Raised Dot Computing Newsletter Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired -- ISSN 0890-0019. March-April 1992 -- Volume 10, Number 95.

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 or MS-DOS 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 and David Holladay.

Entire contents copyright 1992 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:

||h1 From the Editor -- Caryn Navy ||h1 Sensory Overload Incorporated: Items from Our Catalog ||h1 RDC Will Release Sensory Aids History CD-ROM in Early1993 David Holladay ||h1 Raised Dot Computing is Selling the Low Cost DoubleTalk PC Speech Synthesizer ||h1 RDC is Now Selling ASAP: Automatic Screen Access Program ||h1 Memory Management on the PC -- David Holladay and Caryn Navy ||h1 Let's Play Tag: The Promise of SGML -- Jesse Kaysen & David Holladay ||h1 International Committee Starts to Set Standards for Electronic Document Markup -- David Holladay ||h1 Books on Disk: The Role of RFB and APH -- David Holladay ||h1 Getting Started with BEX: Part2 ||h1 Fun with the Blazie Engineering External Disk Drive: Part 2 -- Caryn Navy ||h1 Facts on File. Includes: Addresses Mentioned; the RDC Staff; Trademarks. ||h1 From the Editor -- Caryn Navy

We are delighted to announce that Phyllis Herrington has begun working at the American Printing House for the Blind as Braille Proofreader Supervisor. Phyllis will be upgrading their entire braille proofreading system.

We are also happy to tell Flipper users that Omnichron has increased its office hours. The new hours are Monday through Friday from 9 am to 1 pm Pacific Time. Their phone number is (510) 540-6455 (a new area code for Berkeley, California). Flipper now works with the DoubleTalk PC synthesizer.

Several BEX users have requested a step-by-step article about using Sensible Speller with BEX. We plan to include that in the next issue. If you need this information sooner, please contact us and ask for a rough draft.

This issue contains three very interrelated articles on the important topic of books on disk. To make sense of the articles "Let's Play Tag: The Promise of SGML," "International Committee Starts to Set Standards for Electronic Document Markup," and "Books on Disk: The Role of RFB and APH," read them together.


Sensory Overload Incorporated: Items from Our Catalog

Many of our customers have complained that too much technology in their lives disrupts their household relationships. To avoid a tragic backlash against the technological progress spearheaded by SOI, we have focused a great deal of energy this year on household harmony.


Products for Children -- Caryn Navy

Many parents of small children have told us that they have a hard time using their adaptive technology products because the children grab them to play with. For example, the responsive keys and the mysterious voice of a Braille 'n Speak are too much for a small child to resist. The struggle over sensory aids devices can create great frustration for both parent and child. To deal with this critical problem, Sensory Overload has created a new line of decoy sensory aids products for children. They will be so delighted to have their own device just like Mommy's or Daddy's that they will not grab the real thing. We now have available: Vert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouchy Scanner, Noah's Arkenstone, Braille 'n Squeak, Jack in the BEX, Donald Duxbury Translator, Mickey Mouse Port, Jimmeny Cricket Speech Synthesizer, BubbleTalk, Peter Cotton Thiel, Teddy 600, Ohtspooky Brailler, Perky Pig, She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountbatten Brailler, Eenie Meenie Mynie Modem, Catch a Tiger by the Toshiba, Twinkle Twinkle Little Word Star, and an assortment of Old McDonald E I E I/O cables to connect all of these products together. We are proud to announce that you can see these items featured on upcoming episodes of the television show PC Herman's Playhouse.


Synthetic Speech Training Tapes -- Caryn Navy

Is someone in your life a blind computer nerd? Do you wonder why he or she ignores you? Do you feel that he or she would pay more attention to you if you sounded like the beloved voice synthesizer? After conducting extensive educational research, we at Sensory Overload developed just the solution for you. Sensory Overload is now selling Hooked on Synphonix, a set of training tapes that will have you sounding like synthetic speech in no time at all! If the special someone in your life is a speed demon at the computer, you will appreciate the final lesson, "Talking at Warp Speed."


Hot Spots 3.0 -- David Jackson

Dog guides have the same basic olfactory needs when encountering humans as do their nonworking brothers and sisters, but many of these needs must be deferred, or even abandoned, in the name of professional decorum. So, in response to hundreds of requests, from dog guides all over the world, SOI introduces Hot Spots 3.0, a "scratch and sniff" technology that allows your dog to satisfy his olfactory inclinations in the privacy of his and your own home. Hot Spots 3.0 offers the widest range of olfactory experiences, and is available in both 3.5 and 5.25 inch stickers.

RDC Will Release Sensory Aids History CD-ROM in Early 1993 -- David Holladay

The first issue of the Raised Dot Computing Newsletter in 1993 will mark a double anniversary. By our present numbering scheme, it will be issue number 100. It will also mark the precise 10 year anniversary of the production of the first issue of the Raised Dot Computing Newsletter.

To commemorate this double anniversary, Raised Dot Computing will be issuing a CD-ROM. This disk will be titled the Sensory Aids History Disk. It will be a major resource on the development of technology for the blind. We will supply all the relavant material we can muster, including all the issues of the RDC Newsletter from the first ten years.

