Guest Post: Braille Literacy Canada Newsletter, March 2018


Newsletter ● March 2018


Message from the President


In response to feedback from our recent membership survey we have decided to add a regular update from the BLC president to each newsletter. So I’ll start this message by thanking all of you who completed the survey and provided helpful suggestions for ways to better serve our membership.


Many of you said that you enjoy the teleconferences on braille technology, so we are planning more of them for the future. We are also looking at ways to provide more code-related information (such as tips for transcribers working with UEB technical material, as well as UEB Code Maintenance Committee decisions). Another popular suggestion was to feature stories in the newsletter about braille use in everyday life. Our Communications Committee met last month to discuss how we can modify the newsletter to meet the needs of all of our stakeholders.


One final note on the membership survey: congratulations to Charlene Young, who won the draw for the gift certificate to the Braille superstore!



I’d like to take this opportunity to remind members of our upcoming AGM in Ottawa on May 26th. Note that you must have a valid membership for 2018 in order to be eligible to vote. Members can vote electronically or by proxy, and we are planning to stream the meeting as well. More information regarding the AGM is sent to members directly by email.


Many people asked why we did not choose to hold the AGM in conjunction with the Canadian Vision Teachers’ Conference. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the date and location of this meeting. We are required to hold our AGM within a given timeframe based on our fiscal year and based on the length of time since the last annual meeting. Another issue is the cost of flying the BLC Board to Edmonton, which is where the conference is being held this year. When it is feasible to schedule our AGM in conjunction with another event or conference we are happy to do so.


International Council on English Braille (ICEB)

The midterm meeting of the ICEB Executive will take place in Dublin from April 17th to the 21st. The Irish National Braille and Alternate Format Association (INBAF) will be hosting the meetings. Phyllis Landon and I both serve on the ICEB Executive. I am the Treasurer and the Canadian representative. Phyllis chairs the UEB Code Maintenance Committee. At the midterm we will discuss a number of code-related issues, including the ongoing apostrophe/single quotes question. I will provide a report to BLC members at the upcoming AGM.


For more information on ICEB please visit


Directory of Transcribers and Proofreaders

BLC would like to establish a directory of certified braille transcribers and proofreaders. Whether you are a freelance transcriber or a producer looking to hire individuals with transcription or proofreading certification, we hope this directory will be a valuable resource. If you are a certified braille transcriber or proofreader and would like to be added to this directory please email


NAME THE NEWSLETTER – We Want to Hear from You!


Your BLC Communications committee is in the process of revamping the newsletter. We received some fabulous feedback from members who recently completed the membership survey and have some great new ideas to spruce up the newsletter for future issues! Among the coming changes, we plan to give the newsletter a catchy new name to go along with more braille related news features and updates from across the country. Future issues will continue to have something for everyone – braille readers, transcribers, educators, parents, and anyone else who loves all things braille dots.


We know there is a creative hive of readers out there – so we want to hear from you! DO you have an idea for a catchy name for the newsletter? Send in your ideas before May 1st, 2018: The BLC Communications committee will review all entries for consideration – and will announce the new name in a future issue. If the name you submit is selected, we’ll also reach out to you to learn more about your connection to braille and write up a short feature for an upcoming issue. Send all ideas to:


Membership in BLC


BLC membership coincides with the calendar year (January 1st until December 31st). If you are not yet a member or haven’t renewed for 2018, we invite you to visit


If you are a member you can:


  • Have your say: attend the Annual General Meeting
  • Get involved in the work of BLC: join one of our committees
  • Help to promote the use of braille in Canada
  • Participate in teleconferences on braille-related issues (free for members)
  • Receive our bi-monthly newsletter, as well as other communications, directly from BLC
  • Get answers to all your UEB questions: join our UEB listserv by sending an email to


In addition to individual personal membership, corporate membership is available for organizations who wish to support the work of BLC. Corporate member organizations can appoint up to two representatives who can vote during BLC meetings on behalf of their organizations and are free to join any of the BLC committees. BLC corporate members receive the bimonthly newsletter, can have their name and logo listed as a supporting member on the BLC website and other correspondences, and  all members of a corporate member organization  can attend our braille-related teleconferences free of charge. Have any other questions about becoming a member or about different membership benefits? Write to us at


Teleconference On Emerging Braille Technology


On Saturday, March 3rd, BLC held a teleconference highlighting three very different braille devices that will soon be coming on the market.


The Read Read

Alex Tavares presented the Read Read, the first device that allows visually impaired and blind children to practise phonics and braille. The Read Read consists of moveable tiles with large print and braille letters. The device also includes recordings of each letter, and audio feedback is provided whenever a tile is pressed. For more information or to pre-order, visit the following link:


Canute braille reader:

Ed Rogers presented the Canute Braille Reader, a multi-line braille display that is being developed by Bristol Braille Technology. This 40-cell, 9-line display is expected to sell for a price comparable to that of an iPhone.


