What is a Slate and Stylus?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A slate and stylus is a tool for writing braille, a tactile reading and writing system used by the blind. There are numerous tools which can be used for writing braille, but a slate and stylus could be considered the most basic, and also the oldest; akin to a pad and paper for sighted people. This writing tool is also very inexpensive, making it accessible to the blind in regions of the world where funds for more expensive braille writing tools like typewriters are not available.

There are many tools used for writing braille, but a slate and stylus may be the most basic.
There are many tools used for writing braille, but a slate and stylus may be the most basic.

The stylus in a slate and stylus is designed like an awl, and it punches small divots into a piece of paper. By punching out a specific pattern, the user can create a braille letter; although the use of a stylus to take down notes might seem time consuming, people get the hang of it very quickly. The hinged slate is designed to hold a piece of paper steady while the user punches it, with a bottom half to punch against and a guide on top to assist the user in creating braille characters.

Each braille letter is formed in a cell which has six possible spaces for a dot, creating a myriad of combinations. To read a letter, the user places his or her fingertip on top of a cell; braille readers can get quite adept with practice. The slate has a series of cells with scalloped edges to guide the stylus into place for the purpose of creating letters. Depending on the design, the slate may only have one row of cells, or many; the slate is mounted on a hinge so that paper can be slipped between a backing sheet and the cell template.

In order to use a slate and stylus, the writer must work backward from right to left so that when the paper is flipped over, the dots can be read. In some cases, a stylus is hollowed out so that it creates a raised dot on the front of the piece of paper, allowing the user to write from left to right. While learning to use a slate and stylus can take time, this writing tool can be incredibly useful for the blind. It is cheap, highly portable, quiet, and easy to use once you are accustomed to it; many blind people also enjoy using a slate and stylus because it gives them a sense of independence.

Many companies manufacture slate and stylus sets, often at very low costs to make them accessible to all. In schools for the blind, students are often taught to use a slate and stylus along with other assistance tools like braille keypads. For blind students who are attending general schools, or people who have been blinded later in life, charitable organizations often offer classes in using assistance tools.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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