We are also in the process of soliciting other sensory aids firms to provide their historical material. We are especially interested in getting complete manuals for past and present sensory aids devices. So far, every vendor we have approached has been positive. Some have expressed concern that they may not have retained disk copies of relavant items. If you have the documentation for an early sensory aids product in disk form, please call us. We will obtain the appropriate permission from the copyright holder to include it in this collection.

So far Dr. Bliss of TeleSensory and Tony Schenk of Enabling Technology have expressed complete cooperation. George Kerscher of Recording for the Blind has offered the entire set of Computerized Books for the Blind disk newsletters.

We would like to invite the readers of the Newsletter to send in disks with any material they would like to add to this effort. We are looking for descriptions of long forgotten products and projects, supplemental documentation written to help people cope with products, essays on how sensory aids devices have changed your lives, particularly striking repair histories, essays on contemporary subjects (such as efforts to preserve braille literacy, the criteria for good product design), vendor lists (old and new), or anything else which would shed light on the history and development of the sensory aids field. Harvey Lauer has told me that he attended a presentation by someone at AFB who discovered that the light probe had been invented by at least 45 separate groups. If this field is going to move forward, we need to remember our past.

Please tell your friends about this project. Do not assume that everybody else has read this issue of the Newsletter.

This is your chance to tell your story for an interested audience. We are not offering any payment for submissions. However, all submitters will be allowed to purchase the CD-ROM at a greatly reduced cost; those submitting particularly significant items, such as a rare product manual, will get the CD-ROM disk at no charge.

We will accept virtually any electronic format (Macintosh, PC, or Apple II disk or VersaBraille disk or tape). If you have something in inkprint you would like to contribute, see if you can get a friend to scan it for you.

Order Your Copy of the CD-ROM Now

Place your orders now for this CD-ROM title. The cost is $100 once the CD-ROM is available. If you send your check or purchase order before January 1993, then the cost is only $50. Please note that we will cash your check, and we will invoice you (and expect payment) on your purchase order. But we will offer a complete refund if you desire to cancel your order. Take advantage of this pre-publication offer and place your orders now.

Raised Dot Computing is Selling the Low Cost DoubleTalk PC Speech Synthesizer

Raised Dot Computing is now selling the DoubleTalk PC for only $280. The DoubleTalk PC is a highly cost-effective speech output device for IBM-compatible personal computers. Containing four types of synthesizer, DoubleTalk PC is capable of supporting virtually any speech technology in use today.

Roots in the Apple World

RC Systems' first product was the SlotBuster, a multi-function card for the Apple. It combined a parallel port, a serial port, memory buffering, and a speech synthesizer. Since many software packages required the use of the Echo synthesizer, many people stayed away from the SlotBuster.

To overcome this obstacle, RC Systems came out with the DoubleTalk for the Apple, a single card that combined the voice synthesizer from the SlotBuster with an Echo-like voice synthesizer. Then you could buy just one board for speech and still get the high quality SlotBuster-like speech.

RC Systems has now ported the DoubleTalk to the PC. In the process, they have added additional speech capabilities. This is an example of a product that has outgrown its own name: a circuit board with four voice synthesizers called the DoubleTalk.

DoubleTalk Supported by Many Screen Access Programs

A speech synthesizer is not useful in this market unless screen access programs know how to use it. The following programs support the DoubleTalk PC.

Flipper from Omnichron

ASAP from MicroTalk

Vocal-Eyes from GW Micro

JAWS from Henter-Joyce

Screen Reader from IBM

ISOS from Interface Systems International

Provox from Kansys

Tiny-Talk from OMS Development

Soft-Vert from TeleSensory

DoubleTalk Capabilities, Specifications, and Hardware

Since the DoubleTalk PC has its own 10 megaHertz computer built into it, it does not have to use your computer's resouces to run. Using the DoubleTalk will not slow down your computer.

For the record, DoubleTalk PC contains full text-to-speech capabilities for both English and Spanish. It uses Linear Predictive Coding (LPC), Pulse Code Modulation (PCM), Adaptive Delta Pulse Code Modulation (ADPCM), or Continuously Variable-Slope Delta Modulation (CVSD) technologies in its different voices.

The unit comes with the circuit card, an external speaker, and the manual on disk. (There is no print manual!) DoubleTalk PC is a standard 8-bit, half-length card.

Buying the DoubleTalk PC

We are selling the DoubleTalk PC as a stand-alone item for $280. (Note that this is not the unit specially modified for better performance with ASAP. We are selling that as part of the ASAP Classic package.)

Our audio newsletter has a speech sample for the DoubleTalk PC. If you get the print or disk edition, feel free to call and ask for an audio sample on cassette.

RDC is Now Selling ASAP: Automatic Screen Access Program

Raised Dot Computing is now selling two different screen access programs. We continue to sell Flipper, developed by Omnichron. Now we are adding ASAP, developed by MicroTalk, to our product line. With these two excellent programs, we offer a choice of styles and strengths.

What is ASAP?

