The Slate and Stylus – a history of writing Braille

3 slates and 2 styli. Top slate is metal for 8.5 by 11 inch paper with four lines. Yellow slate is plastic

by Peter Claridge Bowler

When braille was first developed by Louis Braille, he created a writing frame (with the help of one of his teachers) that would contain the braille cell. With this writing frame a person who was blind or visually impaired would be able to load a sheet of paper into the frame and use the frame as a writing guide for when they needed to write anything. This had to be paired with a stylus which was a small pin with a grip in order for the person in question to punch in each individual braille dot/symbol. Although this was very time consuming, it opened up the door to both reading and writing for blind and visually impaired people across the world.

How does the slate and Stylus work?
Well, each frame is composed with a number of braille cells: each braille cell is made up with 6 dots, each dot has little guide bumps to help you line up the stylus with the correct dot before you press down to create the dots that form the braille symbols and alphabet.
And the biggest way that this is so different to the way we write braille today, isn’t that you had to write it by hand, but that you had to write to left and in reverse so that when you are too the paper out and flipped it over you would be able to read what you had written.

Although this was extremely time consuming and takes a while to get used to, this was the step needed to enable those who are blind and visually impaired to be able to read and write.

In the USA there is a programme run by the NFB (the National Federation of the blind) called the free slate and stylus so that anyone can read and write braille (provided that they know braille). So the NFB is very pro braille, just like NCBI where we provide online braille classes that teach grade 1 braille and uncontracted braille to anyone.