Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Braille writing equipment (LBE)
A couple of weeks ago - I believe it was when I posted the article about Louis Braille - Deanna asked me what equipment I had for writing braille. I decided it would be easier to answer in a separate post rather than in the comments section of that post, so that's what I'm about to do.
There are four ways that I know of to write braille. One is with some kind of writing frame (two examples of which can be seen above). Another is with a Perkins Brailler (also shown above). Another is with a braille label maker (not pictured). And the final way is with a braille embosser, which is a braille printer (and which is also not pictured above). I don't have the means to afford a braille printer, because they're very expensive. But I do have at least one version of each of the other three pieces of equipment you can use for writing braille.
The braille embosser/printer works the same as an ordinary printer. The difference is the price tag, the fact it doesn't use ink, and the fact you need to be able to read braille to read what it prints. And you have to use a spacific type of paper for it.
The Perkins Brailler (my one is that red thing that looks like a typewriter with less keys) is basically a braille typewriter. It has a key to represent each of the six dots, it has a key to leave a space, it has a key to go to a new line, and it has a key that will take you back a space. It even has a bell so that it makes that "ding" sound when you're almost at the end of the line. You can even adjust the bit that makes the "ding" noise if you're using narrower paper and need a warning about the line ending sooner. The main differences between a brailler and an ordinary typewriter are the number of keys, the fact it needs no ink, the size of the paper it uses, and the weight of it. Take it from someone who's owned both... Typewriters - even the old fashioned ones - are a LOT lighter than braillers! And, if you're wondering... No, that backspace key doesn't rub out the braille. It just takes you back a space if you press the space button too many times. The only way to rub out braille is to scratch it out with either your fingernails or a special braille rubber (personally I find fingernails work better). The special rubber is basically a piece of wood shaped in to an easy shape to hold while using it to rub out braille. You can use almost any size of paper in a brailler, but there is a standard size, which is about the same height as an A4 sheet of paper, but is a bit wider so that it's almost square. That's the size most braille books are produced in. The brailler is what I learned to write braille on. I've had this one for about 15 years, and it's lucky they last a long time, because they cost around £400 ($800) to buy. Not a price you want to be paying out on a regular basis. At least, not if you have any sense!
The braille label maker is the thing I mentioned on here loads of times before. It's the thing I used when labeling all my movies and music. It works the same as an ordinary labeling machine, but you have to use special tape in it, and it obviously prints braille labels rather than print. Hence being called a "braille" label maker. ;)
As for the writing frames... You can see two examples among the photos at the top of this post.
One of them is a pocket sized version of the original design for a braille writing frame. It's based on the one that Louis Braille actually invented and used originally. I'm afraid I'm not sure exactly how alike his first one and this one are, but I know they're simular at the very least. That one is hard work to use if you're not familiar with braille, since you have to use a stylus to create the braille from behind. This means you have to not only remember the correct placement of the dots, but also have to figure out what they'd be backwards. Not an easy task, let me tell you. I have two different versions of a stylus for this frame. One is the standard version that comes with it, the other is a safety stylus that I brought separately. The idea of that one is that you can unscrew the sharp point, turn it over, and screw it back on with the point safely out of the way. It makes it much safer to have in your pocket.
The other one is a new type of frame that they've recently started selling, and which I've only had for a couple of weeks. They call it a Braille King Pocket Frame and it's special because it allows you to write braille from the front rather than from the back. The new type of stylus allows you to write the braille from left to right like it's read. This means you only have to figure out how to do each letter, and you don't need to worry about figuring it out backwards too. As an added bonus - for sighted people using this to write notes or cards for blind friends - the alphabet is written on the outside of the case they give it to you in.
Braille frames are the cheapest equipment to buy for writing braille, since they average around £10 ($20) - give or take, depending on the size you want - which is much more affordable than the price of a brailler. Even the braille labeler is around £30 ($60). So, like I said, the braille frames are definately cheapest. They can be hard on the wrist if you use them for long periods at a time though, which is why I use the brailler for long pieces of writing.
Anyway, you can use these frames with most sizes of paper, though the frames do come in various sizes so as to allow you to get the closest size to the size of paper or notebook you'll be using it with. You need to buy a proper braille notebook, or some proper braille paper though, because most normal paper is too thin to be used successfully for writing braille. Especially if you intend keeping whatever you've written. Ordinary paper can work in a pinch, but I wouldn't trust it. It's too easily torn while you're producing the braille, and the braille is too easily flattened on it, which makes keeping whatever you've written for any length of time difficult to say the least. On proper braille paper though it's often difficult to fully erase the braille, meaning it's easier to avoid making the mistake in the first place, and if you can't... You're better off either starting a new piece of paper and beginning again, or doing the braille equivellent of crossing it out, then moving on, because reading braille that's been written over the top of some rubbed out braille is often quite difficult.
Anyway... The equipment I have for writing braille is what you see in the photos at the top of this post, and a braille labeler, which isn't pictured because I forgot to get a photo of it... I think I already said I forgot to do that, didn't I? Well, if I didn't then I did now! ;)