ASAP is a system for providing blind computer users with access to applications software on MS-DOS computers. It takes a new approach to the challenge of providing meaningful speech output to a variety of screen formats and user interfaces. Instead of requiring you to configure the speech system for each program you use, ASAP determines the appropriate text to speak by observing the application's reaction to your commands. In other words, it looks at the screen as a sighted user might look at it and provides you with feedback about what catches the human eye. Since nearly all programs try to be visually appealing, this approach works well, and those programs become appealing through voice as well.

In most cases, you can use programs like your sighted peers, concentrating on learning the new application rather than fooling around with the access to that application. Instead of forcing you to become a computer expert and do lots of work to identify a screen layout, ASAP does the job for you. It automatically focuses on light bars, soft cursors, pop-up windows, and all the other modern techniques for making software friendlier to the visual user.

Along with Automatic operation, ASAP features:

ASAP requires about 30K of your computer's memory and has the capability to "load high." With other access systems requiring much more memory, ASAP is one of the smallest and most simple and powerful systems available. This compact size and raw power is possible because the ASAP software is written entirely in assembly language. Software written in Assembly language gives the user the maximum speed available to the computer and requires the least amount of memory.

ASAP Packages

We are selling ASAP in three different packages:

If you'd like to try ASAP with your own synthesizer, contact Raised Dot Computing at (800) 347-9594 for a demonstration disk. We can also send a demonstration cassette at no charge. It shows you the speech quality and power of ASAP. Or you can download a demonstration copy of ASAP from the MicroTalk bulletin board; use your modem to call 502-893-2269, and get the files {asap.zip} and {asap-doc.zip}.

Memory Management on the PC -- David Holladay and Caryn Navy

[Editor's note: We recently attended a "non-conference" on PC memory management at the Hines VA Blind Center in Illinois. We learned a lot from the presenter, William Salyers of the National Easter Seal Society, and from the other participants. Here are some highlights of the information that was shared.]

When the IBM Personal Computer was invented, no one paid attention to the fact that it was very difficult to make use of more than 640K of RAM memory. Remember, these were the days of the 128K Apple II being used for business applications. Now, the 640K limit has come back to haunt PC users.

The issue of memory management is very important to blind computer users. More and more programs are being written requiring large amounts of free memory. However, blind persons need to use a screen access program. These programs take up some amount of available memory. However acute the problem of memory management is for sighted computer users, it is worse for blind computer users.

There are four main kinds of memory on a PC: conventional, upper, extended, and expanded. Conventional memory is the first 640K of memory. All computer programs can make use of this area of memory. Because of this, it is very precious. Much effort can and should be made to preserve conventional memory for running big programs.

Upper memory is the next 384K of memory. This area is normally reserved for running your system's hardware, such as the monitor. On 386 or 486 computers, you can use memory management tools to access the remaining room in upper memory and free up more conventional memory. Because this capability is not available on 286 machines (at least not without hardware modifications), many people consider 286 machines technologically obsolete.

For years now, various companies like Quarterdeck have produced programs like QEMM which help manage memory on a 386. Now DOS 5.0 offers a memory manager, though not as good as QEMM.

Regardless of what kind of computer or memory manager you now have, we recommend that you upgrade to DOS 5.0, since DOS 5.0 has simple commands which show you how memory is being used on your computer.

Extended memory (abbreviated as XMS) is a way to add more memory to your system. Extended memory is only available on 286 machines or above. Extended memory was invented by Lotus, Intel, and Microsoft; it is often called LIM Extended Memory. Extended memory is directly addressable. This means that a program can read or write just a small scrap of memory if it wants to. However, relatively few programs know how to use extended memory. You need an extended memory manager to use this area efficiently, and to make sure that two programs do not use the same area of memory at the same time.

One very beneficial use of extended memory is making it a RAM drive, a portion of memory that acts like a disk drive with extremely fast access time. Participants discussed how using a very large RAM drive for the Calera software and data can dramatically speed up the Calera reading systems, such as Arkenstone and OScaR.

The first 64K of extended memory is called the high memory area (HMA). DOS itself is one of very few programs that can run from this area. So it is customary to load DOS into the high memory area; a portion of DOS still remains in conventional memory.

Expanded memory (abbreviated as EMS) is another way of using memory above the first megabyte. Expanded memory divides memory into 16K chunks which get swapped in and out of a buffer area in upper memory. More programs know how to use expanded memory than extended memory, even though the use of expanded memory is more cumbersome.

Studies have shown that 97% of computer users do not understand the difference between expanded memory and extended memory no matter how many times they try to read a description of these two memory systems. An even higher percentage forgets which one is EMS and which one is XMS after five minutes have elapsed from the time of explanation.

To make use of your computer's extended memory, expanded memory, or upper memory areas, you must install a memory manager. DOS 5.0 provides two memory managers: HIMEM, which provides access to extended memory, and EMM386, which uses extended memory to simulate expanded memory. To use these programs, you need to add a few lines to your {CONFIG.SYS} file.

At this point, we need to offer some words of caution. As was amply demonstrated at the Hines seminar, memory management is a highly individualized affair. How you set up your system depends on your computer (286 vs. 386), your version of DOS, your screen access technology (how much memory does it take up, does it insist on working from conventional memory?), and all the other device drivers and TSRs you are trying to load into your system. (A TSR (terminate and stay ready) program is loaded into memory and remains available as you go about your business using other applications. Examples are screen access programs, macro processors, and the popular Turbo SideKick.) It is quite difficult to offer much advice to you in a generic article.

