Raised Dot Computing Newsletter: Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired -- ISSN 0890-0019. March-April 1991 -- Volume 9, Number 89.

Published Every Other Month by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison, Wisconsin USA 53703. Telephone: 608-257-9595. Fax: (608) 241-2498.

Subscriptions: $18/year Print, $20/year Audio Tape, $30/year Apple II BEX data disk. (Kindly add $20/year for postage outside N. America.)

Single issues: $4 each (specify medium).

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: Caryn Navy, David Holladay, and Phyllis Herrington.

Entire contents copyright 1990 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:

Sensory Overload Incorporated Catalog Price Drop for the Audapter Voice Synthesizer RDC Will Buy Back Your Braille BEX 3.0 Manual BEX Supplemental Interfacing Notes Available Hot Dots 3.0: Now Being Shipped -- Phyllis Herrington RDC Fixes Goof in Hot Dots3.0 CD-ROM Library Service for the Visually Impaired -- Barbara Mates DAK CD-ROM Install Disk Available $10,000 Computer Contest BRAILLE-EDIT Program Connecting an Apple II Computer With a VersaBraille Paperless Brailler -- David Holladay Arkenstone Ships New Software Using the Arkenstone II Software with Hot Dots3.0 Do We Need a New Transcriber Test? -- David Holladay Using the Braille Blazer with BEX The Macintosh LC and BEX Talking Typer APH has Talking Scientific Calculator Program for the Apple II Two Announcements from Blazie Engineering. Includes: One Hand Keyboard Option for Braille 'n Speak; Battery Powered Disk Drive Bulletin Board. Includes: For sale: TeleSensory VersaBraille model P2C; For sale: TeleSensory VersaPoint; NBA Meeting in Houston Facts on File. Includes: Addresses Mentioned; RDC Full Cell Plus; Trademarks

Sensory Overload Incorporated Catalog

By tradition, April Fool's Day brings the catalog of Sensory Overload Incorporated to our Newsletter. Their zany products, no matter how silly, usually have some nugget of usefulness; sometimes we at RDC wish we could have some items delivered immediately. In past years we have gotten a few inquiries about items in the Sensory Overload Incorporated (SOI) catalog. On these occasions we have written back with an explanation of this April Fool's Day practice. Enjoy!

Sensory Overload Expecting Windfall Profits

Maxwell Smart, one of the founders of Sensory Overload Incorporated, recently announced at a press conference that he expects a large financial settlement from Intel Corporation. Maxwell Smart said, "Their entire product line, the 8086, the 80286, 80386, and the 80486, is based on 86, which is my number." Although we have never before publicized Maxwell Smart's relationship with Sensory Overload, astute observers have noted that the technology of Control and Kaos is the basis of many Sensory Overload products. Many experts do not expect Smart to prevail in court, noting the failure of the lawsuit on behalf of his wife over the IRS form 1099.

Jewish Grandmother Disk Operating System Announced

Sensory Overload has a new talking disk operating system for the PC that communicates in natural language. To install this system, you remove the computer's mother board and replace it with a grandmother board. In response to your commands (and sometimes without any prompting at all), the Jewish Grandmother Disk Operating System says things like: "For this you bought a big hard disk?"; "Oy! I'm almost out of memory!"; "You mean a nice boy like you doesn't have a girl friend?"; "You mean a nice girl like you doesn't have a boy friend?"; "I have had so many voltage spikes this week. Is this any way to treat me?"; and "You have been working here for hours. You need to eat!". Some users have complained that even when they unplug their computer, it says, "Oy! So when are you even going to say hello to me? Is that so much to ask for?"

Giant Genetically Engineered Kangaroos Trained as Guide Animals

Sensory Overload has joined the gene splicing revolution. Their first product is a series of giant kangaroos that can hold blind passengers in their pouches. Blind travelers are impressed at the giant kangaroos' ability to jump over dangerous intersections. Transportation officials have expressed alarm at the prospect of 25-foot kangaroos using public transportation. Meanwhile, officials at the Disabled Olympics are discussing whether blind pole vaulters can use this new technology.

Guide Dog Clean Up Service

We at Sensory Overload are pleased to announce our new service for guide dog users. Every week our Tidy Guidy Clean Up Service delivers specially scented, reusable bags that help your guide dog relieve himself or herself. Simply place your dog inside the bag, and the rest is automatic. When the Tidy Guidy Clean Up Service comes the next week, they take away the used bags and deliver fresh ones.

When you and your guide dog are in a cold climate, in a high rise apartment building or hotel, or in an airplane, you will be glad you use our service. Unfortunately, dogs who are not trained as guide dogs do not have the temperament to use this service. We are now working on a new system for urban horses.

Eye Contact Aid

Do you wait a long time in restaurants because you do not make eye contact with the wait person? Do you never get called on in meetings and public forums because you do not make eye contact with the facilitator? Sensory Overload now has the answer for you. Computerized Looks for the Blind handles all the details.

But that's not all. Do you often hear that you don't photograph well because you don't look at the camera? If you buy Computerized Looks for the Blind now, you get the photography module for free. So order now, and say "cheese."

Travel Aid

Are you tired of hearing "turn left" and "turn right" from overanxious sighted companions who confuse you by getting it wrong half the time? If you are not assertive enough to make them stop, you need our new aid for dealing with these would-be sighted helpers. Guide Words is a package of brightly colored stickers for your clothing or skin with "left" or "right" printed on them. Put the "left" stickers on your left side and the "right" stickers on your right side. Use enough stickers to make them visible from both front and back. The stickers are labeled in braille so that you can put them on the correct side.

Astute Sensory Overload followers may remember that we sold this product briefly as the Navigator. However, we were forced to stop using that name because of a trademark held by another company.

Price Drop for the Audapter Voice Synthesizer

Effective immediately, the price of the Audapter is $895. This represents a price reduction of $200. Our Raised Dot Computing package price for the Audapter speech synthesizer, a PC cable, and the Flipper screen access program is $1250. This package includes everything you need to turn a PC into a talking PC.

The Audapter is a high-performance, external voice synthesizer. It has excellent intelligibility at a wide range of speeds. It provides easy control over its flexible features, and it stops and starts instantly. We have an information tape that contains a segment spoken by the Audapter. To get this tape or more information on the Audapter, contact us at (608) 257-9595.

