Published Every Other Month by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison, Wisconsin USA 53703. Telephone: 608-257-9595.
Subscriptions: $18/year Print, $20/year Audio Tape, $30/year Disk. (Kindly add $20/year for postage outside N. America.).
Submissions are always welcome, especially on diskette. All are subject to editing for style and clarity. All opinions expressed are those of the author. Editors: Jesse Kaysen & Phyllis Herrington.
Entire contents copyright 1988 by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Nothing may be reprinted in any medium--print, braille, audio, or electronic--without prior written permission from RDC Inc.
Table of Contents: the all-uppercase words name the disk chapters; the words after the equals sign are the actual article titles.
READ ME FIRST = How to Read the RDC Newsletter on Disk
CONTENTS = This Chapter (print page 1).
LASER LINES = Laser Lines from the Editor includes "Berkeley System Design Comments on inTOUCH" (print page 2).
MATH TEST = RDC Seeking Swimmers in the Nemeth Pool (print page 3).
PIXCELLS ANNOUNCE = Braille Graphics for All Embossers with pixCELLS (print pages 3-5).
FLIPPER ANNOUNCE = Low-cost Powerful Screen Access for the IBM with Flipper (print pages 5-9).
KPR REVIEW = The Kurzweil Personal Reader: The Champion of Optical Scanners for the Blind -- Olga Espinola (print pages 9-14).
READING MULTI MEDIA = Communication Media for the Visually Impaired: Why One Medium Isn't Enough -- Harvey Lauer (print pages 14-20).
BNS IBM MORE = More on the Braille'n'Speak/IBM Interface -- Al Gaysagian (print pages 21-22).
BULLETIN BOARD = "Lower Price on Ohtsuki Embosser until November"; "Communicator Forms Apple User Group for VI Teachers"; "Seeking Scanner Information"; "Digital Gourmet Software"; "Apple Talk"; "CNIB Seeking Winston Gordon Award Nominations". (print pages 22-23).
FAX ON FILE = The RDC Full Cell; Production Notes; Trademarks (print page 24).
Careful readers of the masthead may have noticed the waffling statement that started appearing this June: I list the Newsletter's frequency as "published more-or-less monthly." With this issue, we finally face reality and announce that the RDC Newsletter will be published six times a year. Each bimonthly issue will be as large as the "double issues" you've been receiving lately--24 print pages or 90 minutes on cassette. Production and mailing costs for the Newsletter have been steadily increasing. The good news is that, by changing to bimonthly publication, we won't be increasing subscription rates and the Newsletter will be as meaty as ever, though it may lack some of the immediacy that monthly publication allows.
In response to my flaming denouncement of inTOUCH (software that provides an Optacon II image of the Macintosh screen) in last month's Newsletter, I received the following letter from Wes Boyd, president of Berkeley System Design, inTOUCH's developer.
"Enclosed is TSI's inTOUCH press release. It is unfortunate that you did not get a copy before you wrote your piece in the RDC Newsletter. To clarify some important points:
"(1) inTOUCH is not a research project, it is a product that will be shipping by late September '88. We see inTOUCH as a good solution to Macintosh access for Optacon users. It provides effective tactile access to a graphics display--a first in the industry. It will be an even better solution when it is combined with the navigation aids we are developing with outSPOKEN, our speech based screen review product.
"(2) inTOUCH is our product, not TSI's. TSI has helped a great deal in the design and testing of the product. They naturally will be the prime distributor of inTOUCH for the Optacon. TSI did not buy inTOUCH from us.
"(3) inTOUCH did not delay our work on outSPOKEN. inTOUCH was a short term project which used other resources than those committed to outSPOKEN. outSPOKEN was delayed by our work on CloseView, an entry level version of our large print utility [inLARGE] which we developed for Apple Computer. Apple Computer now includes a copy of CloseView with every Macintosh sold. We put CloseView on a high priority because we feel it represented an unprecedented opportunity to get our technology to our customers. As a result, every Macintosh is now a large print system.
"Please call us whenever you have any questions about our work. We're not in this business to make people 'furious.'"
I always welcome comments from our readers on anything appearing in the Newsletter. We did call BSD before we wrote the article; we received the inTOUCH press release, through regular TSI channels, two weeks after the article was published.
TSI's press release states that inTOUCH is scheduled for release in September 1988 by BSD, and that it will be distributed by TSI at a price of $395. It continues: "it has been generally believed that it is not possible for a blind person to operate a mouse or to obtain the graphic information which appears on the Macintosh screen. ... This belief is now shown to be false with the inTOUCH/Optacon system, which enables a blind person to not only use a mouse, but also to comprehend the graphic information displayed on the screen."
"Do you have a Nemeth Code translator?" We've heard this question countless times on the phone and at conventions. Nemeth Code is the braille code for representing mathematics and science notation. While RDC is certainly familiar with both Nemeth Code and computers, we're looking for input on potential Nemeth applications that will be useful and appealing to sighted and blind microcomputer users.
We want to identify a pool of Nemeth users--educators, transcribers, blind professionals and blind students--who will assist us in the long-term process of identifying potential Nemeth Code applications. Pool participants will answer questions from Raised Dot and may be asked to review some of our materials. If you are interested in adding your name to the pool, please write a letter to Raised Dot Computing. Please don't call to add your name to the list or inquire about potential products.
In your letter (print, braille, or disk are all fine), please address these issues: your situation (educator, student, professional, other); how you use Nemeth Code; how you use the computer; what equipment you use; your own conception of possible Nemeth Code software; and how these applications would work with sensory aids equipment. We need to hear from you by 30 November 1988--we will contact folks addressing these issues to discuss their potential roles.
RDC proudly announces pixCELLS, software to help you create brailler graphics with an Apple II computer and a computer-driven braille embosser. You can use pixCELLS to create simple graphics from scratch, or touch up graphics from other software, adding braille labels anywhere on the image. pixCELLS works with a "HI-RES image, a specific kind of graphics file that many Apple drawing programs create; the supplied touch-up tools let you revise inkprint graphics for better braille output. You can save the modified image for future use with pixCELLS or other graphics software. You can send the image to most of the braille embossers currently available--including VersaPoint, Ohtsuki, Cranmer, Romeo, and more. You can define your own graphics embosser, so pixCELLS will keep pace with new hardware developments. pixCELLS provides this unique constellation of features at the reasonable price of $150 U.S.
A HI-RES image on the Apple screen is composed of points of light, called pixels. When pixCELLS sends an image to your embosser, each lit pixel becomes one braille dot. We use the term brailler graphics to describe pixCELLS' output. Computer-driven braille embossers can't draw lines: brailler graphics are always a collection of unconnected dots. When a sighted person sees a collection of lit dots on the screen, the mind can readily blur that image into a relatively continuous picture. But reading a graphic by touch is a different process: brailler graphics are inherently coarse. Brailler graphics are great for simple geometry diagrams, street and room layouts, and schematic information in general. It's important to understand, however, that some types of information are more clearly conveyed through true tactile graphics, with continuous lines, subtle textures, and smooth circles--detailed drawings like cell diagrams, coastlines, and algebraic functions.
Apple pixels are pretty tiny, and very close together. For example, the Apple cursor is seven pixels wide and eight pixels high. Braille dots are larger and further apart than Apple pixels: when you use pixCELLS to send a cursor-size square to an embosser, the same arrangement of 56 dots is three-quarters of an inch on a side. An entire Apple screen requires six braille pages: pixCELLS shows you the exact frames that correspond to each output page on your embosser. While a six-page brailler graphic can show great detail, it's a little awkward to carry and store. When you ask pixCELLS to emboss an image, it's a snap to specify exactly which frames you'd like embossed.