Quick Tips for Managing Memory

Here are some things that are clear:

A Specific Example: Our Home Computer System

At home we have a 386SX computer (and next to it an Apple IIgs on which we are writing this article with BEX). We are running our system with DOS 5.0. In our system we load as much of DOS as possible into the high memory area. We push the CD-ROM device drivers, {ANSI.SYS,} and a device driver for the video system into upper memory. This uses up all but 8K of upper memory. We leave the fax software TSR and the Flipper software to take up some amount of conventional memory. One trick we pull (which we do not recommend) is to rule out the use of expanded memory. This frees up 64K of upper memory which would otherwise be used to buffer the memory swaps of expanded memory.


Some comments:

Getting More Information

We recommend reading chapter 12 of the DOS 5.0 manual, entitled "Optimizing Your System." You can get a disk copy of the DOS 5.0 manual from Recording for the Blind.

There is no substitute for playing around with your system. To find out how well you are doing at any one point, ask yourself two questions: Despite all my messing around, is my computer still working? When I use the MEM command, how much free conventional memory do I have? Your objective is to push the system to its limits, getting as much free conventional memory as you can muster, without causing your computer to stop functioning. Good luck!

Let's Play Tag: The Promise of SGML -- Jesse Kaysen & David Holladay

[Editor's note: Now that there is widespread interest in the role SGML can play in making documents accessible for blind persons, we would like to print an updated version of an earlier article. The original article by Jesse Kaysen was in the November/December 1988 issue of this Newsletter and was also reprinted in some other publications.]

Here's a utopian scenario: A document you want to read is available on disk. The publisher can readily supply it to you with no concern for computer system compatibility. If the publisher doesn't happen to have your brand of computer, they can send it to you over the phone lines without losing any of its format. Once you get it, the format is immediately obvious. You can identify all the headings, you can instantly find the tables and lists, you have no doubts about italics or other font changes.

If you want a braille edition, you don't have to worry about stripping out control characters or manually changing some word processor's commands to those appropriate for braille. If you're using a voice output screen reader or voice editor, you don't have to search for screen enhancements or other such nonsense. If you're using a large print display system, you needn't worry about how the text is broken into lines.

Recent developments in both the publishing and microcomputer industries may make this utopian scenario a reality. The American Association of Publishers is promulgating a new standard for encoding format and structural information into text stored on computers. It's called the Standardized Generalized Markup Language, or SGML for short. Anyone who works with words a lot will find the SGML approach to formatting data attractive, and happily, SGML promises easier access to inkprint documents through speech, braille, and large print.

The Origins and Purpose of SGML

While the introduction of computers to book and magazine production brought dramatic efficiency, it also introduced the publishing industry to the incompatibility problems familiar to all microcomputer wordsmiths. Each computerized typesetting system spoke its own language. The type set by one company could not be used as the basis for a revision by another; even inside one publisher, upgrading equipment meant that old files would need rekeying for revised printings. To further complicate things, in the late '70s and early '80s, more and more authors began using personal computer word processors to prepare their manuscripts.

At first, publishers were very enthusiastic about this development: authors could submit their manuscripts electronically, and publishers could fire their typesetters. But as anyone who's tried to do it knows from grim experience, when you get down to the nitty-gritty, transferring formatted data between microcomputers requires a lot of work.

Electronic manuscript submission often required so much interfacing time that it was cheaper for a publisher to rekey the manuscript. Matters might have rested there, except for the explosive growth of electronic publishing. Nowadays, reference documents are often prepared in several media: in inkprint, as a database searchable on a personal computer or over the phone, and most recently, on CD-ROM. When a publisher faces the task of producing several versions of a document, they of course want to minimize the work involved.

And that's where SGML comes in. SGML solves several problems. First and foremost, SGML is system-independent: it's not tied to any particular hardware or software. You can create an SGML document on any kind of computer system--or even on a typewriter!

The Power of Explicit, Structural Tags

Most word processing programs use weird control characters to encode format information. Many data transmission systems lose all or some control characters. Most software packages would not allow you to see or modify these sequences. SGML gets around these problems by using explicit tags using regular, printable characters.

SGML markup is based on the structure of an element in the text, rather than any typographical manipulations. For example, SGML has markup to indicate a "first level heading," a "second level heading," and a "third level heading." The markup does not say "go to 14 point Bookman, and Center this, and then leave a big vertical gap for the next paragraph." If you were publishing a book, you would program your formatting software on what to do for a "first level heading." These typesetting details are not associated with the document. Instead, they are associated with the document processing software.

Braille is based on structure, rather than typography. The rules for braille tell you what to do for "major headings" and "minor headings." There is nothing in the rule books about how to braille text that is in 14 point Bookman. At best, software has to infer structure from the formatting commands in a word processing file. With appropriate conversion software, you can make better braille from an SGML file than you can from a word processing file.

