BRL: Braille through Remote Learning

Intro to Braille Course

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  • Session 2: Braille Writing Devices -- Computer-generated Braille

    Clearly one of the most important innovations in braille production has been the development of braille translation software. Fundamentally, this software allows one to take standard word processed files, such as from WordPerfect or AppleWorks, run them through a translator, and output Grade 1 or Grade 2 braille to a braille printer which connects to the computer. One of the main advantages is that the user does not need to know braille (assuming he or she trusts the software to do its job!) to produce brailled documents. The other is that the user does not need to re-create a document -- in most cases, the original word-processed document is adequate for most applications. Another key advantage is the ease in which the braillist can make multiple copies of a single document.

    The biggest drawback is the size, expense, and noise of computer braille printers. At the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in Washington, we had our printer encased in a sound-proof box, and it was still too noisy to enable students to print their files and still be heard in the classroom. Technology is, however, improving!

    Another important drawback is that the software translators are not as competent as humans experienced in braille transcribing! It is difficult to write computer programs that can expertly assess all brailling situations and make the correct choices in terms of formatting and choice/placement of contractions.

    There are a number of software packages available on the market. Probably one of better known software packages comes from Duxbury Systems. Duxbury makes a software compatible for Macintosh computers, IBM PCs and other MS-DOS computers. Their system, DUXWP, translates WordPerfect files into Grade 2 braille, according to Library of Congress standards. Like many translation programs, their system is also compatible with various speech synthesizers. Translators are, as you might suspect, not cheap. Prices for translators range from $150 to $4500. Computer braille printers range in price from $1500 to $37,000.

    The good news about computer-braille systems is that the technology will only get better, and that prices will in all likelihood come down before they go up. The bad news is that these systems are more capable of making mistakes than the experienced braillist, so output from these systems needs to be used with some caution!

    Computer-generated brailling devices are described in much greater detail in the second and third courses in this series!


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