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Inventor of the typewriter for the blind : Write faster than speak

Nuthetal - In an ingenious way, he combined the typewriter and Braille, creating a device that is still one of the greatest inventions for many blind and visually impaired people. 70 years ago, the pioneer and inventor of the blind typewriter, Oskar Picht, was buried in the Bergholz-Rehbrücke cemetery. On April 4th, he will be commemorated at his grave during a ceremony. The traditional Easter hike of the social welfare organization in Potsdam will lead members of the association, blind and visually impaired people, from Potsdam to Bergholz-Rehbrücke to the honorary grave of Picht, which was built in 2003.

“Many people don't even know who Oskar Picht was and that he died here,” says the visually impaired author and writer Kurt Baller. In addition to local mayor Ute Hustig and the managing director of the social welfare organization, Reinhard König, he will also give a speech at the inventor's grave and commemorate the former teacher for the blind. Until his death in 1945, Picht, who came from Pasewalk, spent the last years of his life in an after-work home for the blind in Bergholz-Rehbrücke. Today the German Institute for Nutritional Research is housed there.

Braille and typewriter in connection

Picht, himself visually impaired all his life, wanted to become a teacher from an early age. In the Steglitz asylum for the blind near Berlin, he first worked as a teacher for the blind. "He noticed how difficult it was for his students to write with the Braille stencil," says Baller. The font developed by the French Louis Braille in 1825 made the life of the blind and visually impaired much easier, he says. But it was only with the invention of the typewriter that the previously severely limited communication options for those affected advanced. “Everything was possible with the six-point braille rows - letters, notes, numbers. The disadvantage: the stencil had to be pressed mirror-inverted into the sheet, ”says the 67 year old. That required a high level of concentration.

Picht combined elements of the script invented by Braille with the technical components of a typewriter. His first model was created in 1899, which turned out to be much more reliable and useful compared to the Braille Writer previously developed in the USA. On May 6, 1901, Picht received the first patent for his invention. Since then, he has continued to develop his seven-key machine. 2000 devices had already been sold by 1932. “A great mechanism, now it was possible to write faster than speak,” enthuses Baller, even if the journalist and author hardly ever used the machine himself. In the 1980s, machines were still being manufactured according to Picht's system: The six keys with braille, when pressed in different ways at the same time, produce all the letters of the alphabet. The machine has a space bar for this purpose. Later Picht also invented a shorthand typewriter for rolled sheets of paper.

A milestone in communication

Kurt Baller makes do with a computer program today. He says he used to have a Mercedes typewriter from 1929 and a reading device in his study that greatly enlarged his lines. Such a technique does not help others because they can no longer see anything. They are still dependent on Picht's invention in order to be able to put their thoughts on paper.

A milestone in communication, which is so important for the blind and visually impaired, as they often have little social contact, says Baller. “If you can't see, things like touching, feeling and explaining come to the fore,” he explains. Baller has already written a number of mostly historical books, which would not be possible without technical assistance. However, he could not do research outside of the house on his own. He explains that he visits archives and libraries with people who read to him. In 1639 a blind man was even mentioned in a document as a “miracle of Potsdam”, Baller found out. Hans Bottell went down in history at that time. When he woke up one morning, the cataract from Potsdam was suddenly able to see again.

The typewriter brings quality of life

Such miracles no longer exist today, says Baller, but there are a number of surgical options. The means of communication are also continuously developing. But even if computer technology is increasingly displacing the blind typewriter in highly developed industrialized countries, the "Erika-Picht" marketed by Robotron in GDR times is still "a hit" in developing countries, says Baller.

It is true that there is now modern technology such as computers with a Braille line for entering Braille and acoustic voice output, which also enables blind people to work fully on the computer. But only a few people could afford these developments.

Around 165,000 blind and visually impaired people currently live in Germany. For many of them, Picht's typewriter still means a great deal of quality of life today.

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