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.
This year Raised Dot Computing went to three summer conventions: NFB, AER, and ACB. We are back now. As usual, we have come back saying, "never again." Of course, in less than a year we will be making plans to go back.
We returned from the fast pace of exhibiting at conventions to the fast pace of getting MegaDots finished on something resembling a schedule. We began shipping MegaDots on Friday, August 7. We apologize for letting the newsletter fall by the wayside while we took care of other business. We plan to produce the July-August issue very soon after this one.
There is some business to take care of from the last issue (March-April). In the article "Memory Management on the PC," we asked our readers to tell us what the /P parameter is used for in the SHELL statement in the CONFIG.SYS file. We were delighted to get a response from Gary Housholder of Dunbar, West Virginia, someone we had never spoken to before. He happened to hear the March-April issue of the Newsletter because his friend brought it home as a sample issue from the RDC booth at the NFB national convention. Gary told us that the /P parameter tells the system to use the AUTOEXEC.BAT file as it boots up; without the /P parameter, your system ignores your AUTOEXEC.BAT file. More recently we got a call from Richard Hutcheson of Potsdam, New York with a seemingly different answer. Professor Hutcheson told us that /P makes the command processor shell specified in the SHELL command the primary one; you cannot leave it with the EXIT command. This caused enough confusion to make us look harder in the DOS 5.0 manual. It turns out that both are right. By making your command processor shell the primary one, you tell the system to use the AUTOEXEC.BAT file if it is present. Many thanks, Gary and Richard!
Also in the last issue, we spoke of the "guru of SGML" in the article about SGML. Somehow, we managed to come up with not just one but several different misspellings of his name. The correct spelling is Yuri Rubinsky.
In the last issue we also forgot to mention the return to our staff of Carolyn Briggs, our former Shipping Goddess. Observant readers may have noticed her reappearance in the masthead as Organizer Supreme (apologies, Carolyn, if that sounds too much like a kind of pizza). Carolyn used her magic organizing wand to get us ready for exhibiting at the summer conventions, for getting the word out about MegaDots, etc. Now Carolyn is off to graduate school. Best wishes, Carolyn!
This issue contains a review of the Mountbatten Brailler. We hope to publish reviews of the Juliet and the Everest braillers and other new products in future issues. We are especially appreciative of the articles submitted by readers for this issue. Submitted articles always make for more varied reading. At this time, as we try to get back on a reasonable schedule, submitted articles help us a great deal.
We are now selling MegaDots, our whiz-bang new braille translation and word processing system for the PC. We are very excited to be filling orders for our newest program. We will tell you much more about MegaDots in the July-August issue, which you will receive very soon after this one.
A new demonstration disk for MegaDots is now available. The demo disk contains batch files for printing the MegaDots manual in braille, in inkprint, or in a textfile. The READ.ME file also describes how to make a copy of the MegaDots reference card in braille or inkprint or in a textfile.
Using the demo disk, you can work with MegaDots files that we have supplied, and you can type your own material into MegaDots. The production version of MegaDots can bring documents into MegaDots from WordPerfect files, ASCII textfiles, and other file types, turning the original format information into MegaDots format information. The demonstration program does not have this file importation capability. We have supplied a WordPerfect file and an ASCII textfile in their original form and as MegaDots files to give you an idea of how the file importer works.
We produced a previous MegaDots demo disk in June. We confess that there were too many problems in the June disk to allow for a meaningful evaluation of MegaDots. If you struggled with the June demo disk, we hope you will be impressed with the improvements in the new demo disk. Feel free to call us at (800) 347-9594 to ask for the MegaDots demo disk.
To help you to appreciate the role of MegaDots in our product line, we think it would be useful to go over the evolution of braille translation software packages from Raised Dot Computing. We use the past tense in describing our earlier products because we are taking a historical point of view, not because they are all dead.
In 1980 we bought a tape-based VersaBraille and an Apple II computer. David wrote a software package which allowed easy exchange of material between the VersaBraille and the Apple. This grew into BRAILLE-EDIT. Very soon David wrote translators to go from print to braille and from braille to print.
Through 1983, an explosion of new possibilities burst forth on the scene. In quick succession came affordable speech synthesis, affordable braille embossers, and optical scanners. As each new generation of equipment came out, David extended BRAILLE-EDIT to work with these new devices.
BRAILLE-EDIT is an embedded command program. To achieve the output you desire, you type explicit commands into the file. Only during the act of printing (to your printer or to the screen) can you tell if your formatting commands have worked the way you want them to.
BRAILLE-EDIT also had the unique feature of being able to deal with files made up of any sequence of ASCII characters--control characters or printable characters. In essence, BRAILLE-EDIT promoted a form of "data anarchy." You could produce any data file you wanted. The ability to manipulate any file gave BRAILLE-EDIT astonishing powers. But it made documentation a nightmare: every user could structure their files in a different way.
