Lab #6: Across Print Modalities 1

In today’s lab at the National Braille Press you learned about a very different kind of print, one that engages a different sense. One big question we might ask is this: what does it mean to feel text rather than see text? How does that tactile engagement shift our understanding of what text is or could be?

To get at these questions, I’d like you to work a bit with the embossed alphabet card you were given during the tour. Then do the following:

  1. Choose a relatively short and familiar line of text. This could be a line from a song or poem, a favorite expression, or a personal mantra. As a general guideline, I would suggest something longer than five words but no longer than ten.
  2. Using your alphabet card, spell your line several times with your fingers. Repeat the spelling until you feel you can begin to discern differences among the letters. I don’t expect you to be able to identify braille letters on touch—only to become a bit attuned to how different letters feel.
  3. Find a relatively thick piece of paper; you might use an index card or even buy a piece of cardstock. The paper should be thick enough to withstand some poking but thin enough that you can still see through it, perhaps with some backlight.
  4. Write out your phrase in Braille on the paper. For help, you might print a flat version of the NBP’s alphabet card and use it as a stencil or guide for the different letters.
  5. From the back of the paper, use a pencil or other thin object to push out (or emboss) the dots. This may take some practice—you want to create bumps, not holes.
  6. While your embossing will no doubt be flawed, experiment with reading your phrase, now in a coherent string on your paper. Repeat several times, working to distinguish particular letters or even words.

Your report should reflect on this process. Were you able to begin distinguishing Braille letterforms? What worked and what didn’t for you, given your own training with visual reading? How does the Braille alphabet work as a kind of “encoding” of the English alphabet, and/or how does it work as a separate alphabetic system? In a broad sense, how did “reading” with your fingers differ from reading with your eyes, and how might those differences be significant to our developing understandings of “text” in this course?

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