Object 30: Perkins Brailler, 1976

Perkins Brailler, used by NatWest to create account statements in Braille, 1976

Perkins Brailler, used by NatWest to create account statements in Braille, 1976

In April 1976 NatWest was the first UK clearing bank to introduce an in-house Braille statement service, so that Braille-reading customers could receive statements promptly and directly from the bank itself, instead of having to direct their statements through an external Braille transcription service. The bank's Braille team also offered branches a same-day transcription service, so that customers could write to - and receive a reply from - their own bank manager in Braille.

The 1970s saw groundbreaking progress towards equality for people with disabilities, beginning with the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act of 1970. Four years later the UK's first Minister for Disabled People was appointed, and throughout the decade the disability rights movement continued to gather pace. It was against this backdrop that NatWest began to look at improving the accessibility of its own services. It is here that the Perkins Brailler enters the story.

Before the Perkins Brailler, Braille could only be written by hand, which was a slow process, or using a complex, expensive and fragile Braille machine. The Perkins Brailler, in contrast, is simple and robust. It has a key corresponding to each of the six dots that make up Braille code, plus space, backspace and line space keys. It was developed at the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, and was first marketed in 1951.

by the end of the decade nearly 1,000 people were using NatWest's in-house Braille service

For NatWest, the Perkins Brailler offered the opportunity to put its good intentions into action. The bank bought machines and trained a team of staff to use them. The new service was immediately popular. Before 1976, around 50 NatWest customers had made arrangements to receive Braille statements, but by the end of the decade nearly 1,000 people were using NatWest's in-house Braille service.

Since then, successive new technologies have continued to support progress towards equality and full accessibility. Perkins Braillers are no longer used to generate RBS or NatWest Braille statements, but customers can still receive statements, brochures and letters in Braille, as well as large print or audiotape formats. ATMs have audible tone prompts and other measures aimed at making them easier for visually impaired customers to use, and cards are available with special adaptations for blind and partially sighted users.