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Adding My Voice to the Nation’s Blind

 A Bookshare team member shares learning opportunities and resources at the 2019 National Federation of the Blind Convention in Las Vegas

I recently spent an exciting week at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) convention in Las Vegas with three fellow Benetech team members. The week was filled with fascinating speakers, learning opportunities, glimpses of new technologies, and chances to meet interesting people. To call the experience overwhelming would be an understatement, but I enjoyed the challenge.

My colleagues and I spoke with computer scientists, individuals who are deaf-blind, religious community members, library patrons, students, and other groups. We participated in the NFB’s employment fair and enjoyed presentations about diverse topics including the Marrakesh Treaty, technology accessibility, and the latest in inclusive education.

Convention Offers Support to Parents of Blind Children

As the mother of a low vision preschooler, my favorite parts of the convention were the activities organized by the NFB’s Parents of Blind Children division (NOPBC). This division offered workshops related to STEM accessibility, braille literacy, orientation and mobility, sensory integration, IEP planning, and more. Many of the sessions, while aimed at sighted parents and teachers, were presented by successful blind adults who shared their life experience along with their professional knowledge. These sessions were a breath of fresh air in a field where presentations are historically given by non-disabled professionals speaking for people with disabilities. I appreciate the NFB’s commitment to ensuring bright futures for young blind kids.

Emphasis on Braille Provides Learning Opportunities

As a braille reader myself and parent to a tiny braille learner, I’m always thrilled when conferences have a distinct braille focus. This one featured a learning session for parents, a braille carnival celebration, a family game night, and a seminar for proofreaders. The biggest highlight for me, though, was the Braille Book Fair offering hardcopy braille books to take home including print/braille picture books, chapter books, Newbury Award winners, cookbooks, and nonfiction. It was like browsing a bookstore where all the books were accessible, something that, as a Bookshare member and staff person, I value highly. I filled a box of braille stories to read to my two young daughters, and I loved browsing and experiencing nostalgia for books I had read as a child.

I represented Bookshare at the meeting of the NFB’s Committee for the Advancement and Promotion of Braille (CAPB). This focus group of braille users spent an evening digging deep into braille and discussing how to keep it relevant and useful to all. We talked about braille transcription software, electronic braille display technology, braille teaching tips, proposed research topics, and more. I had a delightful discussion with the CAPB members about Bookshare’s BRF files and how we could work together to improve their quality. I also discussed Bookshare’s Word files and how that format can work well with both embossers and braille displays.

Interaction with Bookshare Members is Gratifying

Lastly, I spent a good deal of my week working the Bookshare table in the exhibit hall. This hall was a buzzing place filled with exciting tech, tools, and other resources. My favorite part was the people who came by to say that they loved Bookshare. While I do enjoy teaching people what Bookshare is, or helping new users get up and running, it is so fulfilling to hear from current members who are enjoying our accessible ebooks.

The NFB convention reminds me that Bookshare is part of a large and vibrant blind/low vision community filled with diverse members who value access to information. Together we can achieve the dream of equal access to the printed word and so much more! I thank the NFB for inviting Benetech to this convention and look forward to many more years of collaboration.

Learn more about how Bookshare’s library of accessible ebooks support the blind and low vision community.

Listen to Allison’s interview – “That’s the Share in Bookshare” – by Blind Bargains

Allison Hilliker is a Bookshare Customer Support Specialist. She and her husband, Darrell, are tech accessibility and inclusive education advocates who run the BlindAccessJournal blog and podcast. She lives in the Phoenix area with Darrell and their two young daughters.

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