After gathering dust at a home in Indiana, a classic Perkins Brailler has found a new life helping children who are blind learn literacy skills in the tiny, mountainous nation of Nepal.
The brailler now occupies a place of honor at Janaprakash Higher Secondary School just outside Pokhara, a city nestled beneath the towering peaks of the Himalayas. It is the only piece of technology in the gritty, cement-walled classroom, and the students treat it like a prized possession.
Before the brailler’s arrival in March, the 30 students at Janaprakash who are visually impaired wrote braille using a slate and stylus, a laborious process that involves manually punching raised dots onto paper. It’s a system largely abandoned in classrooms in developed countries, but one that people who are blind in Nepal still use.
“Even in university, most blind students use this method,” said Dylan White, a German college student whose efforts brought the brailler to Janaprakash. “There are very few schools equipped with braille typewriters in Nepal, and few blind students ever learn how to use braillers.”
White was determined to change that after spending six months at Janaprakash in 2014, watching students receive braille instruction from a teacher whose tools were limited to simple braille texts and large wooden braille cells.
White returned to Germany that fall to study special education at Humboldt University in Berlin, and one day attended a lecture on braille literacy. The speaker was John Price, international sales manager for Perkins Solutions – which manufactures the Perkins Brailler, the most widely used mechanical braille writer in the world.
Seeing his opportunity, he approached Price after the lecture. “I decided that I wanted to try to find a (braille) typewriter for this school, and I found that he was very willing to support me,” White said.
Six months later, Price received a call from a woman in Indiana whose elderly mother had no use for one of her two Perkins Braillers. He realized he had an opportunity to fulfill White’s request.
“I said, ‘Send it to me!’” Price recalled. “When it got to us it had stopped working, but 90 percent of braillers that stop working just need to be cleaned and oiled. So we cleaned it up and I told Dylan that I’d ship it to him in Germany to take to Nepal.”
In March, after traveling more than 8,000 miles, the brailler reached its final destination in the dusty classroom of Janaprakash, where White had returned as a volunteer.
For the next four weeks, White taught students how to operate and maintain the brailler. Students were eager to learn, he said, with many attending morning and afternoon sessions, and then practicing in their spare time.
“The students were very excited when they first came into contact with the Perkins Brailler,” White said.
That’s evident in a photo White emailed to Price. In it, two beaming students sit shoulder-to-shoulder before the brailler, both sets of hands sharing space on the keyboard. Emerging from the device is a sheet of paper covered in braille characters – evidence that, when given a chance, literacy will blossom even in the most remote places.
In his 12 years working at Perkins Solutions, Price has witnessed the transformative impact of the Perkins Brailler on people who are blind in many developing countries.
“If people can learn to read and write then they are employable, and if they’re employable they can have fulfilling lives,” he said. “Our Perkins Brailler is a really important building block in equipping people who are disabled to have really meaningful, productive and self-sufficient lives.”