There are six keys on a metal-clad Braille typewriter (Brailler), each corresponding to a Braille dot. When keys are pressed, the stylus within the embossing head makes neat indentations on the paper. Braille is formatted in two parallel vertical lines of three dots each, roughly the size of human fingertips. Different dot combinations represent each alphabet and number, as well as equivalents for music, mathematical, and scientific symbols. This internationally used tactile text format is developed by French educator —— Louis Braille, and gained international recognition in mid-19th century.
In the workshop, Mr Raj Kumar s/o Subramaniam is engaged in repairing 20 Braillers from a special school for the blind in Johor. As the second-generation Brailler technician, he took over duties previously carried out by his father, Mr Subramaniam a/l Sengamalai, at the very same workshop, and even the same workbench, located in Malaysian Association of the Blind (MAB) complex. This is the only place throughout Malaysia which offers Brailler repairs, as well as providing training in repairs.
MAB is a nonprofit organization founded in 1951. Its quarters are located in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. Also known as “Little India”, Brickfields houses the largest vision-impaired community in Malaysia, with thousands currently residing in the area. Therefore tactile paving sidewalks and acoustic traffic signals are among the accessible facilities on civic streets. MAB is the first-established blind associations among several in Brickfields. Over the past seven decades, it provides the blind with education programmes, vocational training, and career opportunities in order for them to be self-sufficient.
There are three visual classifications recognized internationally: B1 (total blindness), B2 (partial vision of shadows and movement), and B3 (severe low vision/tunnel vision). With the aid of magnifiers or telescopic devices, those with B3 are able to read and study just like normal people. However those with B1 and B2 rely on Braille to read and write using the sense of touch. The Perkins Brailler® is popular and commonly used worldwide. Invented in the 1950s by the Perkins school for the blind in the United States, it is a typewriting instrument with precise design, portability, and durability.
In the 1960s, MAB received authorization from Perkins for Brailler sales and repairs. Back then, Mr Maniam, who initially joined MAB as printer and binder, had the opportunity to attend a month-long repair training workshop conducted by Perkins personnel, and obtained a good Brailler technician qualification. Throughout the past 50 years, he diligently handled nationwide Brailler maintenance and repair works, amounting to over 10,000 machines. On the other hand, Mr Maniam was invited to conduct Braille repairing workshop both locally and internationally, having been to Pakistan, Bangkok, and Bangladesh.
The main layout of a Brailler are paper levers, paper rollers, a carriage which moves the embossing head, and nine keys which stand for six Braille dots, spacebar, line spacing, and backspace. There are several tiny components within the Brailler, which may be damaged by improper usage or a fall. The most common problems are wear and tear, minor incidents such as broken springs will require replacement; major incidents such as a cracked roller will require the Brailler to be dismantled in order to identify the problem and perform repairs. General maintenance help to keep the Brailler clean and prevent difficulties, just by taking out the cover, brush away dust and cobwebs, and then lubricate.
Upon Mr Maniam’s retirement eight years ago, Mr Raj decided to succeed him. Mr Raj often followed his father to work, and sparked an interest in mechanical repairs. He took over after having attended a two-week workshop organized by Perkins. Mr Raj enjoys overcoming the challenges encountered in Brailler repairs. Occasionally he helps to repair guiding sticks in his spare time. Besides that, he operates a thermoform machine to make tactile graphics for blind textbooks.
Both Mr Maniam and Mr Raj take pride in servicing the blind community, and the blinds are familiar with the corner workshop on the second floor of MAB complex. Braille opened the doors of knowledge to all those who cannot see. Even though advanced technology may offer convenience for the vision-impaired, Braille could not be replaced as the main channel of communication. The click-clack sound of Braillers will still resound in MAB.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Video Editor : Evon Pang
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : 《Simple Melody Piano》
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