Some Sample SGML Tags

SGML tags generally come in pairs. The start tag begins with the less-than {<} character and ends with the greater-than {>} character. In between are a few characters chosen to remind you of the function, for example "au" for "author." The end tag is identical to the start-tag, except that you slip in a slash {/} character after the first less-than.

In the SGML system, explicit tags identify every element of the document. A major heading, for example, begins with {<h1>} and ends with {</h1>} "In-line" quotations (short enough so that you don't have to place them in a separate paragraph) are enclosed within {<q>} and {</q>} tags. Various typographic forms of emphasis--italics, boldface, etc.--are coded with numbered emphasis tags. Italicized text could begin with {<e1>} and end with {</e1>}. A plain old text paragraph begins with {<p>} .

Notice that these tags are truly generic. They say nothing about what size or style of type to use when making an inkprint heading. To create the final, published version of a document, you use other software that expands the SGML tags to media-specific instructions. In this Newsletter, for example, the {<h1>} tag is expanded to "draw a rule, then change to 14 point Bookman Bold, flush left with a 2 pica indent." If you wanted to make a textbook format braille version of the document, you'd change {<h1>} to "skip a line, then center the following text with at least three blank cells on either side." These generic tags also facilitate correct publishing in accordance with different national traditions. For an English document, for example, the {<q>} and {<\q>} tags would expand to single curling quotes, while an American version would use double curling quotes.

What is a DTD Anyway?

SGML actually has many layers of complexity not even hinted at in the preceding material. Each SGML document (quaintly called a "document instance") is associated with a data structure called a DTD. A DTD (or Document Type Definition) is a formalized listing of all the tags used in a document and how they can be used. A program called an SGML parser can scan through a document and determine if there is any use of a tag which violates any of the rules layed out in the DTD.

To put things in perspective, the American Association of Publishers has put together a few DTD's for specific applications: books, magazines, etc. If you wanted to, you could write a DTD so that chapter headings were marked with the tag {<appletree>} and each paragraph would start with {<cat>} Of course, this would be an absurb system, but it does illustrate the problem of working out a generalized way of getting consistent markup from any SGML document no matter what the DTD says.

Yuri's Bright Idea

Yuri Rubinsky of SoftQuad Inc is one of the main gurus of the SGML world. Jesse Kaysen met Yuri at a conference several years ago. She explained to him the problmes posed by trying to turn computer data into braille and suggested that SGML might be the answer.

Yuri apparently has been thinking about the more difficult problem of how you get consistent results from SGML files that use different DTD's (and thus have different or overlapping tag sets). Yuri has worked out a scheme of modifying existing DTD's to put in the seeds of a secondary, simplified tag set. Once you activated the secondary tag set (using SGML attribute functions), you would get a consistent set of simplified tags.

Yuri figures that it would take about an hour or two to modify any existing DTD in this way. He has talked to the one or two dozen people around the world who make their living writing SGML DTD's. All are enthusiastic about spending a small amount of their time to make large amounts of text available to the print disabled.

It is true that this scheme affects only data stored on SGML-based systems. But it is also true that SGML is playing an increasing role in the publishing world, because it solves so many problems at once.

SGML Resources

A good technical overview of SGML can be had in Practical SGML by Eric van Herwijnen (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990). At $45, it is an expensive paperback.

The American Association of Publishers' specific implementation of SGML is detailed in Electronic Manuscript Preparation and markup by the National Information Standards Organization (Transaction Publishers, 1991)

SoftQuad (Yuri Rubinsky's company), distributes a booklet called The SGML Primer. I believe that the Primer costs $10. For the address, see Facts on File.

A Look at the Future

Shortly after Yuri and others on the International Standards Committee [see next article] agree on a standard markup system for the print disabled, many things will start to happen. Yuri will see to it that bridges are built to that system for a huge amount of data. The various vendors of braille production software (Raised Dot Computing and Duxbury Systems) will see to it that braille can be easily produced from material in the standard markup system. Raised Dot will also support Linear Braille Format for linear braille devices from the standard file format. Large print systems will support it. George Kerscher and his programming staff at RFB will make sure that computer programs exist for easy reading of marked up books through synthetic speech.

As we navigate the stormy waters of new technology, let's keep SGML in mind. Its system-independent approach offers us flexibility and choices.

International Committee Starts to Set Standards for Electronic Document Markup -- David Holladay

When books and other documents are available in electronic form, the electronic text can be read by blind, visually impaired, and other print disabled persons with special access tools, or it can be used by braille production groups for making braille (hardcopy or paperless braille). For the past several years, there has been discussion about the best way to prepare documents on disk for use by persons with print disabilities. The problem is that a plain ASCII file has had too much information removed. A plain ASCII file contains just the words, with no explicit marking of emphasis, headings, or any other structural elements. But many readers of documents on disk complain that reading on disk is more difficult when the material contains explicit markup.

One solution is to produce documents in the file format of a common word processor. But that requires every user of the document to have a particular software package.

At the World Congress on Technology for Persons with Disabilities held in Washington, DC in early December 1991, the need for a consistent standard for documents on disk became overwhelmingly apparant. With strong encouragement from Judge Leonard Suchanek of the General Services Administration, a committee began to form. This committee held its first meeting at the C-SUN conference (March 1992 in Los Angeles). The next meeting is scheduled to take place at the Closing the Gap conference in late October.

