Since last fall, I have been getting regular deliveries of Cranmer Braillers from Maryland Computer Services. Each time I got some units, I already had lined up customers. Last week, I got a shipment of five braillers. I do not have customers lined up for all of them. If you are interested in buying a Cranmer, and you act fast enough, you should know that I can promise immediate delivery. I accept purchase orders or checks. The price for a Cranmer Brailler is $2,700. The price includes shipping and insurance. Contact Raised Dot Computing for details.
The new version of BRAILLE-EDIT is coming along on schedule. A preliminary version of the program (without the editor) was released to 8 reviewers. So far, the only bug reported has been that "load from VersaBraille" doesn't work. Aren't you glad that I am having this field tested first?
I am planning for the release of version 2.45 in three stages. The first stage is the release of the program disk with a "difference manual" By a difference manual, I mean a description of how the new version differs from the old version. The difference manual will be in print and on one of the disks. This first stage is definitely for experienced BRAILLE-EDIT users. I expect to reach the first stage by March 19th. Existing purchasers of BRAILLE-EDIT get the update on that date provided they send a check for $10 or send 4 blank disks. If you choose to send disks, you should know that I accept Maxell, Verbetim or equivalent quality disks. Radio Shack or equivalent disks go straight into the trash. Stage two is the production of new manuals. There will be two manuals, a program manual and an interface manual. A set of two manuals in print and one alternative form (audio, VersaBraille, or disk) will cost $30. These will be available on April 1st. The third stage of release will be the point when new customers will be shipped version 2.45 instead of version 2.44A. This will probably occur in mid-April.
The new version is really coming along. I recently got the large print driver program to work. Now BRAILLE-EDIT has 6 different screen modes (hi-res upper and lower case, normal screen, braille display, 80 column wide, large print, and jumbo braille). The new system has the ability to combine any screen mode with Echo II with output to a slot (except you cannot output to a slot when you use the 80-column card).
The translator in version 2.45 is much better than the translator in version 2.44A, which in turn is better than the one in version 2.44. Graham Stoodley has done it again. He has restructured the translation tables to improve the accuracy. The new tables take up close to 8,000 characters. The new 2.45 braille translator can handle italics and accent marks. If you have been displeased by the quality of the braille translation produced by your Apple, please give it another chance.
The Thiel ordered by Raised Dot Computing has arrived at Raised Dot Computing. This is a true high-performance brailler capable of generating a page of braille in 8 seconds. The Thiel Brailler is made in Germany and is sold in the United States by Maryland Computer Systems. The price is $15,600. It is a compact unit, the size of a large suitcase. It is much quieter than any other paper brailling device that I have seen. It is possible to conduct a normal conversation standing right next to the unit when it is running at full tilt.
As soon as I get a substantial supply of paper, I will do brailling for BRAILLE-EDIT customers. I will charge 5 cents a page. So far, the lowest rate that I have been quoted for braille paper has been 4 cents a page. If any reader knows of cheaper fan-fold braille paper, I would appreciate hearing about it.
I have produced a short reference guide to version 2.44A of BRAILLE-EDIT. The price is $1. It is available in print or in paper braille. It is a quick guide to configurations, menus and commands in BRAILLE-EDIT.
I have written a new interfacing guide to connecting a Thiel Brailler to the Apple computer. This is available free of charge. A summary follows.
Use the Super Serial Card set at "terminal;" and a straight through male-to-female cable. Set bank one to: OFF OFF OFF ON OFF ON OFF. Set bank two to: ON OFF ON ON OFF OFF OFF. Plug the cable into the jack labeled "host computer". When you answer the set up questions on the Thiel, ask for US-ASCII, 6-dot braille, 11 inch paper, no word wrap, 9600 baud, and positive synchronization. Save the parameters so the brailler will work properly the next time you turn on the unit. Remember, to get more complete instructions, contact Raised Dot Computing.