The pixCELLS Modify Environment provides the tools you want when creating brailler graphics. You can easily add braille labels anywhere on your image, and you can also create a braille page combining standard text and graphics to collate in to a braille document. pixCELLS gives you three ways to enter your braille: using the print keyboard, or six-key Perkins-style entry, or through a numeric keypad. (Six-key braille keyboard doesn't work on the Apple detached IIgs keyboard.) To help you get the details right, you can work on your image at 200% enlargement as well as at regular size. When you want to create a simple graphic like a mobility map, pixCELLS lets you quickly draw horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree lines, as well as filled and outlined boxes. Drawing a box filled with black lets you precisely erase portions of your image.
Most inkprint drawing programs put black ink on a white page. When you begin a new drawing, the "blank" screen is white--all pixels are lit. As you draw, you turn off pixels to make black lines and shapes. A braille version of this would be difficult to read. It's much easier for a braille reader to sense the presence of a dot than its absence. To make legible braille versions, pixCELLS lets you quickly reverse all or part of your image, switching all the white pixels to black and vice versa. You can shift the image in relation to the six frames, making maximum use of one or two braille pages, and you can also compress your image in half. Finally, pixCELLS has an undo feature, so you can experiment with glee, and then use undo to restore.
RDC wants to give you freedom of choice, so you can use pixCELLS with most of the embossers on the market today. Once you choose from the ten embossers in the Preferences Menu, pixCELLS adjusts the frames for the graphic abilities of your unit. We've also made pixCELLS flexible for the future: you can teach pixCELLS how to output to any embosser with the "Define your own embosser" option. All embossers are not created equal when it comes to making brailler graphics. Some embossers produce true graphics output, where every dot is equally spaced on the page. Other embossers can only produce gapped graphics output. While the dots are equally spaced vertically, there's a one-dot wide gap every third dot horizontally. This one-dot wide gap is the normal horizontal space between cells in braille text.
For full brailler graphics hardcopy, you can use a VersaPoint, Cranmer, Romeo, Ohtsuki or Dipner Dots. (Dipner Dots uses a daisy-wheel printer to make braille: it requires a Diablo 630-compatible printer with roller modifications explained in the pixCELLS manual.) For gapped graphics hardcopy, you can use a Thiel, Resus, or MBOSS. If you don't own an embosser, you can save your modified image to disk and send it to someone else with pixCELLS for final output.
No matter which embosser you connect to your Apple, pixCELLS gives you a lot of control over what's embossed. You can quickly output one copy of one frame for graphics that fit in one brailler page. You can also select any and all of the six frames for exactly the portion of the image you want embossed. To save wear'n'tear on your thermoform, you can ask pixCELLS to make multiple copies of your image.
We've designed pixCELLS with extensive on-line help, so you won't need to constantly refer to its manual. But if you like reading, you'll find an in-depth explanation of all pixCELLS features, as well as resources on brailler and tactile graphics. pixCELLS is a ProDOS program, and we've made working with ProDOS files as painless as possible. You can load and save images to disk without worrying about ProDOS pathnames, if you like. Built-in formatting software makes it easy to prepare a ProDOS data disk to store your modified pixCELLS files.
As we mentioned, pixCELLS can load any standard HI-RES graphics file, which you can create with Micro Illustrator (supplied with the Koala Pad and Power Pad), MousePaint from Apple, and scores of other programs. Just pop a DOS 3.3 or ProDOS disk of graphic files in your drive, and pixCELLS presents you with a numbered list of the files it can work with. pixCELLS automatically converts DOS 3.3 files to ProDOS.
pixCELLS runs on an Apple IIe, Apple IIc, or Apple IIgs with at least 128K memory. With just 128K memory, two disk drives are strongly recommended. With more than 256K memory, you can use the built-in install option to load the pixCELLS software in memory, so one data disk drive suffices.
All graphic functions are controlled through the keyboard: pixCELLS does not use a mouse, touch tablet, or other graphic input device. pixCELLS' principal drawing tool is the Pen Cross, a square arrangement of nine keys. The most comfortable Pen Cross is the Numeric Keypad, built-in to the Apple IIgs and newer Apple IIe keyboards, and available as a plug-in device for older Apple IIe's. If your Apple doesn't have a numeric keypad, you can use one of pixCELLS' alternative Pen Crosses located on the main keyboard.
If you have an Echo or Cricket voice synthesizer from Street Electronics, pixCELLS will talk. It's possible for a blind person to use pixCELLS independently to load and emboss graphic images, but pixCELLS' Modify Environment does not provide enough speech feedback to allow a blind person to draw images.
pixCELLS is currently in the final stages of beta-testing; the manual is being printed as you read this. We anticipate shipping after November 15. pixCELLS costs $150 U.S., which includes the pixCELLS program disk (not copy-protected) with sample graphic files, the manual (complete with a step-by-step tutorial), ongoing technical support, and shipping within the U.S.
RDC is pleased to announce we're now selling Flipper, a screen access utility for the IBM-PC and MS-DOS computers. Flipper, which costs just $250, is designed and supported by Omnichron of Berkeley, California. Flipper works with a variety of speech synthesizers, including the Symphonix, Echo GP, DECtalk, and the Braille'n'Speak.
A screen access program (sometimes called a screen review or screen navigation program) makes many IBM applications accessible to blind users through speech. In the IBM world, there are some standard techniques used to display text on the screen. The screen access utility "knows" about this text, and allows the user to control what portions of the text are spoken through the speech synthesizer the user supplies.
Using screen access succcesfully depends on understanding the relationship between the screen access utility and the main application. You don't use a screen access utility on its own--you load a program like Flipper into the IBM's memory and then run another program. The screen access utility sits between you and the underlying application, watching over your every keystroke. The screen access program responds to commands that it knows about, and hands all other keystrokes over to the main application. When you're using a screen access utility on the IBM, you're operating two programs at once.
Important features to look for in a screen access utility are:
flexibility: will it let me roam around the screen easily?
compatibility: will it work with the main programs I want to use?
configurability: will it let me change the quality of speech output and the characters that are pronounced?
ease of use: how many keys do I have to press to get speech output? how do I remember which keys to use?
If screen access utilities just made the IBM talk everything, they wouldn't be much of a help. You need to be able to selectively voice portions of the screen; discover visual clues used to communicate different program features; and shut the voice up when you've heard enough.
As experienced blind computer users will quickly tell you, the single most important speech output feature is silence. When you're learning a program, you want to hear absolutely everything the software is printing to the screen. Once you're familiar with the software, you only want to hear the current prompt. Recognizing this, Flipper is very easy to shut up.
When you issue a command while Flipper's reading, it shuts up and acts on the command. Flipper also allows you to silence automatic output temporarily, replacing voice output of silenced lines with tones. When you know that a file you want is in the second half of the directory, for example, you ask for a directory, silence Flipper, listen for around 20 tones, then press an inert key like shift to reconnect speech and hear your filename. These tones are faster than speech output when it comes to understanding how and where the main program is displaying information.
Flipper provides you with literally hundreds of options for customizing the speech output. You can tell Flipper to automatically voice everything that's sent to the screen, and you can restrict its voicing in many ways. You can provide Flipper with window dimensions and then get just the contents of the window read. Flipper's "light bar" option automatically voices a portion of the screen that's highlighted differently than the rest. Flipper also allows you to search the contents of the screen for screen enhancements.
