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Question:

Now that the BrailleLite and other portable note takers are on the market, is there still a need for teaching blind children to use the Perkins Brailler and the slate and stylus?

Answer:

When the day comes that sighted children no longer need to learn to use a pen and pencil, blind children will no longer need the slate and stylus.

Educators often discourage the teaching of the slate to young children because of the finger dexterity and coordination required. Finger dexterity and coordination are also required for sighted children to use a pen and pencil, but educators expect them to learn the skills. Sighted children begin using pens, pencils, and crayons long before they have the motor skills to write intelligibly.

Blind children should be encouraged to play with the slate and stylus by using it to make patterns. As their ability to handle the equipment increases so will their skill and accuracy. Someone suggested that the BrailleLite (or other note taking equipment) would be easier for young children to use than the Perkins Brailler because the Perkins Brailler requires more finger strength, Although this is true, there are three reasons for beginning young children on the Perkins Brailler:

The Perkins is very durable. It can be bumped, dropped, or pounded upon without serious damage. Note takers with refreshable Braille displays (such as the Braille Lite) are notoriously delicate. One tumble from a desk would put one of these machines out of commission. Very young children are not the the best candidates for handling delicate machinery.

Braille note takers require students to learn a variety of commands in order to control the actions of the display. Although these commands permit editing and erasure, they add to the initial learning curve. The Perkins simply embosses whatever the student types. Erasures are more difficult and insertions are impossible, but the learning curve is simple and straight forward. Because refreshable Braille displays have only one line of text. It is very difficult for a young student who is unfamiliar with page layout and Braille format to get a coherent understanding of the work being done. This is particularly critical for understanding mathematics. Long division is much more readily understood if a problem can be laid out on a page.

Braille note takers are definitely useful and should be introduced as soon as the student is responsible enough to care for the machines properly and advanced enough in the understanding of Braille to begin learning the machine commands.

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