The lead article in newsletter #6 was on the Zero Card. The Zero Card is a special interface card to allow a blind user to use protected software. The Zero Card does have some significant limitations. It only operates at 9600 baud, and does not work with any handshakes. It is wirewrapped and physically occupies two slots on the Apple.
I have recently heard of a new card for the Apple that does a similar job that is built for the conventional sighted market. On page 109 of the February issue of Softalk, there is an ad for PRINT-IT!, a product of TEXPRINT, INC. The PRINT-IT! promises to take the contents of the Apple screen and send it to a printer. Instead of a printer, you could also use a braille or voice device. this device can output to both serial and parallel devices. It can be set to a variety of baudrates, and it properly handles handshakes. The cost of PRINT-IT! is $179. It is available from TEXPRINT INC, dept. R3, 8 Blanchard Road, Burlington, MA 02803 (800) 255-1510. I have just sent off for the device.
I hope to have a evaluation of PRINT-IT! in the next newsletter. It is very encouraging to find new products on the marketplace designed to assist sighted persons that are even more useful for blind persons.
** NEWS FLASH ** The PRINT-IT! just arrived. It is all set up for parallel, with only vague directions for interfacing to a serial device. Don't buy this device until I figure out how to make it work as a serial interface board.
There is a new talking terminal program that will be ready for the marketplace very soon. It is called TermExec, it works with the Echo II, it will cost $79.95, and will be released on April 15th. The $80 price is very competitive to Bill Grimm's TRANSEND package. TermExec is a product of Exec Software. It is designed to work with slow printers. Betty O'Neal, the programmer, figured that the Echo II acts like a slow printer. It turned out that because of the structure of TermExec, little modification was required to get it working with speech. It uses a 7,000 character buffer to permit downloading text while still speaking. The program has two modes, buffered, which is useful for absorbing large volumes of text from a host computer, and direct, which is best for immediate interactions with a nearby computer. The program works with the Micromodem, CCS card, SSC, and SSM card. They are presently getting it to work with the Novation board. You will need the special modification if you use the Micromodem on an Apple II plus. For more details, contact Betty O'Neal, Exec Software, 201 Waltham Street, Lexington MA 02173 (617) 862-3170.
John Messerly of Los Angeles has been working on his own design for a braille printer. He uses a letter quality printer as a basis. His device will produce braille on continuous paper at 7 characters per second. He is willing to sell a braille printer for $1,900. It is my understanding that his device requires a special driver program to get the dots positioned correctly. I will get the specs from Mr. Messerly and build the driver into BRAILLE-EDIT. Mr. Messerly is in need of a name for his device. If you have any suggestions, please contact him. His address is: John Messerly, 12453 Stanwood Place, Los Angeles, CA 90066, (213) 398-4634.
I occasionally get asked about the availability of braille instructions to The Source or to Compuserve. If any reader has developed some notes on VersaBraille tape or disk, I would like to help distribute them. Please send me a copy. I can run off copies on the new Thiel. Please do not ask me for the availability of these items until they are announced in the newsletter.
How would you like to be able to mail your disks to someone and get back paper braille at no charge? It may sound too good to be true, but such a service is just getting underway.
Elmo Knoch has been involved in the braille and blindness field for almost 20 years. He starting working at Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind as a vocational evaluator in 1966. He moved up and started their programs to train employees for the IRS and Social Security. He found first hand the critical need for braille and the need for instant access to information stored on computers. He designed on of the first computer driven braille output devices in 1966 and built one in 1970. His first device generated braille paper tape. It was suitable in job applications where the model 33 teletype was being used.
Elmo has worked with George Dalrymple of the MIT Sensory Aids Center on a number of projects over the years. They installed the first telephone long distance control board (TSPS) that a blind person could operate.
Elmo has acquired a number of braille output devices over the years. He has 3 MIT Braillembosses, a working LED-120, and another LED-120 being repaired by George in Cambridge. Although all of these machines are technologically obsolete, their sheer number guarantee that Elmo will always have one or two machines working at any time. He has several computers, including an Apple and a Northstar. Elmo is in the process of working out a deal with local paper companies to get a supply of fan-fold braille paper for free. Elmo Knoch is very close to having all the ingredients of a free braille service.