To learn more, go to the following link:


Orbit Braille Reader:

Diane Bergeron provided an overview on the Orbit, a 20-cell display that costs approximately $500 Canadian. The Orbit can be paired with an iDevice, connected via USB or Bluetooth to a Mac or PC and can be used as a standalone notetaker. Diane noted that the device is undergoing some additional testing before it will be made widely available. For more details or to pre-order please visit the CNIB store at the following link:


BLC would like to thank Diane, Ed and Alex for taking the time to present these devices and answer our questions. Other displays and notetakers will be covered in future teleconferences, so stay tuned for more details!


The Timelessness of the Slate and Stylus

By Natalie Martiniello


I began learning braille in the first grade, and over the past 27 years, I have experienced first-hand the wonders of constantly evolving braille technologies. I could emboss hardcopy braille using my braille embosser. I could create electronic braille files using translation software. I could instantly read and write braille by hooking up a braille display or notetaker to my computer or smartphone. I still regularly use that handy Perkins brailler to jot down notes, phone numbers and make lists. But, regardless of how things evolve, there’s one tool I continue to carry around with me everywhere I go: that trusty slate and stylus!


The slate and stylus, much like the pen or pencil for the sighted person, will never become obsolete. It’s a handy tool that’s portable, small and doesn’t rely on batteries to work. It’s a quick and easy way to jot down a phone number or other quick notes on the go, and still an invaluable skill for a braille user to have.


What is the Slate and Stylus?

Braille dots within a cell need to be precisely spaced so that the person reading is able to accurately identify symbols. The stylus is about 2 inches long and has a handle that can be gripped with the index finger and thumb, and a metal point on the other end that can be used to punch raised dots onto a paper. The slate is a guide (usually made of metal or plastic) that ensures the dots are punched into the proper positions within each braille cell. It has hinges on one end and opens on the other end so that a piece of paper can be inserted inside. The top piece of the slate typically has four to six lines of small, evenly spaced openings that are the exact shape and size of the braille cell. The bottom piece of the slate is solid but contains indentations for each braille dot so that when the stylus is punched into the paper, precise braille symbols can be formed. Slate and styli come in many shapes and sizes. You can purchase pocket-sized slates and those big enough to jot down notes on an index card, or standard sized slates with four to six lines of braille, or full-page slates with up to 25 lines of braille. Slates and styli can be purchased from many blindness specialty stores, and are very reasonably priced (you can find most for sale for about $10). Check out this link from the Braille Superstore:


It’s Not Backwards!

Backwards sounds wrong. Backwards makes something simple seem unnecessarily difficult. Traditionally, people tend to incorrectly think that the slate and stylus requires the user to write “backwards”. IN fact, sometimes it’s introduced this way to learners which I fear leads the slate and stylus to seem overly difficult and complicated, especially for the new braille learner. You do write with a slate from right to left (because as you punch the braille dots into the paper, they appear on the opposite side of the sheet), but you do not write the braille symbols backwards. Dots 1, 2 and 3 are always on the first side of the cell, and dots 4, 5 and 6 are always on the second. I strongly recommend teachers (and users) to think of writing with the slate and stylus this way. This is a great short article that explains how to teach and use the slate and stylus, without thinking of it as writing “backwards”:


And this is a great guide for parents on using the Slate and Stylus:


Here’s a short YouTube video all about how to use the Slate and Stylus:


I love my Slate and Stylus! Over the years, I’ve collected many different kinds. It’s still so satisfying to hear the “punch” as braille letters are formed. In the past, before technologies were introduced, many braille users could write with a slate and stylus so quickly that they’d use it for note-taking in classes and during meetings – Pretty impressive! Are you one of those Slate and Stylus power users? Practice makes perfect, so nothing is stopping you from becoming one even today! But even if you won’t be joining the Slate and Stylus speedy Olympics, like me, you may still find it to be a very handy tool to add to your braille writing toolbox – and unlike some other devices – this one won’t talk back at you!


Do you use a Slate and Stylus? Write to us at to tell us how the Slate and Stylus helps you, who introduced it to you, and what kind you love to use the most. Here’s to the Slate and Stylus, the most portable braille writing tool available, invented by Louis Braille himself!


Travel and see things differently: Following the History of Louis Braille

By Mélissa Brière et Tommy Théberge, travelling companions


Editor’s Note: Tommy and Mélissa provided us with English and French versions of this article. The French follows the English.


