Published Monthly by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison WI 53703. General phone: 608-257-9595. Technical Hotline: 608-257-8833.
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Submissions are always welcome, particularly those on Apple diskette.
Copyright 1985 by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents--the all-uppercase words name the BRAILLE-EDIT chapters; subheadings in each article are separated by two dashes.
We boldy announced in the November Newsletter that everyone on our Newsletter list would shortly be receiving a BEX announcement. We would love to have had the time to generate this announcement, but we didn't. What follows is an extensive BEX announcement for your edification and delight. At this writing we are working on the text of the BEX press release and brochure. (While it's true we went back on our word, there is a positive side. We are not practicing the tacky art of vaporware, that is, oozing tons of press coverage before the program's ready.)
If you'd like another copy of this Newsletter to show someone else about BEX, we are eager to send it along with your compliments. We deeply appreciate the tolerance, patience, and support so many of you have shown us in the last year.
RDC, Inc. is deeply relieved to report that we're now shipping BEX Version 2.0. We humbly apologize for the delays, but feel that the extra time spent in polishing the documentation makes BEX an even more useful program.
While BEX Version 2.0 does not incorporate absolutely every one of the many helpful suggestions we've received, we do believe that it's "feature-rich." In the next few pages, we'll try to mention as many of the new features as we can. Many of the new features require an "extended 80-column card" in an Apple 2e. (An Apple 2c has the extended 80-column card built in.)
A complete BEX package is quite an impressive thing to behold. (It weighs 5 pounds!) It's all contained in a custom 3-ring binder, filled with the following:
Copious documentation divided into five sections: Learner Level, User Level, Master Level, Appendix, and Interface Guide, supplied in two formats: 454 8-1/2 by 11 pages of large print (16 point Times Roman), and 11 90-minute 2-track audio cassettes
A total of four reference cards: the Learner Level "Quick Reference" and the User & Master Level "Thick Reference," in both large print and paper braille (Braille is shipped separately)
1 double-sided BEX program disk (contains all 3 levels)
1 single-sided BEXtras disk (contains transformation chapters, auto chapters, and many examples of using BEX format commands)
2 double sided disks that comprise the Echo/Cricket Training Set (contents detailed in November 85 Newsletter)
Right now we have no timetable for braille manuals. The thought almost overwhelms us: our calculations show that all of the BEX documentation in braille would run to around 1000 pages. Stay tuned to the Newsletter for details.
In previous Newsletters, we've described BEX's Editor as "line-oriented." From discussions with our testers, we've realized that this phrase is open to misinterpretation. BEX is not a "what you see is what you get" Editor. (Since many BEX users can't "see" the screen, a WYSISWYG Editor doesn't make a lot of sense.) As you are entering characters, you cannot get an instantaneous readout of where a particular character will appear on the final page. For example, you can't say: Tell me the line number and column position of my cursor.
However, BEX does contain many features that let you know exactly where characters appear on the printed page. Inside the Editor, there's a "View Mode." At any point, you enter 1 keystroke, and the current page is printed to the 80-column screen. Your current cursor appears in the center of the screen, and you can use all of TEXTALKER's 80-column line review features to examine the final output. One more keystroke and you are ready for more data entry.
In addition, there are now Preview Printers which display the exact image of the printed or embossed page on the 80-column screen, complete with line numbers for efficient visual or voice review. Finally, there are many new format commands that let you precisely control the appearance of characters on the line and lines on the page.
The single most delightful aspect of the new Editor is the "clipboard," which is like a floating BEX page. The Clipboard makes rearranging, copying, and moving text within a page, between pages, or between chapters a breeze. The Clipboard can contain 4096 characters when you have the extended 80-column card. (Without this extra memory, the Clipboard is limited to 768 characters.)
Compared to BRAILLE-EDIT, BEX has many, many subtle Editor improvements and refinements. You can move to the next or previous page without specifying the page number. The page number is announced as you move to it, and there is also more detailed status information: current cursor, page size, and number of pages in chapter. The Editor command mnemonics are better organized and more consistent. Deletion is easier: you can delete by characters, words, or paragraphs; delete all text either in front of or behind cursor; as well as set a "block marker" for block deletes. We've also improved cursor movement in the Editor: you can move by characters, words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Large print on the screen: 5, 10, and 20 column displays are available everywhere: at menus, in the Editor, and when printing to the screen. Large print does not require an extended 80-column card.
Large Print output in 14 and 18 point on the Apple ImageWriter and the Epson FX-80 dot matrix printers--see samples on inside back cover of this Newsletter. (Our research has shown that many dot-matrix printers are compatible with the ImageWriter or FX-80; the BEX Interface Guide provides details on determining compatibility with these printers.) Large print output does not require an extended 80-column card. Combining Large Print on the screen and on a dot-matrix printer with a 1-drive system is inconvenient.
BEX has 3 Levels--Learner, User, and Master--making the program easier to learn and easier to teach. The extensive documentation includes step-by-step instructions for the computer novice. Building on our years of experience, we've eliminated many of the potentially confusing items for true beginners. (For example, BEX refuses to initialize itself, so copying disks is foolproof.) Detailed examples of how to use BEX's format commands are provided in the documentation and on disk.
Configuring is much easier, because BEX scans your system and knows what cards are in which slots. You can choose configurations to view or delete from a numbered list, like chapters.
The program prompts get briefer as you gain experience. At the Learner Level, you're prompted: "Main Menu, Enter Option," at the User Level, it's "Main Menu," and at the Master Level, it's simply "Main." In addition, most program prompts are contained in a special BEX chapter, so you can customize prompts however you want. (An example from an unnamed RDC staffer: ====> Main menu, Get to work! ====> )
BEX makes good use of the extra memory in an extended 80-column card, keeping the Editor, Print, and Replace characters programs ready for instant access. There's also the "Zippy Chapter," a 6-page chapter contained totally in the memory provided by an extended 80-column card. You can write a 20,000 character document, use Replace characters to fix typos and expand keyboard shortcuts, and then print it without any disk access. This means that BEX on a 1-drive Apple 2c is quite workable.