Flipper works well with the vast majority of screen-oriented software for the IBM, including Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, WordStar, Ashton-Tate's dBASE III, and hundreds of others. Flipper can happily share the IBM's memory with terminate-and-stay-resident utilities like Borland's Turbo Lightning spell-checker. Currently, Omnichron reports conflicts only with Borland's SideKick and the IRMA programming tools.
You control most IBM software through function keys. To minimize conflict with your main application, Flipper's Live Mode commands are "alt" key combinations. If your application also uses "alt" keys, you can change Flipper's command prefix to the control key.
Flipper's three modes--live, review, and help--let you use your main application, understand exactly what your application wants, and learn how to use Flipper. You can instantly switch between modes without losing your place. You use Flipper's Live Mode to work with the underlying application. Even when you're "Live," you can use Flipper's "Quick Keys" to read all or some of the screen.
Flipper's Review Mode freezes the main application--all your keystrokes are interpreted by Flipper. This enables you to freely explore exactly what's on the screen without stray keystrokes being interpreted as a command by the main application. When you're in Review Mode, you can easily change any of Flipper's many options for how it reads what's on the screen.
Flipper comes with print, braille, and disk manuals, but you may never need to read them, thanks to Flipper's extensive on-line help. In Help Mode, the IBM function keys explain all the program's features--one function key provides an index to the others. You can also freely explore the keyboard: Flipper can tell you either the name of the key or the Flipper function it controls.
As you use Live Mode to work with the main program, Flipper can echo back every key you press. (Optionally, Flipper waits until you type a complete word before it talks, or doesn't echo your keys at all, or doesn't echo oft-used command keys like shift, the arrow keys, or Return.) During live mode, Flipper can talk all the material the program is displaying on the screen. When your main program uses the arrow keys to move around the screen, then Flipper adds speech output to that cursor movement. When the main program uses up and down arrow to move up and down screen lines, you can ask Flipper to talk the entire line or just the word moved to. Writers will welcome Flipper's "read and move the cursor a sentence" command.
Flipper's "Quick Keys" talk without moving the cursor. Conveniently arranged on the main keyboard around the letter "K," these commands produce voice output of lines, words, or characters. When you want to know what the current prompt is, for example, pressing alt-J reads the previous word. Alt-I reads the current line; alt-period gets the next character.
You can ask Flipper to read the entire screen--remember, when you hear what you need, any other command silences output and continues. You can also establish "blocks" that contain only a portion of the screen, or the contents of a window. In addition to reading words and lines, you can ask Flipper to spell out character by character, either with letter names or the "military alphabet." With the Symphonix speech synthesizer, Flipper shows capitalization with pitch change; with all synthesizers, you can ask Flipper to alert you to capital letters with the word "Capital."
Once you press alt-semicolon to enter Review, Flipper seizes all your commands, and you don't have to worry about inadvertently telling your application to do something. When you're in Review, you use the function keys to change all of Flipper's many options. You can also read selected portions of the screen.
You use the same keys as in live mode to read words, lines, and characters relative to the current cursor. You can ask Flipper to read an absolute screen coordinate, or tell it to read 10 lines, or 8 words. You can also use the arrow keys to move up and down lines freely. If you're a programmer, you'll appreciate the ability to identify a character by decimal ASCII number as well as by name. You can search the screen in many ways. You can look for particular characters (case-sensitive or not), general groups of characters (any letter, any number, and so forth), particular kinds of screen enhancements (inverse video, high intensity letters, colors), or any combination of these. Your search can range the entire screen, or you can restrict it to before or after the current cursor.
As you work in Review, your audio cursor moves around the screen. When you exit review to Live Mode, you can ask Flipper to move the program's cursor to your audio cursor. (In some rare situations, this won't be possible. When it works correctly, Flipper tells you with a modest "Success!") Exiting review and moving the program cursor comes in handy in many applications. Suppose your main program is displaying a full screen of communication parameters, and you just want to change your baud rate. Enter review, search for the words "Baud", then exit review by moving the program cursor to your audio cursor. You're ready to type in the new baud rate.
We've mentioned in passing some of Flipper's many options. One reason Flipper is an easy-to-use program is that you can customize its output in many ways. Character pronunciation is just one example. Many applications take advantage of the IBM's built-in form symbols, especially in their prompts. The IBM form symbols include characters that are actually pictures of the keytops--the tab, arrow, and return keys, for example. When your main program is telling you: "Press the (picture of down arrow key) for more choices" then it's crucial that you hear that down arrow character. On the other hand, you probably don't want to hear the form symbols that draw borders--the horizontal double underline, upper left double underline corner, and so forth. Flipper lets you choose exactly which characters you want spoken and which you'd prefer suppressed, storing your choices in your configuration. And if you need to hear suppressed characters for some reason, one key toggles the suppression off and on again.
When Flipper encounters more than two of the same character in a row, it politely counts them for you. You can request numbers to be read as individual digits or pronounced as numbers. When Flipper tells you about enhancements, you can choose whether this information is provided as it would appear on a black-and-white monitor or on a color monitor. You can change the speed, volume, and pitch of your speech synthesizer. Finally, Flipper provides several functions that facilitate creating macros with a utility like NEWKEY, including marking a particular place on the screen and then reading from the mark to the cursor.
Flipper makes setting and changing these options very simple. Instead of stepping you through long menus, each option is toggled by a single key. As you press the key, its function is announced. This toggling makes it easy to discover your current choice--just press the key twice! Most importantly, you can change all these choices as you use the software, experimenting until you find the settings that work well with your main program.
The sum total of these settings is a "configuration"; Flipper keeps up to ten of these configurations in memory, and you can "flip" between them as you use your program. You may, for example, find that one sort of cursor, window, and search string definition works well as you write in an Editor, while another combination is more appropriate for that Editor's on-line help. Flipper's ten configurations make it easy to get voice access to both main program functions. You can save and load these configurations from disk, and designate one set of ten configurations to load automatically when you start Flipper.
RDC staff have been using Flipper daily for several months, and it's their hands-down favorite screen access utility. Caryn and Phyllis appreciate its flexibility, power, and ease-of-use. The program's designers, John Stephen Smith and Cynthia Lowe, are especially sensitive to user input, and provide thorough technical support equal to RDC's standards. We recognize that many people must use MS-DOS mass-market applications, and we feel Flipper is an excellent tool for voice access in these situations.
You can purchase Flipper for $250, which includes the program disk; manuals in print, braille, and on disk; technical support from RDC and Omnichron; and a one-year subscription to the RDC Newsletter. The Flipper disk is fully copiable, but each Flipper is "unlocked" for a single computer system. Please inquire about multiple copy and site licensing. Flipper requires at least 128K memory and one floppy disk drive, and works with MS-DOS/PC-DOS versions 2.1 through 3.3. (Right now MS-DOS 4.0 is so unstable that we don't recommend using it with Flipper, or any other program.)
Flipper works with the Symphonix 200 series of voice synthesizers from Artic Technologies, the DECtalk from Digital Equipment Corp., the Echo GP (external) and Echo PC (internal) from Street Electronics, the Votrax PSS and Votalker from Votrax, the Braille'n'Speak from Blazie Engineering, and the Accent Mini. If you don't have one of those speech synthesizers, you can purchase a Symphonix 200 from RDC for just $250.
My first encounter with an optical scanner was the Kurzweil Reading Machine (KRM) at the local library in 1983. Since April, I've been privileged to be a beta tester for the Kurzweil Personal Reader (KPR), which has been a pleasure. Before I dive into the KPR and its features, let me provide a little history on its predecessors.