He plans to braille any machine readable text sent to him. He cannot braille any inkprint. If you send any inkprint copy, it will be returned with a polite note suggesting you get it typed into a computer. He can read Apple disks (BRAILLE-EDIT files or standard textfiles), Northstar files (currently he cannot read files produced by the Duxbury translator), or 9-track IBM tape. Get in touch before any mag-tape is sent. Elmo prefers 1600 bpi (bits per inch) tape, but he can handle 800 bpi tape as well.
Again, this is a service for machine readable text only. It is strictly garbage in, garbage out. You are responsible for formatting the text. The first users of this service must understand that they are Guinea pigs, their files are being used to get the bugs out. This service is strictly based on availability of free paper and working machines. The address is: Elmo Knoch, National Braille Resources Inc., 406 Wynewood, Harrison, AR 72601 (501) 741-3343.
Raised Dot Computing is proud to help Mr. Knoch get his service off the ground. RDC donated a copy of BRAILLE-EDIT. We sold our MIT Braillemboss to Mr. Knoch for $1 (the unit was purchased by RDC from MIT for $1 last year). I feel confident that this ancient brailling device has found a proper home. This newsletter will give full details of the progress of this important service to the blind community.
The National Braille Press is announcing a special limited time offer. They will braille a printer or modem manual for $10. This offer only applies for March, April or May of 1984. The $10 includes binding. All you do is send your printer or modem manual with a check or money order to: National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115. You will get your inkprint copies returned. There is a limit of 50 inkprint pages. You should be aware that in the average printer manual, there are lots of useless information. You may want to scan the manual with a reader to identify the parts you really need brailled. The most important parts are usually the operating instructions and the list of special control codes.
While you are at it, get a copy of the National Braille Press Book "A Beginner's Guide to Personal Computers for the Blind and Visually Impaired". It is $6, and is available in either braille or audio.
Harvey Jossem has been a very busy fellow over the last few months. He has been taking some of the text that I have done in VersaBraille tape and has made some definite improvements. He calls it "the slim version". He has taken out all the extra paragraph signs and has worked on the text concentrating on the needs of the VersaBraille reader. I confess that as a sighted person, I do not have the kind of understanding of VersaBraille formats that Mr. Jossem has.
Harvey has three VersaBraille tapes. They are the Apple IIe Owner's Manual, the 1983 Raised Dot Computing Newsletters, and the Super Serial Card Manual. Each are available in two versions, the Holladay version for $10, and the Jossem "slim version" for $15. I would recommend the slim version. Mr. Jossem is continuously revising his techniques based on user comments. If you buy his version, and later decide you want another copy later on, you can have the update for $5 (as long as you supply the tape).
Try to use braille when writing Mr. Jossem, since readers do cost money. His address is: Harvey Jossem, 1432 Sunny Avenue, Eureka, CA 95501, (707) 442-7247.
The first mailing to the 66 persons that signed up for the network groups has just gone out. If you have sent in your group affiliations, you should have already received a list of the different group participants. It is each persons responsibility to get in contact with other members. In order to encourage such contact, I will make available a set of mailing labels to group participants. Just write me and tell me which groups you want. Remember, the offer is restricted to members of network groups. If you are a member of the "sensory aids specialist" group, you are welcome to a set of mailing labels for that group.
If you have not sent in you network groups, you have cut yourself off from those persons who are in the best position to help you get your computer system set up. Remember, you can send in your letter at any time to join and get a list of members of network groups. Why not write today and get the best value out of your computer system?
Right now, the one group that I am most interested in is the Kurzweil Reading Machine group. As readers are probably aware, you can plug a KRM into an Apple or a VersaBraille to directly capture the scanned text. There has been a lot of interest in how well blind persons can use the KRM as an optical scanning unit. I have sent a survey form to each member of the Kurzweil network group. If you do have experience with the KRM but have not joined the network, I would be interested in hearing from you as well. Basically, I would like to know if you find the approach workable. Can you achieve high accuracy in reading? Do you have any problems placing paragraph markers? Do you have any additional comments on the use of the Kurzweil as an optical scanning?