At the Master Level, you only need to type out a chapter's name once; from then on, you can always specify it with shortcuts. The Master Level also supports up to six 5-1/4" floppy disk drives or Disco-RAM cards.
At all Levels, you can always scan a disk drive for a numbered list of chapters to use. You can now scan for a subset of chapters on disk, and you can repeatedly scan one or more drives.
We've also dramatically improved working with textfiles. All BEX's features for specifying and naming chapters also work for textfiles. You can read and write textfiles while maintaining BEX page boundaries, and the Second menu lets you delete textfiles.
All menus now have a briefer catalog of the disk in any drive. The Page menu is more consistent with other menus; it contains both the brief catalog and "Whole disk catalog," which lists exact character and page count. Grab pages from another chapter can now create a new chapter, and grab more than 1 page at a time.
BEX independently processes output to four channels: screen, voice, braille and print. BEX automatically loads TEXTALKER, so BEX boots talking. Even at the Learner Level, you can turn voice output off and on (using supplied "automatic procedure chapters.") At the Master Level, you can change output to any of the four channels at any point.
"Automatic procedure chapters" can store up to 2000 keystrokes, so you don't have to tap away at the keyboard to perform routine tasks.
You can define setup sequences for all printers as well as voice, braille, or input through slot devices. These sequences can control the device or the interface card, and are automatically sent every time output is directed to the device. BEX automatically sends the appropriate sequences for the Kurzweil Reading Machine, DECtalk, and Dipner Dots.
Ever had a printer blow-out when the ribbon broke on page 9? With BEX you can restart a printout on a specified page. BEX has many new print format features:
You can place page numbers anywhere on the line in a running header or footer
Two commands resolve all conflict between underlining and final punctuation
Discretionary page breaks allow you to cleanly format charts and other tabular material, while preventing any unwanted blank pages
BEX has a table of escape codes for specific inkprint printers built in, supporting super- and sub-scripts, boldface, and pitch change. This table is a BEX chapter, so you can add your own printer to it.
BEX makes the transition from print to braille much more foolproof. Correct values for paragraph indent, paragraph line spacing, and page numbering are automatically generated when text is sent to a brailler. The effect of the centering command continues for an entire paragraph, minimizing the need for reformatting because of the difference in carriage width. The Grade 2 translator has more "overhead," so there's very little chance of an overflow error. You can safely translate 3900-character pages.
Thanks to BEX's input/output structure, you can perform braille "screen dumps" of the user dialogue. For example, you can send the information from a disk catalog to a braille device.
BEX's Replace characters represents major improvements over BRAILLE-EDIT's Global Replace feature. It's moved to the Main menu, and, with an extended 80-column card, it's always loaded in auxilliary memory, so it's very quick to use. It's easier to use, since you can no longer go into an "infinite loop." The BEXtras disk contains some very powerful transformation chapters, including one that ensures that all sentences end with two spaces, while deleting any other superfluous spaces. This facilitates transforming braille text into the appropriate print format. Another reformats data from textfiles, including accurate placement of BEX's paragraph indicators, and underlining and centering commands.
At the Master Level, you can create contextual replace transformation rules, which gives you very precise control of how changes occur. You can turn transformation off and on within a single chapter. You can use "wild card" codes to describe many different situations in a few rules. You can sharply limit replacement to characters in special contexts. BEX's Contextual Replace is really programming with characters.
Well, it's December already, and we still have not seen any circuit card that makes the Apple 2 plus act like an Apple 2e with an extended 80-column card. This is bad news for Apple 2 plus owners eager for some of BEX's niftier features.
BEX on an Apple 2 plus is still a refinement and improvement on BRAILLE-EDIT, but there are definite limitations. The Clipboard in the Editor is limited to 768 characters. You can't use the Preview Printers or View Mode in the Editor, since they depend on 80-column screen and 80-column TEXTALKER. (BEX automatically loads the older TEXTALKER into the RAM card on an Apple 2 plus.)
If you have both a 2 plus and a 2e or 2c, then BEX makes a lot of sense. You can use the 2 plus to drive a printer, and the 2e or 2c to do your Editing and Previewing.
Since BEX's Editor and Print programs have so many new features, we found it necessary to delete a few BRAILLE-EDIT features to make room. We chose to eliminate the following features because they used a gross amount of program code in proportion to their general utility. These features will not be included in any future BEX: if these features are near and dear to your heart, consider the "Dual Support" plan, described below. With these three exceptions, every BRAILLE-EDIT feature is supported by BEX.
In BRAILLE-EDIT, when you combine Echo speech with braille dots on the screen, the Echo uses a special vocabulary to talk the dots. For example, when you arrow over the numeral 2, the Echo says "dropped b;" when you arrow over the exclamation mark, the Echo says "dots 2-3-4-6." When you arrow over a lowercase letter, the Echo says that letter; when you arrow over an uppercase letter, the Echo spells out "C A P letter."
With BEX, the output to the screen channel and the voice channel are completely independent.
BRAILLE-EDIT "remembers" the name of the last chapter edited, and you can specify that chapter by responding with just the asterisk character. BEX has many more ways to specify chapters, however, and the Zippy Chapter's name is also just one character long.
The format command $$x was mainly useful in-house for writing about format commands. BEX has a more elegant solution that's also useful in many other situations: it's a special character called the "sticky space." The "sticky space" looks like a space when printed or embossed, but is not interpreted as a space by BEX's print-thinker.
Each BEX program disk is individually serialized before shipping. To complete this procedure we must have the name of the end-user of the BEX program. Please remember to include this information on your purchase order. (In most cases we cannot use the "ship to" information as the end-user, as this is normally "Central Receiving" or "Warehouse.") Orders which do not include this information will be held until we can obtain the end-user's name.
In addition, the BEX package comes with a "Customer Registration" card. You will receive no technical support for BEX until you register your ownership of BEX by returning that card or a braille facsimile providing the same information.
