Fixing Your Perkins with Howie: Training, Technology and Community, c. 1989
“I’m Howard Knapman. You can call me Howie, as most people do.”
So opens an introduction to a 1989 manual produced by the CNIB on training others how to repair a Perkins brailler. This particular manual was transcribed from braille, giving sighted researchers an idea of the training provided through the CNIB from its founding in 1918 to now.
This manual was written by Howard Knapman, or “Howie”, a long-time volunteer with the CNIB. Within the manual, he gives step-by step instructions and detailed specifications on the commonly used Perkins brailler. Knapman wrote this manual soon after being appointed Committee Chairman for Brailler Repairs in Ontario. As this thorough manual reveals, he was more than qualified for the post.
The manual also demonstrates how volunteers like Knapman approached the task of training others. As Knapman’s collegial reference in the opening reflects, his commitment to equipping others with technical knowledge was one born out of a strong sense of community. The manual he wrote is clear and easily understandable, but Knapman in no way underestimates his audience. The manual assumes a level of competence and skill that a predominantly sighted society often overlooked or discounted.
As Knapman writes, “Repair of the Perkins brailler can be accomplished in about one hour for a minor problem and up to eight hours for a complete overhaul by an experienced repairman ... you can expect to become an expert in about two months.”
The manual reflects Knapman’s strong desire to empower people to be independent in their lives, a sustained focus within the CNIB’s ranks and the broader community of people who were blind or partially sighted. In this sense, the fact that Knapman advocated home repair, as opposed to relying on manufacturers was significant. As he writes, “I heartily recommend repairing braillers at home, if possible, because this allows you to come and go at your leisure.”
Today, the CNIB continues to offer a range of educational and training programs for children and adults. As past president Euclid Herie described, the CNIB has played a significant role in opening up new opportunities and breaking down social barriers throughout the twentieth-century, demonstrating “that blind people can live independent, meaningful lives.”
The following segments are dedicated to the voices of those who continue to work on behalf of the CNIB and its larger mission of empowering and equipping those who are blind or partially sighted in Canada. Richard Marsolais, Leona Emberson and Rob Bender, all employees of the CNIB at their Ottawa office, have graciously agreed to be interviewed for this exhibit. In addition to speaking about their personal experiences and work with the CNIB, they will demonstrate pieces of technology that they believe have made a difference in the lives of people who are blind or partially sighted.
 Howard Knapman, “Perkins Brailler Home Repair,” (CNIB Manual, Toronto, 1989) Canadian Printing for the Blinds Fonds, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, Library and Archives, Ottawa ON.
 Euclid Herie, Journey to Independence: Blindness ~ The Canadian Story (Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2005), 201.