I understand that this is a very sloppy and unprofessional survey. I have not asked for hard quantitative data to make pretty charts and statistics. I am just asking the simple question "has this technology proved useful for you?". I believe that is the real question. Please do not delay in responding to this survey.
I am writing to say that I found the summary of VersaTricks in the most recent Newsletter most helpful. I do, however, have two comments to make about number 4, having to do with loading a new table of contents.
I found it necessary to insert a step between inserting the good tape and hitting the eject button. I found that I first had to hit the new chapter button and the advance bar to load a fake chapter which can of course be deleted later. Only after doing this before ejecting the tape have I been able to accomplish a successful contents transfer.
My second comment has to do with something I should have known better than to have tried. I tried adding a seventh page to an existing chapter by modifying the table of contents. I succeeded in adding the page all right, but what I found was that the added page contained the material from the first page of the following chapter, and that the everything on the tape from that point on was one page off. I was fortunately able to restore the original table of contents, using the number 4 procedure as modified by the step above. I was then naturally able to add my seventh page with BRAILLE-EDIT's transfers from and to the VersaBraille.
[editor's note: changing the table of contents has no effect on the actual placement of pages on the tape. The 57th page of tape counting from the beginning will stay the same no matter what you do to the table of contents. Mr. Gayzagian reported that each chapter ended up one page off. If he had modified the table of contents differently, he would have reported different situations. No single application of a VersaTrick can "make room" in a crowded tape for a new page. If you are determined, you can use a massive "bucket brigade" to move pages forward in the tape, and then restore the table of contents. You might have to use the "move VersaTrick" dozens of times to shift everything down. Of course, the transfers in BRAILLE-EDIT are the best way to "make room" on a tape. I define VersaTricks as undocumented and useful things you can do with a naked VersaBraille, without any special computers systems available. Changing a table of contents is useful when you want to combine or split VersaBraille chapters, or if you want to restore material lost in a sudden power loss. End of editor's note.]
If the problems encountered resulted from my having done anything incorrectly, I'd appreciate knowing what it was.
While I'm writing, I should mention that I have recently gotten to the matter of trying to use programs taken off the VersaBraille from outside services, in accordance with the instructions in your October Newsletter and that I'm beginning to experience some good results. I find, however, that in naming the textfile I should use a name other than that of the original BRAILLE-EDIT chapter, and that I should use still another name when saving the program resulting from executing the textfile. Maybe all this isn't necessary, but it seems to be working. [editor's note: using different file names is absolutely critical. I am glad you mentioned it.]
One more thing: I want to thank Janice Sowokinos for the most helpful printer article you recently carried. it answered a number of questions that I hadn't yet solved.
The New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped is investigating the use of an Apple talking computer by children of all ages. They would like to know what programs work with speech synthesis by children. They plan on setting up a demonstration project for schools and institutions using the Apple. Our address is: David Andrews, New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped, 2300 Stuyvesant Avenue CN 501, Trenton, NJ 08625, (609) 633-7266.
Of course, we realize that many other people also what to know what programs work with speech. We will provide resource lists to anyone who calls or writes us.
There is a job opening in Nebraska for someone to work with sensory aids for the blind. The Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired is looking for someone with a background in computer science. The position involves working with employment and educational settings, training, giving workshops, and teaching literacy. The employer will provide any necessary training in working with the blind. It is a full time position starting at $20,000 a year. Contact James Nyman, Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, 1047 South St., Lincoln, NB 68502, (402) 471-2891. You can call collect.
If you think that bilirubin is Jimmy Carter's brother, or that a CAT scan is used for finding stray animals, then medical transcription is definitely not your field. As a transcriptionist at a Chicago area hospital I was faced with the problem that most visually impaired transcriptionists are faced with: PROOFREADING. The records we type are legal documents which can be asked for by a judge, should the need arise. That's why they have to be without error. Even the best transcriptionists will make a mistake now and then. The difference is that the sighted ones can usually spot it and correct before anybody notices.