Originally I wanted to read confidential material for work. It involved numerical data that the KRM found difficult to read but the luxury of reading it when I wanted to without sighted help was irresistible. The voice was almost unintelligible but you got used to it after a while. It wouldn't read columnar data very well; it couldn't tell where there was a picture; it had trouble with fine print and with poor-quality print and with complex formats. But just the fact that it read at all made it worthwhile. Software enhancements and changes to the voice made dramatic improvements.
I logged countless hours on the KRM downloading information to the VersaBraille. Once the interface problems were worked out, it was possible to have almost instant translation from print to braille. BEX and the Apple made editing and formatting the braille a breeze. Without the KRM, my advancement into a technical career in computers could not have happened. It would have taken an army of readers 'round the clock to cover the vast quantity of print that had to be read.
A meeting was held at Kurzweil Computer Products in 1984. Novice and expert users alike were encouraged to express their views about the KRM. Time went by and not much new came out of Kurzweil. The model 4 when it came out was seen as a great step forward. The voice was improved again, the character recognition was better, the unit was one self-contained piece rather than two and could stand on its own instead of on a cart--but it still weighed over 400 pounds and cost about $20,000, making it impractical for most of us to own. Nevertheless, it was impressive.
The Kurzweil Personal Reader is light years ahead of its predecessors. When you first meet the new machine the first thing that hits you is the size. You are skeptical that something so small could be a KRM. The "personal" name is apt, not only because of its portability (the main unit only weighs about 20 pounds), but also because of its price, from $8,000 to $12,000 (see end of article). It's as affordable as a family car--admittedly still a sizeable amount but at least within reach of most pocketbooks. A special loan program is being set up at AFB to facilitate the purchase of the KPR. [Editor's Note: The American Foundation for the Blind's loan program was made possible through a generous gift from Xerox. You must fill out an application that describes how the KPR would be useful, as well as demonstrate the ability to pay back the loan. Successful applicants pay ten percent down, and then get a 48-month loan at 4% for the balance. Contact AFB's Michael Petell directly at 212-620-2022. If you're outside New York, you can leave a message at 1-800-232-5463. PH]
The character recognition and the new DECtalk voice will convince any skeptic. The voice can be understood almost instantly by just about anyone, even in a noisy, crowded convention hall. The variety of text that can now be read is staggering. I have actually used the KPR to read the captions on some photographs; poor-quality, variable-column magazine formats; ads; even my first paycheck from my new employer--unthinkable before. The new technology is based on image scanning as well as pattern recognition. Several lines are scanned at a single sweep and so the machine can learn more quickly what kind of print it is challenged with and what kind of format it needs to figure out. You can even control the machine by hand, thus allowing for an incredible flexibility in scanning.
For those not fortunate enough to have seen a demonstration model, here's a rundown on its physical aspects: The KPR has four parts. The main electronics unit is the size of the two-burner coffeemaker at the office. The detached keyboard is about the size of a small calculator. The optional automatic scanner is around as large as a personal copier, while the optional hand scanner compares closely with a pack of cigarettes.
If you're familiar with the Optacon, you'll understand how valuable it is to be able to scan something quickly by hand to assess the contents of a page. If you're reading "War and Peace", you'll probably opt for the automatic scanner, but for short memos and for finding out what's on the page, the hand scanner is ideal. It can produce a distinctive series of tones as you rapidly sweep across the surface of a page so that you can determine whether it is columnar, has a chart or photograph, or if it even has any text at all. How often have you placed a page on the old KRM only to discover that it is blank or upside down? The hand scanner eliminates many of these problems. It also permits scanning text itself, not just format reporting. But its greatest asset, I think, is its ability to tell you a lot about the print and format very fast.
In addition to the excellent character recognition and clear voice output, the KPR has many new and exciting features. Communications with other computers is now easier to understand and to implement. You can set up and save three optional groups of communications parameters. So if you interface the KPR often with several devices, you can call them up from a menu as needed.
You have nine DECtalk voices to choose from; in fact you can set up one voice to read to you and one to give you status and error messages. (The new members of the DECtalk family are Dr. Dennis, Frail Frank, and Whispering Wendy.) This eliminates the possible confusion that might arise about what is text and what is a status or error message. You can save voice and error tone settings as new defaults. The option of having messages spoken all the time or having them speak only when you want is a blessing.
In case you forget the function of a specific key, you can get on-line help from the keyboard itself; you can find out the name of a key and an explanation of its function right on-line. A four-function calculator mode with some memory features is built into the software. You can choose either a telephone or adding machine key arrangement--nice!
The memory for text is greatly expanded. You can now store about 80K worth of material at one time in the buffer. You have the option of transmitting text to a computer or printer continuously as you scan or in blocks that you specify. If you're reading a letter and you need the address but not the rest, for instance, you can set placemarks in memory and only transmit that portion to your PC.
An incredible time saver is that you can transmit text with speech turned off. In the past you always had a time-delay in transmissions because the speech would always fall behind the transmitted text and the KRM would pause transmission, letting the speech catch up. The KPR emits tones during your transmission so you know you can tell it's working successfully; when the transmission is complete, the KPR says "Done".
Although the bugs have not been completely exterminated, it is possible to use the KPR as a speech synthesizer from your PC with a telecommunications program. Hopefully it won't be long before you can use the KPR's wonderful voice interactively with your favorite screen reader as well.
Finally, the electronics unit comes with a couple of recording jacks. With a patch cord you can record what is stored in memory to a tape recorder. This means that if you don't have a KPR but have access to one, or if you don't own a downloading device like a VersaBraille, you can still take the material you've read home with you on tape. You may perhaps want to duplicate and distribute such a tape to large numbers of print-handicapped people. The recording quality can be very good and the direct connection eliminates environmental distractions. The sub-mini-plug is for recording as you scan. It prevents status and error messages from the KPR from being recorded. It also pauses the recorder while the KPR is not speaking scanned text so you won't have silent gaps on your tape. However, your recorder should have automatic line leveling, or you may end up with very distorted speech.
Now that we've talked about all the wonderful things the KPR can do, we should step back for a moment and reveal its limitations. These will hopefully be addressed by Kurzweil but you should know what they are.
The KPR has some great features to let you review the scanned text in memory. You can "skim" through it by line, sentence, section/column, paragraph, even by word or letter. You can have words spelled out (capitals are spoken when text is spelled, very nice). You can skim backward and forward through memory. You can interrupt what is being read by pressing a memory key to skip to something else. But there are three problem areas to consider:
Recognition Overload Clears Memory: If the unit has enough recognition problems, it will reset itself and your memory buffer is erased. More than once I've lost over an hour's worth of scanning that way. You must take care.
Inconsistent commands: You search forward by pressing the memory keys once. To read the next line, for example, just press the "next-line" key once. If you want to skip several lines forward you must rapidly press the "next-line" key the appropriate number of times. The line where you stop will be spoken. You search backward by pressing the memory key twice. If you press it only once you will remain on the same item--line, word, etc. If you want to skip back several words, say, you hold down the "last-word" key. Short beeps will tell you how many words you've gone back. When you release the key, the current word is spoken. You can see that this technique is inconsistent with forward skimming.
Placemarker follies: You can set eight placemarks in the memory buffer. Unfortunately, there are no numbers associated with them. If you forget which key you hit to set a mark, you can easily erase one by pressing the same key to set another mark. Marks should speak numbers when you set them and should be protected so that you can't erase them so easily.
