The Basics of Writing In Braille

To write Braille there are several ways to do it. These vary from the Perkins Brailler to the Stylus, to even modern day PDAs (personal digital assistants) for the blind from manufacturers such as HumanWare or Freedom Scientific.

These PDAs, as well as the Perkins Brailler, are equipped with a Braille keyboard. Since this is the quickest way to write Braille, at least for beginners, we’ll look at this first. Note that while one can become very proficient with the stylus, it does take more time. We’ll see this later on down the page.

The Perkins Brailler & Braille Eraser

Introduced in the 1950s by Howe Press and the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, the Howe Press/Perkins Braille Writer (Perkins Brailler for short) has been a workhorse of Braille composition for over half a century. It has been the go-to device for people who want to compose Braille quickly and easily. So how does it work? Physically speaking the Perkins Braille may resemble an old-fashioned typewriter. You will notice one immediate difference though. This device only has eight keys instead of the fifty-three keys that are found on a typewriter.

Writing Braille
Writing Braille

The two outer-most round keys are your return key on the left, and your backspace on the right. Moving inward, you will see six keys coming into a central point where an upside down T key resides. This upside down T key is the space bar, while the three keys on either side of it correspond to the six Braille dots that were discussed in “How does One Read Braille?” previously. If we look back to that section, and recall how the dots are aligned, you will see that the keyboard is laid out differently.

Starting at the space bar, the dots to the left are 1 2 and 3. Again, starting from the space bar, the keys on the right are dots 4 5 and 6. The lever above the keyboard that looks like a manuscript print letter I is the lever used to return the cursor to the beginning of a line, after you press the return key on the far left next to dot 3. You will know you are at the end of a line when you hear a bell ring. The position of the bell is also customizable using a lever at the back. The type of paper used in the Brailler does have some limitations. For instance, you could use an 8.5×11″ sheet or a post card, but it must be thick enough, or the Brailler won’t make Braille characters. Instead, you will have holes in the paper.

To erase a mistake, You must use a Braille eraser. This is the wooden object shown above, that allows you to flatten out individual dots of a character. You can also use your finger nail if it is long enough, although this is not recommended, as the result won’t be as clean to the person reading the text.

Slate and Stylus

A slate is a long thin metal device that has indentations for Braille cells, and is hinged on the end. You lift up the top half, place the paper in between the two parts, and close it. From there you will use the stylus, which is the white round wooden device shown in the picture above, to create Braille letters numbers and symbols. It should be noted that the stylus does take some getting used to when you first start out. If you have seen Braille before, you probably know that the dots are not indented on the reading surface, but are raised. You notice that the stylus has indented Braille cells. This is because, in essence, you are writing each cell backwards.

Not only are you writing each cell backwards, in fact, but you are also writing it one dot at a time. Instead of pressing multiple dots down like you can on a Perkins Brailler, you must use the stylus to make indentations in the paper one dot at a time. This is the reason why you are also writing backwards. When you turn the paper over, the writing will be facing the proper direction.

It is very possible to become proficient on the slate & stylus, but it may take more time than it would on the Perkins Brailler. Advantages to a slate & stylus over a Perkins Brailler have to do with weight, as well as more flexibility to label things such as cassette tape labels. The weight of the slate and stylus combination is significantly lighter than that of a Perkins Brailler, and since you don’t have to be as careful about what shape paper you use, you could label a CD or cassette label to make it easier to find your teacher’s lectures, for example.