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Perkins Braille Writer Video Transcript

Narrator: Early braille writers were expensive, noisy, and heavy, and needed frequent repair.

In 1939, David Abraham, a teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind, designed an improved machine that went into production soon after World War Two. The result was the Perkins Brailler, a braille writing device that has set the standard for manual brailling throughout the world since 1951. Mechanically similar to a manual typewriter, and weighing in at about 10 lbs, this device is sturdy and portable.

The device is often used with a heavyweight paper to ensure that the dots don't flatten out, but remain raised after repeated use.

In order to write and emboss the braille, the user places the index, middle, and ring finger of each hand on the keys to the left and right of the space bar that's located in the center. Braille is formatted in cells consisting of a combination of 1 to 6 dots and the machine's six keys correspond to the six dots of each braille cell. By pressing combinations of these keys, users produce letters, numbers and punctuation marks.

Dots 1, 2, and 3 are arranged vertically on the left side of the cell and users emboss these dots by pressing the left hand keys with their left fingers. Dots 4, 5, and 6 are arranged vertically on the right and users emboss these dots by pressing the right-hand keys with their right fingers.

Because of the pressure needed to press the keys, the manufacturer built in extra key length to allow the first two joints of the fingers to be placed on each key. The key on the far left is used to advance to a new line and the far right key is the backspace key. The embossing head has a back side containing small cups that correspond to the six braille dots. These cups allow the paper to be embossed without being punctured.

As the user embosses lines of text, a bell indicates that the embossing head is nearing the end of a line. [We hear the bell: "Ding"] At this point the user pulls back the carriage and advances the paper to a new line to continue writing. The device will create 25 lines, with 40 characters on each line, on a single sheet of paper 11 x 11 1/2 inches.

With the exception of its price, which is currently around $850, the Perkins Brailler has changed little over the years.