When I got my Apple IIe about 8 months ago, I knew nothing about computers. I thought a micro chip was what you eat with micro dip! I thought FORTRAN was what computers do before interface! So when the rehab counselor said that a computer would be part of my life, I wondered: Will I need a 9th grader to program the damn thing for me? When the boxes arrived the dealer helped me set up the equipment, and we were off and running. Admittedly, there were a few problems at first, but Dave and Caryn were very helpful in answering questions and solving difficulties.
At present I use a stand alone system: the Apple IIe, Echo II, BRAILLE-EDIT and a Queme 11 printer. The Echo is not routed through the speaker, but through an earphone so the other folks don't have to hear it talk. Though I do not need a screen, mine is turned on anyhow for more psychological reasons than anything. It makes my equipment look more like what the others are using and they can see what I'm writing if they like. Actually, BRAILLE-EDIT makes my Apple do more than the Lanier equipment in our office in terms of word processing features. And in the event that we go to a main computer with a central processing unit, the little Apple will be used as a talking terminal.
Despite not being a line-oriented program at present, the advantages of BRAILLE-EDIT in this case are worth some inconvenience. Dave, we're looking forward to your new line-oriented program. Though medical transcription jobs are difficult to come by, with the right skills and the right tools the jobs can be found and kept.
There has been some interest in getting old SAGEM braillers working with Apple computers and BRAILLE-EDIT. Even though our group did not have a SAGEM manual, we managed to get our unit working with our Apple. We hope that the following instructions will be useful for others dusting off old, unused, but functioning braille embossers.
The SAGEM is a rather large piece of equipment. It has logic cards and mechanical parts. After placing the printer on its stand, I had to get power to it.
Because the SAGEM is a French printer, you have to check so that it is set for 115V, and that the fuse is good. Open the cover and be sure that the switch M-A is on the A side. Now plug it in. If you blow a fuse or your circuit breaker, then call a technician. If no problems occur, then throw the M-A switch to the M side. Close the cover and press the FIN key. There is a small buzzer that sounds when the machine is turned on. The FIN key will stop the buzzer.
Now you are ready to load the paper. Remember that you need special paper for the SAGEM with little squares cut out the corners. Locate the key marked with 4 or 5 cross marks. There may be a small push button to the right and to the top of the keyboard. Either one of these keys will do the same function. Now locate the key on the top row that has the letters LO. Press this key and you will be in "local" mode. Now pass the paper through the paper slot in the bottom of the printer. When the paper gets to the paper-drive sprocket, press either the push button or the key marked with 2 cross marks. After you have successfully loaded the paper, turn off the printer.
To do the actual interface, we used a Super Serial Card and a straight male-to-male cable. Contrary to Mr. Holladay's interface instructions, we used 150 baud instead of 110 baud because it works and it is quicker. Set the jumper block of the SSC to "terminal". Set switch bank one to: ON OFF ON OFF OFF ON OFF. Set switch bank two to: OFF ON ON ON ON OFF ON. We used slot 2 for the SSC. Open the cover to the printer and set the baud rate switch to 150 baud. Put the duplicate/simulate switch to duplicate. Set the form feed switch to "on".
In front of the printer power supply is a green card. Look at it and see if there are braille dots facing you. If there are, the printer is in Braille Keyboard Mode. If there are no dots facing you, then you have a regular keyboard. To change modes, pull the card out firmly, turn it around and re-insert it into its slot.
The moment of truth arrives when you finally get to test if the brailler is working. Hit reset and type PR#2 (if attached through slot 2) followed by a carriage return. If you type additional characters, they should show up on the SAGEM. Type some numbers on the Apple. If you get Nemeth numbers, you know that the unit is set up for the American code. If you get contraction symbols, it is set up with the French code.