In 1984 Raised Dot created a special version of BRAILLE-EDIT to do better braille formatting (literary or textbook format). This special edition was called BETTE (BRAILLE-EDIT TEXTBOOK TRANSCRIBING EDITION). BETTE used a series of easy-to-remember commands. To go from a "BETTE file" to braille output, you had to perform a global replace operation and then run the translator.
In 1985 we rewrote BRAILLE-EDIT to create BEX (BRAILLE-EDIT XPRESS). BEX has been our flagship Apple product ever since. Among other things, BEX made better use of the capabilities of newer models in the Apple II computer family. One of our goals was to make BEX as useful a package as possible for resource teachers of blind and visually impaired students. For example, with BEX we introduced the ability to make large print output on common dot matrix printers.
In 1987 we released TranscriBEX. TranscriBEX was for BEX what BETTE was for BRAILLE-EDIT. However, we structured the TranscriBEX package differently. We pitched BETTE as a premium version of BRAILLE-EDIT, while we made TranscriBEX a low-cost add-on to a regular copy of BEX.
Stripped down to the essentials, TranscriBEX was a route away from the data anarchy of BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX. We told users exactly how to use the special TranscriBEX formatting commands. If you followed our instructions and used our transformation chapters, you got very reasonably formatted braille.
For many years, people asked us to do "BRAILLE-EDIT for the PC" and then "BEX for the PC." Because there were many other tools allowing blind and low vision individuals to use the PC effectively, we chose a more modest project for our first PC program. In 1986 Raised Dot Computing released Hot Dots, a braille translation program for the PC. To create Hot Dots, we turned the source code for BRAILLE-EDIT over to Lee Kamentsky, a freelance programmer, and he adapted it for the PC. Lee used a wide variety of programming languages and approaches to create Hot Dots. To create the Hot Dots formatter, for example, he found a way of converting each line of assembly language for the Apple II into assembly language for the PC. This brought the astonishing accomplishment of emulating our Apple II formatter so well that even its bugs were preserved in Hot Dots!
The original Hot Dots contained a forward translator from print to braille, a backward translator from braille to print, a global replace utility, and a formatter. However, Hot Dots did not include its own editor, and it lacked an effective way of bringing files in from a variety of PC word processors.
We recognized that we were stuck in an uncomfortable position. We did not have enough resources to properly switch from the less active Apple II world to the PC world. In June 1987 we submitted a phase 1 SBIR grant proposal to the National Science Foundation for work on a better system for braille translation and formatting. Through participation in the SBIR program (Small Business Innovative Research), various federal agencies which ordinarily fund academic research are able to deliver some funding for research by small businesses. A phase 1 grant gives you enough money to answer the question, "If we gave you more money, could you do something useful with it?" Much to our delight, we received a phase 1 grant. After describing the need for a better braille translation and formatting system in our phase 1 final report, we applied for phase 2 funding to develop it. The NSF eventually funded our phase 2 grant, which lasted from September 1989 to September 1991. Before leaving RDC in the fall of 1989, Jesse Kaysen and Nevin Olson were very instrumental in the work that led to the phase 2 funding.
In January 1990 we hired Aaron Leventhal, a very talented young programmer. Since then, Aaron and both of us have worked very closely as a team, with Aaron serving as the chief PC programmer.
By the fall of 1990, we had a new translation system and were busy working out an elaborate new formatting system. We decided to market our new translators in an old wrapper. We combined our new translators, our old Hot Dots formatter, some licensed file conversion routines, and some global replacement rules files that Caryn had written to make better formatted braille from the Arkenstone scanner. We turned this combination into Hot Dots 3.0.
This served several objectives. Hot Dots 3.0 was much better than previous versions of Hot Dots since it could work directly off of files from numerous word processing programs (most often WordPerfect and plain ASCII textfiles). It gave us a chance to test out our new translators and to learn what users wanted. Marketing Hot Dots 3.0 (and giving away the CD-ROM Access Disk) caused PC users to pay more attention to Raised Dot Computing. We are no longer perceived as a company that does work only on the Apple II computer.
Hot Dots 3.0 is a very usable program. But it also has its flaws. It is limited by our old formatting system, which is very difficult to modify. Making quality braille format (textbook or literary format) with Hot Dots is a challenge. Only after the formatting stage do you learn the effect of a change in format commands.
