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Reading and Writing Aids: Slate and Stylus

Primary Tasks

    Secondary Tasks

      Slate and Stylus

      Most of the early tactile codes developed for blind people used characters that could only be produced by a printing press and an embossed plate. Only the codes that were made up of dots could be easily written by an individual. Braille won out over its competitors because it was easier to read and could be easily "written." In fact, the Braille system enabled blind people to be literate. Not only could they read, but they could also write.

      Charles Barbier, who, in 1808, introduced the dot system that was later modified by Louis Braille, also invented a frame for embossing his code. Braille simplified the writing frame to comply with his own code. The Braille slate, with its stylus, which punches the dots, is basically the same today, as it was when it was invented.

      The Braille slate and stylus is the traditional device for writing Braille by hand. All slates have a metal or plastic guide. The slates designed to be mounted on a solid board are called board or desk slates. The two parts of the guide are joined by a hinge. The bottom section of the guide is pitted with a series of six small round depressions corresponding to the shape and spacing of dots in the Braille cell. The top section of the guide has lines of holes outlining the individual Braille cells and corresponding to the arrangement of pits in the bottom of the guide. To write in Braille, paper is inserted between the top and bottom of the guide and the stylus is used to punch the Braille dots in the paper. The stylus is a pointed steel punch with a handle. Because the stylus punches the dots downward into depressions, the paper must be turned over to read. This means that Braille is written from right to left on the slate so that written symbols are the mirror image of those used in reading. For finger readers, this is a readily acquired skill, although it may seem difficult to sighted people.

      The first writing frames, the kind used by Louis Braille, had horizontal grooves all down the page instead of the pitted cells. These continued to be used and were sometimes called "washboard" slates. Because there were grooves instead of cells, these boards could be used with either Braille or New York Point guides. Upward writing slates were produced, but they were not generally successful. These slates enabled the writer to emboss the Braille dots on the face of the paper with a hollow stylus.

      Through the years, improvements and adaptations were made to slates and styli. The number of lines on a slate may vary as well as the number of cells in a line. Styli are designed for more comfortable and longer use. Slates, like the postcard slate, are made for specialized uses. The Brown slate was designed with an extra frame to allow the bottom of the slate to drop open so that the Braille may be read without removing the paper. Interpoint slates have holes for registration to allow writing on both sides of the page.