The International Standards Committee on Computer Based Documents for Persons with Print Disabilities has been formed to provide a formally defined system for delivering books, computer manuals, newspapers, periodicals, and other printed materials to individuals with print disabilities or to organizations which serve print disabled persons. The formally defined system will take into consideration the very special needs of persons with physical, visual, perceptual, visual plus hearing, or learning disabilities. It is expected that the formal definition of a Print Disabled Standard will facilitate formatting of computer based documents for any print disabled person. Easier conversion of existing machine readable documents into this standard format will occur as technology develops.

The publishing and computing industries want to help assimilate print disabled persons into our society. However, technology has had to reach the current state to allow for a reasonable method of making most documents accessible to persons with disabilities.

Texas: Threat or Menace?

The state of Texas has a commission to facilitate the production of braille textbooks by making use of publisher's disks. It has been readily apparent that one major obstacle has been working out a document format standard. So far, publishers have released books on disks with no markup at all, except for an indication of the start of each paragraph. Having the transcribers put back the markup for emphasis, headings, etc. has been very frustrating.

Three persons on the Texas Commission have been charged with working out a markup standard. These three are Joseph Sullivan of Duxbury Systems, George Kerscher of Recording for the Blind, and myself. We were instructed by the publishers to use the list of the SGML markup codes published by the American Association of Publishers and create a modest subset for inclusion in our standard. [See the "Let's Play Tag" article.] Thus the list of markup codes for the state of Texas would look like SGML without the formalism and structure of true SGML.

One major point on the agenda for the second meeting of the Texas Commission (a meeting which I did not attend) was finalizing a list of markup codes. Upon learning of the existence of the International Committee, the Texas Commission decided to turn over the entire task of selecting markup codes to the International Comittee, due to meet at C-SUN a few weeks later. After all, Joseph Sullivan, George Kerscher, and I are members of both groups. This task came with a threat. If a list of markup codes could not be approved at the C-SUN meeting, then the state of Texas would have to wait another year before having the next legal opportunity to instruct the publishers on what to do. In other words, unless we worked quickly, it would be plain ASCII in Texas for another year.

The C-SUN Meeting

The stage was set for a most curious meeting at the C-SUN conference. Some members were very anxious to have the International Committee rubber stamp the list of markup codes prepared for the state of Texas. Others, like Tom Wesley from England, had a much broader perspective and wanted to work on a much longer time frame. For the record, I was initially a leader of the rubber stamp clique. However, in lengthy discussions that took place before the official meeting, Tom Wesley convinced me and others that this was too important a matter to rush into.

At a complementary breakfast at C-SUN, there was a general announcement about the Standards Committee meeting to take place later in the day. So at the meeting, the room was packed with about 60 people. SOme of the visitors were disappointed. They thought that the meeting was about distribution arrangements for electronic text, rather than about file formats.

There was general distrust for the idea of rushing a project because of deadlines imposed by the state of Texas. The debate over what to do about Texas was lively and served to underscore the importance of the issues involved. Someone pointed out that if the publisher's files contained information about 256 different types of boldface, they would not want to have to deal with that; they would want that kind of inkprint-specific information filtered out of a file they were reading. Someone else stood up and said that they would want to see the inkprint file with all its complexity; if it had 256 different levels of boldface, they would want to have that information in their computer file.

Ultimately, the participants in the meeting were urged to educate themselves as much as possible about different developing standards in the publishing world. The two which came up again and again were SGML (an existing international standard) and ODA (a developing European standard). A resolution was passed authorizing the Texas markup list for use in implementing the Texas braille production legislation, but not giving the Texas markup list any other official status.

Getting More Information

I volunteered to act as a window for the rest of the world. My job is to collect all drafts, messages, and comments written to or by the Committee and to make them available to anyone who asks. If you are interested, call or write to Raised Dot Computing. We will put you on a mailing list and periodically send you a disk with information on the Committee's work.

Books on Disk: The Role of RFB and APH -- David Holladay

Recently, both Recording for the Blind (RFB) and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) have been getting more involved in distributing books in disk form. Exactly how these two large and established organizations will work together as they struggle to integrate computer-based materials into their book distribution systems is not exactly clear at this point. Since it is clear that books on disk will play an increasing role for blind persons in the future, it is critical that everyone be kept informed about the capabilities, intentions, and policies of these very important institutions. We also need to remember that the distribution of books on disk is a very new market niche for both organizations.

The Pioneering Role of George Kerscher/CBFB

The award for being slightly ahead of his time has to go to George Kerscher. Years ago, he realized that distribution of books in disk form was the future service model. Finding that no one was interested in filling this growing need, he founded Computerized Books for the Blind. While he used Recording for the Blind as a model, he started an independent entity. [Historical footnote: When George Kerscher was getting started, he asked if Raised Dot wanted to be involved in the books-on-disk distribution business. Even though it was tempting, we declined.]

One problem with setting up an organization like CBFB is that it is very capital intensive. It takes a lot of money to establish the network of computers and programmers to clean up publisher's data files. Setting up an efficient distribution system while trying to write a zillion grant applications must be very difficult. These problems were eased considerably by last year's merger between Computerized Books for the Blind and Recording for the Blind.

