It's Braille Literacy Month! Resources for the Blind & Visually Impaired
Did you know that January is Braille Literacy Month?
January was chosen to celebrate Braille literacy in honor of Louis Braille, who was born on January 4, 1809. Mr. Braille invented the Braille code when he was only 15 years old! He gained inspiration for his code from a "night code" system of 12 dots invented by Charles Barbier. The six-code system invented by Mr. Braille was officially published in 1829 when he was 20 years old and is still in use today. Braille is not considered a language, so it is referred to as a code or system. The system can be used with any language and uses 63 characters, and each one is made up of one to six raised dots. This code is used primarily by the blind but can also be used by folks with other levels of visual impairment to read and write or type. You can read more about the Braille code and its history on the Encyclopedia Brittanica website or the robust Wikipedia page (Pro Tip: check out the references at the bottom of the Wikipedia page for even more information).
Now that I've given you a brief history of Braille let's dive into a few free and low-cost resources for the blind and visually impaired.
The Idaho Talking Book Service
The Idaho Talking Book Service is the Idaho state agency for the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled at the Library of Congress. This FREE service is available to any Idaho resident with a visual, learning, or physical impairment that prevents them from reading standard print. There are several resources offered through the Idaho Talking Book Service, including a physical audio player with specially formatted audiobooks on a range of topics (both fiction and non-fiction), an online catalog of braille print and audio materials (referred to as BARD), access to over 300 newspapers on audio from across the US via the Newsline application, and personalized service from a compassionate customer service team at the Idaho Commission for Libraries. You can read more about this service and access applications on the Talking Book Service website.
Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf & the Blind (IESDB)
The Idaho School for the Deaf & the Blind (ISDB) campus is located in Gooding, Idaho, and offers residential and day programs to qualifying Idaho residents. IESDB also provides statewide resources for any qualified youth aged birth to 21. The organization provides services for children and their local schools and families to ensure they reach their full potential. If you know a school or a person who would benefit from their services, let them know! You can read more about the school and educational services on their website.
Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ICBVI) is an Idaho state agency to help Idaho residents who are blind or visually impaired achieve independence. The Commission provides assistance through continuing education, work skill development, and coaching. Other services offered by the Commission include independent living services, sight restoration financial assistance, braille consulting services, and specialized transitional programs for youth aged 14 to 21. The organization's home office is in Boise, but the services provided are statewide. Learn more about this invaluable resource here.
Blinded Veterans Association
The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) is a national organization tasked with providing information and assistance to former service members who have experienced sight loss. One of their primary purposes is to "promote the welfare of blinded veterans so that, notwithstanding their disabilities, they may take their rightful place in the community and work with their fellow citizens toward the creation of a peaceful world." One of the great things about the BVA is that it is both run by and exists for blinded veterans. You can read more about this association here.
Guide Dogs for the Blind
The organization Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) is based out of San Rafael, California, but there is also an Oregon campus that is much closer to Idaho for those in need of their services. GDB is a nonprofit organization that provides all services and training free of charge, thanks to generous donations and volunteers. Guide dogs provide an invaluable service to the blind and assist folks with independent living. You can learn more about GDB and apply for services using their website. Another organization that provides guide dogs and training services is Leader Dogs for the Blind, based out of Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Idaho Assistive Technology Project
The Idaho Assistive Technology Project provides services and information about assistive technologies for folks with a range of disabilities. This includes assistive technologies for folks who are blind or visually impaired. One of the neat things about the project is they have a lending system where you can borrow specific assistive technologies for short periods of time to see what works best for you. Check out the full range of services using this link.
While this list is by no means comprehensive, we hope that it provides you with useful information. Braille resources in our local library may be slim, but there are amazing organizations in the larger community that provide invaluable resources to the blind and visually impaired, including resources in Braille!
If you have questions about this list or other resources, let us know in the comments.