If you want to skip to the beginning or end of the memory buffer, you had better set a placemarker at the beginning of your text before you start scanning it and then set another one after you're done. Unless you explicitly set these beginning and ending marks, the only way to get to either end is to step through it as described above. If you have 80K worth of text, this can take a while.
As many of you know, interfacing computers can be nightmarish. Kurzweil has tried to provide the most straightforward, "standard" (whatever that means in today's technology) interface possible. The KPR is a DCE device with a straight-through RS232-C serial port. Unfortunately, it seems that at least some of the more popular PC screen reading programs require pins 2 and 3 to be crossed in order to work with speech. Say you want to use the DECtalk voice on the KPR as a speech synthesizer for your PC--a feature that, it was hoped, would be a super fringe benefit of the KPR. You may be out of luck. Kurzweil is seriously investigating this problem by testing many devices and screen readers.
This problem with some screen readers can be a major stumbling block for downloading to a PC as well. Be aware however that this is not a KPR problem so much as a PC and DOS problem. Sometimes a VersaBraille can have similar difficulties. More work needs to be done in this area. For best results you should use a second serial port for file transfers. Most telecommunications programs for the IBM PC and clones work well for downloading files from the KPR and for uploading them into the KPR's memory to be read by the DECtalk. But some screen readers need special handling in order for this to work properly. Be aware too that the Apple interface has not been worked out at all. Since the old KRM worked so well with BEX, hopefully this will soon be resolved.
There is no way to cancel a scan. You may think you've stopped scanning because you've stopped moving the camera or because you've cancelled a scan on the automatic scanner, but the KPR may not have stopped recognizing yet. For very complex text there can be a considerable delay between scanning and character recognition. At present there is no way to cancel that recognition process.
Densely-populated pages can cause the recognition memory buffer to overflow. The KPR will then give an erroneous message that the page may be a photograph and be too difficult to read. This is a serious bug because in actuality the page may indeed be readable if you wait for the recognition memory buffer to empty out from the last scanned page.
A very serious bug that must be fixed immediately is that sometimes you can crash the automatic scanner as you cycle through the various reading modes of the KPR. You must then restart the entire system, losing all your text in memory.
Finally, there is a recognition problem which can sometimes be overcome by using the hand-scanner. If the automatic scanner runs into text it can't recognize, a message saying that text may be upside down is spoken. This can be deceptive because it may really only be sideways text or a decorative graphic. The physical arrangement of the camera inside of the automatic scanner permits scanning only text which is laid out vertically. The old KRM could handle horizontal layouts due to the larger surface area of the flatbed. If the camera inside the scanner could be rotated 90 degrees by the user, this inconvenience would disappear. The flatbed is wide enough to accommodate most sideways presentations. Many office environments print reports this way so this physical limitation is frustrating.
What I miss most from my experience with the old KRM is the ability to tell the scanner to deliberately skip over a portion of text. Suppose you know that every page of a book has a cute little design at the top that the KPR can't read well. On the KRM, you could set a mark that would force the scanner to start scanning further down the page. On the KPR, I've figured out that if you get the message that text is unrecognized, it's a good idea to let it continue scanning for a bit because it may turn out that the rest of the page is readable. If the message about the page maybe having a photograph and being too difficult to read appears, the scan is cancelled. It'd be nice if you could somehow override this and look further down the page for normal text. Sadly, due to the new image scanning technology, it's unlikely that these issues will be resolved in the near future. The good thing is that generally speaking, character recognition is so spectacular that these recognition problems mentioned here can be lived with for now.
None of the limitations discussed in this article should discourage a person from considering the purchase of a KPR. As with any technology, there are pros and cons; perfection is unattainable. The independence, privacy and almost complete autonomy that can be gained with this device surely outweigh any inconveniences along the way. A company who has listened to its customers so well in the past will no doubt continue to do so. They have qualified blind people in-house and suggestions from us, the beta testers, were taken seriously; many have already been incorporated into the software.
In closing, I would like to leave you with this personal observation. Without a KPR sitting on my desk, my present position as computer consultant at the management level would not be possible. The sheer volume of technical print that I must read TODAY would require a full-time reader well-versed in computerese. The key is control. For the first time I can honestly say that I control what I read. The Kurzweil Personal Reader has made me independent of sighted assistance for ninety-five percent of my work. What more can I add?
KPR Model 10--hand scanner option $7,950
KPR Model 20--automatic scanner option $9,950
KPR Model 30--hand and automatic scanners (complete system) $11,950
Warranties: 1st year--mail-in service included, on-site service $840. Additional years--mail-in service $960, on-site service $1,740
For ordering instructions call or write to:
Kurzweil Computer Products
185 Albany St.
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-864-4700 (in Massachusetts)
About the author: Olga Espinola is a computer consultant in management at New England Telephone. As a beta-tester for the KPR, she's used it extensively for day-to-day work and personal mail since April.
"Now that we have tape recorders and talking computers, why use braille?" "If braille is fast and efficient, why do we need speech outputs?" "Would it be a luxury to provide a user with more than one access medium?" "How can the use of computers improve library service to the visually impaired?"
Such questions are often asked by the bewildered observers of the new communications technology for the blind. Engineers and researchers are no less perplexed. Only their questions are more sophisticated. This article addresses the questions of professionals who are working in our behalf and consumers interested in making appropriate use of communications technology, with a primary focus on computer access as the main topic. My purpose is to summarize the state of the art, not provide a list of recommendations. Some of this material was first presented in 1981 at the RESNA Convention in Ottawa, and then revised in 1983 for the Matilda Ziegler Magazine. Now it is divided into two papers: The companion article concerns reading machine technology. [Look for it in an upcoming Newsletter JK.] I hope these papers clear up some confusion in this fast-changing field.
Braille has long been the mainstay of written communications for the blind. Now many people use recordings in addition to braille or instead of it. The Braille Revival League (BRL) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) were formed to be advocates for braille. Recordings and speech outputs for computers are cheaper, and they require less skill to make and use. They are much faster for some applications. So why keep braille? There are at least nine good reasons.
-- Braille leaves the ears free. This facilitates activities like aural reading, lecturing from notes and functioning in study groups.
-- Hardcopy braille requires no machines to read it. As with print, it requires only the human body. Of course, it can also be read on braille displays which are partially analogous to video terminals for the sighted. Writing is done in a variety of ways which underscore flexibility: by hand with a slate and stylus, by a machine called a braille writer, by a braille printing press, a braille printer or a computer terminal.
-- Because braille is usually written on pages or cards, note taking, filing and accessibility are greatly facilitated. For many of these tasks, braille is preferred even when the user's reading speed is slow. A computerized database can be efficiently accessed with either speech or braille. But if you didn't use a computer, would you prefer your address files on audio cassettes if instead you could use braille?
-- Braille is usually preferred for non-textual tasks. Most computer programmers who use braille well highly prefer reading machine code in braille. Music, math and graphs can nearly always be more directly rendered in braille.
-- Braille is a written code designed as an exact transcription of the alpha-numeric code which usually appears as printed characters. Just as material intended to be heard loses some meaning when written, so it is that written material loses some meaning when transcribed into speech. Have you ever had to extract from a recording precise spelling, foreign words, punctuation and proper format for printing? The task can be done more faithfully from braille copy. Why should we settle for second-class academic citizenship with only one medium or the other?
-- People who have read only via audio recordings for many years experience more deterioration in spelling skill than braille readers. Communications instructors attest to this.