At this time, RDC Inc. is the sole distributor for BEX. There are three ways to obtain BEX, from least expensive to most expensive:
Convert from BRAILLE-EDIT Version 2.45 or later
Obtain Dual Support for both BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX
Start fresh with a new BEX
If your BRAILLE-EDIT is older than Version 2.45, then you may not convert or obtain dual support.
Conversion is only available to "current" BRAILLE-EDIT owners--if you have BRAILLE-EDIT Version 2.45 or later. (Choose option U - Update date on the Main Menu to find out your version.) Conversion means you no longer use your BRAILLE-EDIT. We no longer consider you a BRAILLE-EDIT customer, so you can no longer receive BRAILLE-EDIT technical support. Earlier in this article we stated the BRAILLE-EDIT features that BEX lacks. If you won't miss those features, then by all means, convert. Conversion costs $75 plus your BRAILLE-EDIT disk. This disk must be the most recent version of BRAILLE-EDIT, and it must be the same disk we shipped to you when you updated. Conversion does not include a Newsletter subscription. Conversion is only available until 30 June 1986.
Dual support is only available to "current" BRAILLE-EDIT owners--if you have BRAILLE-EDIT Version 2.45 or later. Dual support means that you can continue to use BRAILLE-EDIT, and can continue to get BRAILLE-EDIT technical support. Dual support makes sense in several situations: if you are an institutional user and unable to "throw away" a program; if you have a large installed base of BRAILLE-EDIT users; or if you wish to have access to the BRAILLE-EDIT features that BEX lacks. Dual support costs $250, and includes the following items:
Complete BEX package
Latest BRAILLE-EDIT Version 2.50 disk
BRAILLE-EDIT User's Guide in your choice of print, braille, or audio
1 year RDC Newsletter subscription in your choice of print or audio
When ordering dual support, please specify medium for BRAILLE-EDIT User's Guide; and please specify if Newsletter subscription should extend an existing sub or start a new one, as well as which medium. Dual support is only available until 30 June 1986.
The cost of a new BEX is $400. This price applies to Purchase Orders and all MasterCard, VISA, or UPS C.O.D. orders. We do offer a $25 discount ($375 purchase price) for orders accompanied by a check or money order. All payments must be in US funds. When you order a new BEX program, you will receive the complete BEX package and a one-year subscription to the RDC Newsletter--your choice of print or audio.
Please remember that after June 30, 1986 BEX will only be sold at the new BEX program price. Orders for BEX Conversion or Dual Support must be received at RDC by that cut-off date.
In our last Newsletter we floated a trial balloon about adding 5-1/4 floppy disks to the RDC product line. Enough people expressed interest that we're going to start selling disks.
Our intentions are to help out users who believe that pinching pennies makes good economic sense when it comes to media. Our experience shows this is a terrible idea. There is nothing as frustrating as having hours of data entry rendered useless by a disk failure. The sad truth is many no-name or house-brand cheap disks are no bargain, since they are not reliable.
We've had a unique opportunity to experiment with literally scores of bargain brands thanks to our "$10 or four disks" update policies. We've learned that floppy disks are like any other product on the market--price varies considerably with place, time, and quantity. While price is not always the most reliable indicator of quality, one thing is certain: The retail price at local computer stores is too high.
Thanks to volume buying, we've located several reliable sources for good-quality disks at a lower price. Usually, these disks do not have labels or fancy packaging. From time to time, we have to change suppliers and the product may change. Rest assured that every disk we offer will always be a major brand that works well on the Apple computer.
Right now, 3M brand flippies are available for $15 per box of ten. We're talking twenty reliable blank sides in ten plain white sleeves in a plain white box, with twenty write-protect tabs, and ten blank labels. These disks are "flippies;" they are designed to store data on both sides and are manufactured with two write-enable notches.
Flippies are a constant source of controversy. Are they good or bad? As you well know, an Apple disk drive can only read and write on one side of a disk at a time. Many other computer systems can read and write from both sides at a time, so floppy disks are often manufactured so that both sides are equally suitable for data storage. These are called "double sided" or "DS" disks. Computers that can read and write both sides of a disk usually only require one notch. The difference between a flippy and a DS floppy is that the flippy has two notches, and the floppy only has one. When you use single-notch DS floppies in an Apple, you can only actually use half the available storage.
You've no doubt seen advertised "disk notchers" that claim to double your disk capacity by creating a write-enable notch on the other side. The crucial "but" is that notching a Single Side floppy and notching a Double Side floppy do not create the same quality disk. Notching a Single Side floppy does not improve the quality of the magnetic medium. The "back" side was not prepared or tested for data storage, so you run into the possibility of disk failure. The additional problem about notching is making sure that you do it in exactly the right place and don't contaminate the disk.
Even when you are using flippies, which are designed to be flipped over, there's controversy. Disk drives always spin in the same direction when reading and writing on a disk. That means that floppy disks (single sided or double sided) always spin in the same direction. Flippies, since they flip over, spin in both directions. Some people say this is bad; the bi-directional wear on disks is destructive to the surfaces. With heavy use, disk failure may occur. Other folks claim it makes no difference; the rotation of disks in a clean, dust-free environment will cause the same wear no matter which direction. The "experts" disagree--take your pick.
What we can agree on is: use good quality disks; maintain disks and drives in a clean, hospitable environment; and get your disk drives checked once a year for speed and alignment. And if you'd like 10 flippies for $15, they're available now.
The issue of interactiveness with the computer has posed a great dilemma to the sighted community who is trying so desperately to make computers accessible to the blind. Amongst the blind themselves there appears to be much controversy and confusion over exactly what is meant by interactiveness and total access. As one who is experienced in both the Apple and IBM-PC worlds, I would like to offer my conclusions on the matter.
The Apple and IBM-PC universes are vastly different. The blind computer user has mostly been exposed to the Apple and dedicated software developed especially for his needs: BRAILLE-EDIT, WordTalk and ListerTalker, just to name a few. These products perform admirably for stand-alone situations in which the blind person need not interact directly with colleagues' files and varied programs. However, as more of us are introduced to the IBM-PC and commercial software, the problem of interactiveness becomes very apparent.