If everything works, set up a new BRAILLE-EDIT configuration. Use a type "B" printer if the SAGEM is set up for American code, or an "S" if it is set up for the French code. Use a carriage width of 40 and a form length of 24. After you run off some braille, make sure that it comes out all right. You may have to redo the configuration and try the other encoding system.
If anyone has any questions about the SAGEM, they can be directed to Michael Roy, Prose and Cons Braille Unit, P.O. Box 2500, Lincoln, NE 68502.
Every so often, I feel like reprinting older newsletter articles. Some articles deserve wider circulation than they first got when the Newsletter's circulation was much lower. This article first appeared in this publication last August.
It's a cross between a braille writer and a computer terminal. It can record braille information on a cassette. What is it? It's the Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler (CMPB). It was developed by Dr. T. V. Cranmer, designer of the Cranmer abacus, and the staff of the Technical Services Unit, Kentucky Department for the Blind. The CMPB can function as a braille writer, a computer terminal, a text editor, a braille printer, and a graphics printer. (A graphics printer makes raised drawings.) Information can also be stored on cassette tape so that some or all of it can be brailled later.
The CMPB actually begins its life as a conventional Perkins Brailler. When a sophisticated microprocessor and electronic circuitry are added beneath the brailler, it becomes a CMPB. As a braille writer, the CMPB functions very much as a conventional Perkins Brailler does. Paper must still be inserted, and braille is still written using six keys and a space bar. However, the keys and levers which control such functions as returning the carriage, backspacing, and setting and clearing margins are nowhere to be found! These and other operations are performed using chords (one or more keys and the space bar pressed simultaneously). Many readers will recognize these chords, similar in concept to musical chords, as being the means of giving commands to some cassette braille devices. For example, pressing dots 4-6 and the space bar at the same time causes the CMPB page to advance to a new line and the carriage to return to the left margin. Backspacing is accomplished by simultaneously depressing dot 2 and the space bar as many times as desired. If dots 4-5-6 and the space bar are pressed at any time, the page rolls out automatically!
When connected to a computer, the CMPB sends all information brailled on its keyboard to the computer. Information the computer sends back is brailled on the page inserted into the CMPB. As with some other modern terminals, the user selects from its keyboard the commands called control parameters to meet the requirements of the computer being used. Entire texts and program listings can be sent from a computer to the CMPB's buffer. A buffer is a place where texts can be temporarily stored, modified and then permanently stored on tape. Programs stored in the CMPB's buffer can also be transferred to a computer.
Braille-oriented computer programmers will recognize the desirability of having immediate access to a full page of information, and those who work with statistics and other material in columns will appreciate the CMPB's accurate, easy-to-read reproduction of print columnar information.
The CMPB incorporates several helpful text editing features. In addition to being able to write or insert text, the user can also find, print, or delete text. A specific line, a specified number of lines, or the entire text can be printed or deleted.
As a braille printer, the CMPB operates at approximately 10 characters per second. This means that its embossing speed is much slower than that of, say, the VersaBraille, which embosses at approximately 100 characters per second. In addition, each page must be inserted and removed by hand, since fan-fold paper is not currently usable. Yet as Dr. Cranmer is quick to emphasize, the CMPB was never designed to be a high-speed braille printer used to produce large quantities of braille. The printing capability was included to allow for the embossing of short documents, computer programs, and graphic displays--primarily for personal use.
One of the CMPB's most exciting features is its ability to display graphics (drawings). The CMPB can draw and label maps, graphs, diagrams, and other graphic information. A CMPB-produced outline map of Kentucky has been well received by audiences at several recent conferences. The fact that a computer can also send graphics to the CMPB for display should increase the number and variety of programs available to braille reading computer users. Since a graphics capability has not been available on braille computer terminals until now, many of the CMPB's most intriguing graphics possibilities will be discovered by innovative users! [editor's note: RDC sells a graphics package for the Cranmer].
