Braille 05

I plucked this out of the recycling a few months ago and have since endeared myself to friends and family by asking them if they know what it is. As a thing-out-of-context, it makes for a satisfying “a-ha!” moment when you figure it out.

This particular slate is lightweight aluminum and hinged, a Howe Press Perkins Model 1. It’s designed to be used with a stylus; though mine didn’t come with one (damn you, incomplete recycling bin!), I do happen to have a similar tool that works and I’ve been having fun trying my hand at writing a bit in Braille. To use, open the slate, insert the piece of paper, and click closed (the noise/tactile response when you close it gives a sense of security; it makes a few small holes in the paper in this step). This one in particular is designed to be small and light enough to throw in a bag for easy use but there are different models in a variety of sizes for different paper (including 3″x5″ notecards and dyno labels) and different uses.

I tend to approach typography as a mid-point in the continuum between language and graphics. I’m especially fascinated by the interplay between the two–how does the function of a written language impact graphic design? My experience designing for people with visual impairments or special visual concerns is limited. I generally design communication pieces keeping in mind accessibility for those who are color-blind. I follow basic standards for legibility and readibility and am excited to see more studies coming out looking at the interplay between typography and dyslexia. I keep in mind how language, literacy, and culture might impact the way in which my audience interacts with a print piece (what orientation and patterns they might expect, how punctuation functions normally, what type choices convey, how varying each of these will impact the user experience).

Braille 03

But I’ve never designed print pieces for the blind and the concept is fascinating. This hinged metal piece is a slate (using it requires a stylus for embossing the letters) for writing in Braille. This National Federation for the Blind page is an good overview. Interestingly, because Braille is read bumps-up and the slate/stylus mean a person is writing letters bumps-down, writing is done from right to left and reading is left to right.

Designing for accessibility is very compelling for me; as graphic/UX designers, we’re responsible for keeping in mind both our clients’ needs (what they are communicating) and their audience(s). It’s a good thing for us to be at least nominally aware of the many different ways in which other people read the world, whether it’s because of how their native language functions or cultural elements or bodies/brains that process the world differently. And broadening our concept of what constitutes graphic design or who our audience might be, even as an esoteric challenge, is a great way of expanding ourselves creatively.

Have you had experience designing for or with or as a person who is blind or visually impaired? Used Braille in any pieces you’ve worked on for yourself or clients?

Braille 01

More reading:
For a refresher on the invention of Braille by the eponymous Louis B., see here.
For a bit of information on how typography choices can impact reading for different groups (specifically focusing on children, but perhaps with broader implications):
Decreasing font size enhances reading comprehension among children who have already developed proficient reading skills
Wider letter spacing helps dyslexic children
Innovation promises new hope for children with dyslexia
Read a study on learning Braille through passive haptic learning here.
For a font designed specifically for those with letter dyslexia, here.
To design a piece with tactile graphics as well as Braille, read here.



One thought on “UX: Braille slate

  1. Pingback: Addendum: Braille | happify

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