Harper is sighted, but the 15-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky has a real passion for reading and writing braille. The hobby has become so important to her that she even wants to make a career of it by becoming a teacher of the visually impaired when she grows up.
“I’ve always loved little kids and I love working with my hands,” she says. “So I’d really love to teach kids braille.”
What she didn’t know until very recently is that her story isn’t just one of personal interest. Her growing passion for braille is in fact connected to the history and innovation of Perkins School for the Blind. That’s because Harper has relied on the Perkins Braille typewriter to take her tactile reading and writing pursuits to the next level.
It all started three years ago when Harper’s mom, Betsy, took her and some friends on a field trip to the nearby American Printing House for the Blind. There, Harper, who’s homeschooled, became enamored with the system of raised dots. It just appealed to her interest in secret languages and codes.
“She kind of walked around the place with her mouth hanging open. She wanted all the information they would give her to take home,” recalls Betsy. “By 7:30 that night, she’d come down to me and had translated everything they’d given her — written language to braille and braille to written language. We were dumbfounded that she picked it up so easily.”
Harper had used her eyesight to translate everything that night, matching letters to symbols. But despite how quickly she took to it, as she continued to explore her new interest, her mom at first didn’t make much of it.
“I thought, you know, because of her age and interest in code, we didn’t really push her to do a whole lot,” Betsy says. “But she kept asking. She’d asked me to get her a book in braille, she’d asked what else she could do to learn. She was just waiting for us to see how far she wanted to go with it.”
Harper even asked about attending class at a nearby school for the blind so she could better understand different learning modalities, as well as how they’re taught, though it wasn’t in the cards.
Things really picked up for her when she saved up her allowance and purchased a Perkins-made braille typewriter on eBay. Manufactured since the 1950s, the Perkins Brailler is the most widely used brailler in the world.
Unfortunately, though, Harper had crossed paths with an unscrupulous seller, as her typewriter arrived broken. So she took it apart, piece by piece, and reassembled it to working order. She then taught herself how to use it.
Now, she’s focused on transcribing into braille as much written material as she can. At the same time, she’s busy practicing reading it while blindfolded, using only her hands as a person with a vision impairment would. Sometimes she’ll even type out a written book in braille and read it blindfolded, reciting the words aloud while her brother reads the original, correcting her as necessary along the way.
It’s been a process and Harper’s still improving all the time. But she’s got a goal in mind, and a Perkins Brailler to help her achieve it.
“I can’t read it super well blindfolded yet,” she says, adding optimistically, “I want to know it by heart. I want to be able to teach it.”