While teaching children who are deafblind in Kenya, Enock Ombok grew accustomed to people sending him braillers in need of repair. He wasn’t trained to service the assistive typewriter devices himself. Those in his community who relied on the machines often just didn’t have the means to turn elsewhere.
“But I could not go beyond opening even one screw in a brailler,” he said. “There are plenty of people like me there who don’t have the skills and tools to repair them.”
Last fall, Ombok arrived at Perkins School for the Blind to participate in the prestigious Educational Leadership Program, a nine-month teacher-training program for international educators and professionals. Living and working on the campus where the Perkins Brailler was invented, Enock saw an opportunity. He began spending every Monday and Tuesday in Perkins’ brailler workshop, learning service and repair skills from Perkins Solutions Operations Director Dan Roy.
“There are few people doing this work in Kenya and I cannot do it alone,” Ombok added. “There are very many people who need it.”
Invented in 1951 by Perkins teacher David Abraham, the Perkins Brailler remains the most widely used mechanical braille writer in the world. In countries like Kenya, Perkins Braillers empower people of all ages to learn literacy skills in the classroom and at home. Despite being relatively simple to use, Perkins Braillers are complex machines, comprising hundreds of mechanical pieces.
During his weekly trainings, Ombok has learned to identify every individual piece of the different Perkins Brailler models and their specific functions. He has also learned to identify the most common problems associated with brailler upkeep, what causes them, and their corresponding solutions. During Ombok’s graduation from the ELP last week, Mike Delaney, Executive Director of Perkins International, even remarked on Ombok’s newfound capability of taking apart and assembling a brailler while blindfolded.
Roy put Ombok’s newly developed skills somewhere between Level 2 and Level 3, the latter being the highest attainable certification.
“He’s going to take that knowledge back to his country and it’s going to help many people in need,” said Roy. “The brailler can last a long time, but without people capable of servicing them, the product doesn’t survive.”
Ombok isn’t the first person to receive repair and service training at Perkins. The brailler workshop offers repair training seminars to the broader public every summer as a way to promote sustainability through simple repair.
But for Ombok, whose training is ancillary to his ELP curriculum, brailler service and repair is personal. Back home in Kenya, he has seen repairs outsourced to shops in neighboring countries that charge exorbitant fees and often take months to return repaired products, if they return them at all. This, he said, leaves people without a vital literacy tool.
When he returns home this spring, though, he’ll be ready – ready for when people send him braillers in need of an expert touch-up and ready to share his skills with others.
“When I first came to the shop, I didn’t even want to come. I was scared,” he said. “Now I’m optimistic. I must learn so that other people can learn.”
Ombok left Perkins capable of taking apart and assembling a brailler while blindfolded.
BY DAVID EISENBERG