The hands that built the braillers

For five decades, Pietro Fusco has assembled Perkins Braillers, bringing the power of braille literacy to people all around the world

Pietro Fusco holds the lever of a riveting machine as he works in the Perkins Solutions workshop.

Pietro Fusco has helped build an estimated 300,000 Perkins Braillers during the 50 years he’s worked at Perkins Solutions.

There’s really only one number you need to know to properly appreciate Pietro Fusco. It’s 300,000.

That’s the estimated number of Perkins Braillers he’s helped build during the 50 years he’s worked at Perkins Solutions. Those braillers have been shipped all over the world, giving people who are blind the ability to write everything from homework assignments to love letters, from grocery lists to novels.

Fusco, 71, thinks about that occasionally as he sits at his work station, carefully placing small pins in round metal plates. A riveting machine hums in front of him. He’s putting together a sub-assembly, an essential inter­nal component of the Perkins Brailler®. Fusco does it all by touch, since he is blind.

“That’s the reason maybe I like the job,” he says. “Because whatever I do, it’s for people like I am – (blind) like me. I do the best I can to make a good product, so they can use it.” That philosophy of always doing his best has earned Fusco respect from the people he works with.

“Just saying he’s respected by everyone is not enough,” says Dan Roy, his supervisor. “He’s the epitome of Perkins Solutions. He can outperform anyone, regardless of disabilities.”

Finding a job you’ll enjoy doing for 50 years takes a combination of fate and affinity. Fusco had both.

In 1965, two years after he emigrated from Italy to America, the local unemployment office sent him to Perkins Solutions, then called Howe Press. Fusco had mechanical experience from hanging around a friend’s bike shop in Italy, fixing bikes and assem­bling engines, so he was offered a job.

“I’ve been mechanical my whole life,” he says. “I like to work with my hands.”

Early on at Perkins, Fusco worked on large presses, stamping out parts and manually assembling braillers. Much of the final as­sembly now happens overseas, but Fusco still builds the components that make up the brailler. There are 20 different sub-assem­blies and he knows them all by heart.

Fusco always had poor vision, and his eyesight faded completely by the time he turned 40. He learned to compensate, and has used his sense of touch and hearing to help build three generations of braillers, from the classic version to the sleeker Next Generation Brailler™ to the high-tech SMART Brailler®.

He walks to work every day from his nearby apartment, puts on a pot of coffee in the break room and sets up his work station. He collects the parts he needs from the shelves and places them in bins. He sits down, turns on his beat-up old radio and gets to work.

“Every day since I’ve been 65 my wife says to me, ‘When will you stop working?’” says Fusco. “I say, I’m too young, I enjoy what I’m doing. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”