-- As is the case with other media, braille production is made far more efficient by the use of computers. This fact is illustrated by later discussions of refreshable braille displays and computer-assisted library service.
-- Deaf-blind people can use braille but not recordings. Some hard-of-hearing people have difficulty understanding synthetic speech.
-- When it comes to creativity, braille is the medium of choice for many. They argue that they "think best" in braille, and it's hard to win arguments with writers.
As a tool for blind people, braille is more homologous or functionally similar to print than recordings are or than raised print would be. For many tasks, it is functionally more similar to print than using a reading machine.
The question is asked: Since braille has so many advantages, why not use braille except for recreational recordings and those who cannot use that medium? The reasons for using speech are as compelling as those for using braille.
-- For many people, braille is slow. Braille can be fast only for those who have unimpaired tactual perception, and it's fast for them only if either they learned it as children in school or have used it a great deal as adults. The Gray-Todd Study done in Britain in the 1960's found people reading 200 words per minute but the average to be around 60. As with Optacon reading, the curve has a long tail out to high speeds.
-- A common cause of blindness in older people is diabetes which often results in neuropathy, leaving fingers unable to read braille efficiently. A number of occupations also impair tactual perception.
-- Besides the fact that recordings are relatively easy to produce and duplicate, tape recorders and phonographs have become toys of our society. They are, therefore, inexpensive and convenient though not usually as reliable and precise as those of us who need them as tools prefer.
-- Electronic speech compression now adds to the efficiency of learning through listening. Technically, speech compression consists of electronically correcting the pitch of speeded-up recordings. Prices start at less than $100. (See our article on speech compressors published in Technology Review by the Carroll Center). With compression, 300 words per minute is common; 400 is not unusual. Due to lack of publicity and bad experiences with early products, most people don't yet know its value.
All machines now available use the VSC (Variable Speech Control) technology. It is functional, but sadly, it is inferior to the RAM technology by Lexicon, Inc. (and others) which is no longer available to the public.
-- Recordings have become less bulky and expensive. New flexible, slow-speed (8-1/3 r.p.m.) disks are less bulky even than ink print and sometimes cheaper. The Library of Congress cassette format permits four times the length of recording time available with commercial audio cassette formats.
When large quantities of data are involved, braille has the disadvantage of bulk. For example, the braille Bible just fits into a steamer trunk. Paperless braille computer devices, however, overcome that disadvantage.
-- Recordings used to be hard to index, but new tone-indexing and voice-indexing features combined with cue-and-review features of the newer machines help a lot. With voice-indexing, reference books including recorded dictionaries and encyclopedias have become feasible. Voice-indexed newsletters are more efficient to read.
Micro-electronics is making both speech and braille recorded materials easier to retrieve; that is, more accessible. In the future, digital storage and laser technology can further boost the efficiency and accessibility of recordings.
Skimming is hard to do with recordings, but speech compression, computer controls and the indexing features mentioned improve the skim and review potential of recordings.
-- When devices and software are well-designed, synthetic speech has the strongly-suspected advantage of being comprehensible to experienced users at higher speeds than is human speech. It remains for this hypothesis to be tested using experienced users of certain devices.
People who can efficiently use more than one media have urged this concept upon developers who would listen. Some, including RDC which produces BEX, have listened well; others have not.
Personal experience best describes the merits of the multi-media approach. In a study group or when teaching a class, I prefer braille books and notes. For lengthy background material needed for the same group, I prefer recordings. For reference works, I may look up the material with a direct-translation reading aid like the Optacon and then read passages in that same reference work with an OCR such as the Kurzweil Reading Machine. For many materials, a sighted human reader is the best alternative.
For entering data, I use a computer. I call it my "forgiving typewriter" because one can make corrections and changes in the computer's memory by pushing keys rather than by scratching out characters or using a sighted helper. In my experience, the efficiency of this operation has not yet dawned on many counselors, prosthetics officers and employers. I wouldn't hire a blind person to type exclusively on a typewriter, but then I wouldn't hire a sighted person to do that either.
The speech output is usually best for reading menus and commands and for catching most spelling and typing errors. It leaves both hands free to use the keyboard. Besides math and music, the braille output is best for catching certain formatting and case errors and for proofreading copy after it has been translated into Grade Two braille.
Some people prefer to enter data via a braille keyboard in Grade Two and then have their computer reverse translate. They say that they "think best in braille". I sometimes do this for a change of pace and to take advantage of using the convenient, small braille keyboarding devices. However, I believe that QWERTY keyboarding of text is nearly always faster, but this allegation still remains to be tested.
The commonest braille keyboarding errors are missing dots. Such errors are easier to catch with synthetic speech than with braille output. The user's mind is conditioned to fill in weak and missing dots by years of experience with hardcopy braille which has natural variations in dot height. By contrast, a properly-functioning refreshable braille display is more uniform. By contrast to hardcopy braille, missing dots are always the result of keyboarding errors. That subtle factor is one reason users need experience to develop accuracy in error detection with these new devices.
Serendipitously, the two media, braille and speech, complement each other like the fists of a boxer in enabling one to "punch out" errors. Some of us prefer to simultaneously proofread the same text in both media. One hand issues commands to a program that speaks as its cursor moves, the other hand reads braille. Since sighted people use both a screen and print copy for efficient work, why shouldn't we have two media if needed in order to compete?
Some people are best served by a combination of speech output and a large-print screen or large-print hardcopy. Viewing the screen with low vision is often precise but slow and fatiguing over time, so they use the screen for editing. They use speech for rapid reading of text and for verifying keystrokes when needed. Much more needs to be said about this combination which is not my area of expertise.
There are three reasons why we cannot often prescribe exactly what's needed to fully implement a multi-media approach. Either developers have incompatibilities in their products, or providers won't pay for it, or users are prejudiced against trying a particular medium.
Suppose you wanted to read aloud a text which you had on audio tape or in your talking computer, and braille was unavailable to you. The increased use of recordings and synthetic speech has given rise to the need to respeak material in one's own voice and inflections. This is a new reading skill which is similar to the skill needed in simultaneous oral language translation, but it's easier to learn, and it can be self taught.
Braille is usually preferred for oral reading, but it often requires copying, so we use headphones and respeak or "parrot." The skill is useful in such diverse activities as broadcasting, telling bedtime stories and sharing information with people who haven't learned the accents of robots. The advantage is that it saves retranscribing data into braille. I am debating on a name for this new skill: Human Articulation of Synthetic Speech (HASP) or People Articulating Recorded or Robot Output Talk (PARROT). Both acronyms have symbolic significance.
Also called soft-copy, linear, or refreshable braille, the machines to read and write it are somewhat costly. Furthermore, as is the case with speech devices and software, they are still evolving. The question cannot yet be fully answered. Several machines are available--the VersaBraille from Telesensory Systems, Inc. being the most common. Most of them display a short line of characters. Data is temporarily stored in RAM and accessible via scanning controls. Typically, they have modest editors built into their firmware, and files are permanently stored in digital form on disks or cassettes.
Soft-copy braille is a welcome and much-needed attempt to combine the advantages of braille, magnetic storage and micro-computers for the tasks of reading, composing, filing, taking notes, accessing PC's and using a computer terminal. Several full-page displays are being designed and should be tried.
If we are moving toward paperless offices, why should humans transcribe at all? Why not generate braille and audio versions of books and periodicals from the digital-storage media such as compositors' tapes and hard disks used to drive automatic type-setting equipment. Well, the prospect waxes and wanes with changing computer technology.
