplace. I often used this time to synthesize my thoughts from the day's events, (such as interactions with stakeholders), from policy papers and meetings. I found that when I organized my thoughts into meaningful ideas, formulated them into concepts and wrote them down for later retrieval, I could free up space in my brain to tackle other pressing issues. This was a tremendous breakthrough for me. I didn’t have to continue to remember things because they were written down. Before having the luxury of writing and retrieving information in braille I had to ensure my memory could store everything that I might eventually need. So I constantly repeated information and attempted to retrieve it from my memory to ensure I didn’t forget anything. For me, being able to write in braille while travelling was a liberating evolution in my work and mental health.

A couple of years later, I was introduced to a refreshable braille display which I could keep connected to my computer at all times. This was so handy!! I was astonished at how much easier learning French was for me. The refreshable braille display allowed me to see the French spelling of words and I could better determine proper prununciations. Verb conjugations became a snap after seeing the tenses on the braille display. I’m convinced I might not have become so fluent in my second official language if it weren’t for the addition of the braille display in my daily workings in French.

Now, in my leisure time, I turn my BrailleNote Apex into a braille screen for reading Kindle books on my iPhone. Oh, and I love being able to download and read books from bookshare.org right from my BrailleNote. I feel as though I have just walked into the library and all the knowledge in the world is right there, at my fingertips, for the taking and absorbing and learning.

Growing up, I was so envious of my siblings and friends because they could walk into any library and choose any book they wanted to read. They could read whatever and whenever they wanted. I never had these kinds of choices. As a child and a teenager I felt so deprived and that I was missing out. Now, as an adult, I’m on equal footing and I belong again, because I can read the same books as my peers, and talk about characters and their adventures. I can learn whatever I want, when I want, all through the power of braille displays and advanced technology. There is tremendous freedom in that! And I love it!

Choices, Choices, Choices: Things to Consider When Selecting A Braille Display in 2016

by Leo A. Bissonnette, Ph.D.

In this article I take you through my recent exploration of braille displays, sharing a list of questions that will be of benefit to those purchasing and/or working with rehabilitation personnel to obtain funding for a display.

What Is a Refreshable Braille Display, and How Does it Work?

Braille displays represent the text on a computer or mobile device screen in braille. Many braille displays also have a braille or a QWERTY keyboard so that the user can input information into the computer or device from the same unit. A simple braille display does not have any functionality on its own and must be connected to a computer or mobile device through USB or Bluetooth to receive or transmit data via a screen reader.

Questions to Consider:

Start by asking the following questions about your own needs:
  • Are you looking for a stand-alone device or just pairing with a computer/smart phone?
  • How portable do you want it to be?
  • What - would you be pairing it with primarily? These days, smart phones figure in this question and you need to check this out.
  • Would you be using it for input (taking notes ETC) or mostly just for reading?
  • Would you be traveling with it a lot or working at home or in an office setting?
If you have decided that a braille display is for you, then start doing your research. Today there are many choices out there and you need to read product reviews, ask people about their choices. If possible, even get your hands on braille displays.


I’d offer this word of caution in terms of managing expectations. Keep in mind that the "perfect" braille display does not exist. Each model has both strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is to decide which features are the most important to you and which ones you can live without. Then you can choose the model that best meets your needs.

  1. How Many Cells Do I Need? Braille displays are available with as few as 12 and as many as 84 cells. The number of cells you need depends on the kind of work you do.
  2. How Does the Display Feel?
  3. How Well Is the Display Supported by My Screen Reader? Read your screen reader's online help system for information on the display you are considering.
  4. Are the Buttons and Switches on the Display Comfortable and Easy to Use?
  5. How Easily Do the Cursor Routing Buttons Operate?
  6. How Good Is the Tech Support?
  7. How Complete Is the Documentation?
  8. How Does the Display Connect to the Computer? This is a major question to answer and one you should take time to investigate. A USB (universal serial bus) connection is the easiest to set up, but it may not be supported by the screen reader-display combinations you are considering. If you are wanting to pair with a smart phone, take the time to check this out.

The Treaty of Marrakesh

by Charles Mossop

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, to give it its formal title, was adopted in 2014 after several years of prolonged, complex and sometimes contentious negotiations. The treaty exists under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) within the structure of the United Nations. It is not an optional agreement, but, rather, is legally binding upon all nations that ratify it.

The aim of the treaty is to help end what has been called the “book famine” faced by people who are in any way print disabled. At present, between only one and seven percent of the world’s published material, depending on country of origin, is available in accessible formats, a situation due in part to restrictive laws of copyright which the treaty will help to override and thereby remove barriers to the acquisition of accessible material. This will be accomplished in two major ways.
First, the treaty requires a ratifying country to modify its existing domestic copyright laws such that print disabled persons, including, of course, persons who are blind or partially sighted, will be able to obtain accessible material without having first to seek transcription permission from those who hold the copyright, such as authors or publishers.