RDC Will Buy Back Your Braille BEX 3.0 Manual

Do you have a set of the braille documentation for BEX 3.0 just lying around? To avoid an expensive braille production job, Raised Dot Computing would like to buy back some 11-volume sets of the braille documentation for BEX 3.0. The 11-volume set does not include the three-volume reference set (Quick Reference Card, Thick Reference Card, and Reference Volume). To qualify, the 11-volume set must be in resalable condition (no missing pages, no torn or bent pages, no pages sticking together). We will pay $40 for each complete set you send us. If you want, we can trade a set of braille documentation for audio documentation plus a check for $15.

We reserve the right to withdraw this offer at any point. We reserve the right to determine "resalable condition". This offer is not valid for any BEX 2.0 documentation. Do not send the three-volume reference set. If you have any questions or concerns, call us before you mail us anything.

BEX Supplemental Interfacing Notes Available

In preparing BEX 3.1, we created a booklet with interfacing notes about sensory aids devices which have been produced over the last several years. We collected information from the last 3 years of the Newsletter. This booklet, called "The Interface Guide Supplement," is shipped with all copies of BEX 3.1.

There is nothing in this booklet that requires use of BEX 3.1. All the interfacing notes work with BEX 3.0 as well. If you have BEX 3.0 and want a copy of this supplement, it is available as a separate item in your choice of medium--in print or on a disk as BEX chapters. It costs $15 in either of these two formats.

Hot Dots 3.0: Now Being Shipped -- Phyllis Herrington

In our November-December 1990 issue of the Newsletter, we announced the upcoming arrival of Hot Dots version 3.0. Hot Dots 3.0 has been shipping now for over a month. It is a PC-based braille translation program with a powerful file importation module.

We are very proud of Hot Dots 3.0, and we think it is the best braille translation program on the market. It is accurate and fast. It is also very easy to use. An individual who does not know anything about braille or braille format can produce braille hardcopy confidently from a file from their word processor.

Here at Raised Dot, we had a real life example of how easy Hot Dots 3.0 is to use. Linda Millard and I were preparing to exhibit at the CSUN conference held in Los Angeles. Linda had never touched Hot Dots, much less put the program through its paces. She and I sat down one afternoon and within 15 minutes she imported, translated, formatted, and output a file without having to ask me questions or consult the manual. She got brave enough to install Hot Dots onto her hard disk at home. She reported success with little effort and without needing any assistance.

Several factors make Hot Dots 3.0 more user friendly than earlier versions. First, the documentation has been totally rewritten and is easier to understand. Second, Hot Dots contains a series of user friendly batch files. Third, the DOTS menu is laid out in a more logical manner. The four options most frequently used appear as import (1), translation (2), formatting (3), and output (4). Fourth, the import option enables you to quickly bring an ASCII textfile or file from a word processor into Hot Dots with Hot Dots format commands automatically placed in the Hot Dots file. Hot Dots recognizes the formats from around 30 different word processors. No longer do you have to save a document from your word processor as an ASCII textfile. Whether you import a file from your word processor or from an ASCII textfile, no longer do you have to perform acrobatic tricks to get decent braille format.

The last section of the Hot Dots 3.0 manual is a set of interfacing notes. These describe how to connect embossers (and paperless braillers) to PC's. To produce these notes, we combined many sources. We used the vendors' manuals. We tested things out when we could get our hands on the appropriate equipment. We quizzed our customers. We faxed the vendors to clarify issues which we needed to nail down. We mailed preliminary copies of our notes to the different vendors for additional comments. The result is the only comprehensive set of interfacing notes on connecting embossers to PC's.

The full manual for Hot Dots is supplied in print, on audio tape, and on disk (in both print and braille formats). A reference card in print and in braille also comes with the program.

Hot Dots 3.0 does not contain a text editor or a word processor. You cannot use it to write documents. However, it is designed to work well with the tools that you do use for creating documents on disk.

Hot Dots 3.0 is suited for office and school settings, as well as for personal use. Memos, reports, papers, and scanned materials can easily be made accessible to braille readers. Government agencies and public service groups can use Hot Dots 3.0 and a braille embosser to put bus schedules, recycling information, public health information, etc. into braille.

The program disk contains three batch files which make running Hot Dots automatic. When someone wants to create braille output from an existing document, he/she can use {DOTS1234}. This batch file imports, translates, formats, and directs the resulting file out to the specified device. If you enter the wrong parameters, you get helpful reminders or suggestions.

Rick Roderick, an Assistive Technology Specialist at the Kentucky Department for the Blind, had the following to say about Hot Dots 3.0:

"Hot Dots 3.0 is perhaps the most versatile braille translation program of its type. For most PC documents, it turns the combination of a computer and braille printer or display into a powerful reading machine. To my knowledge, no (other) program of its type has done such a thorough job of showing print format in braille without abandoning braille conventions. Meaningful rough drafts are transparent, and only occasional corrections need to be performed in editing. The documentation is clear, readable, and more detailed than ever before."

Whether you are an experienced computer user or just knowledgeable enough to get by, Hot Dots 3.0 can benefit you.

For more detailed information about Hot Dots 3.0, read the November-December 1990 issue of the Newsletter for details, or contact RDC about getting a demo disk.

RDC Fixes Goof in Hot Dots 3.0

After we had been shipping Hot Dots 3.0 for a few weeks, we got a few reports that people could not print more than one time during a session with Hot Dots. After checking things out, we discovered that printing in Hot Dots 3.0 was not working well with DOS 4.0.

Once we realized there was a problem, we sent a fixup disk to all our earlier Hot Dots 3.0 customers. The fixup disk fixes a few other problems as well. We also changed the shipping disk. At this point, all Hot Dots 3.0 customers should have the revised program. To find out if your program is the revised one, type {DIR C:\HOTDOTS\READ.ME <enter>}. If the date is 2-16-91, then you have the old software. If the date is more recent, then you have the new software.

If you have the old software, call our technical support line to get a fixup disk. If you received a fixup disk and are unsure of what to do with it, look for a file called {FIXUP.TXT}. If you are still confused, call our technical support line at (608) 257-8833 for step-by-step instructions.