Last August, we had the opportunity to travel to Paris with ten teenagers with visual impairments and five travelling companions from the Quebec Foundation for the Blind. The main purpose of this trip was to learn more about the history of Louis Braille. Wherever possible, activities were structured so that participants could make use of  all five senses.


Once in Paris, we visited the Panthéon, where the tomb of Louis Braille is located. Each participant had the opportunity to touch the tombs and learn more about how the braille code was created. The following day we went to Coupvray, a town near Paris where the Louis Braille museum is found. This museum is in fact the house where Louis Braille grew up in the 19th century. It was in this house that Louis Braille lost his vision at the age of three. In the museum, we had the opportunity to learn more about other tactile codes used by blind people before braille was invented. We also tried the decapoint or raphigraphy, the ancestor of the brailler.


We visited the Institut national des jeunes aveugles, a school dedicated to kids with visual impairment. Approximately 170 students from different academic levels study every year in this special school. It was summer vacation while we were there so the school was closed. They opened the school for us one day during our trip so we had the chance to visit and attend a private organ concert given by Dominic Levac, a blind organist. All participants really appreciated the private concert and the school’s 3D model of the solar system.


We also went to Père Lachaise Cemetery where we had an excellent guided tour. Many of you will probably think that visiting a cemetery when you are blind must be boring, but it isn’t. Our guide described the epitaphs and we had the opportunity to touch many of them. We heard soundtracks of the singers our guide talked about as well.


Finally, we visited the Musée des égouts de Paris. We learned about the water filtration system in Paris and smelled some odours … which were not as bad as we had expected. Throughout the week, we ate a lot of French bread, cheese and petits pains au chocolat.


For us, this trip was a unique opportunity to spend a wonderful week in Paris with a group of blind teenagers. The whole group learned more about the history of braille and its inventor, and had the opportunity to experience many popular attractions with all five senses.


Voyager et voir autrement : Sur la route de Louis-Braille


Mélissa Brière et Tommy Théberge, accompagnateurs


En août dernier, nous avons eu la chance d’accompagner un groupe de dix jeunes ayant un handicap visuel et cinq moniteurs de la Fondation des Aveugles du Québec dans le cadre de leur périple en France sur la route de Louis Braille. Ayant comme objectif de leur faire découvrir les origines du célèbre homme aveugle et de son fameux code d’écriture, les jeunes voyageurs en ont eu plein la vue.


Bien que plusieurs activités avaient un lien avec la déficience visuelle ou l’inventeur du braille, elles ont toutes mis nos sens à l’épreuve. Ainsi, participants et accompagnateurs ont pu bien profiter de chaque moment.


Une fois arrivés à Paris, nous avons eu la chance de visiter le Panthéon où se trouve le tombeau de Louis-Braille. Tous ont pu le toucher et en apprendre un peu plus sur l’invention du braille. Le lendemain, nous nous sommes rendus à Coupvray, ville en banlieue de Paris où a grandi Louis Braille. Sa maison a été transformée en musée. Nos guides nous ont expliqué comment Louis Braille a perdu la vue et comment il en est venu à créer un code d’écriture en relief. Nous avons eu la chance de voir et de toucher divers codes créés avant le braille en plus d’essayer le raphigraphe, l’ancêtre de la machine à écrire braille. Cela fut une occasion unique de toucher ces pièces historiques habituellement exposées derrière les vitrines.


Nous avons aussi visité l’institut national des jeunes aveugles, une école spécialisée. Près de 170 étudiants des différents niveaux académiques y étudient dont 120 sont pensionnaires. Lors de notre passage en août, c’était période de vacances estivales. Nous avons eu la chance qu’un membre du personnel de l’école de même que Dominic Levac, organiste aveugle nous fassent une visite guidée personnalisée. Parmi les coups de cœur de cette visite, notons la maquette reproduisant le système solaire en 3D de même que le magnifique concert d’orgue offert spécialement pour nous.


Nous avons aussi eu droit à une visite guidée du cimetière du père Lachaise. Plusieurs diront qu’une visite de cimetière lorsqu’on ne voit pas peut être plate, mais non. Notre guide a su nous décrire les différentes épitaphes, nous a permis de toucher et avait même des extraits sonores pour nous faire connaitre certains des personnages exposés.


Après avoir mis à contribution l’ouïe et le toucher, il était temps de faire appel à nos autres sens. Nous avons visité les égouts de Paris. Cette visite nous a permis d’en apprendre davantage sur le système de filtration des eaux parisiennes en plus de sentir les odeurs, qui étonnamment n’étaient pas si nauséabondes. Mais que serait un voyage à Paris sans baguette française, fromage et petits pains au chocolat ou sans diner dans un bistro du coin. Tous se sont régalés tout au long de la semaine.