While MegaDots has inherited a great deal from our earlier programs, it also represents some major changes in our software philosophy. Like BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX, MegaDots is designed to provide a comfortable environment for editing print, braille, or both simultaneously. On the other hand, MegaDots is a departure from the "data anarchy" of our earlier programs. A MegaDots file is very highly structured. It is designed to guide you into formatting your data in particular ways. At the same time, MegaDots includes tools that let you change the format rules that we supplied. MegaDots also departs from the purely embedded command (wait and see) formatting of our earlier products, but without entirely abandoning embedded markup. MegaDots provides a full WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) environment for easy editing of both print and braille; the hidden format markup becomes visible when you request it. MegaDots is designed for both informal brailling and formal transcription by both blind and sighted users (no extra BETTE or TranscriBEX required). We think we have come up with a strong platform for the coming years.
We continue to provide extensive support for our earlier products, particularly BEX and Hot Dots 3.0. However, because MegaDots is our platform for the future, we encourage our customers to take advantage of the very reasonable packages for converting to MegaDots. Converting from Hot Dots 3.0 to MegaDots costs $125, and converting from BEX or an earlier version of Hot Dots costs $250. Because the users of our earlier programs have provided the foundation for this new platform, we want them to have an easy time climbing up to it.
In early July, Aaron Leventhal and David raised the Raised Dot Computing banner at the AER convention in Los Angeles and then at the ACB convention in Phoenix. Carolyn Briggs and Caryn held down the RDC booth at the NFB convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. We deeply appreciate the extensive logistical support we received from local customers Robert Sweetman in Los Angeles and Richard Hartness and Bob Sheffel of Metrolina Association for the Blind in Charlotte. The summer conventions are a great time to catch up with the sensory aids field and to see what is out there.
There was plenty to talk about. We were struck by how many companies were unveiling new products. The list of new products not quite ready for shipping, in spite of great effort to have them ready for the convention season, conjured up memories of cramming for final exams at school.
The AER convention was a big disappointment for the vendors. For the first time this convention coincided with the NFB convention, making it difficult for vendors to exhibit at both conventions. We signed up because we heard that 2,500 people were expected to attend. But having a convention start in Los Angeles the day after strong earthquakes shook southern California did not help attendance. It is our understanding that only 700 people registered.
Many people were excited about two new relatively affordable interpoint braillers, the Juliet from Enabling Technology and the Everest from TeleSensory. Many people were asking, "Which one should I buy?" The answer seems to depend on individual needs. There are a number of differences which can clarify the choice. For example, the Juliet is cheaper, but it is slower. The Everest uses a single sheet feeder to accept regular braille paper instead of continuous form paper, but you can feed in only 150 sheets at a time. The Everest has a version of the Duxbury grade II braille translator built into it. However, those experienced in braille translation know that for many applications the formatting flexibility of braille production software is required. We hope to have more information on these two braillers in an upcoming issue.
Two specially modified computers from the German company BAUM attracted a great deal of attention. Both products, a laptop PC and a larger work station, had voice and refreshable braille integrated into them. By touching different spots on a special strip, the user controls which portion of the screen is spoken and shown on the braille display. In demonstrations, the system gave people the feel of a full page refreshable braille display. But the price tags got a lot of attention too. Amid much grumbling about the $15,000 for the laptop and the $25,000 for the work station, the extreme position was that these prices in the US market are criminal. The mood lightened with the joke that American manufacturers are glad that someone else has more expensive products in the US market.
Of course, we did our best to promote our new MegaDots software. We distributed a lot of MegaDots demonstration disks and showed the software to many other vendors. Many vendors of brailling equipment are excited about the opportunity to sell MegaDots.
We brought home news of two new technology-related training programs at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, an NFB rehabilitation facility. In one program, students learn how to use computers to work as braille producers. The other training program is for those who want careers as adaptive technology specialists. Zena Pearcy, formerly of the Texas Commission for the Blind, is directing both programs. You can call the Louisiana Center for the Blind at (800) 234-4166.
As in previous years, a topic of great concern was GUI (graphical user interface) systems and how they threaten the job security of blind employees. For the first time, there was some cautious excitement about new access products for GUI systems. Another article in this issue deals with this subject.
The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) is pleased to report on the progress of its Unified Braille Code Research Project 1992-1995. The goal is to extend the base code, literary braille, to encompass the other braille codes, except music--mathematics, computer notation, textbook--and other subject areas such as chemistry and electronics. The resulting unified code must meet BANA's criteria to:
The working committees are chaired by: Dr. Hilda Caton, Joe Sullivan, Dr. Abraham Nemeth, Dr. Emerson Foulke, Phyllis Campana, Chris Gray, and Claudell Stocker. Dr. Tim Cranmer is vitally involved with the project as are all the members of the BANA Board.
Darleen Bogart, present BANA Chairman, has been elected Chairman of the Ad Hoc Unified Code Committee for the duration of the project. It will be managed from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
All committee members and consultants to the research project are volunteers. We are anticipating in-kind donations of print and braille materials for reports and research materials required by the working committees and for the evaluation. The original code comparisons and the evaluation of this unified code will be undertaken by the newly-established Braille Research Institute located at the American Printing House for the Blind.