The Role of RFB

Through the merger with Computerized Books for the Blind, the distribution of books on disk by RFB became a reality, not a plan for the future. RFB obtained staff, equipment, and systems geared to the task of converting publisher's data into usable form. RFB is now shipping a large number of titles in electronic form. They are in the process of training volunteers around the country to assist in the task of manually editing the books to make sure that every item meets RFB standards.

The Role of APH

The American Printing House for the Blind is mandated by Congress to provide a certain range of services. APH is charged with the production of dozens of titles of textbooks in braille and large print annually. The primary group that they are mandated to serve is blind and visually impaired students in grades K through 12. The federal government distributes "quota money" to schools and agencies around the country (money which can be spent only at APH).

APH, under the leadership of Tuck Tinsley, has realized that APH needs to be a major player in the computer field in order to be a viable organization in the long term. APH needs to figure out how the production of books in disk form would be integrated into their present operation. In an effort to get up and running quickly, APH has pumped money into the financially plagued Reader Project. The Reader Project distributed books on disk in an encrypted format. Only Reader Project software can read Reader Project books.

If there is any lesson in the last 10 years in the sensory aids field, it is that "sealed products" which limit data flow are not successful. Presumably, APH will be working on other platforms that are less restrictive regarding what you can do with the data.


As these two large organizations grapple with the problems posed by the computer revolution, there are bound to be some conflicts. Inevitably, each organization will feel that the other is stepping on their toes. So far, an uneasy truce prevails. Each organization seeks parity on any commission or committee or in any meeting that has anything to do with the distribution of books in electronic form. Both organizations are cooperating on the task of approaching publishers about seeking copyright permission for preparing alternative formats.

It is the role of the larger community to find ways to urge RFB and APH to continue to cooperate. As standards develop for storing books in electronic form for those with a print disability, both institutions should support that standard. The last thing anyone wants to see is two flavors of electronic books, one from APH and the other from RFB, both requiring different software to use.

Getting Started with BEX: Part 2

[Editor's note: This article, based on a workshop handout prepared by Ken Smith and David Holladay, is continued from the last issue.]

The Main Menu

When you get to the Main Menu, the screen should say {Main Menu, Enter Option:}

Press a carriage return to get the list of options. The screen should show the following:

If you were at the User Level of BEX, this is what you would get for the Main Menu:

Notice that there are more options available at the User Level. For example, at the Learner Level you can translate from print to braille. At the User Level you can translate from print to braille and from braille to print.

To learn more about these options, see Part 6 of the Quick Reference Card or Part 6 of the Thick Reference Card.

Now press S to move to the Second Menu. The screen should say {Second Menu, Enter Option:} Press a carriage return to get the list of options. The screen should show the following:

If you were at the User Level of BEX, this is what you would get for the Second Menu:

There is one more menu on the Main side of the BEX program. It is the Page Menu. Press Z in either the Main Menu or the Second Menu, and you get to the Page Menu. The screen should say {Page Menu, Enter Option:} Press a carriage return to get the list of options. The screen should show the following:

Again, you can find out more about the menu options by looking at the reference cards. Press J in either the Second Menu or the Page Menu, and you get back to the Main Menu.

Chapters and Pages

BEX uses the terms chapter and page to describe how it places files on a disk. Think of a BEX chapter as a collection of anything from 1 to 100,000 characters. Usually it is better to limit a chapter to about 20,000 characters.

A BEX chapter can be divided into one or more BEX pages. A BEX page can never exceed 4,096 characters. In practice, you want to keep BEX pages to under 3,500 characters. As you do data entry, look at the character count each time you finish a paragraph. Switch to a new BEX page when you think that you would go over 3,500 characters if you also included the next paragraph in the current page. That way, each BEX page starts with a new paragraph, and no page exceeds 3,500 characters. What should you do if you have too many characters in one BEX page? Place the cursor at a good division point and type control-C control-P (for Cut Page). This divides the current BEX page into two separate pages.

You cannot have more than 25 characters in a chapter name. Keep chapter names short; long names are unwieldy. Do not use periods, colons, commas or semicolons in a chapter name.

No chapter should have more than 30 BEX pages. No disk should have more than 30 chapters.

Disk space is measured in sectors. There are 256 characters per sector. A 5.25 inch disk has 528 free sectors when it is initialized. You should regard a disk as "full" when you have about 100 free sectors. That way, you avoid the problems that are caused by totally filling up a disk.

It will make life easier for you if you keep braille chapters on different disks than print chapters. You should also have a consistent naming system. One system is to add -2 to the chapter name for the translated (braille) version.

BEX Editor Commands

This list is incomplete. See the BEX manual or the reference cards for others.

BEX Format Commands

This list is incomplete. See the BEX manual or the reference cards for others.

Translator Controls

This list is incomplete. See the BEX manual or the reference cards for others.

Translating and Embossing Braille

Please read the appropriate sections of the BEX manual about braille translation and embossing. Learner Level 7, Translating from Print to Braille, describes how to translate from one disk to another. Using this technique allows you to keep your print and braille chapters on different disks.