CD-ROM Library Service for the Visually Impaired -- Barbara Mates

[Editor's note: In our last issue, we had a series of articles about how blind persons can use CD-ROMs to get access to vast amounts of information. Readers of this Newsletter who want more background information on CD-ROMs should see the January-February 1991 issue. Since we published those articles, we learned of the innovative services of the Cleveland Public Library.]

On Demand Braille and Large Print

At the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Cleveland we have a service providing individual articles in braille or large print from CD-ROM sources. Any of the 11,000 blind patrons of our library can call up and request encyclopedia and other information on a timely basis. We are able to print up the material within minutes. If the requester is on-site, they get the material immediately. Otherwise we put the braille or large print in the mail.

The secret is CD-ROMs. These disks, available on a PC, hold millions of characters of data. I or my para-professional locates the appropriate article on the CD-ROM disk and then captures the material in a PC textfile. Then we use our braille translator (yes, we do use Hot Dots) to turn the textfile into braille. Or we use our word processor to send the text to a laser printer in a large type size.

I got the idea at a library conference. I was with some colleagues discussing CD-ROM technology over some drinks (a session not on the agenda). I realized that I had most of the necessary materials already. Our library had a computer, an embosser, and a laser printer. What we needed was a braille translator, a CD-ROM drive, and a variety of CD-ROM disks. These additional items cost our library about $1,500. With the help of a consultant (Nick Dotson of Dots-On Enterprises), we were up and running.

We do about 20 CD-ROM printouts a month. The heaviest users, in a small core group of students, use our service to get the background material for all their term papers. When these students get their assignments, we get a lot of requests.

Consumer Education

One of the biggest parts of this project has been consumer education. What is the point of having this capability if you do not advertise it? I admit that I was naive about this. In the library newsletter, I just announced that "reference material was available." Many people were not aware of what that meant. After all, very little reference material has been made accessible to the blind and visually impaired in the last 25 years. And most of that material has not been widely distributed. The last encyclopedia produced in braille was the World Book Encyclopedia in 1959.

I found out that I needed to be more explicit and to offer examples of the kinds of materials available. I got a very good response when I announced that we could produce a patron's favorite bible passages in braille or large print.

At the start of the Gulf War, I produced the Grolier Encyclopedia articles on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait in large print and sent them to a visually impaired/blind class at a public school. The articles were posted on the wall. These were very well received, even by those without any visual impairments. I got a lot of letters thanking me for the material.

I remember once giving a tour of the library to one patron. When I described the computer system, he wanted a braille copy of the article on Hawaii. He explained that the only braille encyclopedia he had looked at was prepared before Hawaii became a state. He was very impressed with the amount of material that can be produced quickly in braille.

Another patron who called us up was alarmed about her health. Her dentist had told her that she had periodontal disease. She had never heard of it before and did not like the sound of it. We mailed an article about periodontal disease from the McGraw-Hill Science Encyclopedia in braille so she would have more background before her next visit to the dentist.

Selecting CD-ROMs

Based on my experience, I am careful before buying a new CD-ROM disk. Before I buy, I look it over during a demonstration at a conference. (I go to library conferences where many CD-ROM vendors exhibit their products.) If the screen is filled with all kinds of fancy decorations and glitz (i.e., graphics), I pass the product by. If the screen has just plain ordinary text, then I am interested. A text-only program has several advantages. It is easier to learn. It is usually easier to capture sections of text into a textfile (and the captured file usually is relatively free of extra material that messes up a braille printout). Finally, a text-only program can be operated by a blind person who may be using our facilities.

In addition, the program should have a straightforward way of selecting and saving text into a file on a hard disk. The file should appear as one column (as opposed to multiple columns of text). The files should have just text, without extra punctuation marks like multiple asterisks, dashes, and highlighted bars.

My Favorite Disks

The very best CD-ROM source we have is the Grolier's Electronic Encyclopedia. Anyone who is considering setting up a similar service should obtain a copy of this CD-ROM. Most of the requests for information can be answered from the encyclopedia. Getting plain textfiles out of individual articles is very easy. The searching and sorting is fast and straightforward.

Since many of our requests come from elementary school students, I also wanted a more junior encyclopedia that would be more appropriate for their level. The only other encyclopedia available is the Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia. It is expensive and very frustrating. It lets you capture only about five screens of information at a time. For many articles, you have to log in and out of the CD-ROM software many times.

Another disk we have is the Physician's Desk Reference. This contains detailed information about each prescription drug. Though I would much prefer a reference book written for the consumer rather than the physician, the PDR gives information that otherwise would have to come from the package inserts in tiny print. But be warned: It is harder to capture material into a textfile with the PDR than it is with the Grolier's Encyclopedia.

The Microsoft Bookshelf contains a collection of reference books (the World Almanac, the Chicago Manual of Style, the American Heritage Dictionary, and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations). While it is rarer for someone to call us up to get a braille copy of a dictionary entry, it is nice to have it all on one disk. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations was brailled by NLS in 1988 and it came out to 105 braille volumes. Now we can print out selected portions with all the cross-references very easily.

Another very useful disk is called "Wordcruncher." It contains The New International Bible, The King James Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the classic works of American literature (Twain, Thoreau, Melville, Hawthorne, Faulkner, etc.), a collection of government regulatory data, and the manuals for WordPerfect (4.2 and 5.0), and some other products of WordPerfect Corporation. I believe that one of the people who helped prepare "Wordcruncher" is blind. The searching software generates interesting tones to tell you if a search is successful. This may be the only CD-ROM disk expressly designed to be easy for a blind computer user to use.

We also have a disk called "U.S. History" on CD-ROM. We once ran a search through this disk to explain what "the Trilateral Commission" is.

[Editor's note: Many of these disks were mentioned in our last Newsletter. Several of them were not. The PDR costs $595, the Wordcruncher costs $239, and Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia-PC costs $895. All are available from The Bureau of Electronic Publishing.]

The Frustration of CD-ROMs

I find it frustrating that virtually every disk has its own searching software and its own set of commands. Each disk has its own procedures for how to load its software onto your hard disk. I am not a computer programmer (or even an expert computer user). So I am not skilled at rearranging the software or improving it.

