Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Timeless Tools

I received the gift of a board slate from my parents on Christmas in 1958. I was having difficulty learning to use a slate and stylus and thought it would just be easier to use the Perkins Brailler. Throughout the next three years, though, I would begin to realize its timeless utility.

It certainly helped that at home, my mom insisted I keep practicing, as she, too, was learning Braille so she could write me letters at camp. When I was in school, teachers gave us mandatory weekend homework assignments writing compositions on our slates and styluses. All this practice at school and home paid off, and the board slate acted as a desk when writing. It became second nature.

In junior high and high school, I really appreciated a slate and stylus’s portability, functionality, and versatility. We took diligent notes on household hints in housekeeping class, and later copying recipes and kitchen hints in home economics. All spelling tests were taken on slates, as were notes in our high school history courses. Our history teacher insisted this was valuable training in preparation for college.

Throughout my adult years I have used this low tech device for taking notes in college, at seminars, at meetings, and in adult education classes. It has acted as my version of a pen and paper. In my everyday life I use them to rapidly copy phone numbers, street addresses, passwords, and email addresses with ease.

With today’s plethora of technological choices, this portable low-tech device has been deemphasized, though. This is sad, as slates and styluses are not only light and portable but can fit in a backpack, purse, or duffle bag. Note takers can be bulky, and if the batteries give out or it crashes, the person has no additional option, unless they brought a slate and stylus as a back-up.

I really feel that now, more than ever, with tightening state and federal budgets, a slate and stylus notebook or Braille paper are both inexpensive options and may become popular tools for learning Braille again. The grant money needed to purchase new supplies pales in comparison to the cost of buying new note takers.

When looking for information on where to buy slates and styluses I was amazed at the variety of styles still available. Independent Marketplace in Baltimore sells a plastic one line slate for writing dymo tape labels, a six-line pocket slate, handy for labeling business cards, and even a 25-line full page interpoint slate, among other choices. Go to nfbstore.org for more information. I was impressed by this site’s attention to accessibility and its ease of use.

Perkins products also have unique slates–one for labeling cassettes and another for brailing playing cards. They also have a notebook with a hinged slate and durable three hole punched paper. For more information, go to www.perkinsproducts.org.

In this fast paced-digital world, these low tech devices still have a distinct advantage. First, they are very affordable. Also while Braille note takers are convenient, they can break down or crash and the user might lose valuable data. This seldom happens with slates and styluses if you stay organized. They are also quiet and unobtrusive, and you can be absorbed in a lecture, writing notes along with fellow students. You can later quickly refer to them while studying for a test or exam.

I encourage everyone with low vision to learn Braille if they can. A slate and stylus is a convenient and easy way to get started and with practice is speedy and easy. Not to mention, they’re something that you’ll never forget how to use.

Sources www.nfb.org and www.perkinsproducts.org

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