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Perkins Brailler

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A Braille writer with similar functionality to a Perkins Brailler.
A Braille writer with similar functionality to a Perkins Brailler.

The Perkins Brailler is a simple machine used to write braille. The Perkins Brailler is a "braille typewriter" with a key corresponding to each of the six dots of the braille code. By simultaneously pressing different combinations of the six keys, users can create any of the characters in the Braille code. In addition to these six keys, the Perkins Brailler has a space key, a backspace key, and a line space key. Like a manual typewriter, it has two side knobs to advance paper through the machine and a carriage return lever above the keys. The rollers that hold and advance the paper have grooves designed to avoid crushing the raised dots the brailler creates.

Although braille notation was designed for people who are blind or visually impaired to read, prior to the introduction of the Perkins Brailler it was relatively difficult and cumbersome to write braille. Braille writers created braille characters manually using slate and stylus (as developed by Louis Braille) or by using one of the relatively complex, expensive, and fragile braillewriting machines that had been developed prior to the Perkins Brailler.

Stylus and slate are still used today and are still practical for many purposes. Users compare a stylus and slate to handwriting, while using a Perkins Brailler is more like typewriting.



The original Perkins Brailler was first produced in 1951 by David Abraham (1896-1978), a woodworking teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind. The director of the Perkins School for the Blind, Gabriel Farrell, asked Abraham to create an inexpensive and reliable machine to allow students to more easily write braille. Farrell and Abraham worked with Edward Waterhouse, who was a math teacher at Perkins, to create the design for the Brailler.

According to the Perkins School, the invention of the Perkins Brailler "revolutionized communication for the blind" by making it much easier for both visually impaired users and braille transcribers to write braille.[1]

The Perkins Brailler is produced by and is currently available from Perkins Products/Howe Press. Manufactured in Perkins Products at Perkins School for the Blind, some 330,000 Perkins Braillers have sold to individuals in over 170 countries. The Perkins Brailler that was produced until 2008 was essentially the same as the original design created by Abrahams. In 2008, a new version was released that is lighter, quieter, smaller and requires less force to operate than its predecessor. It also includes an erase key and an integrated carrying handle.[2] The new model won the Silver Award in the 2009 International Design Excellence Awards.

For a simple device, the Perkins Brailler is surprisingly complex, containing over 500 parts. The need to position heavy paper precisely is achieved by rolling the paper onto an internal drum, unrolling it when the user presses a line-feed key, and using a clock-like escapement to move an embossing carriage over the paper. A system of six cams consisting of rods with a square cross-section transfers keystrokes to the wire-like styli contained in the carriage. Tolerances are close, and the buildup of oily dirt with normal use necessitates periodic cleaning and adjustment.


With the advent of computers, many users create braille output using a computer and a braille embosser connected to the computer. Visually impaired users can read the computer screen by using screen reading software and/or braille displays. Users of such a system can use a computer keyboard in the standard way for typing or can use a special keyboard driver that allows the six keys sdf-jkl to be used as a braille entry device similar to the Perkins Brailler.

Braille notetakers

Many visually impaired users use electronic portable note-taking devices that allow keyboard entry in braille using the 6-key layout of the Perkins Brailler and output in synthesized speech and/or a one or two-line refreshable braille display consisting of tiny pins made of metal and plastic.

Notetakers include PDA features such as an address book and calculator. Because of the many moving parts and the accessibility of the refreshable braille displays to the environment, notetakers are typically quite expensive. They are easily damaged and must be returned to their country of origin for periodic cleaning.



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