A dedicated word processor cannot function beyond its own parameters. Experience on the Apple has been largely limited to the dedicated programs mentioned above. Some half-measures have been achieved via the Print-It circuit board, which will permit the user to hear screenfuls of information. But what if you needed to examine only line 10 of the screen? Or what if you wanted a particular word spelled out? Even with BRAILLE-EDIT you are limited in some ways. If you want to review one of the menus, you could go into TEXTALKER's Line Review or you could press Return and hear the menu again. But you cannot selectively read a certain line or section of the screen unless you're in the Editor.
Just as the sighted person can move the cursor around the screen, you need to be able to hear the character the cursor is moving over as you move the cursor. Just as the sighted user can look at lines other than that on which the cursor sits, you should be able to do the same. As he can see an error on another line of text, you should be able to jump that cursor from where it now resides to where you spotted a mistake.
All of these features should be available in "real time," not "frozen time." By real time, I refer to being able to peruse the content of the screen and being able to immediately alter it, if desired. By frozen time I mean that you may examine the contents of the screen but must "unlock" or "release" the screen in order to make any changes. On the Apple the TEXTALKER program is an example of the "frozen" technique of interacting with the computer. On the IBM-PC, the Enhanced PC Talking Program is an example of almost total interactiveness without freezing the screen. BRAILLE-EDIT falls somewhere in between these two since it is capable of jumping the cursor, moving forward or back a word at a time, moving to the top or bottom of a page and searching for a specified string of characters. However, it is dedicated: it can only function this way with BRAILLE-EDIT chapters and only in the Editor.
Many sighted people don't realize the significance of "real" time interactiveness versus "frozen" time. They assume that a blind person will want to freeze the screen in order to examine its contents. Otherwise, any time a blind person issues a command to read a certain line or move the cursor, he might disturb the text currently on the screen without meaning to do so. This method fails miserably in a real job setting. There is no time for "freezing" and "unfreezing" the screen. The boss is sitting there and wants you to look at something with him. If he wants you to change the date, he wants you to change it now, not after two minutes of keyboard acrobatics on your part. You can't keep stopping to "read" and then "write" things. You need to be able to "look" at the screen with him, not after him.
It is difficult, perhaps, to fully grasp the concept of total interactiveness with your computer if your experience has been limited to the Apple's dedicated software. But as people become more familiar with other computers and commercial software, the issue becomes clearer. We need to educate the sighted community that thinks it knows what's best for us as to what's really the most efficient and comes closest to having our eyes on that screen.
The IBM-PC poses an exciting challenge because of its complexity. But the diversity of software it makes accessible to the blind is its greatest asset. Unlike the Apple, whose commercial software has largely been barred to us, most IBM software can be made to talk and braille through the techniques presented here. For the blind person looking to compete and collaborate with sighted coworkers on even terms it is a gold mine. We can now offer our skills and be fully integrated into the business community.
After reading this, anyone would think that I've consigned my beloved Apple 2e to the nearest computer graveyard. Goodbye, BRAILLE-EDIT! Absolutely, positively, NOT! The BRAILLE-EDIT family of software will always be my software of choice for writing. I have not seen a better dedicated word processor for the blind with better support anywhere else. No one can hold a candle to the grade 2 braille translator.
But the blind users of Apple have to wake up to the reality of ever-changing technology. The business world has elected IBM for the most part. If we are to become viable employees within the private sector, we must move with the times. It is unreasonable, even unfair, to expect an employer to function on our terms. A much more productive and efficient course is to integrate into his system. Unless Apple makes radical innovations to out-distance the IBM's improvements, we might as well face it. IBM is here to stay; better get cracking and learn about it before it gets so far ahead of us we can't catch up to it.
In Newsletter 28 (May 1985) I described the interface between the tape-based VersaBraille and IBM-PC. A detailed explanation was given on uploading and downloading procedures accomplished from the DOS level. It appears that some confusion has arisen over just what applications are possible with this interface.
First, let me address the question of interactiveness. From the DOS level, with input and output controlled by the VersaBraille, it is possible to invoke most DOS commands successfully. (However, you can't issue any command that redirects output to a port other than the serial port to which the VersaBraille is attached.) The computer's responses to DOS commands issued in this way will be displayed on the VersaBraille screen. An entire textfile can be up- or down-loaded. The directory of a disk may be obtained. If a mistake is made, it can be erased and retyped by using Control-H (dot 4 H on the VersaBraille) to backspace over the error.
But this is also a situation where interaction between the PC and the VersaBraille can cause confusion. When Control-H is typed from the VersaBraille, it is acted upon by the computer but the VersaBraille cursor will have moved one space to the right. Simply move the cursor to the left again.
For those unfamiliar with the IBM keyboard, a brief tour at this point will help explain some of the problems which can occur if input and output are both controlled by the VersaBraille. The IBM-PC does have the standard QWERTY typewriter keyboard. However, there are extra keys which can seem difficult to learn at first but are very useful once mastered. The Alt key pressed together with almost any other key alters the function of that other key. It is possible to enter lowercase a, shifted A, Control-A and Alt A: each has its own meaning. To the left of the main keyboard, there's a function keypad with keys labelled F1 through F10 that can be used to enhance many applications. So it's feasible to have F1, shifted F1, Control-F1 and Alt F1 all mean different things.
The ASCII codes for these extra key sequences are not available in computer braille. The VersaBraille cannot implement a Control-F6, for instance. To some extent, this limits the degree of interactiveness possible with the previously-mentioned interface.
Nevertheless, there are options. If control is returned to the IBM keyboard, it is possible to operate all the extra keys. To get the output onto the VersaBraille, one could issue a PrtScr (PrintScreen) command from the IBM keyboard. The contents of the screen will then be dumped to the VersaBraille. This may not seem very useful and it is certainly not interactive. But it has advantages. Suppose you are working with a speech synthesizer and you arrive at a point where computer braille output is crucial: simply switch cables to connect the VersaBraille and issue a PrtScr command. Then you could reconnect your speech synthesizer and continue working.
