BRL: Braille through Remote Learning


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BRL: Electronic Braille Programs

The free braille emulation software made available through this site is designed for participants in the "BRL: Braille through Remote Learning" program. This program consists of a series of three integrated, novice-to-expert braille instructional programs designed to provide instruction to teachers, parents, service providers, and others interested in braille production. While you are welcome to download and use the software provide on these pages, technical support is provided on a very limited basis.
This reading describes the software programs that are available to you free of charge. There are two commercial software packages that we recommend:

  • Duxbury Systems: runs on MS-DOS, WIndows95, and Macintoshes. Prices run from $550 to $850.
  • MegaDots: runs on MS-DOS and Windows95 machines. Price approximately $550.

Both programs are supported in this course, and stipend money can be used towards the purchase of these software packages.

We also have several software packages available for free. These packages are "emulators" -- they emulate, or mimic, the behavior of a Perkins brailler, which has six keys, one key corresponding to a single braille dot. The emulators work by "mapping" a computer keyboard to a dot, such as:

f or c =Dot 1
d or x =Dot 2
s or z =Dot 3
j or , = Dot 4
k or . = Dot 5
l or / = Dot 6

To braille a cell, you push down one or more keys simultaneously. It's actually not the pushing down, it's the lifting up that produces the braille cell on the screen.

With the emulators, you produce your document just as you would on a real Perkins brailler, but you use your computer skills to save your work. Once you have saved your work, it needs to be transmitted to the instructors vi email at Feedback Form (we are no longer accepting submissions). There are two ways to do this, one "low-tech" and one "high-tech". The low-tech way is as follows:

  1. produce the document and save it
  2. open it with a word processor or text editor (such as Write.exe on Windows95 machines or SimpleText on Macintoshes). It will look like absolute gibberish, with some discernable English words. If it looks like gibberish, you are doing well!
  3. under "Edit", choose "Select All"
  4. under "Edit", choose "Copy"
  5. now open up an email message to http://www.shodor.org/forms/Feedback/ (we are no longer accepting submissions), with the subject line being your name, the lesson number and what program you used to produce your braille (example: "Jane Smith, Session 3 writing, Pokadot")
  6. in the message of the email, go up to "Edit", and choose "Paste". The gibberish you saw before should appear in the body of the email message
  7. click on the "Send" button, and we will receive your work shortly!

The "high-tech" way is to produce the document, save it, open up an email message to us with the same subject line, and then send your file as an attachment. Consult your email documentation on how to send attachments (or just ask a sixth-grader!).

Which software should you use? It depends on what kind of machine you are using.

If you have a Macintosh, to the Macintosh section, you want to get "MacBrl" or "Dot-to-Dot". Both are really easy programs to use, you will enjoy them! You are done reading this file at this point, now just skip over all the stuff written for the poor folks who have to deal with Windows95!

If you have an MS-DOS or Windows95 machine, life is significantly more complicated for you than for those using Macintoshes! The problem is that there are a wide variety of computers on the market that run DOS or Windows95. For a variety of reasons (mostly to avoid patent infringements!), each "clone" is just a little bit different. These differences show up in how various programs run. The braille emulation programs are particularly complicated, in that you must be able to type up to six keys at the same time. Keyboards have "speeds" - some of them aren't fast enough to handle simultaneous keystrokes. Here is a simple test you can do:

  1. Get out of Windows and get to the MS-DOS prompt.
  2. Hold down the s-d-f-j-k-l or the z-x-c-,-.-/ keys and let go at the same time.
  3. If your keyboard has the right speed, you should see sdfjkl or zxc,./ The order doesn't make a difference, but you should see all six characters.
  4. If you don't see all six characters, it is highly unlikely that any of the free programs will work. Consider trying to find a used keyboard somewhere that is compatible with your computer.

Even if you "pass" the keyboard speed test, not all of these programs will work. You have to get them and try them out. Since most of these programs were written some years ago, they actually work best on old machines, such as IBM PC 286s. Here is a situation where having an old machine works to your advantage!

You may use any of the software programs listed on this page, including the commercial packages, to produce the braille for this course.

Programs available free of charge:

  1. Programs for Macintosh computers
  2. Programs for IBM MS-DOS and Windows95 computers


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The Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.

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