A minimum budget of $43,000 has been established for the three-year research project. The expenses estimated are for meeting expenses for committee members, telephone calls, and miscellaneous supplies. Over $17,000 has been received in contributions towards the project from BANA sponsors: American Printing House for the Blind, California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Braille Literacy Foundation, National Federation of the Blind, and National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. BANA is continuing to fundraise to finance the project.
At BANA's request Fredrick K. Schroeder, Chairman of the International Council on English Braille, is inviting the participation of the members of ICEB in the Unified Braille Code Research Project.
Goal: To develop a Unified Braille Code by Spring, 1995.
Objectives: The Unified Code shall:
Direction: The Ad Hoc Unified Committee is to be comprised of: the full BANA Board, with the addition of T.V. Cranmer, A. Nemeth, and J. Sullivan.
[Editor's note: For a full copy of this action plan, see "Unified Braille Code Research Project" in Facts on File. We welcome articles with your thoughts on this project.]
As matters presently stand, there is not, as there is in print, a single braille code that is capable of representing the full spectrum of meanings that must be comprehended by readers. Instead, we have witnessed a proliferation of partially overlapping, special-purpose braille codes. For instance, in addition to the basic literary code, there is a mathematics code, a computer code, the prototype of a chemistry code, and so forth. In some cases, a given symbol has different meanings in different codes. In other cases, a given meaning is represented by different symbols in different codes. There are some notorious instances in which meanings are, in the absence of any valid reason, represented in a different way in the braille code than they are in the print code. Consider, for example, the enclosures in the literary code that are defined by parentheses and quotation marks. The lack of consistency leads to confusion and makes the learning of braille unnecessarily difficult. Braille is the best reading medium available to competent braille readers, but this artificial and unnecessary difficulty is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the steady decline in the number of competent braille readers that has been observed in the last few decades. We believe that the inconsistencies and ambiguities responsible for some of the problems experienced by braille readers may be eliminated by formulating a unified code that retains the literary code as the Basic Code and avoids inconsistency and ambiguity by following a rational plan in order to extend the Basic Code to encompass other domains such as mathematics and computer science.
The goal of this project is the development of a unified braille code that achieves the consistent and unambiguous representation of the meanings in English Literature and in the disciplines concerned with science and technology. The Basic Code will be the literary code now in use. It will, for the most part, be unmodified, and will pose no threat for those readers who have learned to read text written in the literary code. The only noticeable difference will be in regard to those meanings that occur in scientific and technical disciplines and that also occur with high frequency in nontechnical literature. For examples in the print code, the symbol for minus that is used in the mathematics textbook is also the symbol for minus in the newspaper or in a popular magazine. However, although the braille mathematics code provides a symbol for "minus," there is no symbol for "minus" in the braille literary code and the operation of subtraction must be indicated by spelling the word "minus." This is only one of a number of similar examples that could be cited. We believe that those symbols used in mathematics and other scientific and technical disciplines that also occur with high frequency in the nontechnical literature should be incorporated in the Basic Code and understood by anyone who has learned the Basic Code.
Braille readers do not live in a world of their own. They live and work in a world dominated by printed communication and they must understand the practices of those who use print. In order to facilitate communications between braille readers and print readers, the braille code and the print code should, in so far as possible, use parallel forms of expression. For example, in the print code, the symbols used for the opening parenthesis and the closing parenthesis are different, whereas the symbols used for the opening quotation mark and the closing quotation mark are the same. In braille it is just the other way around. The symbols used for the opening parenthesis and the closing parenthesis are the same, and the symbols used for the opening quotation mark and the closing quotation mark are different. These, too, are unnecessary differences that can only serve to confuse. In the Unified Braille Code, meanings will, in so far as possible, be represented in the same way as they are in the print code.
The use of braille to represent music is a special case that presents complex problems. We believe that music requires a code of its own, and music will not, therefore, be covered by the Unified Braille Code.
Are you looking for a braillewriter? a braille printer? the ability to write in braille and send your translated material to a printer or to store your text in your computer? the ability to send material from your computer and have it translated into grade 2 braille? the ability to have a non-braillist produce grade 2 braille in real time? the ability to produce raised graphics? If you answered "yes" to all or most of these questions, the Mountbatten Brailler, marketed by HumanWare, might be just the thing for you. Wonderful, right? Well, maybe.