First of all, we need access to materials already in print. Despite the paperless office prediction, computers are grinding out more print instead of less. Again, why should we settle for second-class citizenship in academic pursuits?
Secondly, some proponents of this promising alternative were ignorant of the formidable formatting tasks involved. When data is prepared with only the intent to print it, no database for accessing it is provided, and the printer commands used are not uniform across the industry. Imagine a recorded newspaper strung out on a tape with an erroneous table of contents. Would people trouble themselves to read it?
In 1980, an international conference on computer production of braille concluded that, largely because of formatting considerations, it was not then cost effective for most applications. Braille publishers like the American Printing House for the Blind use human intervention to reformat texts to be brailled which they receive in digital form originally intended for ink print formatting.
Now, as mass-storage devices are entering the category of personal ownership, the prospects of our benefitting are brighter. I am referring to the advent of CD ROM (compact disk read only memory) and the prospective technology of read/write CDs. Because everyone will need a database to access their data in mass storage, our formatting problems may be reduced. Now we need to produce better access software to interface with this probable approaching avalanche of reference works, newspapers, etc.
The Bible on computer disks is an example of a text accessible with a database. If all one could do was read it, why bother since it's available in print. But it's popular because the database and other programs make it a concordance, a tool for indexing, a transliterator and more. Blind people are especially attracted to it because of the bulkiness of braille and the limitations of accessing audio recordings. Fortunately, the software from Bible Research Systems of Austin, Texas runs with our access software.
A related frontier is enabling access by phone to computer-assisted data bases and information services such as CompuServe and The Source. Some of us have crossed this frontier via the vehicles of braille, talking and large-print computer terminals and terminal software for PC's. Telephone costs still remain a major barrier.
Computer-assisted library service is also made feasible by present technology. The initial cost would be high, but the resulting service could be much cheaper and more efficient than any now available. In such a system, the user need not interact directly with the computer. Computers would duplicate the materials which would be recycled after use. Braille and large print could be on pages or on computer disks; speech could be recorded human voices or synthetic ones. The major differences would be that services could be centralized; storage would not be bulky; and master copies need never be destroyed.
Service could be fast and more personalized. You would not need to keep your favorite literature since you could retrieve it in a few days by dialing an 800 number. Instead, you might want to keep a list of the materials you have read and those you may want to read. A librarian would type your request at a console. Computers, if well programmed and well maintained, would do the rest. In such a system, computers would warehouse master copies and duplicate them for users. That should free the librarians for more interaction with users. The users need hardly be aware of the computer's role in producing their materials. After all, the users of newspapers are only dimly aware that computers now set their type.
There are three major obstacles to implementing this cheap and efficient library service. The first is that consumers are unaware of the benefits, so we have not asked for it. The second is the high initial investment. The third is the rapidly-evolving "fluid" state of mass-storage technology. So far, each new generation of hardware and software follows closely on the heels of the last one. Business can afford to keep changing horses, so to speak, but we can't do that.
Transcription of books by human transcribers is one area where computers are making a gradual but profound impact, thanks largely to software from RDC and Duxbury Systems. Braille printing houses are gradually replacing their manually-operated plate embosser with computer-driven ones. An increasing number of volunteer transcribing groups are re-forming as teams of typists, braillists, computer operators, and proofreaders.
My answer is first that it does not need to be very costly. Well-designed educational and library services can cost less in the long run than we now spend, and they could give better service.
Those who need computer equipment in order to compete should remember this: Even in the 1970's, industry spent an average of $8,000 per worker per year on hardware tooling costs alone. In comparison with that, the cost of several thousand dollars to keep a visually impaired worker productively employed for several years is small. Of course it looks large in comparison with society's token past efforts at rehabilitation.
Some people buy their own equipment. Others get help from government agencies and their employers. The source matters less than the satisfaction and income derived from being a productive, first-class citizen.
Where lies the road to independence and productivity in this technologically-oriented society? Having provided an overview of some technical problems and possibilities, let us review six approaches to their solution. All of these have been tried, more or less in their pure forms. What do you think of them?
1. Should we rummage through the toys of the affluent society for useful tools in order to overcome the handicaps which were created, in part, by technological change?
2. Should we demand nothing but th ebest and risk becoming costly tax burdens or tax write-offs for employers--glorified beggars?
3. Should we forge ahead in "justifiable desperation" and risk ignoring both the lessons of the past and concurrent projects?
4. Should we study our nature and functioning until scientists are sure they know exactly how blind people tick, and then go ahead to try to invent things?
5. Should we incubate our work in laboratories until we have fully-developed aids and techniques, and then have people try to use them?
6. Should we never try or buy anything until someone else has proven its worth?
None of these approaches will work by itself. Instead, let us combine the positive aspects of each of these six negative approaches. We should stop saying that anything is bound to help poor, unfortunate blind people. And we should stop saying that nothing is too good for blind people. Those are patronizing attitudes. We must get researchers and blind people working together. Accept the fact that inventing for blind people is like inventing for anybody. It's challenging, necessary, and difficult. We should balance long-range studies of how we function with immediate efforts to provide cost-effective solutions. Finally, with solutions in hand, we must accept the worthwhile risks and act quickly and boldly, because technology won't wait.
The June RDC Newsletter contained a very helpful article by Phyllis Harrington on using the Braille 'n Speak in conjunction with the IBM. During a discussion of certain problems with the process of sending data from the Braille 'n Speak to the IBM, Phyllis suggested that I write an article on the use of a terminal program to facilitate this operation. In the process of doing so, I'm going to pass along an alternative approach to the one Phyllis described for sending material in the other direction, but first, the terminal program solution!
Phyllis and I agreed that the technique described in her article for sending data from the Braille 'n Speak to the IBM is often rather iffy. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Why this should be neither of us has figured out, but I find that most of the time I get an error message and no data transfer. What I have found to work flawlessly, however, is the use of a terminal program loaded into the IBM to effect the data transfer. The two programs I have used are PC-TALK III and PROCOMM, but I have no doubt that most of the other available programs, many of them shareware or public domain, will also do the trick. The two shareware programs I have used can be obtained from the sources listed in at the end of this article.
Once you load the terminal program, all you need to do is configure it so its parameters match those of your Braille 'n Speak, essentially as described in Phyllis' article. If you're using PC-TALK III, you will need to change one Braille 'n Speak parameter by invoking the command to add linefeeds to carriage returns (chord-p a y). You won't, however, have to resort to a lower than 9600 baud rate.
The terminal program manual will explain how to go about this configuration process. Fortunately, both the terminal programs I have used provide their manuals on the program disk. Having performed the configuration and saved it, you need only use the command to transfer data to the IBM--"alt T" for PC-TALK III, "pageup" for PROCOMM. Give the file a name, including a path, if you like, and you're on your way. You don't have to worry about including a control-Z at the end of your file either. You simply follow the procedures provided by your terminal program to end the transmission, and you should be home free.
The first thing to say about sending files from the IBM to the Braille 'n Speak is that you can use your terminal program for this purpose too. Instead of using the transmit command, you use the receive command--"alt-R" for PC-TALK III, pagedown for PROCOMM. The second thing to say, however, is that the need to do this isn't particularly great, as the procedures described by Phyllis, i.e., using the DOS "print" command or HOT DOTS, works fine.