Because braille paper is such a bulky storage medium, the CMPB's ability to store and retrieve information using cassette tapes is particularly advantageous. Any tape recorder connected to the CMPB can record material from the CMPB's buffer for storage or play material back into the CMPB's buffer for embossing. Taped material is stored in 4000-character blocks, the approximate equivalent of four braille pages, and about 100 CMPB pages can be stored on a 60-minute cassette. Audio announcements of content, recorded just before each block of 4000 characters, make information relatively easy to find. CMPB tapes require no formatting, and tapes of moderate quality can be used.
A good engineer can build a CMPB using the detailed technical manual available for $10 from the Technical Services Unit, Box 758, Kentucky Department for the Blind, Frankfort, KY 40602. Costs include $225 for printed circuit boards available from Maryland Computer Services (MCS), approximately $600 for parts, the price of a conventional manual Perkins Brailler, and the engineer's labor. Schools and institutions may not purchase the circuit boards, and only one set per individual will be sold. Technical newsletters and other similar information sources sometimes tell of private entrepreneurs who are marketing wire-wrapped versions of the CMPB (these units have no printed circuit boards, so each wire is individually connected). The reliability and performance of a wire-wrapped board depend on the skill and care with which the work was done.
The manufactured model of the CMPB, priced at $2750, is available from Maryland Computer Services, 2010 Rock Spring Road, Forest Hill, MD 21050. [editor's note: You can buy the unit from Raised Dot Computing for $2,700.] MCS has reduced the noise level of the original CMPB by roughly 50%, has increased embossing speed to about 15 characters per second, and has made other commendable changes. However, the printed circuit boards MCS sells to CMPB builders are those for the original CMPB and do not include these changes. A maintenance agreement can also be purchased for the MCS model.
As is true of any device, the CMPB will not do all things for all people. It will not meet the needs of those in search of a relatively inexpensive high-speed braille printer, for example. However, others, like Dr. Emerson Foulke of the University of Louisville's Perceptual Alternatives Laboratory, are constantly on the lookout for technology which narrows the gap between what a visually impaired consumer pays for a computer and what he or she pays for the equipment to make it accessible. Such people will find the Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler a welcome addition to the braille computer terminal market.
The National Federation for the Blind has recently funded a $20,000 computer project headed by Tim Cranmer. The first project they plan to work on is some hardware for the IBM-PC that will capture material for display and send it to a voice or a braille device. They plan to be able to monitor the bus signals from the central processing unit to decide what characters are going to the screen. This is apparently the same strategy used by the Zero Card and PRINT-IT for the Apple II.
They hope to be able to monitor the cursor position and be able to display that to the user as well. If all goes according to plan, the hardware will be completely transparent to the IBM-PC.
As this project progresses, I hope to be able to report its progress.
COMPUTER AIDS of Fort Wayne, Indiana have recently sent out flyers announcing a braille translator. The product is called BRAILLE-OUT, and will work on the Apple or the IBM-PC. The flyer did not give a release date or a price.
For a very long time, COMPUTER AIDS stayed away from the braille field. Mr. Grimm has told me that as far as he is concerned, braille is only useful for labeling tapes and disks. Apparently, he has seen that if you want to get closer to the center of the action, you have to get involved with braille devices. Writing a grade two translator is a logical step for COMPUTER AIDS. I can predict what will happen next. As COMPUTER AIDS releases their translator, they will find that the actual translator is but a tiny part of the puzzle. They will be asked for a back translator. They will be asked for the software to transfer files to and from the VersaBraille. They will be asked for special driver programs to work with a number of exotic braille devices. They will be asked hundreds of detailed technical questions about different braille devices. They will be asked how to reformat files to go from one system to another. They will be asked how to down-load files from the Kurzweil Reading Machine. They will be asked how blind or sighted persons can edit the braille files. They will be asked about italics, accent marks, and running heads.
The unfortunate thing about all this is the duplication of labor. But that is what competition is all about. I welcome competition from COMPUTER AIDS. For a long time, I have been very polite about the products of COMPUTER AIDS. I frequently get inquiries that ask why my newsletter is very gentle with COMPUTER AIDS when the COMPUTER AIDS software was so obviously inferior to that of RAISED DOT COMPUTING. My answer has always been that it would be awkward of me to print something like that. I am no longer feeling awkward about these issues.
