President’s Message: ACB and Braille: An Ongoing Commitment, by Kim Charlson

Braille is probably one of the most discussed, requested, and advocated for issues on the agendas of so many people who are blind. Whether you’re asking for braille materials, advocating to get something provided in braille, wanting to learn braille, practicing your braille to get faster, wondering why you need to learn braille … all of these issues are important to ACB.
 
For the past 16 years, I have had the honor of representing the American Council of the Blind on the board of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). When I attended my first meeting, I wondered how a small group of people could discuss braille dots for three days. I soon learned the dedication of the BANA board, the volunteers who serve on BANA’s nearly 30 technical and ad hoc committees, the breadth of issues under consideration, and the passion of braille readers, transcribers, educators, producers, about specific braille codes and format guidelines.
 
I have learned so much about the braille code itself, rules, guidelines, and how thoughtful the BANA board must be when developing new guidelines in one area to ensure that those guidelines don’t conflict with another set of rules or guidelines in another area. Many ACB members serve on BANA committees, helping to develop guidelines in so many areas – chess, foreign language, knit and crochet, chemistry, to name just a few. My thanks to all of these members, and the countless volunteers, who help BANA to do its important work.
 
After being elected ACB president, I knew that I would need to look for someone else to represent ACB on BANA. I realized that I would have many demands on my plate, and I would be needing assistance to make sure that ACB’s voice on BANA continued to be strong. I wanted to identify someone who had experience with braille, was recognized in the blindness community, and could represent ACB’s perspective, along with that of teachers, students, transcribers, and producers, as well as braille readers. 
 
I was very pleased to find that person in Sandra Ruconich of Salt Lake City, Utah. Sandy is a braille reader, has taught braille to visually impaired students for nearly 40 years, and to university students preparing to teach visually impaired children and adults. She proofreads the braille version of the monthly youth magazine produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is a member of the National Braille Praxis Committee, which prepares and produces a test which teachers of the visually impaired take to demonstrate braille competency. She served as president of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) from 2006 to 2008.
 
Sandy has lived all across the country — born in Klamath Falls, Ore., where she attended public school from kindergarten through high school graduation. She holds bachelor's degrees from the University of Washington in music and English; a master's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in special education, with an emphasis in the visually impaired; and a doctorate in special education in the area of visual impairment, with emphasis in assistive technology, from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Sandy has taught braille and technology at the Kentucky and New Mexico schools for the blind and, although semi-retired, continues to teach braille and technology (including braille notetakers and braille displays) in programs administered by the Utah School for the Blind. She has also taught braille courses for New Mexico State University, the University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Utah.
 
When I asked Sandy what she has time to do when she isn’t working and advocating for braille, she said, “I play the piano, serve as my church organist, enjoy singing, composing and arranging musical pieces. I have been taking harp lessons for four years, it is my adult adventure. I am an avid reader of both braille and audio books; I read audio while I'm doing something else so I can use my time efficiently and braille when I want to see the placement of paragraphs, the spelling of names, etc. I am a technology user (computer, smartphone, braille notetaker, Optacon), and truly believe in its liberating power in my life. I've lived as far west as Oregon and as far south as Tennessee, not to mention several places in between. I've made Utah my home for the past 17 1/2 years and love it here!”
 
Sandy began representing ACB on BANA in July 2014. If you have questions relating to BANA, you can contact Sandy at sruconich@sisna.com or (801) 599-1958. One of the first things she has started to work on is the implementation plan for Unified English Braille (UEB) for current braille readers, both children and adults. UEB is scheduled to go into effect in the United States on Jan. 4, 2016.
 
BANA is offering a new publication entitled “The UEB Reader,” which is available in a hard-copy braille edition. “The UEB Reader” is a resource designed to introduce braille readers to Unified English Braille (UEB). This introductory hard-copy braille booklet incorporates into one document several key resources found on the BANA web site. “The UEB Reader” includes content from BANA’s publication, an overview of changes from current literary braille to UEB, plus several example documents transcribed in UEB for readers to use as practice. This resource was compiled to help current braille readers become more familiar with UEB and to assist braille readers, transcribers, teachers, and families as they make the transition to UEB. “The UEB Reader” is available free of charge upon request.
 
To receive a free braille copy of “The UEB Reader,” e-mail me at kim.charlson@perkins.org with your name and address for mailing purposes. Requests for “The UEB Reader,” including your name, address, and phone number, can also be left on the UEB Information Line at (617) 972-7248.
 
Another resource for reading practice for UEB is “Syndicated Columnists Weekly” (SCW). What better way to learn the UEB than by reading short opinion pieces by America's top journalists? Starting the first week in January 2015, National Braille Press will begin using UEB to translate “Syndicated Columnists Weekly.” This 36-page braille weekly contains the best editorials of the week from diverse papers such as “The Washington Post,” “Salon,” “The New York Times,” “The Chicago Tribune,” etc. It's a nice, short commuter paper, and now, an easy way to gain experience reading UEB. Each issue will include a short symbols chart highlighting new or unusual changes to the code – but not all changes, most of which should be easy for braille readers to determine from context. If you do not already subscribe to SCW, a yearly subscription is $24 ($45 for two years), which is only 46 cents per week. You can subscribe by contacting National Braille Press at www.nbp.org or call toll-free 1-800-548-7323.
 
I urge braille readers to request “The UEB Reader,” or download it and other resources from the BANA web site at www.brailleauthority.org. The best way to become familiar with UEB is to read more of it. In an effort to assist braille readers in making the transition, “The ACB Braille Forum” will have an article appear in each hard-copy braille edition produced in 2015 in UEB for reading practice. Watch for the first article transcribed in UEB to appear elsewhere in this issue.