Before we discuss what the Mountbatten does and how well it does it, we need a few words about what it is. The Mountbatten Brailler measures 17.7 by 9.4 by 3.5 inches, not counting the supplementary connector box and QWERTY keyboard (optional), and weighs 9.2 pounds. It has a more or less standard braillewriter keyboard supplemented by a newline key, a key used to initiate commands, a margin release key which doubles as a command terminator, a backspace key, and two keys which are initially set as tab and backtab keys but which can be programmed to perform various command sequences. The keyboard can be remapped to suit individual preferences. There are a few additional controls involved in the process of loading paper and telling the machine the width of the paper being used. In addition to an on/off switch and a jack for the charger/adapter, the unit contains a DIN serial port and another DIN connector for a tractor feed (not yet available). There is also a port for the connector box which has input and output parallel ports, a second serial port, and a connector for a QWERTY keyboard. The unit has a convenient carrying handle and a plastic cover, making it reasonably portable.
The Mountbatten Brailler can be purchased in the following configurations:
Standard, consisting of the basic unit which can perform the braillewriter, embossing, and the off-line brailling functions: This version, priced at $2495, does not include either the forward or the back translator. It lacks most of the features that are likely to make the Mountbatten attractive to most potential users.
User Package Priced at $3250: This version adds to the above the two translators, the connector box, and an additional 128K of memory for a total of 160K. The QWERTY keyboard can be added for another $45.00. As mentioned earlier, HumanWare expects to have a tractor feed upgrade available in the future. Editing functions not currently available will also be added as an upgrade.
Now, as promised, let's look at what the unit does and how well it does it.
As a braillewriter which immediately embosses the material you input, the Mountbatten keeps up with you quite well and lets you continue entering data while it changes lines. With the Wordwrap feature enabled, you don't have to bother initiating line changes yourself, but you may find that this relatively unsophisticated Wordwrap feature will hyphenate words in some very strange places your high school English teacher would never approve. In addition, the unit, when used as a braillewriter, is quite noisy, not that any of the braillewriters on the market are particularly quiet. The "rub-out" correction feature makes rather good corrections, and you can move to any point on the page to make such corrections. As with other braillewriters, however, you can't do any real editing of your text. If you are looking for nothing but a braillewriter, the Mountbatten, costing more than four times as much as the Perkins brailler, for example, isn't what you want, but if you need some of the other features offered by the Mountbatten, its braillewriter capability should suit you well enough.
The graphics feature offered by the Mountbatten is a real plus, especially for someone with the imagination and knowledge of braille characters to use it properly. The manual gives directions for producing a diamond graphic which comes out nicely. A teacher or secretary with the right mix of creativity and knowledge might put this feature to good use, as could the blind user as well. Including this feature is a rather nice touch.
One drawback which affects the unit in several of its operations is its awkward paper insertion method. This isn't the place to describe the two paper insertion methods in detail, but I found both of them slow and cumbersome. A machine with so many mechanical niceties should offer a better procedure for performing what should be such a simple task.
If you happen to be someplace where you want to write in braille and not subject those around you to the noise of having your material embossed immediately, the Mountbatten lets you turn off the embosser and store your text for later embossing. You can store up to 20 files. The big problem with this mode of operation is that you have no way to edit your text except for making immediate corrections or subsequently appending material to the end of your file. The only way you can see what you have written is to emboss the file or send it to a computer or paperless braille device, and even then, you can't really do anything to change it. For this kind of data entry, something like the Braille 'n Speak gives you much more flexibility. However, in all fairness it should be mentioned that the Braille 'n Speak requires you to have an additional piece of equipment to emboss your file, while the Mountbatten doesn't. The promised editing capability will fill a real gap in the Mountbatten's performance.
In both the modes discussed so far, the Mountbatten offers a variety of formatting options which are easy to use and which can be saved for subsequent retrieval. This is also the case when it comes to the printing functions to be covered later.
We have made several references to the Mountbatten's embossing capabilities. One thing this means is that the Mountbatten can serve as a braille printer, either printing files which have already been translated or performing the dual functions of translating and printing. As for how satisfied you would be with the Mountbatten as a braille printer, the following observations might be helpful:
A previously translated page that my 5-year-old 20 CPS VersaPoint printed in 1 minute 11 seconds took the Mountbatten 2 minutes 36 seconds. This difference would have been far greater if more than one page had been used, since the Mountbatten doesn't as yet accept fanfold paper, meaning that you have to take time to change pages manually. Given the awkward paper insertion process, this can eat up lots of additional time. On the other hand, the Mountbatten is priced competitively with many other braille printers on the market and offers features they don't provide. Despite this, if a braille printer is all you want, the Mountbatten isn't your best bet. But if you need most of the other options it offers, you might be willing to settle for its limitations as a braille printer.
A feature of the Mountbatten which worked very nicely was its ability to back translate braille text and send it to a printer. In this respect, it offers a major advantage over the Braille 'n Speak, in that it offers such formatting options as underlining, bolding, centering, etc. It also provides the ability to create a few translations of your own as exceptions to standard translations.