The third thing to say is that there is a process which I personally prefer--the DOS "copy" command. One advantage of this command is that you can specify a path for the file you are sending, whereas the "print" command requires that, if you are using a version of DOS below 3.0, the file must be located in your root directory. The second advantage of the copy command is that it transfers data faster, at least it seems so, although I must admit that I haven't made a scientific comparison. A third small advantage is that your computer announces the end of the copy procedure. (And that reminds me of one fact in Phyllis' article which should be brought up to date. The March software update for the Braille 'n Speak introduced "interactive mode;" so the Braille 'n Speak is no longer silent while receiving data.)
Assuming that your Braille 'n Speak is connected to com1, you simply type
COPY FILENAME COM1
including a path, such as a drive or subdirectory, if necessary.
I hope all this has clarified rather than confused matters, but I think it's important to make the best possible use of the Braille 'n Speak with the IBM for lots of us, and I believe the use of a terminal program, especially for sending material to the IBM, is particularly helpful. Perhaps others will have additional useful tips which will simplify matters even more. Check below for PC-TALK III and PROCOMM addresses. I'm not sure what these organizations are currently asking as shareware contributions, but anyone who can afford the equipment to run the programs should certainly be able to handle the small amounts being asked.
The Headlands Press, Inc.
PO Box 862
Tiburn, CA 94920
Datastorm Technologies, Inc.
PO Box 1471
Columbia, MO 65205
[Editor's Note: One shareware library with more than 1000 titles is PC-SIG in Sunnyale CA. Outside CA, you can call them at 800-245-6717; inside that sunny state, dial 800-222-2996. JK]
We're happy to publish your 50 to 100-word announcement free of charge. Just send it along in print, braille, or on disk.
Ohtsuki Communication Products, Inc. is lowering the price of the BT-5000 Braille/Print Printers. This $5180 printer that simultaneously produces alternate lines of braille and print can now be purchased for $4295. If you need a quality printer that has unique capabilities, it's time to consider the Ohtsuki BT-5000. For more information contact Ohtsuki Communication Products; 985 Moraga Road, Suite 202; Lafayette, CA 94549; 415-283-0600.
An Apple Computer User Group has been formed to bring together interested teachers of the visually impaired who use computers. The Communicator Apple Users Group is an international user group approved by Apple Computer, Inc. It was organized in response to the many teachers of the visually impaired who are also computer users. Benefits include a bimonthly newsletter and access to a library of public domain software programs adapted for speech output. For membership information, contact: The Communicator Apple Users Group; Route 4, Box 263; Hillsville VA 24343.
I am interested in gaining information about optical character scanners. I wish to use such a device to transfer inkprint material onto disk. The scanner must be able to be operated by a totally blind person and interfaced with an Apple IIe. If you have information, please contact Dr. Dennis Shulman, 285 Hardenburgh Avenue, Demarest, NJ 07627 (in any medium) or call 212-581-8291.
From November 12 through 15, 1989, Toronto, Ontario will be the site for the Seventh Canadian Interdisciplinary Conference on the Visually Impaired Child. Known as "Kaleyedoscope '89," the workshop themes look at the child in relationship to options and responsibilities, holistic approaches, total access, the family, and challenges of the future. In addition to workshops and keynote addresses by leading international professionals in the field of blindness and visual impairment, the conference will feature exhibits of state-of-the-art technology, toys, and adaptive equipment; daily sessions for parents to meet speakers; and simultaneous French translation. The conference planners welcome papers--the submission deadline is 11 November 1988. For details, contact: Kaleyedoscope '89 Program Committee c/o CNIB, 1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4G 3E8, 416-480-7618.
Did you ever wish you had a cookbook you could use with your computer? Now you do! The Digital Gourmet is a collection of tried-and-true recipes which are now available in a neatly organized form on Apple ProDOS disk. You can read these text files using your favorite word processor and ProDOS permits handy categories so you never have to dig through those nasty recipe cards. The Digital Gourmet offers hundreds of recipes in such diverse categories as dinner, breakfast, snacks, breads, desserts, and soups. With your word processor you may read through and review these recipes with speech, print them out, or even make braille recipe cards. It costs just $25 prepaid--sorry, no invoicing. Contact Peter Scialli, 630 Park St., Charlottesville VA 22901.
Apple Talk is a quarterly magazine for Apple computer users with speech synthesizers. Published on computer disks, it will appear in February, May, August, and November of 1989. The magazine will include articles about programming your Apple, notices about computer products and software, tips to make using the computer easier, games, and utilities. Each issue will contain several ready-to-run programs as well as resource materials. All Apple Talk issues may be kept by the subscriber! Apple Talk also maintains a disk library of public domain programs which work with speech output, available to Apple Talk subscribers for a $5.00 copying fee. One year's subscription to Apple Talk for 1989 will cost $20.00. This price is good in the United States and Canada; overseas air mail subscriptions are $32.00. Prepaid orders, in U. S. dollars, should be sent to: Jeff Weiss, Apple Talk, 3015 S. Tyler St., Little Rock, AR 72204.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) has established the Winston Gordon Award for Technological Advancement in the Field of Blindness and Visual Impairment to create greater public awareness of the benefits of technology to blind and visually impaired persons. The Winston Gordon Award, begun in 1988, is in memory of Winston Graham Gordon, a blind industrialist and entrepreneur and a distinguished Canadian. The Award, consisting of $10,000 (Canadian) and a 24K gold medal, is presented annually for the development of a technological, non-medical device and/or application of certain technologies and techniques that provide specific practical and useful benefits to blind and visually impaired persons. Individuals, groups, or organizations (including corporations and academic institutions) can all be nominated for the Winston Gordon Award. The technological development must have a documented benefit to blind and visually impaired persons and it must have occurred within ten years prior to nomination.
Nominations must be received by CNIB no later than 1 January of each year; information and application guidelines are available from:
John R. Baker
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind
1931 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4G 4C8
Phyllis Herrington, Tech Support/Newsletter; David Holladay, Programming; Jesse Kaysen, Publications; Caryn Navy, Programming; Nevin Olson, Business Manager; Becky Rundall, Sales Manager
The RDC Newsletter is written & edited with BEX on an Apple IIgs; file transfer with BEX & ASLtalk DA to Mac Plus; spellchecking with Spellswell; page layout with JustText, offset master output on Apple LaserWriter & duplicated at The Print Shop. Two-track audio edition mastered on APH Recorder & copied on high-speed Recordex 3-to-1 duplicators.
Apple Computer, Apple IIc, Apple IIe, Apple IIgs, Macintosh, and ProDOS: Apple Computer Inc.; BEX & pixCELLS: Raised Dot Computing, Inc.; Braille'n'Speak: Blazie Engineering; CloseView, inLARGE, inTOUCH, & outSPOKEN: Berkeley System Design; Cricket, Echo, Echo GP, & Echo PC: Street Electronics Corp.; dBASE III: Ashton-Tate, Inc.; DECtalk: Digital Equipment Corporation; Flipper: Omnichron; IBM-PC: International Business Machines, Inc.; Kurzweil Reading Machine & Kurzweil Personal Reader: Xerox Corp.; Lotus 1-2-3: Lotus Corporation; WordStar: WordStar Corporation; Micro Illustrator: Island Graphics; MousePaint: Claris Corporation; MS-DOS & PC-DOS: Microsoft Corp.; Ohtsuki: Ohtsuki Communications Corp.; Optacon II, VersaPoint and VersaBraille: Telesensory Systems, Inc.; PC-TALK III: Andrew Fleugelman; Romeo: Enabling Technologies, Inc.; Symphonix 200: Artic Technologies, Inc.; Thiel & MBOSS: VTEK, Inc.; Votalker and Votrax PSS: Votrax, Inc.; WordPerfect: WordPerfect Corp.