Braille Facts

Braille facts - how was it first produced?

In researching braille facts or braille history you will find that the early method of producing this form of communication, invented by Louis Braille, was fairly primitive.

It required a mushroom-handled stylus and a writing frame, featuring a movable metal clamp. On the base of the frame there were a series of six sunken cells in the braille dot pattern, whilst the top part had a corresponding series of holes. The paper was clamped at the top to keep it in place and the stylus, known as a dotter, was pressed into the holes, pushing the paper into the indentations and forming a tiny raised dot on the underside.

Because the dots were impressed into the paper from above, it was necessary to work in reverse, so great accuracy was required. It wasn't possible to check the writing until it was taken out of the frame and turned over.

As each line of braille was completed the top part of the frame, which fitted into holes drilled into the edge of the base, was moved down a row in order to write the next line.

Similar writing slates are still available in sizes to fit your diary, a business card, an index card or even an A4 sheet of paper.

Braille facts - introducing the Perkins Brailler

A series of braille writing machines and braille printers followed the early writing frames, each one a variant on the last.

Eventually, in the middle of the twentieth century, the Americans at the Perkins Institute built a machine that resembled a typewriter. You rolled the thick brown brailling paper into it and when you pressed the keys in combination, the braille appeared on the upward-facing side of the paper, thus enabling the writer to read what had been written without having to turn the page over.

It does require some strength to push down the keys on the Brailler making it less useful for younger children. It is also a heavy piece of machinery and therefore not particularly portable.

The Perkins Brailler, however, became so successful that it was quickly considered the standard for braille writing around the world.

This machine is still used today by some braille writers. In fact I have one of my own that I use ocassionally, although I normally use my electronic note taker that we will talk about in later pages on this website. Ironically the Perkins Brailler is not cheap to buy!

Braille facts - how children used to be taught braille

Before the modern technological age, those children whose sight was deemed too poor or unreliable to be able to learn to read and write in print, were taught the braille alphabet automatically and read it with their fingers.

Their teachers, if sighted, invariably read the same braille with their eyes, as if they were reading the printed word.

Most badly visually handicapped children were educated, like myself, at special schools for the blind. Therefore letters home to the parents were brailled in double line spacing so that the teachers could over-write the words in ink above the brailled lines.

Of course if the parents wrote back to the child, it was in ink, meaning that it had to be read aloud to the student. There is no privacy when you are visually impaired!

It was rare for the parents to take the time to learn the braille system. To them it was a mysterious dotty way of communicating, sadly one of the braille facts that is still true today. The cost of specialised equipment to help with everyday tasks put it out of reach of most homes. Furthermore, the separate education system meant that parents were not teaching their blind children to love books, to read or to write as they did their sighted siblings.

Nowadays, sighted school children experiment with the braille alphabet but rarely learn it properly or use it to communicate with their braille-reading peers.

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