The technique just described can be handy in many applications. It should be understood that once a program other than DOS is invoked, the VersaBraille will no longer have control of the IBM keyboard. Even BASIC can not be run from the VersaBraille. However, using the methods discussed above, it is possible to have a program printed out to the VersaBraille from BASIC. The contents of a spreadsheet (for example, from Lotus 1-2-3) can be printed out to the VersaBraille. The program being run thinks it's printing to a printer.
Caution: If the program being run does not create ASCII files (for example, MultiMate), it will be necessary to use a converter utility before printing to the VersaBraille.
In my July Newsletter article, I mentioned that the VersaBraille (and I'm not talking about VersaBraille II) can't be used with full screen programs running on the IBM PC or PC/XT. If you have access to one of the programs that allows you to use your IBM with speech output, you can fool it into treating your VersaBraille as a speech device. You do all your input from the IBM-PC keyboard, and receive all your output on the VersaBraille. The only interface I can vouch for from direct experience is with Ron Hutchinson's Enhanced PC Talking program, but I assume the method I'm about to describe will work with most of the others as well.
To fool your screen access program into thinking your VersaBraille is a speech device, simply connect your VersaBraille to the port you would normally use for your speech synthesizer. From that point on, the speech is sent to the VersaBraille instead of the synthesizer, enabling you to use all the features your speech program offers for reading the screen to review the screen with braille.
One drawback with this approach is that punctuation will appear on your VersaBraille in spoken form rather than in computer braille. For example, a comma will be represented by the letters c o m m a instead of the computer braille dot 6. You can eliminate this inconvenience by putting your speech program in its no-punctuation mode, unless knowledge of the punctuation is important to you, in which case you'll simply have to get used to the change.
In this way, you can run programs like Multimate, Lotus 1-2-3, IBM BASIC, and other full screen programs that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to use with the VersaBraille.
Most of the time, you'll probably want to run these programs with speech output, but there are times when it's more convenient to have braille output in front of you. Besides, this technique might have real possibilities for the deaf-blind computer user.
If you have any questions about this technique, you can contact me directly:
74 Lincoln Street
Watertown, MA 02172
617-924-5291 evenings and weekends
Sensory Aids Foundation now offers educational software for visually impaired elementary school children. The product is a series of software programs designed to provide computer aided instruction for totally blind and visually impaired children in grades 3-6. It consists of 1 computer disk containing 4 programs compatible with the Apple 2 and Echo speech synthesizer. Instructions are available in regular print or braille.
One program teaches typing. Another is a spelling program through which children enter their own spelling list of up to 20 words and then have the opportunity to practice their list. The third program is called ECHOTEXT and is an authoring program. Multiple choice questions can be entered by the teacher or parent, and the child can then practice by responding to the questions. The final program, CREATE, allows lesson generation.
During a six-month evaluation in the San Francisco Bay Area, students were consistently enthusiastic about using the software. Comments from students included: "Now I'm doing what the other kids do," or even "Now I'm doing things that the other kids aren't doing yet." More details are available from Susan Phillips, Director of Development at Sensory Aids Foundation. To purchase the program, send a check for $50, plus $5 postage and handling.
Sensory Aids Foundation
399 Sherman Avenue, Suite 12
Palo Alto, CA 94306
CHECKBOOK is designed specifically to talk. It runs on an Apple 2 Plus or Apple 2e using an Echo 2 or Echo Plus speech synthesizer. It is an easy-to-learn, easy-to-use means of maintaining checking or charge accounts. It is designed with three main functions in mind. 1 - storage and retrieval of account information; 2 - printing the checks; and 3 - addressing envelopes to mail them in.
Menus are short and not read unless you need them; unnecessary prompts are eliminated; disk read/write is kept to a minimum. All this makes for a quick-acting program.
The number of entries in an account is limited only by disk space. Approximately 1800 entries will fit on a disk. Included on the program disk are some useful utilities.
The program is based in DOS 3.3 and is written in BASIC, making it easily modifiable.
For fifty dollars, you get the CHECKBOOK program disk and all updates for a year from date of purchase, and documentation in Braille; print; tape (cassette or eight-track or open-reel); or Apple disk (textfile or BRAILLE-EDIT).
If you would like a tape demonstration, (no obligation), send me a tape.
To purchase this package, send a check or money order, for fifty dollars, made out to Howard K. Traxler. Include a note in Braille, tape, or TYPEWRITTEN print indicating what it is you are ordering.
Howard K. Traxler
6504 West Girard Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53210
414-445-5925 PMs (or talk to my machine in the daytime)
THE COMMUNICATOR -- a new bi-monthly newsletter designed for those who teach the visually handicapped is now available. THE COMMUNICATOR is published by a not-for-profit group of concerned educators. It covers all areas of the visually handicapped population with a heavy slant toward the new advances in technology and how these advances can and are being used.
Each issue covers teaching hints, software reviews, user comments, reader suggestions, and more. Each issue is a minimum of 4 pages. A one-year subscription of six issues costs $6, or you may send $1 per issue. Enter the world of friendly communication by subscribing to:
Route 4, Box 263
Hillsville VA 24343
C-TEC, the Computer Training and Evaluation Center, is pleased to offer "An Evaluation of IBM PC Access Systems for the Blind and Visually Impaired." This document is an in-depth information resource for examination of current access approaches to the IBM personal computer.
Evaluation of each of eleven products covers the following general topics: introduction; installation; features; documentation; limitations; summary; and developer/vendor response. The person who conducted the evaluation is designated and the opinions expressed represent the findings of that individual. Each product developer or distributor was given the opportunity to respond to the final draft. The comments of those who responded appear at the end of each article.
The Evaluation is available in print, VersaBraille tape, and on IBM or Apple disk at a cost of $6.50, which includes tax, postage and handling. For delivery outside of the US and Canada, the cost is $10. When ordering, please specify quantity and medium you desire. Checks should be in US dollars and made payable to Sensory Aids Foundation. Send orders to:
Sensory Aids Foundation
399 Sherman Avenue, Suite 12
Palo Alto, CA 94306
We recently received a letter from B J Nicely, president of NAPUB, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. NAPUB is an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, and their rousing slogan is: "Braille...A Right, Not A Charity."
