Hello everyone! My name is Ashley Neybert and I am ViewPlus’ newest Accessibility Specialist. I am also legally blind and thought it might be good for everyone to know some of the adaptations I make in my daily life. I have heard a lot of people saying that blind people don’t use Braille anymore, but in my experience, this is usually because like me, these people have some residual vision and are frequently told that print is better, so they are not taught Braille. This frequently causes all kinds of issues such as eye pain, headaches, back injury from leaning close to things all the time, and possibly even quickening vision loss in some conditions. Plus, you know how often sighted people need reading glasses when older? Well blind people’s eyes get worse as we age too, and it is MUCH easier to learn Braille as young as possible!
I didn’t learn Braille until I was 19 years old. It was hard but it is SUCH an integral part of my life now! So where is it important and why is it so critical? I’m going to virtually walk you through an average day in my life so you can find out. I am a PhD student in Education with a focus on STEM Accessibility, so my day is always jam packed. I wake up at 8am to feed and relieve my guide dog Phoebe, the fashionable standard poodle. Then it’s off to make my breakfast. My oven and microwave both have braille labels to help me navigate otherwise inaccessible equipment. They do make talking microwaves and I’d love one, but accessible tools always cost more. At $500, a talking microwave is half of my month’s rent so until one of you lovely people buy me one, then braille labeled microwave to the rescue!
I live in campus housing so waking up earlier assures that the braille labeled washer and dryer are available. There’s only one of each and it’s never fun to discover someone else’s clothes there when there are 20 plus other washers and dryers available for sighted people. I throw my clothes in, no color sort detergent is the greatest invention of our time, and I set a timer with Siri on my phone. Then it’s off to research! Unfortunately, most journals do not make accessible documents so enter my wonderful SpotDot embosser! This embosser is one of the reasons I joined ViewPlus Technologies. The fact that I can make a graph that is accessible to both me and my sighted peers on the same device is amazing to me and the option to have text and braille on the same page allows me to choose my preferred reading medium on the go. Before I had an embosser that could print direct from PDF, I would always have to send a graph or image to the Disability Support Services office where I’d see my graphic in a week but now, I have an option that even if the printed version isn’t beautiful the first time (we’re still working on making it easier for the blind to create their own graphics) I can now independently get a vague idea of what my classmates might be seeing.
I go grab and switch out my laundry then it’s time to cook lunch. I usually make one more involved meal throughout the day so for either lunch or dinner I will pull out my braille cookbook because I embossed a collection of my favorite recipes to avoid the fact that so many accessible recipe websites have randomly disappeared then you have to find a new one. I cannot imagine how I’d handle this one if I couldn’t read Braille! After eating and washing my dishes I go let out the dog again and then we head off to class where you guessed it: I use the Braille signs to tell where my classroom and the restroom are! I wish people hired more blind people though to review their Braille signs before posting them as sometimes the signs just say “Restroom” and you’re left to wonder if it’s men’s, women’s, or all gender. I frequently also encounter things like everyone calling something the meeting room and the braille simply reads “#235” so please remember to have people that use your accommodations do an accessibility check to make sure it’s right!
In class I either use a screenreader on my computer or a slate and stylus to take my notes. For any teachers reading this, slate and stylus is SO much easier to transport than a Perkins Brailler so please make sure students know how to use both! I find it so useful to be able to make labels and take down phone numbers on a slate and stylus so I don’t need to worry if my phone dies. After class I walk home, let the dog out and feed her again, make some dinner then play with the dog (she needs time off too!) followed by my dinner and homework.
I cannot imagine my life without Braille and I love working for a company that values my independence and making a more inclusive world. We even can make tactile coloring sheets now! Things are getting better than ever for blind people but we’re still working at it. If I could share one thing with TVIs out there it would be to make sure that all of your students get proper Braille and Tactile graphics education. Reading print and Braille are not mutually exclusive and the more skills our students have the higher the likelihood of getting jobs. Thank you for joining me for a day in my life!