For reasons I haven't yet fathomed, I had less luck with sending files to be translated and embossed from my computer to the Mountbatten. The end product showed some strange line breaks and mistranslations, but I have been assured by the HumanWare representative that these are not typical, and I have no reason to doubt him on this.
One of the best and, for some, most useful features of the Mountbatten is the ability to enter data on a QWERTY keyboard and have it translated and embossed either immediately or at a later time. This feature gives a teacher, for example, a good means of providing students with braille without necessarily knowing much of anything about braille. Many employers might also find it very useful as a means of providing instant braille to blind employees. This is a feature which has real potential in the right setting, and I found it to work very nicely.
Without trying to list every function offered by the Mountbatten, I should briefly mention a few that might be of value to particular users:
The bottom line of all this is, as suggested several times, that in most cases, if you need only a specific feature offered by the Mountbatten, you can generally find it in another unit or combination of units which will perform it better and probably at lower cost. But if you need most or all of the features offered by the Mountbatten, it is a piece of equipment worthy of serious consideration. The promised editing and tractor feed upgrades will add significantly to the Mountbatten's value but hopefully only modestly to its price.
As a final comment, I must say that Tim Connell, the HumanWare representative imported from Australia to support the Mountbatten, was most cooperative in furnishing equipment and answering questions. This speaks well for the support that purchasers of this machine are likely to receive.
[About the Author: Al Gayzagian, an experienced user of sensory aids equipment, has retired from his executive position at John Hancock Company.]
[Editor's note: Tim Connell works for the Australian company Quantum, the manufacturer of the Mountbatten Brailler. He is in the United States helping HumanWare for an extended period.]
While we appreciate the time and trouble Al Gayzagian took to review the Mountbatten Brailler, we feel it is only fair to make a couple of responses to issues that were raised. Generally, it is a very objective article, but there were a few omissions that we feel will affect people's interpretation of his review.
The main areas of criticism are noise, speed, and lack of editing. We respond as follows.
Al is certainly correct in saying that none of the braillewriters on the market are particularly quiet. The Mountbatten is no exception. However, there are a number of things that can be done to minimize the noise. First, there is an impact force adjustment that needs to be set at its lowest setting to minimize noise. If a lighter paper is used, the noise can be reduced by more than 50%. Second, in a noise sensitive area the Mountbatten Brailler should be placed on a dampening pad (felt or foam) such as those used with daisy wheel printers and typewriters. This also significantly reduces the noise. When you do these two things, there is no difference between the noise of the Mountbatten Brailler and the average Perkins Brailler (based on independent tests).
To further improve and protect the aural environment, a small sound hood for use with the Mountbatten will be available shortly.
The Mountbatten Brailler has never claimed to be a competitor to a dedicated braille embosser. It has this feature because it is an electronic device, and it was not a difficult job technically to incorporate it into the design. The philosophy behind the Mountbatten Brailler is that it is a product to meet personal needs. Most of us do not produce sufficient volumes of printed matter for the question of speed to be an all-important one. To be battery operated and portable, there were necessarily some sacrifices in speed (limited by the size of the motors that can be used). The input from over 100 organizations around the world indicated quite clearly that portability and battery operation were very important features.
There is always a need for the product that will do everything, but as the saying goes, we are still working on it. In our less than ideal world, an excellent combination of products is a computer of some sort and a Mountbatten Brailler. The Mountbatten has been sold in other countries for some 18 months and there are many hundreds of users. A very large percentage of these are people that also own a Braille 'n Speak, a laptop with speech, or a Eureka A4. Anybody that wants to use the Mountbatten as a braille embosser by definition has a computer and therefore most likely a word processor also. As a manufacturer, we are not about to reinvent the wheel. There will be a simple text editor available for the Mountbatten in the near future, but it will be just that: simple and designed for personal use.
There are a couple of minor issues such as Al's problems with forward translation. However, not having his original files makes it hard to comment on the problem. I do know that I use the translator on a daily basis without problems, as do many hundreds of other people. It is not MegaDots or Duxbury, but it is a very simple and reliable translator suitable for personal needs.
We do appreciate very sincerely all the positive things that Al has to say about the Mountbatten. We certainly like to know if there are problems, because we offer an unconditional guarantee that we will rectify them.
It's a result of living Down Under, in all its glorious isolation, that we really do listen to what people say and we care about it. I am over in this wonderful country of yours to be closer to our customers and to help them become familiar with and use our products. If I can help, please call. [See Mountbatten Brailler in Facts on File.]
One continuing issue in the computer access field is GUI or Graphical User Interface. A GUI (pronounced like gooey) uses mice, windows, icons, and pretty pictures to lure sighted persons into using computers. Microsoft Windows, which has a Graphical User Interface, supplants DOS, which has a character user interface.