For each CD-ROM title, I need to sit down and work with it. I have to learn how to look up information, and how to capture material into a textfile for production in braille or large print. Perhaps at some time there will be a central source of tips and hints for how to use CD-ROMs for this purpose.

Getting Things Going

The most important resources are human resources. In our situation, we had a staff that was willing to work together to install and master the new system. Our administration was willing to take a chance on setting up a new program. I took the advice of Lloyd Rasmussen at NLS who advised me in the early stages of PC purchases to keep adaptive technology in mind.

In terms of equipment, you need a computer with at least one megabyte of RAM and a 40-megabyte hard disk drive. You need a CD-ROM drive, a braille printer, a braille translation program, and a laser printer capable of printing boldface material in a point size between 14 and 18. If you also want the computer to be used by the visually impaired, you need a screen enlarging program, a screen access program and a voice synthesizer. [Editor's note: These products are available from many sensory aids companies, including Raised Dot Computing.]


Being a pioneer has its pluses and minuses. I am glad I have the opportunity to demonstrate the promise of existing technology by providing a clearly needed service. I hope other libraries and institutions make use of CD-ROM technology to assist their clients and patrons. Working with CD-ROMs has been a struggle for me since I am not a technical expert. But I do enjoy challenges, and CD-ROMs have kept my job interesting! And don't forget to devote a lot of energy to consumer education. No one will use your new service if they do not understand what it can do for them.

Since our CD-ROM information service has been written up, we have gotten many requests for more information. We have sent descriptions of our service to Singapore, Ireland, and South Africa (as well as to a number of domestic locations). What started out as a crazy idea over drinks two years ago is now taking root around the world.

[Editor's note: For more information contact Barbara Mates. See Facts on File.]

DAK CD-ROM Install Disk Available

In the last Newsletter, we described how good a deal the CD-ROM package from DAK is. We also mentioned that the installation software is virtually impossible for a blind person to operate (it is highly graphical).

Raised Dot Computing has created a disk that makes this process a snap. It contains instructions, technical notes, batch files, and software tools to make it easy to install the DAK package.

This disk cannot be distributed indiscriminately, since it also contains software copyrighted by DAK. If you want a copy, send us a self-addressed mailing label and a signed letter stating that you have bought the CD-ROM package from DAK. There is no charge for this alternative installation disk. Unless otherwise specified, we will ship the disk on 3.5 inch format.

$10,000 Computer Contest

The Johns Hopkins University is conducting a nationwide search for Computing Applications to Assist Persons with Disabilities, which will run through February 1992. This Program is made possible by grants from The National Science Foundation and MCI Communications Corporation.

The National Search is a competition for ideas, systems, devices, and computer programs designed to help the more than 25 million Americans with disabilities. The competition is open to all residents of the United States. Amateurs, computer professionals, and students are invited to compete for hundreds of prizes and awards including a $10,000 Grand Prize. Entries may address any physical, mental or learning disability and are due by August 23, 1991.

Regional events, competitions, and exhibitions will be held across the country throughout 1991. Regional winners will compete for the grand prize at the national exhibit to be held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., February 1-2, 1992.

A similar computer search was conducted by Johns Hopkins ten years ago. [Editor's note: See the next article.] It received more than 8,000 entries and resulted in hundreds of inventions, many of which have become standard equipment for thousands of persons with disabilities. Coming out of that search were numerous inventions including an eye tracking system that allows a person to communicate using only eye movement, a braille word processor, and an ultrasonic head control for wheelchairs.

"Putting ingenuity and technology to work for people is our primary goal," says Paul Hazan, Project Director of the National Search. "Through this Search computer professionals have a unique opportunity to apply their creativity and expertise to address urgent human needs and make a significant difference," he said. "Applications are only limited by the imagination of the designer."

The 1991 Search is expected to have an even greater impact on lives of people with disabilities than was produced by the first Search, Hazan says. "In 1981 there were fewer than a quarter of a million personal computers in the hands of Americans. Today there are about 20 million--almost a 100-fold increase--with a commensurate increase in the number of creative people who are computer literate. The level of of knowledge is also considerably higher and the equipment is much more capable."

There are now almost a million computers in public schools devoted to special education. Therefore, a single, well-designed educational software entry in the competition could help many thousands of students with learning problems.

To obtain a flier giving details of the competition and how you can participate, write to:

BRAILLE-EDIT Program Connecting an Apple II Computer With a VersaBraille Paperless Brailler -- David Holladay

[Editor's note: This article was written 10 years ago as part of the 1981 Johns Hopkins Contest. Because of the new contest this year, we thought it would be fun to see where things were ten years ago. There were personal computers (but no IBM-PC), and the sensory aids field consisted of the VersaBraille (this was just around the release time of the Type 'N Talk speech synthesizer and before there were any affordable braille embossers). David was just starting to write a grade II translator in the fall of 1981. David was one of the ten regional winners in his region in the 1981 contest.]


I am working on a number of small computer projects of interest to the blind. These involve connecting an Apple II personal computer with the VersaBraille paperless brailler. The core of these projects is a program for the Apple computer called BRAILLE-EDIT. BRAILLE-EDIT is a general purpose text editor which has been crafted expressly to work with the VersaBraille. The major goal of these projects is to enhance communication between blind and sighted persons involving text and some graphical material.

The VersaBraille

In order to properly discuss this project, it is necessary to explain in detail what a VersaBraille does. A VersaBraille is a small self-contained braille information system. An equivalent device for a sighted person would have a small keyboard, a tiny television (CRT) display, and a cassette storage system. The user could type in text on the keyboard, see the characters on the display, and store the text for later recall. At a later time, the text could be restored from the cassette to be read or possibly altered. The VersaBraille is similar to the device described, except for the keyboard and the display. For the VersaBraille, the keyboard is made up of six keys and a space bar (there are six dots to a braille cell, so a character is determined by the combination of the keys struck together). The storage mechanism is a cassette system, capable of digitally storing 400,000 characters on a single C-60 cassette. The braille display consists of a metal plate with 120 holes spaced for 20 characters of braille dots. Each hole has a metal pin which can be raised by electro-mechanical action. The driver electronics select the desired combination of dots to be raised. The display is read as if it was 20 characters of normal paper braille. Only 20 characters are used since the braille display mechanism is extremely expensive. It is useful to compare the braille display to a 20 character CRT display. In both cases, the desired characters can be read, but there is no permanent paper copy.