Learner Section 8, Embossing Braille Documents, mentions that you have to set up a configuration that contains an embosser. The first times you use the print option, answer the {which printer:} prompt with {? <CR>} to find out the possible choices. The printer number does not refer to the slot for the embosser's interface card. The printer number refers to the order in which you defined the printers in the configuration.

Learner Section 9, Controlling Braille Format, explains how to make better braille format. The use of page numbering, braille italics, centering, margins, and tabs is covered in detail.

Part 3 of this series will cover setting up your own configuration.

Fun with the Blazie Engineering External Disk Drive: Part 2 -- Caryn Navy

When I got the Blazie disk drive, I worked out a method for transfering files between it and BEX. This enables you to transfer material between BEX and MS-DOS formats without having an MS-DOS machine, or without having one near your Apple. It provides a method for backing up BEX chapters on large capacity disks. By transferring BEX chapters to the Blazie disk drive, you can read them on the Braille 'n Speak when you're away from your Apple. Here is how you can accomplish transfers in both directions.

Cabling and Configuring

On the Apple 2e or 2gs, use the Super Serial Card with RDC standard settings (BEX Interface Guide, Section 6). To cable the Super Serial Card to the Blazie disk drive, make a chain with a male to male gender adapter, a null modem, and the serial cable for the Blazie disk drive. On an Apple 2c, use an RDC 2M cable together with a null modem and the serial cable for the Blazie disk drive.

Set up a special BEX configuration at the master level for communicating with the Blazie disk drive. I recommend setting up two special printers in this configuration for working with the Blazie disk drive. Make one class G (generic inkprint) with carriage width 80 and form length 0 and the following automatic set-up sequence: {<control-I> 1 D <CR> <control-I> 7 P <CR> <control-I> X <space> E <CR>} (13 characters). This automatic set-up sequence enables the Super Serial Card to talk to the Blazie disk drive. If you are using an Apple 2c instead of a Super Serial Card, use control-A in place of control-I in the above sequence. Set up an additional printer which is class P (paperless brailler) and has the same automatic set-up sequence. From here on, let's assume that the generic inkprint printer is Printer 1 and the paperless brailler is Printer 2.

Sending Material from BEX to the Blazie Disk Drive

To save material from BEX on the Blazie disk drive in a file called [filename], create a BEX chapter called {SEND} which contains the Save command for the Blazie disk drive. This is {<control-E> S [filename] <CR>}. To create control-E in the BEX Editor, press control-C followed by E. Don't type any spaces or brackets in this sequence. Also create a BEX chapter called {Z} which contains the single character control-Z. To print the material to the Blazie disk drive, turn it on and print the chapters {SEND}, whatever chapters you want to transfer, and {Z} from BEX. When BEX asks you "which printer?", respond with 1, the number for the special generic inkprint printer you set up for communicating with the Blazie disk drive. The Blazie disk drive will whir. When it has finished saving your material, it makes a short beep, and you can turn it off. The text will be formatted with carriage width 80 and two carriage return-linefeeds between paragraphs, and no form feeds. If you want instead to save the text with all the BEX formatting commands and paragraph indicators intact, use Printer 2, the special paperless brailler that you set up.

Sending Material from the Blazie Disk Drive to BEX

To send the file called [filename] from the Blazie disk drive to BEX, use BEX's Input through slot option in the Second Menu. On the Apple, after typing the BEX chapter name in which to store the material and <CR>, type {T <control-B> P1 <control-E> L [filename] <CR>}. Don't type any spaces or brackets in this sequence. This sends the appropriate Load command to the Blazie disk drive; the Blazie disk drive should whir and BEX should hum happily. The letter T brings up a special text mode which allows you to enter text from the keyboard while using Input through slot. The control-B P 1 makes screen output go to printer 1 as well, the special printer you set up for commands to the Blazie drive. This control-B command works only at the master level. {<control-E> L [filename] <CR>} loads material from file [filename] on the Blazie disk drive. <CR> also terminates the special text mode in Input through slot.

When the Blazie disk drive beeps and BEX stops humming, the transfer is complete and you can turn off the disk drive. If you are using an Echo synthesizer, the previous load command coincidentally told your Echo to speak in letters; type {<control-E> W} to make the Echo speak in words again. Press Q on the Apple to save the BEX chapter. Then type <control-B> P D} to stop sending screen output to Printer 1.

When you look at the BEX chapter you received, there will be a few extra characters at the beginning, including the Load command you typed.

I leave it to you to decide if this is a game for technology junkies or a useful technique.

Facts on File: Addresses Mentioned

Blazie Engineering External Disk Drive: Blazie Engineering

Electronic Books from American Printing House for the Blind: APH

Electronic Books from Recording for the Blind: RFB

SGML Primer: SoftQuad, Inc.

The RDC Staff

Carolyn Briggs, Organizer Supreme; David Holladay, President; Aaron Leventhal, Software Development; Linda Millard, Bookkeeper; Susan Murray, Offic Manager; Caryn Navy, Vice-President.


We have mentioned many products in this Newsletter. All are trademarked by their respective companies. The products of Sensory Overload, Inc. can be purchased only at midnight on April Fool's Day.