The problem for blind computer users is that most access techniques for the blind are based on the character user interface. Computer access for blind persons is getting more and more difficult as the GUI's become more dominant in the computer world. One adaptive technology specialist told us that he receives several phone calls each week from blind persons whose jobs are threatened because their offices are switching over to GUI systems.
The flip side of this issue is that when and if true access to GUI software is achieved, blind users will benefit from the consistency and structure of GUI software.
The first commercial product to crack a GUI through speech was the outSPOKEN program from Berkeley Systems. outSPOKEN gives limited access to the Macintosh. For the address of Berkeley Systems and other companies mentioned in this article, see GUI Access in Facts on File. Berkeley Systems is also tackling Microsoft Windows, but they have not announced a Windows access product yet.
Synthe-Voice Computers of Hamilton, Ontario in Canada went to the summer conventions to announce a new Windows access product, Slimware Window Bridge. They did not have a demonstration disk at the conventions.
Various screen enlargement programs have been enhanced to work with Windows. If you are interested, call Raised Dot Computing for a demonstration disk of the new ZoomText family. It contains a demonstration of ZTwin (ZoomText for Windows).
IBM has been working for some time to get their Screen Reader working with Presentation Manager, the GUI for OS/2. By all accounts, this exciting new product will be shipping very soon.
Researchers at Georgia Tech are working on a project to make the UNIX X-Windows interface accessible through speech and stereo sound. I am not sure of the status of their project.
The TRACE Center (a rehabilitation engineering center located here in Madison, Wisconsin) has been testing their new "System 3" for access to the Macintosh. It combines outSPOKEN (speech) with a range-limited mouse containing an Optacon display. The TRACE Center is not trying to create a commercial product. System 3 is a technology demonstration to show how useful a combined tactile-haptic-voice access system can be.
If you are aware of another GUI access project under way, please tell us about it. We would like to be aware of these projects so that we can properly refer inquiries to the appropriate vendor or researcher.
[Editor's note: This series, which began in the January-February issue, is based on a handout prepared by Ken Smith and David Holladay.]
See Learner Level Section 3 and User Level Section 3 about setting up a new configuration. BEX allows you to use a variety of equipment. The configuration shown here is just one of the many possible combinations. This configuration is at the User Level for use with an Apple ImageWriter and a VersaPoint embosser.
Boot BEX. At the Enter Configuration: prompt, type *<CR> (an asterisk followed by a carriage return).
You will be asked a lot of questions. If you're in doubt, press the return key <CR> and BEX will clarify the question or give a suggested reply.
In this configuration, printer 1 is regular print on the ImageWriter, printer 2 is large print output on the ImageWriter using the 18 point font, printer 3 is braille output to the VersaPoint, and printer 4 is a braille previewer. The sequence of <ESC>L008 is a special instruction to the ImageWriter to set up a reasonable left margin. See U3:11 for details. Also see User Level Section 6, Part 3 for information on how you can use the braille previewer to check format before you emboss.
This configuration contains a "remote serial device" for importing text. This is a way of getting text into the computer from another device without having to key it all in yourself, a big time saver. You can import text from a Braille 'n Speak, an optical scanner, another computer, etc. Importing text with a serial device is described in User Level Section 12.
This concludes this series of articles. Don't forget that the BEX manual has lots of information and a good index to help you find what you need.
For over a year, blind persons who have needed accessible copies of documents printed by Digital Equipment Corporation have found it very easy. There is an under-publicized office at Digital that makes all the necessary arrangements for disk, CD-ROM, or braille production. Accessible materials are always sold for the same cost as the inkprint equivalents.
It is noteworthy that all this is done in-house and that Digital is making money (proceeds of accessible documentation sales exceed expenses). Recently, Digital has produced a CD-ROM containing documentation about DECtalk and related voice peripherals. This is the first CD-ROM produced specifically for the visually impaired. Things would definitely improve if IBM, Microsoft, Apple, WordPerfect, et. al. could follow Digital's example. The rest of this article is a direct quotation from the "brochure file" located on Digital's new CD-ROM.
The Vision Impaired Information Services (VIIS) program was developed by Digital Equipment Corporation to meet the documentation and information access needs of visually/print impaired customers. The VIIS program:
The VIIS program office is located in Nashua, New Hampshire and works in conjunction with Digital's other assistive technology groups, including:
Digital customers can purchase the translated and formatted documentation simply by contacting their Digital sales account representative or by calling the VIIS program office.