Text is divided into "pages" of 1,000 characters, with 200 pages to a side of a cassette. These pages are grouped into chapters. Any text within a page can easily be edited (character or word changed, inserted or deleted, paragraph deleted, etc.). The importance of being able to edit braille cannot be overstated. The usual way of editing paper braille is to rebraille the whole page (except for repairing single characters or crossing out sections). In fact, if a machine was made for sighted persons with the analogous capabilities of the VersaBraille, it would not be too useful, since paper and pencil are so much more flexible than braille.


The BRAILLE-EDIT program is a text editor for the Apple II which is designed to communicate with the VersaBraille. The program has an optional braille keyboard mode (six keys are used like a standard braille keyboard) and an optional braille CRT mode (displaying the pattern of braille dots on the hires screen). The program handles text as an arbitrary stream of characters, just like the VersaBraille. One limitation of the VersaBraille is that editing outside of the current 1,000 character page is not allowed. For example, it is not possible to move the contents of one page into another page automatically. Of course, one can enter text into the second page, but this must be done manually. BRAILLE-EDIT is designed to facilitate large scale editing, so this problem is eliminated. One simple, quick command allows two blocks of text up to 4,000 characters long to be swapped. Another important feature is the ability to handle, edit and display all ASCII characters, including control characters. One version of the program has been modified to use the new Votrax Type 'N Talk speech synthesizer, allowing a blind person to use the program.

Current Applications

All these features allow for a wide variety of applications. The program can be used as a data entry system for the VersaBraille by a sighted person who may not know braille. The user would use the standard keyboard and display modes to enter and display the text. If necessary the text could be printed out for proofreading before connecting the Apple and the VersaBraille (using standard cables) to transmit the text. If the material was in grade two braille (abbreviated braille), then it would be easier if the braille keyboard and braille CRT modes were used. This would turn the Apple into an electronic braillewriter for a sighted braillist. Another application for the program is to be able to read a VersaBraille cassette, perhaps reformat it, and then print out the text. A variation is to transfer the contents of a VersaBraille cassette for the sole purpose of large scale editing or reformatting. After editing, the contents could be read back to the VersaBraille. By making use of the voice output version, this double transfer could be done independently by a blind person.

Another major use for the program is to use the contents of a typesetter's tape to make a braille copy. Much printed material is available in machine readable form because word processors or computer-driven typesetters are used in their production. Making use of a typesetter's tape greatly reduces the task of making a braille copy of a printed text. There are three major problems with this approach. First, one has to convince the publisher to release the machine readable copy. The next problem is to transfer the tape to the machine you are using (it is not easy to load the contents of an IBM 9 track tape onto an Apple computer). The last problem is stripping off all the special control sequences that were used for tape formatting, type font control, discretionary hyphenation, etc. Assuming that the first two problems can be solved, the BRAILLE-EDIT program can handle any sequence of control characters. It is not difficult to clean up a text, removing control sequences and inserting VersaBraille paragraph markers. I am currently producing a braille copy of "Disk Operating System Instructional and Reference Manual" published by Apple Computer Inc. Apple has graciously provided me with the text on five diskettes. As part of the agreement, I will provide VersaBraille copies of the manual at virtually the cost of the cassettes. In any event, I am using my program to reformat the text for the VersaBraille. Previously I had processed two other machine readable texts on a minicomputer as a 'dry run' for processing the Apple manuals. It is worth noting that Apple is first providing me with the DOS manual rather than the Applesoft manual (which I would have preferred) because of legal technicalities concerning the authorship of Applesoft.

Additional Projects

There are a number of projects that I have just started or want to work on. The most important is a braille grade two translator. Braille has several grades. Grade one is just a letter for letter transcription. It is useful for people just learning braille, but it is considered too bulky for normal use. Almost all books are published in grade two braille, which has 187 standard abbreviations or contractions. I have started work on a fast assembly language translator. I feel that it is important to provide two versions, one to go from print text to grade two braille, and another to do the reverse, from grade two to print text. If a blind person had written some material in grade two on a VersaBraille, and wanted to get a print copy, a grade two to print text translator would be essential. Persons familiar with the needs of braille printing houses know the need for print to grade two translators. Only when blind persons get to use personal computers and braille word processors does the need for the reverse translator arise.

One major project that I am working on would translate braille math encoded material into a graphics language for printing out mathematics equations on a graphics printer. The system will be able to handle superscripts, subscripts, integral signs, Greek letters, and all the rest. My wife is a blind math professor and could use the system to work out math examples on her VersaBraille, and then get an inkprint copy for duplication for her classes. While I am obviously writing the program because of the needs of my wife, the program could be useful in any situation where a blind or sighted person wanted to translate braille mathematics code to conventional math symbols.

Another area I would like to attack involves braille maps. Braille maps are difficult to make, read, use, and update. I think that small computers may be useful to generate the kind of information which is available to a sighted person from a map. So far, all I have done is to make a VersaBraille copy of a street directory for the city of Madison, Wisconsin using a typesetter's tape. While a street directory (an alphabetic listing of streets with locating instructions) is useful for locating a street, it does not give true route planning information.

One area of great potential interest concerns video disks. Eventually, video disks are going to be used to hold vast quantities of digitally encoded information. One disk can hold 6.4 billion characters, or the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Once this technology is in place, and material is published in this format, I would like to interface a video disk reader to a VersaBraille to allow the blind equal access to this flood of information.

Closing Remarks

The principles that I use to guide my projects are to use commercially available hardware (even if it is expensive), to write good programs which push the limits of my skill, and to try to meet real human needs. By working with my wife and other members of the blind community, I feel that I have a grasp of what is a useful project, and what is a waste of time.

Even though the hardware combination that I use for my projects is fairly expensive (an Apple II and a VersaBraille cost about $10,000), there are applications which require little investment. I have noticed that a large number of Apple computers are owned by professional people who leave the house during the day. The majority of volunteer braillists (those that make braille copies of textbooks, cookbooks, novels, or anything else a blind person may need) are retired people. It seems to me that it would be possible to pair off the braillists with Apple owners, giving access to the computer during the day. The braillists would just need some diskettes for the programs and the text being entered. After entering the text for a book or an article, the diskettes could be mailed to a central resource for making a paper braille or a VersaBraille copy. The math graphics program (when finished) could be used to proofread equations being transcribed for braille technical books. Or a blind technical student could enter his homework results to an Apple using the braille keyboard, and display the equations to his/her professor. There are many useful applications as long as there is access to an Apple computer.