Ce fut pour nous une occasion unique de passer ces six jours à Paris et d’accompagner le groupe. Nous avons pu en apprendre plus sur l’histoire du braille et de son célèbre inventeur en plus de nous faire découvrir les différents attraits touristiques de la ville sous une autre perspective en mettant tous nos sens à contribution. À quand une autre expérience sensorielle de la sorte?


Customizable Braille in IOS 11

By Kim Kilpatrick


With the arrival of IOS 11, there were definitely some good and bad things about braille. Some of these have been fixed while braille still remains buggy in some instances.


Braille translation while typing and braille losing its focus can still be problematic, although I have been assured that Apple is working on this issue.


However, one lovely feature was implemented with IOS 11. You can greatly customize braille commands and do everything from a braille display, including talking to Siri, opening Voiceover settings, and more.


In upcoming articles, I will go through in detail all of the possible types of keyboard commands you can configure. For now, I am just going to tell you how to get into this feature. Feel free to play and explore these settings.


You must have an electronic braille display paired with your device. To do this, turn on your braille display, (do not go to Bluetooth settings on your iDevice) go to Settings, General, Accessibility, Voiceover, Braille. Look for your display in the list of devices and pair it. Now, below your display a button shows up labeled “more info”. Double tap that. In the past, the only option there was “forget this device”. Now there is also a button that says “Braille commands”. Tap that and you are ready to explore all of the wonderful new features!


Braille is Everywhere!

By Karen Brophey




Braille is on our minds, and we make sure it’s under everyone’s fingertips, at the CNIB’s new GTA Community Hub in midtown Toronto.


  • Sewn-on buttons spell out words of welcome in jumbo braille (on the couch’s two pillows)
  • Our Book Nook is a cozy spot used by grownups and kids, to explore both DIY and commercially produced tactile and braille books
  • Push-on lights (4″ diameter) in sets of six make learning about braille fun, especially for sighted siblings! These lights boards are also frequently used to display ‘braille’ messages to passers-by via our storefront windows. At our first DAISY audio Book Launch we spelled out: ‘Book Love’ and during a recent tour to Apple Staff we spelled out ‘Hi Apple!’
  • Braille is integrated into all events. At our Tactile Haunted House of Fun, the ingredients for the Magic Potion table were labelled only in braille. At the Anti-Valentine’s Day Youth Slam we interviewed guests and sent them home with a personalized Haiku in braille.
  • A giant simulated braille alphabet poster is positioned right inside our front doors, a visual reminder to guests to appreciate the importance of braille
  • A fledgling Braille Club at the Hub is brainstorming ways to raise the profile of braille through partnerships with public libraries and other community organizations
  • Little Free Library – unlike most free book exchanges, we feature braille and audio books – visitors to the Hub are invited to take a book, leave a book


To celebrate the 100th anniversary of CNIB and highlight its role, since its founding, in literacy and the right of people living with vision loss to enjoy equal access to information, check out This online, fully accessible, multimedia exhibit has been created from CNIB’s rich collection of archives, artefacts and photographs, along with audio recordings and personal stories and testimonials contributed by Canadians who are blind.


We also invite you to join staff, volunteers, donors and community partners as we celebrate CNIB’s 100 years, at events across Canada, between March and June 2018!


Facebook Links


We at BLC post braille related events and news on our facebook and twitter pages! If you have a braille event or story you’d like us to advertise, let us know! Here’s a sample of what we’ve posted over the past month:


National Braille Press awarded the 2018 Touch of Genius prize to a company in India for their production of Braille Me, an affordable braille display.

Congratulations to the team! Read the announcement here:


Don’t miss this opportunity to learn different strategies and tools that can be used to create and modify accessible literacy materials. Register by April

2 to save! From the Perkins School for the Blind:


local teacher develops Navajo #braille code:


Did you know? The Great Expectations program at NBP offers FREE activities that bring picture books to life! Check it out:


Reading Adventure Time! is a free, teacher-centric, student-friendly app that includes activities and assessment to help students build reading skills. This app is available for free for anyone to use. However, its focused users are students in grades 1st -12th who are visually impaired and read #braille:


BrailleBlox is an electronic emerging braille game!


how cool is this? National Braille Press is now the home for The Princeton Braillists Collection. Read the story here!


Find out what’s in your Perkins brailler and how it’s constructed – thanks to the Australian Braille Authority for sharing this great video!


Building #braille blocks with the National Federation of the Blind:


Do your #braille students have trouble with spelling?


#braille signage should be in easy reach for people to find:


The January “Access World” issue from the American Foundation for the Blind features an article all about the low-cost Orbit

#Braille Reader!



Braille Literacy Canada