The Significance of the Slate and Stylus

By Katherine Watson

It is an unfortunate misconception that the slate and stylus is slow to use, hard to learn, or has been rendered unnecessary due to technological advances. I have used a slate and stylus successfully throughout my academic and professional career, and I would like to argue that the slate and stylus is not only necessary, but is vital to being a successful, independent blind person in the world today for several reasons.


First, the slate and stylus is portable. When I took notes in class, I always used my slate and stylus. I found that I studied best using Braille, so I liked using the slate and stylus to take my notes because I could read the notes in Braille afterward. It is easy to carry a slate and stylus anywhere I go, so I brought it with me from classroom to club meeting. I didn’t have to worry about carrying around a laptop, or looking for an outlet to plug in said laptop if it were to die in the middle of class.


I often use my slate and stylus outside of college as well. It’s great for making grocery lists—which I can do on the bus while heading to the store. I also use it for writing down names and phone numbers, to-do lists, and quotes or funny things I hear people say throughout the day. I even use my slate and stylus to solve Sudoku puzzles. One trick I learned to make things even more efficient is to write longer items on 5-by-8-inch index cards so I can write things down on a piece of paper that is larger than an ordinary index card, but smaller than a full-sized sheet of paper. I used these index cards a lot when conducting interviews for the college newspaper because they were easy to carry.


As a professional writer, I use my slate and stylus regularly to write down important phone numbers, or other information, such as my printer passcode or phone extensions of co-workers. That way, I can look them up without having to move away from the document I’m working in to find the information on my computer. My boss and I have weekly check-in meetings, and I use my slate and stylus to write down notes from those meetings so I can quickly and easily refer to them when needed.


Second, contrary to common misconception, writing with a slate and stylus is fast. When I was in high school, I took the time to learn Grade 3 Braille. This is a step above Grade 2, and is, in essence, Braille short-hand. Over the years of practicing it, I developed my own short-hand to supplement for words I often write, such as abbreviations for the names of buildings on campus.


Third, the slate and stylus is easy to practice. I attended the Independence Training program at The Colorado Center for the Blind in 2008. While there, I increased my speed from 14 words per minute to 18 words per minute. Once I got to college, I used my slate and stylus to take notes and make lists in and out of classes. I didn’t even bring a Braille Writer with me to college, because I wanted to get as much practice with the slate and stylus as possible. I went back to Colorado to visit friends, and happened to stop by the Center. I asked my former Braille instructor to test my writing speed. I was initially worried that I had somehow decreased my speed, but found that I was writing faster than the 18 words per minute I had attained when I left the Independence Training Program.


I recommend the slate and stylus to anyone who wants to take notes independently and write things down on a portable device. It is so liberating to not have to rely on the notes of others, since everyone interprets things differently, and chooses different pieces of information as the more important ones that get written down. I can write when I want, where I want, what I want, and how I want. I even know people who keep a slate and stylus in the cases of their BrailleNotes and PAC Mates, just as a backup if their machines die. What’s the secret to getting faster? Practice, practice, practice.


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