Dear RDC Staff: We'd like your newsletter readers to know about the Random House Concise Dictionary which we are now offering on VersaBraille tapes.
This is a great dictionary containing some 80,000 entries. It is on twelve cassettes with each side labeled in braille with the first and last word contained thereon. The VersaBraille chapter titles then guide you to the word you are looking for.
It has taken more than a year to complete the work of processing the original dictionary data, which was supplied by the Wang Corporation. Most of the work was done by Dr. Emerson Foulke, as a project of the NFB Research and Development Committee. The technical obstacles surmounted by Dr. Foulke could fill a book--don't be surprised if he writes one.
To get your very own copy of the RHC dictionary, send your check for $96 to:
3618 Dayton Avenue
Louisville KY 40207
Having trouble getting access to your important appliance instruction manuals? Need a college hand-out made accessible? Try Compubraille Transcription Service! Contact
Compubraille Transcription Service
7119 Troulon Street
Houston TX 77074
This non-profit organization was formed in July of 1984 for the purpose of filling the crying need for entertaining yet affordable braille books for young children. Up until this time, the transcription was done by the director, Debra J. Bonde, using Robert Stepp's ED-IT program. Since the initial response to SEEDLINGS' efforts has been so great, Ms. Bonde has found that she is printing books most of the time and has little time to transcribe new books. With the help of BETTE, SEEDLINGS will be able to utilize volunteers who do not know braille, thereby making more and more children's literature available in braille.
Current titles include THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, SADAKO AND THE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES, THE COURAGE OF HELEN KELLER, THROUGH GRANDPA'S EYES, and A CANE IN HER HAND. Grade One preschool books are also available with interlining (inkprint words just above the braille), and they will soon be adding several Grade 2 "easy-readers" (double spaced on smaller paper for smaller children).
All books are printed using a Kentucky Modified Perkins Brailler (built by Ms. Bonde's father), and are spiral bound. Grants and donations are used (and welcomed!) to keep the books affordable ($4.50 to $13.00). They are also seeking donations in order to buy a faster braille printer.
If you would like a catalog or more information (please indicate print or braille), write to
SEEDLINGS Braille Books for Children
8447 Marygrove Drive
Detroit, MI 48221
I would like to make available three Braille booklets of interest to the blind Apple programmer.
1. APPLE MEMORY: A compilation of peeks, pokes, and calls, and some other general info about your Apple's memory. 18 pages.
2. TEXTALKER VERSIONS 3.1 and 3.1P: This is basically the text of the print material that Street sends out with the new versions of TEXTALKER. It lists the old and new features of the TEXTALKER program. Very handy to have at the finger-tips, so-to-speak. 13 pages.
3. TALK.MASTER (PRODOS HELP): This is the "HELP" that is on your TALK.MASTER (talking ProDOS) disk. This handy reference booklet allows you to look up answers without interrupting the computer. I'm finding it much easier to learn ProDOS with this information in Braille. 19 pages.
The TEXTALKER booklet contains some BASIC program code and APPLE MEMORY contains quite a lot. The program code is written in computer Braille and, for your convenience, there is a chart of the computer Braille symbols at the end of each.
Send a check or money order for $3 to cover production and mailing, for each booklet you would like. Make checks payable to Howard K. Traxler. Send a note in Braille, tape, or TYPEWRITTEN print to indicate what you are ordering. My address is:
Howard K. Traxler
6504 West Girard Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53210
414-445-5925 PMs (or talk to my machine in the daytime)
Sensory aids are impressive pieces of equipment. They have dramatically thrust handicapped people into the era of high technology. Owners of these devices tell us their access to information has improved beyond their wildest dreams. If in fact this equipment is so wonderful, why don't most blind folks buy it?
The answer is simple: Most blind folks can't afford it.
The general public thinks this equipment is the magic solution to the problems faced by the blind. Blind people would love to get their hands on it. But the harsh reality is that this equipment costs a bundle. An unemployed blind person on SSI doesn't have the five-digit discretionary income required to buy sensory aids. Unless one has a sympathetic rehabilitation counselor, chances are they'll never benefit from such equipment.
There isn't much talk about this in the "blindness community" these days. Yet there are lots of sensory aids exhibits at conventions of and for the blind.
When I returned to the United States six years ago, after having lived in the Middle East for eleven years, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of all manner of material goods in this country. If you have the means, you can get anything you want here. Of course, if you're down and out, you can't get much of anything.
"If you can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, it's obvious that you just can't cut it." Isn't that what we were taught as children? "You'll appreciate what you have much more if you work for it. No room for hand-outs here!"
But what happens if you have no bootstraps to pull yourself up by? That's easy: You go on welfare, and you feel humiliated, miserable, and ashamed.
Swedish acquaintances of mine tell me they're astounded at how we in the United States must grovel and beg to get what we need. In Sweden public assistance is a fundamental right. Everyone, at any age, can get it. There are many public assistance programs available: from food, housing and children's allowances, to grants for single parents and continuing education stipends (for those who wish to enhance their careers, or change jobs altogether). Of course, education and health care are free to everyone.
The size of most public-assistance grants in Sweden is mind-boggling: Everyone must earn at least a minimum salary specified by the government. Anyone who earns less receives the rest from the state. People on unemployment get ninety percent of their salaries.
Despite its complex network of social services, Sweden is a capitalist country. Yes, taxes are high there, but it's well worth it in terms of the help you get when you really need it. We Americans seem to prefer to put our tax dollars into weapons research and production. Would that we invested our money in improving the social fabric of our country!
I've been told that Sweden is a land where handicapped folks can feel financially secure, even if they don't work. The handicapped receive a monthly allowance to compensate them for the extra expenses they must incur as a result of their handicaps, even when they do work. They are entitled to grants for readers and drivers (public transportation can be wearying and time-consuming, especially if you have to meet a deadline!), and they receive the necessary aids and appliances, including expensive sensory aids.
