Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Typewriters for Good: David Abraham and the Perkins

UPDATE: I seem to have forgotten a section I typed about the Foundation Writer. You will find more about this Brailler below.

Robert's fantastic post about the Hall typewriter really inspired this post. The question I had was simple; are there any tactile typewriters on this campus?
My first phone call was to Aileen, the Vision Specialist department chair. She said there are two students who use Braillers in-class and several other machines stationed around campus.

This morning I took a few minutes to stop by and see these interesting type-writers. Eve, one of the teachers who instructs students on their Braining, gave me a brief tutorial on how the machine works and some of the features it has.

In the short time I was working with these machines I realized how similar and how different they are to regular sighted typewriters. Simultaneously they are familiar and foreign.

Before I talk more about their operation I should talk about the brand of Brailler Alhambra students use. It's called the Perkins Brailler and it is a de-facto standard for non-sighted writing. The Perkins Brailler has an interesting history of its own.

Abraham was hired and his experience with mechanics (gained during the war) became well known to the administrators of the school. It was shortly after this that In conjunction with a math teacher at the school, Abraham was asked to address the problems Howe Press (Perkins' publishing house) was having with the Foundation Writer.

The Foundation Writer. This Brailler had a moveable carriage
which often caused alignment issues. Also, there were far too
many sticky-outy parts.

The embosser head. Pins from beneath the armiture press into
the paper to make a Braille impression

Eve demonstrating the unique process of rolling the paper into the machine.

Only sixty machines were delivered in the first year of production. The next year it was 800. The year after that; a thousand.
A young Perkins learner.

The Perkins Brailler was a success. It quickly became the standard for Braillers in American schools. Abraham himself gave the blind their own pen and pencil.
Children in Keyna learning on Perkins machines.

Today the Perkins Brailler is still made. There are new versions having USB connectivity and LCD screens, but the technology has remained in constant production.

The American Printing House for the Blind's version. Same as Howe's, but with a
lighter touch, high-contrast color, and longer keytops.

To finish out this Post, I wanted to share one of the good things about working with kids. Eva works with a very special student who is learning both Braille and English at the same time.

Her name is Meherta and she comes from Eretria, Africa. From everything I have heard she is excelling at both English and Braille. Her story is such a positive one that it makes me believe that so many good thingscan come from typewriters.