The Development of Braille Tutorials
for Sighted and Blind Persons
which Operate on Computers and the Braille Lite
Professor and Coordinator
Director of Orientation and Mobility
Department of Teaching and Learning
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
This paper describes the process by which the authors developed three tutorials for use by sighted and blind persons. Two of the tutorials were designed for sighted individuals to learn to read and write the English literary braille code, American edition, and the code of braille mathematics (Nemeth Code). The third tutorial was designed for blind persons to learn to read and write the code of braille mathematics using a portable electronic braille note taker, the Braille Lite.
Four stages were involved in the process. These were:
To design the underlying software, the service of accomplished programmers was enlisted. The authors are experts in the reading and writing of the braille codes, but they have no expertise in programming. The programmers were not knowledgeable about braille. Thus, it was necessary for the authors to be able to describe in detail how the software was to operate. A detailed outline for the operation of the software was described for the benefit of the programmers. The programmers were given a brief overview of the braille codes in order that they would have a fuller understanding of how the braille codes are constructed.
The software operates as follows. Each tutorial is divided into lessons. Each lesson contains four components. The first is a detailed explanation of the rules governing a certain small portion of the code. Following the explanation portion are three different sections of exercises which can be completed by the student. The first focuses on writing the braille symbols; the second deals with reading the braille code; the third deals with proofreading. Students can navigate between lessons and sections at any point within these tutorials.
In the first section, the student is presented with print symbols (spoken symbols for blind students). The student is required to braille the symbols. In the case of sighted individuals using regular computers, the software converts the computer keyboard into a braille keyboard in which six keys (f, d, s j, k, l) and the space bar are active. As the sighted student uses the keyboard as a brailler, the dots appear on the screen. Once the student has completed an item, a “grade answer” command can be evoked. If errors have been made, the computer or Braille Lite marks the first error. The student can attempt to correct the errors as many times as desired, with the option of comparing an erroneous answer to the correct answer to determine where errors have been made. The student can move to the explanatory section to review the rules at any time.
In the second section, the student is presented with braille symbols to read. To determine if an answer is correct, the computer will display the print equivalents. In the case of blind students, the Braille Lite will speak the correct answer. Thus, the student can compare his or her ability to read the symbols to the correct response.
In the third section, the student is presented with braille expressions which contain errors. He or she is asked to find the errors and to correct them using editing commands. The student can cause the computer or Braille Lite to “grade” the response, then is given as many opportunities as desired to correct errors. Again, the student can compare his or her response to the correct response.
The major hurdle in the development of the tutorials for sighted individuals was to cause the computer to display the braille dots on the screen as the student pressed the proper key combinations. The most recently developed software, the braille mathematics code (Nemeth Code) tutor program was written in Borland Pascal for Windows 7.0 for Microsoft Windows 3.1. It continues to work well under more recent versions of Windows. It uses standard Windows API techniques, and so could be re-implemented in any modern Windows programming language. The system consists of two main parts: a graphical editor in which lesson authors can develop lessons with mathematical symbols, text, and questions, and answers via a drag-and-drop interface.
The tutorial developed for use by blind students, which operates on the Braille Lite, uses that device’s proprietary operating system. This tutorial will not operate on a computer running under the Windows operating system, even if the computer is connected to a braille display. The software was designed to operate only in the Braille Lite environment.
The authors developed the content of the software, based on the braille code rules manuals. Interactive practice exercise sections were written based on the content of each explanation section. These textfiles were then translated into the format which would be accepted by the underlying software.
Initially, one lesson was developed in order to test the procedures. This beta lesson was used to refine the process for producing the tutorials. Once the process was refined sufficiently, the staff used the editor and inputted the remaining lessons.
In order to disseminate the software, the programs have been placed on appropriate websites for free downloading. Interested individuals can go to the following websites and follow the procedures for downloading the programs:
Please send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.