BRL: Braille through Remote Learning

Intro to Braille Course

Session 2 page
Session Objectives

Session Topics
  • Braille Alphabet
  • Writing Devices
  • Slate and Stylus
  • The Perkins Brailler
  • Computers and Braillers

  • Writing Exercise
  • Reading Exercise

    Other BRL Courses
  • Transcribers Course
  • Special Codes Course


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  • Session 2: Braille Writing Devices -- The Slate and Stylus

    The slate and stylus is the oldest device used to produce braille, an invention of Charles Barbier. A simple device, its main advantage is its portability. Slates come in basically two sizes: 27- and 41-cell width. Slates are basically two pieces of metal, connected by a hinge. The top metal piece serves as a guide for the stylus, a sharp metal awl held by a wooden handle. The back metal plate contains indented braille cells, which further serve to guide the stylus in the embossing of braille dots.

    The main disadvantage of the slate and stylus is one of orientation. Since you are embossing the dots into the paper, it stands to reason that the dots need to be made inverted; that is, Dots 1-2-3 are on the right rather than on the left. Similarly, when writing, one needs to write from right to left, rather than from left to right. This is so when the paper is turned over to expose the upward dots, the braille is in a left-to-right order. For example, to write the word "braille" on a slate, one would use:


    Keep in mind that this is brailled from right to left, starting with the "B"! Once you turn the paper over, the braille looks/feels like:


    Most braille instruction manuals show their examples for both brailler (writer) and slate, but if you learn braille by the dot patterns, this is not necessary! Assuming you know the cells by their numbers, using a slate and stylus requires only a little practice.

    In addition to different size slates, there are a number of different styles. Most transcribers (as least this was true when I was transcribing!) use a desk slate. This slate comes with a wooden clipboard, which has a clamp at the top to hold the paper. The slate itself has pegs on the back, which insert into the wooden board in the corresponding holes. Once you have brailled four lines (the standard slate amount), you move the slate down to the next set of guide holes and do the next four lines. This combination of slate and guide board are excellent for the braillist who is doing a lot of brailling.

    Some slates come with a detachable back that can be removed so that you can read the braille without removing it from the slate. There are also correcting slates, useful for transcribers, which allow you to add missing dots on completed braille pages. There are also slates which allow you to braille on both sides of a page; this is accomplished by providing for a way to produce guideholes which can then be used to offset the page to braille the reverse side.

    There are also specialized slates designed for specific uses. For example, you can purchase a slate to emboss playing cards with braille so you can play bridge with your visually-impaired friends! There are also postcard-size slates, mostly with 19 cells. You can also buy a slate and stylus that comes in a six-ring pocket notbook, complete with its own holder.

    Styluses also come in several shapes, with different size or style of handles. For many years I used a pencil-like stylus, made of metal with a pocket clip. This stylus also had a braille eraser on the end. Braille erasers are wooden or plastic styluses, which you use to push the embossed dot back into the paper. You should note that really good braille readers can detect erased dots, so good braillists take care to avoid having to make erasures!

    To use a slate, follow these instructions:

    1. open the hinge like a book
    2. push the left edge of the paper squarely against the hinge
    3. slowly close the slate, letting the guide pins pierce the paper firmly.
    4. when ready to move to the next four lines, remove the paper from the slate
    5. align the top pins of the slate with the previously punctured bottom guide pins
    6. when embossing, press the stylus into the paper in as near a vertical manner as possible to ensure a clean dot (slips are easy to make, especially for beginners. If you slip, use your eraser to press the dot back into the paper)
    You should NOTE that the Library of Congress uses a 38-cell line, rather than a 40-cell line. This being the case, you might wish to tape off the first two cells on the right side of the slate. Alternatively, you can just start brailling in Cell 3, which is what most folks do!
    Back to Braille Writing Devices
    On to Perkins Brailler

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