Braille Writers

Let's talk about the usability and affordability of Braille writers.

May 9, 2019

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Audio Transcript


Embracing Braille: Braille Writers

Presented by Vileen Shah

May 9, 2019

Vileen Shah: Hello everybody this is Vileen Shah, your moderator for Embracing Braille group. Today is May 9th, 2019. The topic for our presentation is braille writer usability and affordability. In this presentation I'm going to cover what a braille writer is. I'll also cover a brief history of braille writers and compare it with using a slate and stylus and also cover the development of modern technology called Smart Braillers.

Let's just begin to understand what a braille writer is. For beginner learners and particularly those who have not seen or used a braille writer this information will be helpful. Those who already know what a braille writer is please bear with me for the repetition. A braille writer is like a typewriter, but the problem is in the modern age I'm not sure how many of you ever saw a typewriter that people use to produce typed document in print. If you do not know how it looks, do not worry. When you will see a braille writer you will know what it is.

A braille writer is a device that helps produce braille quicker and with more accuracy. This manual device has nine key in front of you. Six keys are for making six dots, divided into two rows, three each. In between the two rows there is a space bar that helps you leave a space and on the right of the seven keys, six dot keys and a space bar, on the right of that there's a backspace key that helps you go back by one letter and that way you can correct your error if you did not press enough dots or if you want to change your letter, things like that.

Also there is a line advance key, sometimes called form feeder located on the left. This key helps you advance your paper by one line at a time. So when you want to leave a blank line that is what you want to press. Also when you want to go to the next line when one line is over, you may go to the next line by pressing the line advance key. The braille writer also gives you options for using different sizes of papers. There are two margin setters at the front portion of the machine and that allows you to determine the size of paper and place it accordingly.

The paper on which you want to produce braille can be rolled into the machine and then it moves forward line by line as you continue to write in braille and press that line advance key. The braille writer also provides an option of a bell that rings when you are approximately seven cells away from the end of the line, that way when you are producing a long document or a book and are producing pages and pages, you learn or you come to know that you're reaching the end of the line and that helps you to determine whether you can write a word or two at the end of that line. Also if a word is very long it helps you determine whether you should write that word in the same line or go to the next line when the bell rings, so that bell is so helpful.

Since the invent of braille as a script or a writing system for the blind that came to be accepted in 1854, people were using a slate and stylus and producing books by using the slate and stylus and writing one dot at a time. So that was quite a slow process. Some people who were in the area of blindness education decided to develop a new device like a typewriter. Perkins School for the Blind, located in Boston, the United States, made a tremendous contribution to this. In 1876 the Perkins School undertook the project of preparing a braille writer.

Several designs were made and prototypes were made, but none of them worked so well. Then came Mr. David Abraham from Great Britain who had good experience in manufacturing area and his skills were used to design a Perkins Brailler. The American Foundation for the Blind also helped Perkins School in developing a braille writer. Ultimately, by 1941, a prototype was prepared but because of the World War going on, the production was delayed. However, the time that the World War allowed to wait was used to try the prototypes and the results were very encouraging.

Those who were using the prototype braille writers were very happy and therefore after the second World War was over, the Perkins School for the Blind Association with Harvard Press produced 2,000 braille writers and these writers became so popular in the country and later in the world. Other countries also produced braille writers, such as Germany and Great Britain, but the Perkins writers or Perkins Braillers as they are known are most popular among them. The Perkins Braillers are used all over the world today and hundreds and thousands of pieces have been produced.

Now let's understand the difference between a braille writer and a slate and stylus. A braille writer allows you to write one letter at a time as against a slate and stylus. Those who know how to use both can understand this better. When you use a slate and stylus you have to press against each dot to make a letter. For instance if you want to produce the letter L you have to press dot one, dot two, and dot three. So the three strokes make one letter. If you are using a braille writer you can produce letter L but one stroke at a time, press all three keys together and letter L will be produced.

So certainly the braille writer has an advantage over using a slate and stylus as far as the speed is concerned because it produces one letter at a time. It is much faster than using a slate and stylus. Also it can afford more accuracy and it's also a lot easier to use because a braille writer uses six keys and press the keys that you need for each letter that you want to produce. When you want to use a slate and stylus, the big challenge that you encounter is that you need to write from right to left and the dots that you are pressing are embossed on the other side, therefore you have to reverse many of your dots.

For instance, letter P consists of dots one, two, three, and four which means dots one, two, three on the left and dot four on the right. However when you write it using a slate and stylus, your dots one, two, and three are on the right and dots four, five, and six are on the left. So you have to train your brain to reverse the dot numbers when you use a slate and stylus. That way the braille writer makes it so easy that you do not have to reverse. Also it allows you to produce braille on thicker papers and you know that the braille dots can be flattened or damaged if these are made on thin papers.

So comparing the slate and stylus, the braille writer gives you quite a few advantages over the slate and stylus. However when you compare the price there's a huge difference. Braille writers, when I last checked a few years back the price was $800 per piece, whereas a slate and stylus you can buy depending on what slate you buy for $20, $30, or $40 so there's a big difference. Also a slate and stylus is quite portable, a braille writer is heavy. You need to carry it in a case or a bag if you want to go out and take it with you. A slate and stylus you can place in a pocket in your wallet and take it with you.

So when you go out and if you want to write something down, note something in braille, someone's phone number or something else, a slate and stylus is very handy. You can't carry a braille writer everywhere you go, it's hard to carry. It's not that you can't carry at all, but it's hard to carry. So in terms of the price and in terms of portability slate and stylus has an upper hand.

Let's go back to the history of braille writers. Oh no, I covered the history. The smart braille writers. When the computer technology came in, several companies starting thinking of combining computer technology with a braille writer and that is how smart braille writers have been produced. One of the companies that produces smart braille writers is in Australia and the product manufacturing is called Mountbatten, M-O-U-N-T, Mount, and the second word is Batten, B-A-T-T-E-N.

Perkins School for the Blind is also producing smart braillers. The smart braille writers allow you to write or produce files in braille, save them, and convert them into print. That gives you an excellent opportunity of communicating with the sighted people who do not know braille. For the children, this device is particularly more helpful, children can produce their homework in braille and save that file, and parents can see it in print and help their children in doing their homework. Children can produce their homework or their assignments using a smart brailler and submit it to their teachers who are sighted, do not know braille, but the teachers can read these files in print and write their feedback and send them back to children who can read them in braille.

So between print and braille, there is an excellent way of communicating using a smart brailler, and therefore the smart braillers are so handy. Of course again, the price is a big issue. I'm going to post two documents on our website, one about the history or braille writers and another about a smart brailler. You will get more information about smart braillers by going onto our website and reading the article on smart brailler.

I hope you found our presentation useful and helpful, feel free to ask more questions. With that note, I would like to conclude today's presentation.