But we live in America, where you can't get "something for nothing"! It shocks me to realize just how much we distrust our own people. Inequality has been ingrained in all of us--especially in the handicapped and other minorities--so we're ashamed to demand what's rightfully ours.
Sensory aids can free us from being tied down to readers and other sighted assistance. Sensory aids can help us become much more productive. Shouldn't all blind folks have the right, and the opportunity, to benefit from such equipment?
We Americans live in the richest country in the world. Regrettably, we're also one of the world's most selfish societies. What ever happened to our pioneer spirit of neighborliness and community? I recognize that individualism, profit, and competition are integral to a capitalist society; still, there must be room left for some "hand-ups." The right assistance can help people who can't make it right now, but who just might have the potential to give a whole lot more in return later on. Why shouldn't blind people of all ages be given sensory aids as a matter of course? Aren't sensory aids one of the crucial keys to independent access to information? What happened to our concern for human dignity and equality?
Many banks won't even consider loans for sensory aids equipment. Their only concern is that the devices would have no resale value to sighted people if they ever needed to be repossessed.
What about sensory aids firms themselves? Most seem not to care whether individuals buy their products. They certainly aren't trying to lower their prices or make it possible for all blind folks to easily obtain sensory aids. Where are agencies and associations for the blind, and the organizations of the blind, when it comes to down-to-earth solutions for financing this equipment?
What do readers of this Newsletter have to say about this problem. Is it, in fact, a problem at all? Should sensory aids be provided free of charge, and if so, who pays? What about sensory aids loans or subsidies?
Maybe the time is right for a Sensory Aids Task Force, a coalition of blind consumers, manufacturers, government officials, financial institutions, and representatives from the computer industry (whose coffers are filled with billions of dollars.)
We must never forget that sighted people have at their disposal a bewildering variety of newsstands, free public and university libraries, and bookstores. They also have access to brochures, circulars, programs, leaflets, newspapers, magazines, billboards, journals, reference books, the Yellow Pages, manuals, maps, signs...and the list continues. Our challenge is to explore this issue; to share our feelings, experiences, and ideas; and develop positive solutions. All blind people should have access to this wealth of information, not just the lucky few.
[Editor's Note: Daveed wrote in response to my plea for articles last month. We'd be delighted to publish responses and other points of view. JK]
I am a clinical psychologist with a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy practice and a faculty position at Fordham University's College at Lincoln Center. I've had problems with patient billing and writing articles for professional journals, and I'm sure my experience is similar to other blind professionals'. Before the computer, getting material letter perfect was particularly difficult. The most comfortable way I had developed for writing involved typing a first draft on an inkprint typewriter, having a reader proofread that draft and tape this so I could type the paper over again integrating my corrections, ad infinitum. Often, I would find that course outlines, journal articles and patient bills would not have been adequately corrected. As a way to avoid this cumbersome process, I tried to create my materials on a brailler. Because I type twice as fast as I brailled, this alternative was unacceptably slow.
In May, 1985, all this changed when I bought an Apple 2e computer with an Echo 2 voice synthesizer and an N.E.C. Letter Quality printer. And just last month, I took another large plunge and bought an Apple 2c with Cricket so that my computing could be somewhat portable. Now, all of my course outlines, student class lists, examinations, journal articles, insurance forms and patient bills are on disk, accessible to me for verifying letter-perfection. In most cases, voice and inkprint output is all that is needed. But, especially with material I prepare for my courses, it is desirable to have braille versions of these chapters on hand during the actual class. Up to two months ago, this meant actually brailling by hand the voice output from my Echo.
Then I started experimenting with Dipner Dots. It turns out that my printer used different escape sequences than most other printers and therefore, BRAILLE-EDIT couldn't produce Dipner Dots with it. It required several experimental disks back and forth before the problem was tracked down, but now it is working. I have been surprised at how readable and permanent the dots are. It's especially surprising since, contrary to suggestions in the Interface Guide, I don't use any backing on the NEC printer's roller. Persistence and patience paid off; now I am able to bring into the seminar rooms perfectly contracted Grade 2 braille versions of the material I distribute to my students.
In addition to BRAILLE-EDIT, I use two talking programs from Computer Aids, the database software called Info and the word processor, Documents. I keep all my patient billing information with Info and could have printed these bills out using a Documents template. However, I found that BRAILLE-EDIT gives me more control over the appearance of the printed output. So now I use both programs to prepare, store and print my billing.
Every month, I enter patient information on the Info form I set up. I then print the Info data onto the disk (disk print) using the Slot 8 command. This produces an Apple textfile. Then, I use option R - Read textfile to chapter on the Second Menu in BRAILLE-EDIT to produce a BRAILLE-EDIT chapter. Then my material can be formatted or manipulated in the same way any BRAILLE-EDIT chapter can be. I have found this process provides me with maximum flexibility.
I use a similar process when completing insurance forms so that my patients can be reimbursed for their treatment. Filling out insurance forms was an activity that consumed an inordinate amount of time. As every insurance form asks the same questions but asks them in a different format, I had to use readers to fill them out--not always so efficient! What I decided to do was to set up an Info file which asked for the standard information necessary to complete these forms, e.g., patient name, referral name and address, date of first session, diagnosis, etc. Then, as I did in my billing system, I would print this file to a textfile using a Documents template. Then I read it into a BRAILLE-EDIT chapter. This provides more flexibility in printing than Documents. Then, I print this chapter on my letterhead. Voila, an individually tailored universal insurance form. The insurance information is saved on disk, making it easy to fill out a form the next time the same patient makes a similar request. In addition, I have saved enormous amounts of reader time.
In sum, I have been continuously impressed with all the uses a blind psychologist might have for BRAILLE-EDIT specifically and the Apple Computer more generally. Although I would not have believed it two years ago, accessible software and the Apple have totally changed the way I do my work.
If you have any questions concerning psychology and computing for the blind, you may contact me by writing to
Dr. Dennis G. Shulman
The Division of the Social Sciences
Fordham University, The College at Lincoln Center
New York, N.Y. 10023
After my plea for feedback in November's Newsletter, the responses have been pouring in. So far, it's been 6 to 1 in favor of the new, large print format. This groundswell means that the print edition will continue to look like what you hold in your hands. We're happy to send a free sample to any audio subscriber who's interested in trying the large print.