Arkenstone Ships New Software

The Arkenstone is a PC-based optical scanning system using the Calera circuit board and OCR system. Over a month ago, the Arkenstone II became the current product. Arkenstone sent a free update to all its previous customers. This software update illustrates how the Arkenstone system can continue to grow and develop.

Two Software Engines

Prior to Arkenstone II, the main user interface for the Arkenstone system was a program called TRUESCAN. Designed for sighted users, it was awkward for blind individuals to use. Noel Runyan of Personal Data Systems wrote a better user interface called EASYSCAN. EASYSCAN is now much improved and is part of every copy of Arkenstone II. Also, TRUESCAN is replaced by an improved program called ARKSCAN.

Other Improvements

One of the most interesting new features is called Quick Speech. Using Quick Speech greatly reduces the wait, once scanning has started, before you hear text spoken. With Quick Speech, you hear material from the top of the page before the system has recognized material from the bottom. Prior to the creation of Quick Speech, the Arkenstone had to totally recognize an entire page before you could hear anything. With Quick Speech, the delay between the start of scanning and the start of speech has been reduced by a factor of five. Quick Speech is available only through EASYSCAN.

The Arkenstone II now has automatic page orientation. With this feature, Arkenstone II can determine which way you put the page in ;and recognize the text accordingly. Once scanning starts, you are quickly told if the page is right side up or upside down.

There is more control of what happens to text in EASYSCAN. EASYSCAN can save text in a variety of word processor formats and can "batch" the scanning and recognition of many pages at once. Now a batch file is executed each time a page is read, with a variety of batch files available. This mechanism can be used to run a braille translation program (see the article about Hot Dots 3.0 and the Arkenstone II).

The Arkenstone scanning has been improved as well. There is better decolumnization. The system is also better at finding text near pictures.

For more information about the Arkenstone, contact Arkenstone at (800) 444-4443. Or you can contact an Arkenstone dealer, such as Personal Data Systems at (408) 866-1126; Noel Runyan of Personal Data Systems is especially knowledgeable about the new software, as one of its developers.

Using the Arkenstone II Software with Hot Dots 3.0

Both the Arkenstone II and Hot Dots 3.0 were released around the same time. At Raised Dot Computing, we got a copy of the Arkenstone II software just days before we started to ship Hot Dots 3.0. Because of the close timing, we did not fully understand some details of the interaction between Hot Dots 3.0 and the Arkenstone II.

Know the Mechanics of the Software

The EASYSCAN software that comes with the Arkenstone II looks for a batch file called {READOUT.BAT} in the {CALERA\BIN} directory. After each page is scanned and interpreted through OCR, this batch file is executed. Because the Arkenstone II system can use different versions of this batch file, this mechanism allows a great deal of flexibility. But it is potentially confusing.

On the Hot Dots 3.0 disk, we have supplied a file called {READOUT.BRL}. Copy this file into the {CALERA\BIN} directory. This file is designed to produce a braille copy of the page which was just scanned.

To actually switch on this feature, type {!TOBRAILL while in {EASYSCAN}} (which copies {READOUT.BRL} into {READOUT.BAT}). To switch off this feature, type {!TOBROWSE} while in {EASYSCAN} (which restores the previous version of {READOUT.BAT}).

Use Decolumnized ASCII

We received some incorrect information about the Arkenstone II when we were writing the Hot Dots 3.0 manual. We stated in the manual that our version of {READOUT.BRL} was set up for WordPerfect 5.0 files. This does not work. We changed {READOUT.BRL} to work with decolumnized ASCII. If you look at the {READOUT.BRL} file, you will see that we use the {ASCD} abbreviation, which is the Hot Dots code for "ASCII Document." This is equivalent to what the Arkenstone calls "decolumnized ASCII."

The Arkenstone and the Environment

Each MS-DOS computer maintains a small area of memory called the environment. The environment contains a list of variables and their contents. The environment is one of the few mechanisms that exist in the PC allowing different program modules to know what the others are doing.

To see what the environment looks like in your computer, just type {SET <enter>} at the DOS prompt. Often when you install new software, it places lines in your {AUTOEXEC.BAT} file to create variables in the environment. For example: {SET FISHMODE=TROUT <enter>}. This sets the variable {FISHMODE} equal to the value {TROUT}. If you want to get rid of this variable, you need to type {SET FISHMODE= <enter>} (only <enter> after the equal sign) at the DOS prompt.

The Arkenstone does not like to see any variables created or destroyed while it is in operation. However, the file {READOUT.BRL} supplied with Hot Dots uses some environment variables that Hot Dots needs. To cope, you must do a preemptive strike by defining all the variables it needs ahead of time. The logical way to do this is by adding lines in your {AUTOEXEC.BAT} file. See the tail end of Section 2 of the Hot Dots 3.0 manual for more details. If you fail to set these environment variables ahead of time, you will get the DOS error message Out of Environment Space when you attempt to use the {!TOBRAILL} command.

Out of Environment Space

Even if you have modified the {AUTOEXEC.BAT} file, you may still get the error message Out of Environment Space. The problem may be that you really are Out of Environment Space.

Look at your {CONFIG.SYS} file (located in your root directory). You may have a line that looks like the following: {shell = c:\command.com c:\ /p /e:250} (In this example, the environment is limited to 250 characters.) It seems that virtually every PC expert recommends limiting the environment space to the absolute minimum. Unfortunately, by leaving no room to spare, you run into problems when you run a new software package that needs to define something in the environment.

To give yourself more room, edit the line in the {CONFIG.SYS} file and increase the size limit by 30 or so. In this case, the new line would read: {shell = c:\command.com c:\ /p /e:280}

Anything Else?

We are still learning about the Arkenstone II and how it works with Hot Dots 3.0. If you are running into any problems which are not addressed here, please call our technical line at (608) 257-8833.