Second, a ratifying country will be required to allow the free movement of accessible material across its borders, again without seeking the prior permission of copyright holders. It is anticipated that this will help to reduce, and ultimately avoid, unnecessary transcription duplication in different countries. This measure will also make it possible for countries with larger collections of accessible material to share their resources with whoever needs them. These transfers of material can take place between organizations such as accessible libraries or between such organizations and qualifying individuals directly.

Like all United Nations instruments of agreement, the Treaty of Marrakesh requires that it be ratified by twenty countries before it can enter into force, and this summer Canada became the twentieth, allowing the treaty to become international law for all ratifying countries at the end of September, this year. Canada has also implemented the necessary changes to its copyright and related legislation. This means that a blindness organization in this country, or a person with any print disability as an individual, can obtain material in accessible formats from any other ratifying country without hindrance of copyright. It will no longer be necessary to wait to see if a Canadian publisher decides to buy the rights to a particular book published elsewhere and make it available in an accessible format. It can be obtained directly from its country or organization of origin without copyright restriction.

Clearly, the more countries which ratify the treaty, the wider will be the field of available resources. The World Blind Union is, therefore, actively involved in coordinating a worldwide campaign to encourage countries to ratify the treaty, and also to assist them with information on the best means of implementing the treaty’s provisions. The Treaty of Marrakesh will change the landscape for blind and partially sighted people all over the world, and is in every sense of the word, an historic achievement.

Links and Multimedia

UEB Virtual Party - Nov. 19th! Registration is now closed, but just a reminder for those who have signed up for this exciting BLC teleconference:

The Big Brailler Bounce Initiative is a BLC project that aims to get unused Perkins braillers out of those dark storage places and into the hands of braille users who need them. Yes, let’s bounce those unused and unwanted wonderful Perkins braillers currently hidden away in cupboards and under beds into the hands of braille users a cross Canada who would love to put an unwanted brailler to good use! Learn more here:

Did you know? The Rules of Unified English Braille Second Edition 2013 has been translated into French and is available upon request! Contact BLC if interested - Learn more here: http://www.brailleliteracycanada.ca/view.asp?ccid=334

Just download, print, and braille these UEB Contractions flashcards to practice at home and school! Great for students, parents and teachers! Download FREE today http://www.sensorysun.org/product/ueb-braille-flashcards-abc-contractions/

tips to teach braille writing to students with visual impairments, including those who have additional disabilities: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/teaching-braille-writing

Lots of hands-on practical tips to help pre-braille students prepare for braille instruction! http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/bridging-gap-pre-braille-braille-reader

Have you heard about Great Expectations? This program from the National Braille Press brings popular picture books to life using a multi-sensory approach (e.g. songs, tactile play, picture descriptions, body movement, engaged listening) and is designed to promote active reading experiences for children with visual impairments. Learn more here! http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/gep/ge_index.html

On September 30th, Canada celebrated the historic exchange of book titles with Vision Australia under the Marrakesh treaty. This was a major step forward and shows that where there’s a will, there’s a way to remove barriers! http://www.visionaustralia.org/about-us/news-and-media/latest-news/news/2016/09/29/australia-and-canada-exchange-first-books-under-the-marrakesh-treaty

The Braille Treasure Box is an innovation by a group of teenagers to help VI children learn braille. A box for braille entry is paired with an app - you choose the pirate or princess story and enter braille letters to advance through the game and defeat the monster: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/6842492-aurora-teen-making-her-mark-as-an-entrepreneur/

BailleEasy iOS app is a one-handed braille keyboard for quick and easy braille typing: http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/qatar/390504/brailleeasy-app-developed-by-hbku-researchers-in-qatar-launched-on-ios-store

Have you heard the great news? Just Enough to Know Better" is now available in UEB! This is a great primer for sighted parents, friends and others who want to learn "just enough" braille! http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/JETKB-UEB.html

The Power of Access and Choice - Braille in the 21st Century: http://www.blindcanadians.ca/participate/blog/2016/07/power-access-choice-braille-21st-century

APH — Graphiti Graphics Display: A Revolution in Accessing Digital Tactile Graphics and More! http://www.aph.org/graphiti/

Using various technologies from a blind persons perspective: BrailleNote Touch unboxing, setup, demo, and installing/using the Vision Australia Connect app for the VA Library http://davidwoodbr.podbean.com/e/braillenote-touch-unboxing-setup-demo-and-installingusing-the-vision-australia-connect-app-for-the-va-library/

BLC on Social Media

Braille Literacy Canada is now on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn! Find us there to receive news about BLC and braille, to stay informed, and to join a network of others devoted to braille just like you.


 Braille Literacy Canada