The documentation can be shipped on any of the following media:
The VIIS program serves the interests of the visually/print impaired computer user. The office is dedicated toward providing documentation in three forms:
"The most complete book of its kind on the market today ... the chatty, friendly style made it a pleasure to read (and there's something in it for novices and experts alike). You're going to sell a lot of these books!"--Elliot Schreier, Director, National Technology Center, American Foundation for the Blind
How do you adapt a computer work station when you can't see the computer screen? What do you need, where do you go to get it, and what's going to work? Why is one type of operating system more accessible than another, why does one piece of software "talk" and another doesn't, why is braille more accessible than speech, or vice versa, depending on the application and the user's preferences?
SOLUTIONS answers these tough questions, and, at the same time, arms the reader with current information on every type of adaptive device, from speech synthesizers to braille printers, from scanners to electronic reading services, all in non-technical terms, just right for the beginner or the more experienced adaptive technology user.
This one-stop, all-inclusive resource takes you, step by step, through the process of adapting a work station, including in-depth interviews with blind people who talk candidly about the frustrations and joys of using access technology on the job. SOLUTIONS lets you eavesdrop on an actual Trainers' Forum, where adaptive technology teachers share their perspectives on training in today's rapidly changing technical world. Extensive appendices include: blindness-related bulletin boards, electronic reading services for the blind, CD-ROM information, access technology publications, financial aid for adaptive technology users, and more, including a complete product price list.
Olga Espinola lost her vision at the age of 6, when she was unable to leave her native Cuba for an eye operation in the States. Today, Ms. Espinola is a staff manager at New England Telephone, where access technology plays an intrinsic role in her professional life. Diane Croft is director of marketing at National Braille Press in Boston, Massachusetts. This is her fifth book on computer access technology. Ms. Croft is also co-author of TAKE CHARGE: A Strategic Guide for Blind Job Seekers, winner of three national book awards.
SOLUTIONS is available in print, braille, 4-track cassette, and IBM disk.
What's inside SOLUTIONS? Take a peek at the table of contents:
See SOLUTIONS in Facts on File for how to contact National Braille Press. All editions are $21.95 USA ($25.95 Canadian currency). Add $3.50 for postage on print edition or if you want UPS shipping instead of Free Matter. You can call NBP at (617) 266-6160 to place credit card orders.
Arkenstone, Inc. has announced a complete reading appliance which enables people who cannot read print directly to read books and create a personal library. Called An Open Book, the product can be used by learning to press just two buttons.
"We wanted to make reading for people with disabilities as easy as opening a book," said Jim Fruchterman, Arkenstone president. He added, "Aside from being incredibly easy to use, the product has the best reading and speaking ability of any reading appliance available."
The pricing of An Open Book reflects Arkenstone's commitment to providing reading tools to the widest number of individuals at the most reasonable price possible. The product is priced at $4,995. The most comparable products range in price from $7,000 to $10,000.
Bill Schwegler, vice-president of product development and chief architect of An Open Book, stated, "This product gives the users the ability to read just about everything in their mail or local library. It works by scanning pages of words and reading them aloud to the user. Although the product uses the most up-to-date, powerful high technology components, the user has no need to be aware of the inner workings of the machine."
Arkenstone also has a full line of personal computer reading tools. An Open Book differs from Arkenstone's current products as it has been designed for the typical person rather than for people with personal computer skills.
Arkenstone's recently introduced Ready To Read PC is a luggable system, custom designed with fully tactile features and built-in audio management. The use of tactile guides and icons allows people with visual impairments easy access to a personal computer.
Arkenstone's initial product, the Arkenstone Reader, consists of a document scanner and an add-in character recognition board for IBM PC-AT and compatible personal computers. An Open Book uses WordScan Plus software from Calera Recognition Systems, Inc.
A special agreement with Calera Recognition Systems, the maker of the TrueScan scanner recognition board and WordScan Plus, allows Arkenstone to provide these products at a significant discount to people with disabilities.
Arkenstone products are distributed in the U.S. and abroad by a network of more than sixty dealers who are experienced in providing computers and adaptive equipment for the visually impaired. Arkenstone also provides information and technical support directly to people with disabilities through its 800 number which supports all of the U.S. and Canada: (800) 444-4443. See An Open Book in Facts on File for the address.
For sale: a two-and-a-half-year-old IBM PS/2 Model 30 computer. It has a 20 Meg hard disk, one 3.5 inch drive set for 720K, and three slots. It has a serial port and a parallel port. No problems ever experienced. It has a good word processor and is loaded with shareware and free-ware including a double-entry bookkeeping system and a simple personal finance program. Also a dictionary, many games and a personal calendar. Price $750 plus shipping. It is ready to turn the switch and use.
I have a Sounding Board LT speech synthesizer for sale. This is a speech card which is compatible with the Toshiba T1100, T1200, and T1600 series of laptops. I believe that there are also some computers in the T3000 series that can run this synthesizer. It is in perfect working order, and the original manuals, diskette, and packing materials are available. I am asking for $200 (shipping included).
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.