Do We Need a New Transcriber Test? -- David Holladay

I have been thinking for some time that there needs to be a new test expressly for those who use braille translation software. Right now, there is one agency in the country that certifies braille transcribers. That organization is the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The NLS is caught between a rock and a hard place. They do not have the budget to administer their existing programs the way they want to. They do not have the resources to develop new programs to support the new technology.

What I am proposing is a simplified procedure for someone to demonstrate their skill at making braille. The test could consist of a combination of multiple choice questions and other exercises designed to show mastery of the rules of braille. The centerpiece would be a trial manuscript. If the person being tested sent in the trial manuscript on disk, it would allow for an automated grading procedure. The purpose of the test would be to answer the question, "Can this individual, using whatever techniques they want to, produce quality braille?"

Why do we need a new test? Because the world of braille is changing. Increasingly, more and more braille is prepared with the aid of a computer. It is getting harder and harder for volunteer groups to recruit new members to do 6-key entry braille. I feel that it is time for the braille establishment to recognize the role of computer translation of braille.

Right now, there is a deadlock. No one can conceive of an alternative to the NLS certification program. The NLS cannot conceive of the role of computers.

If there was an alternative test, it would be an asset to this field. Year by year, more people would be comfortable with accepting either the NLS certificate or a legitimate alternative.

So I open the floor for nominations as to who should prepare and administer these new tests. The NBA would be a very attractive choice. However, it would be a political nightmare. No one in the NBA would want to do anything that would appear to be opposing the NLS. I don't think it would be right for a vendor of translation software to be creating such an examination. It would be too easy for the test to be biased toward the "nifty features" of one particular product.

If anyone can think of an existing organization that would be willing to take on this project, I welcome nominations. If necessary, I don't see why a new organization could not be formed for the express purpose of generating and administering such an examination.

The Role of the National Braille Association

In the meantime, I recommend that anyone interested in improving their skills at making braille join the National Braille Association. As a resource for transcribers, the National Braille Association has no equal. I highly recommend their Bulletin, their conferences, their workshops, their training sessions, and their training materials.

Right now, the NBA conducts workshops designed to raise the skills of those using translation programs. Whether or not my concept of an alternative examination in braille ever comes to pass, the NBA is there to help people make better braille.

Using the Braille Blazer with BEX

The Braille Blazer cannot produce braille that is 40 cells across. You need to tell BEX that you have a carriage width of 34 (or your choice of carriage width up to 34).

If you are getting a blank page after each braille page, that means that BEX and the Braille Blazer are both trying to decide when to flip the page. Tell the Braille Blazer to use zero lines/page (in the printer menu), so that it will stop trying to flip pages on its own.

The Braille Blazer has both parallel and serial connections. To set up the Braille Blazer for parallel connection to the Apple, do a total reset. To do this, hold down all three buttons on the right-hand side as you power on. When you release the buttons, the Braille Blazer voice asks you if it is okay to reset. To go ahead with the total reset, press the three buttons again. After you have done this, the Braille Blazer is all set up for the parallel port.

The Braille Blazer uses voice for the dialogue in its configuration menu system. The three buttons on the right side are, from top to bottom: on/off line, line feed, and form feed. Press all three buttons at the same time to get into the configuration menu. If you want to change a value, press the form feed button; the form feed button means "change." If you are satisfied with a value and want to advance to the next question, press the line feed button; the line feed button means "advance." If you want to back up to the previous question, press the on/off line button; the on/off line button means "back up." To exit a menu or a sub-menu, press all three buttons together.

When you enter the configuration menu system, the choices available are speech menu, printer menu, serial menu, service menu, and quit (to take the Blazer back to being an embosser).

Service Menu Advance


For a serial connection to the Apple, use a 6M cable (straight through male-to-male cable). Set your Super Serial Card to standard RDC parameters.

The Macintosh LC and BEX

The Macintosh LC is a new version of the Macintosh. You can install an "Apple IIe emulation card" and run Apple II software on it. We have been getting a number of phone calls from people who want to know if BEX runs on the Mac LC. Based on what we know about the Mac LC, we think that BEX will run on it (although users may miss their favorite Apple IIe circuit cards). But frankly, we are not certain. If you have tried BEX or any other Raised Dot Computing software on a Mac LC, please call us so that we can find out what actually happens.

As mentioned, we are not sure if BEX works on the Mac LC. If it does, here is what you need to know about disk drives. The Mac LC has one built-in 3.5 inch disk drive. You can also purchase an optional 5.25 inch drive for it. If you have BEX 3.1 supplied on a 3.5 inch disk, you do not need the optional 5.25 inch drive. If your copy of BEX is supplied on a 5.25 inch disk, then you must have the optional 5.25 inch disk drive.

For many people, the prospect of one machine running both Macintosh and Apple IIe software is an exciting one. We are not so sure. Be aware that buying a Mac LC with an Apple IIe emulation card costs about as much as buying both a Mac Classic and an Apple IIgs. You may find it a better deal to buy two machines instead of a combination machine.

Even though you can run Apple IIe software on the Mac LC, you cannot plug any Apple IIe cards into it. This means your Echo voice synthesizer cannot work on the Mac LC. As of this writing, there is no low-cost voice synthesizer for the Mac LC. It is my understanding that Street Electronics is working on a new version of the Cricket that works with the Mac LC. We will supply more details when they are available. The Apple IIe emulation card does have a "game port," for plugging in "game port" devices (such as a joystick or a trackball).

The Mac LC has only one expansion slot available. If you install the IIe emulation card, you will have filled all the expansion slots. This is important only if you wish to add other Mac expansion cards such as a video digitizer board or a color video board to allow more color capability.

Finally, be aware that while this single machine can act like a Mac and can also act like an Apple IIe, it does not offer any special method for transferring files between the two machine formats. If you had two separate machines (an Apple II and a Mac), you could cable them together and send the data across a serial cable. With a single Mac LC, however, your options are limited to using the Apple File Exchange program. For details, see the July-August 1990 issue of the Newsletter.

If you have any questions, concerns, or more information on the Mac LC, please call our technical help number.

