Sunday, January 21, 2007

Learning Braille

Last Thursday, I started taking a class that will hopefully hold out to be interesting. I am starting to learn Braille Transcription. This class is taking place at The Foundation For Blind Children in Phoenix, AZ. This course, which only starts once a year and goes through the entire year prepares students to take the Braille Transcription Certification from the Library of Congress.

Certified Braille transcribers are responsible for the translations of books, texts and even sheet music into Braille. Many of them work on a volunteer basis for many organizations. While there are other options these days for the blind to experience literary works such as through audio books or through "e-books", there will always be a need for paper publications written in Braille.

American Braille is done in two "grades". Grade 1 Braille is simply the alphabet, punctuation and various special punctuation marks specific to Braille. Grade 2 Braille takes what was learned in Grade 1 but then makes commonly used words and syllables into a more contracted format for a more compact document. In some ways, I associate learning Grade 1 Braille as like learning Japanese hiragana and katakana where learning Grade 2 Braille is like learning Japanese kanji. The training I am going through is intended to make me proficient in Grade 2 Braille.

Myself, I want the skills taught in this course to be able to understand Grade 2 Braille and be able to use it for both writing (either using a computer driven embosser, through the use of a manual brailler or the good ol' slate and stylus) and reading (by touch, not viewing the paper). I don't know how deep this course will get into reading by touch, so I have taken the liberty to learn this piece myself. I am hoping that someday, my Braille and adaptive technology skills will allow me to advance in my current job or allow me to find employment elsewhere.

While I have always a fairly close connection to the blind community and an interest in adaptive technology, I think this new found interest is partially motivated by my current employer. I am very happy that they are trying to do their best to make the workplace adaptive to those with visual impairments. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. While we may have adaptive technology like JAWS for Windows, we still have ancient ancillary equipment in the office that hinders full accessibility and we also have to educate others in the workplace such as management, the union and other peers on the adaptive technology that we use, why it is important and what else can be done to make the workplace accessible for our current employees as well as future employees with disabilities.

I am currently very involved with this initiative and I am proud to say I have made many new friends as a result of this relationship. I look forward to a very prosperous and productive 2007 for everyone who is involved with this initiative.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Farewell to a childhood friend

I have been informed that Bruce Allen Brodsky, a person who I have known since the late 1970's was found dead at his home on Wednesday. The cause of death is unknown at this time. He was (I believe) about 45.

I first met Bruce when I was about 9 years old. He lived across the street. He had set up a model railroad in his garage. I was a transit bus (SCRTD) fan and there is obviously a connection between busfanning and railfanning, especially at a young age.

As I grew up, Bruce was there like a big brother. Bruce was responsible for me getting an interest in aviation, which indirectly has lead me to the career that I have today. Bruce also got me into CB radios, a hobby that eventually evolved into my interest in Amateur Radio and eventually to the Advanced Class ham license that I hold today.

Bruce also introduced me to Zzzygot Dial-A-Joke and some of the aspects of phone phreaking. This eventually lead to my interest in phones, the creation of REC Networks as a telephone entertainment service and eventually a 20-year career in the telecommunications industry.

In fact, the first voice ever heard on a California Comments (the original name of REC) recording was Bruce calling my machine and saying the words "it works!".

Back around 1980, I introduced Bruce to one of my sisters. They eventually got married and had two children. At the time of his death, they were going through a contested divorce.

Bruce was a very significant part of my life and was a significant influence for virtually everything that REC Networks is into these days. I credit Bruce for a lot of this.

I will miss you my friend. I love you like a brother. Sayonara tomodachi. Unfortunately, Bruce never had a chance to meet Michelle.