We've recently improved our ability to make large print documents here at RDC with the addition of a new program called "JustText." JustText (a trademark of Knowledge Engineering, Inc.) is an embedded command typesetting program for the Macintosh. Similar to BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX, the commands are written with printing characters. We can prepare all our material with BEX, and then run it through Replace characters to change the BEX commands to JustText commands. I ship the data over to the Macintosh and, within moments, I have lovely large print output from the LaserWriter. Anyone who's familiar with dedicated typsetting equipment will have their socks knocked off by JustText's power.
Of course, we also have BEX's limited LaserWriter driver at our disposal. It's a marvelous irony: due to the power of the LaserWriter (and the software available for it) a totally blind person can prepare beautiful print with the same ease that this totally sighted peron can prepare beautiful braille.
It's a sad truth, but machines sometimes break down. If you are having any trouble with the Cranmer Brailler you purchased from us, please call our Cranmer Expert, Caryn Navy. It may be something simple, or something related to software--in that case, the solution will be simple, too.
On the other hand, it may be a hardware problem. If you are having trouble with a Cranmer Brailler you did not purchase from us, then we won't be able to help you diagnose what's wrong. In these two situations, it's time to contact Maryland Computer Services for Technical Support. They recently supplied us with some general guidelines for making the most of their technical support services.
DON'T attempt to open up the product to fix it yourself, as you could void your warranty. MCS has technical experts on hand who can fix the problem.
DO contact MCS's customer support department at 301-879-3366. They will first attempt to trouble-shoot the problem over the phone. They are in the best position to determine whether or not your equipment needs to be returned to MCS.
DO get a return authorization number from the customer support department. This number must be displayed on the outside of the box when the equipment is sent to Maryland. Your equipment will be rejected at the repair center if it does not have a return authorization number.
DO pack up your equipment carefully, in the original carton. Make sure there is enough extra packing in the box to protect the equipment. It is imperative that you carefully protect your equipment so that it is not damaged in shipping.
DO include a written account of the problems you are having in the box. If the problem is demonstrable, include a sample--for example, if braille lines are overprinting. This information speeds diagnosis and repair.
When you follow these steps, you assist MCS to help you. And remember--always check with MCS's customer support department before sending equipment in for service.
The words to your right are reproduced from actual, unretouched 18 point BEX Large Print, generated on an Apple ImageWriter. The ribbon was not particularly new, and it took around 85 seconds to print.
The text you are currently reading is 14 point BEX Large Print. BEX Version 2.0 comes with these two fonts. We hope to release more fonts in the future, so as always, stay tuned to the RDC Newsletter for details.
Both fonts were designed and programmed to our specifications by the Vilberg Brothers of Madison, Wisconsin.
When you configure a Large Print printer in BEX, you specify the point size (currently either 14 or 18) and the line spacing (measured from baseline to baseline). The sample to your right uses a line spacing of 26 points; the text you are currently reading uses a line spacing of 22 points. Both samples are single spaced. You can not mix 14 and 18 point print on the same page, but one configuration may have both a 14 point and an 18 point large print printer (as well as a regular print printer and a brailler.)
It's been another thrilling year for all of us at Raised Dot Computing. We started 1985 with 4 employees; we will start 1986 with 8, which astounds us all. In the year just passed we've reached two milestones: our 1000th BRAILLE-EDIT customer (in September) and a cumulative sales total of $1,000,000 (counting back to the very first sale in the last week of 1981.)
1985 birthed both BETTE and BEX, and taught us all important lessons about the meaning of limitations and deadlines. Our heartfelt thanks go out to all of you. You have encouraged us, supported us, challenged us, and made us laugh. Best wishes for Peace in the New Year,
from David, Jesse, Caryn, Nevin, Becky, Kristi (& taxiing for take-off, Phyllis & Muriel)
BEX can produce Large Print on some dot matrix printers at 14 or 18 point using special graphics software. The next two pages show samples of both sizes, produced on an Apple ImageWriter. For the past 9 months, we've been saying only that "BEX makes large print on an Apple ImageWriter or an Epson FX-80." We continue to make that claim, however, some reasearch in printer manuals has led us to believe that other dot matrix printers are compatible with the Epson FX-80 and Apple ImageWriter. In this article, we reprint information from the BEX Interface Guide that tells you how to discern if a printer may be compatible.
But before we get down to the nitty-gritty, we must warn you that we can make no guarantees of compatibility. In general, printer interfacing is the must frustrating activity in the micro-computer world. It's a true test of a computer dealer: if you ask for help and get the response, "Oh, it's easy, you can do it yourself!" run don't walk to another computer dealer. To make BEX large print, you must have: 1) a truly compatible printer; 2) 1 of the 5 supported interface cards; and 3) time & patience to experiment with data bits and auto linefeed.
BEX can only generate large print with a small group of interface cards. You CANNOT make large print unless you have one of these interface cards:
If you do not have one of these interface cards and you want to generate large print, you must purchase a supported interface card. Please do not call us and ask us to support additional cards.
Grab your printer manual, and try to find a section that discusses controlling graphics as opposed to printing text. The section you seek may be tricky to find; look for names like "Graphics Codes" or "Bit Addressing" or "Dot by dot printing."
If your printer manual has an entry "<Esc> G nnnn - Print 1x8 graphics corresponding to the following nnnn data bytes" then it emulates an Apple ImageWriter.
If your printer manual has an entry "<Esc> L n1 n2 - Sets bit image graphics in the 960 mode, the next n1 + n2 bytes will be printed in dot graphics" then it emulates an Epson FX-80. ("960 mode" is sometimes referred to as "double density.")
It's our understanding from reading the advertisements that Apple and Epson both make a point of continuing compatibility with their own lines. This means that an ImageWriter II should support ImageWriter graphics, and the Epson FX-85 should support FX-80 graphics. Ironically enough, Epson now markets a printer called the AP-80, which emulates the ImageWriter.