Talking Typer

Talking Typer, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), is a program created for use on Apple computers. This program is designed to improve the keyboarding skills of visually impaired students and adults. Students will find that Talking Typer is interesting and motivating. Teachers will find that Talking Typer can be used with any typing curriculum because they can create lessons to match any textbook. Talking Typer has an easy-to-use menu, allowing nearly anyone to begin using the program immediately.

Talking Typer is designed to be your assistant in helping students develop their keyboarding skills. When you use Talking Typer, you're in charge--this program is designed to supplement and enhance your instruction, not substitute for it.

Help students improve their keyboarding skills with this interesting and motivating program.


Talking Typer, Teacher's Edition comes with two different ProDOS disks: the Student Disk (three copies) and the Teacher's Disk (one copy).

Each Student Disk contains:

The Teacher's Disk provides the real power of Talking Typer. It enables you to adapt, edit, and control the structure of the program to meet the unique needs of each student. Some of the many Talking Typer options include:

All lessons and student data are stored on the Student Disks. You'll use the Teacher's Disk to customize your Student Disks, to create and edit lessons, and to manage student data.

Talking Typer, Teacher's Edition comes with documentation on disk, cassette tape, and in large type. The disks and documentation are stored in a sturdy three-ring binder.

Recommended Ages

Talking Typer can be used by anyone learning to type; however, the sixteen files which come on the Student Disk are intended for readers with a developmental age of 10 years or above.

Requirements to Run

Talking Typer will run on any member of the Apple II family of computers that is equipped with at least 128K of RAM. Because Talking Typer is designed for complete speech accessibility, it requires an appropriate Echo speech synthesizer.

To Order

Talking Typer, Teacher's Edition: 5.25 inch disks (one Teacher's Disk, three Student Disks, and documentation): Catalog number D-89900-00 ($37.95).

3.5 inch disks (one Teacher's Disk, three Student Disks, and documentation): Catalog number D-89910-00 ($41.95).

Talking Typer, Student's Edition: 5.25 inch disks (three Student Disks only): Catalog number D-89920-00 ($27.10).

3.5 inch disks (three Student Disks only): Catalog number D-89930-00 ($29.65).

APH has Talking Scientific Calculator Program for the Apple II

APH Scientific Calculator: for Apple II Computers, a powerful scientific calculating program, is now available from APH. For quick numerical calculations, and for handling many types of numerical algorithms, it is unmatched. It is also a splendid tutorial program.

A few of the many features are:

This program will operate on any member of the Apple II family that is equipped with at least 128K of RAM. Since the APH Scientific Calculator is designed for complete speech accessibility, it requires an appropriate speech synthesizer. This program supports the Echo, SlotBuster, and DoubleTalk synthesizers.

APH Scientific Calculator: Catalog number D-03500-00, price $36.00.

Two Announcements from Blazie Engineering

One Hand Keyboard Option for Braille 'n Speak

Blazie Engineering announces the immediate availability of a One Handed Keyboard Option for the Braille 'n Speak. This option allows the Braille 'n Speak Pocket Computer to be operated by persons who lack the full use of all fingers or hands. By pressing as few as one key at a time the Braille 'n Speak can be used to its full extent. Users interested in this option should contact Blazie Engineering for prices and availability.

Battery Powered Disk Drive

Blazie Engineering announces the immediate availability of a Disk Accessory for serial devices. This MS-DOS compatible 3.5 inch disk drive was specifically designed for the Braille 'n Speak but also works with virtually any RS-232 compatible devices. The battery powered device measures only 8 inches by 5 inches by 2 inches and can read and write standard PC disks in either 720,000 byte or 1,440,000 byte formats. The drive has been tested with the Braille 'n Speak, the Pocket Braille, Personal Touch, PC's and laptops, Notex Braille Notetaker and VersaBraille. TDD'S, Communications Aids and most other devices with RS-232 ports can take advantage of this storage device. The US price is $495 plus shipping. Same day shipping is available.

Bulletin Board

For sale: TeleSensory VersaBraille model P2C

Includes charger/power supply, overlay tapes, and braille manuals. Currently under TeleSensory sales contract, has had moderate use, and is in good working order. Asking $2000, or make offer. Contact:

For sale: TeleSensory VersaPoint

Features 40 characters/second, serial and parallel ports, page width adjustment, easy braille menu for configuration, and graphics capability. Asking $2700. The price is firm, however every reasonable offer shall be considered. Contact:

Cambridge, MA 02138;

NBA Meeting in Houston

The Fall Conference of the National Braille Association is happening in Houston on October 4 through 6. This meeting of braille enthusiasts is gathering at the Stouffer Presidente Hotel, located in Greenway Plaza. Here is your chance to meet with the experts and find out how to do it: workbooks, graphics, math worksheets, dictionary pages, Nemeth figures, spatial arrangements, computer flowcharts, poetry, spelling assignments, and much, much, more. For registration information, call Diane Spence (713) 744-8145, or write care of Region IV Education Service Center, P.O. Box 863, Houston TX 77001.

Facts on File: Addresses Mentioned


The RDC Full Cell Plus

Carolyn Briggs, Shipping Goddess; Phyllis Herrington, Tech Support; David Holladay, President; Aaron Leventhal, Software Development; Linda Millard, Bookkeeper; Susan Murray, Office Manager; Caryn Navy, Vice-President.

Production Notes

Written & edited with RDCUs BEX on an Apple IIgs. BEX commands changed to RTF/Interchange format control words with BEX's Contextual Replace. File transfer with BEX and Hayes Smartcom II to an Apple Macintosh Plus. RTF commands interpreted and then spell checked by Microsoft Word 4.0. Pages composed with Aldus PageMaker 3.02, output on an Apple LaserWriter, and printed at the Print Shop. Two track audio edition mastered on APH Recorder and copied on high speed Recordex 3-to-1 duplicators.


American Printing House for the Blind: Talking Typer, APH Scientific Calculator; Apple Computer Inc.: Apple II, Mac LC, ProDOS; Arkenstone Inc.: Arkenstone Reader; Blazie Engineering: Braille 'n Speak, Braille Blazer; DAK Industries: DAK; Personal Data systems: Audapter; Raised Dot Computing: BEX, BRAILLE-EDIT, Hot Dots; RC Systems: DoubleTalk, SlotBuster; Street Electronics: Echo II; TeleSensory: VersaBraille, VersaPoint.