Tactile Reading Today—and Tomorrow

Listen to Tactile Reading Today—and Tomorrow

Digital platforms are changing the senses of reading for everyone. Our tactile learning extends to books, smart phones, and computers. Although visual readers tend to think of reading as only visual, reading almost always involves a combination of senses. How we make sense of the ways we read depends on how we pay attention to our senses.

Among our senses, touch, it turns out, is the most broadly accessible—used by individuals with visual and auditory impairments as well as by nondisabled people. Does that mean the most accessible forms of reading is tactile? Or are the most accessible forms of reading ones that combine the senses involved in reading? Refreshable braille displays are becoming cheaper and more widely available even as text-to-speech applications are making text more accessible through sound. All these tools help adjust the senses of reading for any individual's needs and desires. How you make sense of the ways you read is up to you. 

The sketchfab interface below contains additional hidden links picked up by screen readers. The starting element is a link and ending element is the text "to rotate."

Description of Hamlet

Although braille was gaining popularity in the 1880s, Perkins’s students eagerly read the poetry, plays, and fiction Perkins’s press printed in Boston Line Type. This page is from Perkins’s 1885 edition of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet—the first copy Americans with visual impairments could read on their own. It features one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies: Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be.”

Helen Keller loved Shakespeare, but her first experiences with the Bard shocked her. Reading about Gloucester’s blinding in King Lear, she wrote: “Anger seized me, my fingers refused to move, I sat rigid for one long moment…all the hatred that a child can feel concentrated in my heart.”

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Like Keller, you may have felt moved by Shakespeare’s words through the voice of an actor, through ink, or on a braille page. If you are reading this page tactilely, what does Hamlet’s passion feel like in your hands here?

 

Helen Keller, Student and Activist

Helen Keller arrived at Perkins with her teacher Anne Sullivan in 1888. Keller, who was deafblind, was an avid reader and prominent advocate for disability rights.

Even before she got to Perkins, Keller had begun learning Boston Line Type. She read her first books “over and over, until the words were so worn and pressed I could scarcely make them out.” While Sullivan sometimes read to Keller by spelling words into her hand, Keller “preferred reading myself.” As a child Keller spent hours each day in the Perkins library. She described the literature that she read in raised print as her “Utopia…No barriers of the senses shut me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends.”