Slate and Stylus

When Louis Braille and his classmates at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris wrote braille, they used writing equipment similar in concept to the slate and stylus used today. For many years this was the only way individuals could write braille.

The slate and stylus are lightweight, inexpensive, do not need batteries or electricity to operate, and fit easily in a pocket, purse, or briefcase. People who are blind use a slate and stylus in much the same way sighted people use a pad of paper and a pencil.

slate and stylus closed

You can order an inexpensive plastic slate and stylus similar to the one pictured above from the National Federation of the Blind.


Slate
A slate is made of two plastic or metal parts hinged together so that a piece of paper can be put between them. The top part of the slate has rows of window-like openings. Each window is the same size as a braille cell. The bottom part of the slate has shallow depressions arranged in groups of six to represent the dots of a braille cell. Each group of depressions is directly under one of the windows in the top part of the slate.

slate and stylus ajar

Stylus
A stylus is a pointed tool used to punch raised dots in the paper. Using the window-like openings in the slate as a guide, the writer presses the point of the stylus against the paper and into one of the depressions, thus punching a raised dot into the paper.

Paper
You can use any paper that makes a nice clear raised dot. If the paper is too light, the dots won’t hold up; if it is too heavy it will be difficult to punch. Index cards work well. Regular typing paper is fine for practice.


Using the Slate and Stylus
Place the slate in front of you with the window part of the slate up and the hinged side on your left. Open the slate. It opens from right to left, like a book. Don’t force the slate to open backwards; it could break the hinges. Notice that there is a small peg sticking up in each corner of the right-hand side of the slate and a little hole in each corner on the left-hand side.

slate and stylus opened

Place a piece of paper over the right-hand part of the slate. The top of the paper should be even with the top of the slate, the left side next to the hinges.

loading the paper

Close the window part of the slate over the paper as if you were closing a book and push it down firmly. You will hear the four corner pegs poking through the paper into the corresponding holes to anchor the paper in place. The slate is now ready to use.

paper loaded

Writing in reverse. A person writing braille with a slate and stylus must write from right to left and must form the braille characters in reverse. The raised dots appear on the back side of the paper. When the paper is turned over, the dots face upward and can be felt with the fingers.

Using the stylus, make the letter a. Start with the last window in the top row, punch a dot in the top right corner of the cell, the number 4 position. This will appear raised in the number 1 position when the paper is turned over.

Now move to the next window and make the letter b by punching dots 4 and 5.

The letter c is easy; it is the top two dots of the cell.

If you are writing words, skip a cell to leave a space between the words.

When you fill all rows in your slate, open the slate, move the slate down the paper to where there is no braille writing, close the slate and begin writing again.

writing braille

When you are through writing, open the slate, remove the paper and turn it over to read the braille you wrote. The two larger holes on the left side are from the pins that hold the paper in place.

reading the braille

Here is an alphabet chart for your reference:

Braille Alphabet in Reverse for Slate and Stylus Users

a
a
b
b
c
c
d
d
e
e
f
f
g
g
h
h
i
i
j
j
k
k
l
l
m
m
n
n
o
o
p
p
q
q
r
r
s
s
t
t
u
u
v
v
w
w
x
x
y
y
z
z