This newsletter has been a celebration of how the new computer technology has been very useful to blind persons. We have noted how material in machine readable form is much more accessible to the blind than printed text.
It is time to look at the dark side of this technology. There are some applications of technology which make things less accessible to the blind. I would like to highlight four new technologies which are a step backwards for the blind. I'm sure readers can think of other examples.
More and more banks are depending on automatic teller machines. These devices are extremely difficult for a blind user. They display information to the user on a CRT screen. It was bad enough when these machines were placed as a supplement to bank branches. Now banks are beginning to close their branches and their human tellers as they start to rely more and more on the machines.
I have heard of one project to make a talking teller machine. This project and others should be encouraged. There is no reason why every teller machine could not have a low cost voice synthesizer. The voice unit could be set up to turn on with a special button or a special code on a person's card. The banks will tell you that they have few choices, that they are dependent on what the hardware companies provide. The hardware companies say they are building the machines that the banks want. There has to be a way to get out of this vicious circle.
Just about all educational software uses fancy graphics to make its points. As you may know, it is difficult to devise a way to capture the pictures with a voice of braille device. I personally wonder why straight text cannot be used more for teaching purposes. I suppose that software writers think that plain text is too boring or too much like straight text. Maybe people will begin to wonder why they don't abandon the computers and go back to books unless they have enough pretty pictures.
Whatever the motivations, the result is a nightmare for the special education teacher. He or she is supposed to use computers as a tool to mainstream their visually impaired students. All too often, the computer is a tool that isolates the blind student.
Videotex is a technology that sends digitally encoded information along with a regular television image. The TV reception is not impaired. When desired, a decoder can be used to display pictures and text on the screen. This technology is used to disseminate information and advertisements to the general public. While the technology has not caught on in this country, enough of corporate America is putting its weight behind this so that it will catch on. It is a solution in search of a problem. The most common formats give the producers of images a choice between text and pictures. The text mode is rarely used. It is more common to use graphics to create fancy typefonts in all sorts of fancy colors. Like educational software, it is virtually impossible to capture the fancy graphics in voice or in braille. If videotex catches on in America, it will isolate blind persons from this public fountain of information.
John DeWitt of the American Foundation for the Blind is setting up a committee to try to deal with the problem while the problem is still in the crucial planning stages. If you have any ideas about how to get corporate America to modify its plans for the systems they are planning to foist on the public, please contact Mr. DeWitt.
The final technology on my hate list is what are called "user friendly systems". I am thinking about all the highly visual systems with icons (pictures instead of menu choices). The mouse pointers are even worse. Highly sealed systems like the Apple MacIntosh are the worst yet. I wish Apple Computers all the luck in the world, but I am not a fan of the MacIntosh. I'm afraid that visually impaired users were not part of the design or planning stages.
For those unfamiliar with the Macintosh, it uses a small pointer (called a "mouse") to indicate parts of the screen. The mouse is a small item that rolls on some ball bearings. As you move the mouse around on a table top, the computer can keep track of its position. The computer shifts its cursor around on the screen in response to movements of the mouse. When the cursor is on top of the desired option, the user hits a small button on the mouse. As W.C. Fields said about Southern California "Its a great place to live if you are an orange". I think the Macintosh (and all its kin) are great if you are sighted. Perhaps it is time to start stockpiling good old Apple II computers for the long dark ages of "user friendly" systems.
What are we to make of all this? I figure that the electronics revolution is making more and more accessible to blind users by putting it in machine readable form. The rate of increase is just tremendous. While all this is going on, some text is being used in a graphical representation which is sealed from blind users. Some would say that we should be grateful that for every screen that is lost to fancy graphics, we can capture thousands or millions in plain ASCII with our Apples, VersaBrailles, Echos, and Cranmers. Some others feel that we cannot give in so easy. We should speak with a united voice that there is a very active section of the computer community that must have an alternative to fancy typefonts.