ART+science Media Roundup 10/24/08
The Internet Alters Your Brain

A Million Laughs for Literacy

Last Friday evening I had the opportunity to attend A Million Laughs for Literacy, the National Braille Press fundraiser to support its Hands On! Books for Blind Children campaign.

A million laughs

Headlined by comedienne Lily Tomlin and supported/attended by tons of local businesses and individuals, the aim for the night was to raise awareness of, and money for, programs that help eliminate the literacy gap separating blind children from the mainstream.

I didn't realize it, but not every blind person learns to read/write via Braille. In fact, most blind children attend public schools that are not prepared to teach Braille, and translation devices are expensive and only available to a few. The goal of the Hands On! campaign is to fund and expand programs that teach blind students, their parents, and educators the importance of Braille literacy. 

After cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres in the lobby, the crowd moved into the Grand Ballroom of the Westin Boston Waterfront for a sit-down dinner and an assortment of speakers, including:

  • 7News anchor Randy Price, Master of Ceremonies for the evening
  • Boston College student Stephanie Fernandes, who refuses to let her blindness get in the way of her studies, the marching band, or her plans to become an attorney
  • Paul Parravano & Brian A. MacDonald, Board Chair and President, respectively, of the National Braille Press
  • And Lily Tomlin, who reprised some of her most famous characters, and threw in some very current events (read: Republican bashing) for good measure

Sabriye_Tenberken One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of the Hands On! award to Sabriye Tenberken, a German social worker who became blind at age 12 and went on to study Central Asian Sciences, including Mongolian and modern Chinese as well as modern and classical Tibetan at Bonn University. The first blind person to enroll in these studies, she went on to develop the Tibetan Braille Script, as well as a project for blind children in Tibet (the incidence of blindness in this region is quite high, due to dust, wind, high UV light, high concentration of soot in houses, Vitamin A deficiencies, and inadequate medical care). Blind people in Tibet are excluded from basic activities in society, like education and employment, so Sabriye co-founded and co-directs an organization called  Braille Without Borders to serve this group of people.

The evening ended with a live auction of some great items: a night at Fenway Park for 10 friends in a private suite, an evening with Lily Tomlin, naming rights for a character in the next Robert Parker mystery novel, a VIP tour of the Hess Collection winery in Napa Valley, CA.

Overall, it was a great event that really raised awareness of an important issue. If you'd like to get more involved with the National Braille Press, they are hosting a Community Volunteer Day on Saturday, Nov 22nd, where volunteers will help put together print/braille books for blind children. Email Erin Markee for more information.

And on Jan 4, 2009, the world's blind with celebrate Louis Braille's Bicentennial in remembrance of the Frenchman, who at the age of 15 created the Braille system of reading and writing that is now used throughout the world.

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