Seeing with Your Hands-The Joshua Project

Josh Goldenberg, 7, starts Joshua Project to help the blind shop in stores

Boy wins national Braille award

This originally appeared in the Ventura County Star.

By Esha Chhabra

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A 7-year-old boy from Simi Valley is following in the footsteps of J.K. Rowling and Laura Bush.

Last month, Joshua Goldenberg, a first-grader at Wood Ranch Elementary School, was awarded the Hands On! Award by the National Braille Press (NBP) in Boston. Previous recipients include Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and former First Lady Laura Bush for their efforts to promote Braille literacy.

“He’s a firecracker, so inspiring to be around. He sees no limitations and that’s the kind of attitude you need to change the world,” said Kimberly Ballard, vice president of marketing at NBP. “We were really impressed with him. He demonstrated the power of a child, the ability to ask such simple but profound questions.”

“I was just in shock. There’s J.K. Rowling and then there’s Josh β€” for the same award. I was really surprised by the honor,” exclaimed Christie Goldenberg, Joshua’s mother, who had just returned from Boston where the Goldenbergs attended the National Braille Press’ annual gala, met with students from two Boston-area schools for the blind, and visited a local Whole Foods store that has adopted the Joshua Project.

The Joshua Project is Josh’s vision to “Braille the entire world and Target,” that being one of his favorite stores. The idea for the project started with a simple excursion to Ralph’s in Wood Ranch, where he asked his mom, “How am I supposed to shop if there aren’t any Braille labels for me?”

“I didn’t know what to say. It was such a simple question but an important one for him,” Christie said, shrugging. That’s because Josh has been blind since birth; his bright blue eyes are actually glass eyes, or substitutes. Although he can play the piano, ride horses, skateboard, and swim, he cannot shop easily.

That sparked a desire in him to Braille items in stores for the visually impaired. Joshua began with the Trader Joe’s near his father’s office in Westlake Village, requesting to Braille a handful of his favorite items. Though successful at first, the store removed the Braille labels within a week’s time, according to Christie. When asked why, Trader Joe’s abstained from commenting.

In the meantime, Whole Foods Market in Thousand Oaks adopted the idea. Ashley Eaton, the regional marketing officer for Whole Foods, explained that the store not only agreed to having Josh place Braille labels on his favorite items, but they also crafted unique aisle markers. Titled the “Joshua Project” with a photo of the young change maker, the markers list categories, such as baking, pastas, drinks, and are placed toward the front of the store. Eaton estimates that a few hundred items have already been addressed, with more being added regularly.

“We didn’t want it to be something we do for a week or so. We really wanted to embrace it and get involved it,” she said. “And we’ve received great feedback from customers. They’re thrilled to see it. I especially love seeing a mom explaining the Braille labels to her kids. It starts conversations.”

There are other methods of helping the visually impaired as they shop, Christie pointed out. Hand-held scanners with audio being the most common; however, they’re quite pricey with each scanner costing in the $2,000 range.

“Unfortunately, because there isn’t a demand in the market for these kind of products, the prices have remained high,” she explained, referring not just to the scanners but also the Braille-printing device that Josh uses. An antique-looking typewriter, with Braille keys, the device enables him to print labels for many of the items in the store. But it cost the Goldenbergs nearly $1,000.

With this, Christie and Evan, Joshua’s father, hope to help low-income families of the visually-impaired get access to more materials in Braille and assist with the high medical costs for routine treatments. For example, the family sets aside $6,000 every year for medical treatments for Josh, necessary for his glass eyes, which have to be regularly adjusted as he ages.

“But sometimes, I wonder if we’re the ones that are impaired. He’s helped us learn so much and see things that we didn’t notice before,” Christie said. “And he does it in playful ways. My daughter will be showing me a picture that’s just finished and Josh will come up to it, stick his nose in it almost, and scream, ‘It’s beautiful!’ Or he’ll look at me constantly. When I ask him what’s he doing, he’ll reply, “I’m staring at you, mom!'”

And he’s no different at school, said Diane Brunner, Joshua’s teacher at Wood Ranch Elementary School. “He’s lively, outgoing, inquisitive, and very self-sufficient. The other kids always want to help him and sometimes, I think, he doesn’t even need it.”

Ultimately, it’s his independence and of others who are visually-impaired, that has propelled the Goldenbergs to take up their son’s project and expand it.

“I want my son to be independent. I want him to be on his own and to have all the opportunities that are available to everyone. He’s no different,” Christie said proudly.


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