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Development and Application of Chinese Computer for the Blind

Focus: School Years

Topic: Technology

Han Ping

Senior teacher  Deputy headmaster

Beijing School for the Blind

Wuluju 11, Haidian,

Beijing,

China

86-10-88445548 or 86-10-88461146 or 86-10-88469236

hanping@mail.cnu.edu.cn

1. Development of Chinese computer for the blind

Supported by Christiana foundation Chinese blind students began to use computer in Beijing School for the blind in 1987. At that time the computer used was APPLE-2, which was capable of output English voice. With this voice function we created a program of keyboard operating training. This was the very beginning of using computer for the blind in China. However, the problem was no Chinese speech in the computer system, even more there was not possibility for processing Chinese character and Chinese Braille.

In the late 80’s the powerful IBM PC was used widely. This made it possible to develop computer system with Chinese speech and capable of processing Chinese character. In 1992, a research group headed by Prof. Mao Yuhang exploited a computer system with Chinese speech synthesis and Chinese character processing which was DOS based. Therefore, a real Chinese computer for the blind was actually realized.

Along with the computer operating system shifted from DOS to Windows  since 1990’s, severe challenge was happened to the developer of computer for the blind. Windows system is facilitated for user with normal vision and is convenient to operate by using mouse, while for the blind it is totally impossible to use. Then it was necessary to develop new computer system for the blind based on Windows operating system. This was realized in 1997 when Prof. Mao announced the new computer system for the blind which was Windows based. The new system contains a speech server with mandarin and English speech synthesis, Chinese character input coding, editor for the blind, screen reader and Internet browser for the blind. The new system was fully suitable for blind to operate independently. Not only this system makes blind people to communicate with visually normal people literally which was impossible in the past, but also allowing blind to access wide world through the Internet. This is of great significant for the blind to get free life. Then came to 2001 year, Prof. Zhu Xiaoyan from Tsinghua University exploited the software of Email server for the blind. This makes possible for the blind to communicate to others by Email.

Translation from normal Chinese character to Braille is a big problem in the school for the blind. It is quite a lot of work for preparing the teaching material for the students. Beginning from 90’s Prof. Mao provided us the translation programs used for translating normal character to Braille and vice versa, which was DOS operating system based. While in 2001 year Prof. Zhu Xiaoyan provided us the same translation system based on Windows system.

Later on 2000 year Mr. Zhao Yu from Automation Department, Tsinghua University invented the first Braille displayer in China. Through two years’ successive effort the Chinese Braille displayer is good enough to put into production. Not only this device provides the transferring Chinese character to Chinese Braille but also displays the dot character in Braille form on computer screen, which is very useful for the teacher working with the blind student. This type of new product of Braille displayer is quite cheaper than that of import product. It is unique for its comprehensive adaptive software. Having this Braille displayer device together with the software described above we can push forward greatly the modernization of education for the blind.

2、Application of computer in Beijing School for the Blind.

It is acknowledged to everybody that the main way out for the blind is education. The special difficulty of education for the blind must be solved relying on adopting high technique. When the first computer appeared in Beijing school for the blind people didn’t exactly know what would the computer technique bring to the education for the blind. It was quite amazing. Getting aid by the teachers and students from YANGBOHAN University the blind students in our school began to learn key board operating, English words typing and simple BASIC programming. Students with low-vision began to accept visual training etc. All these were the main content of computer course for the blind student. At that time the function of computer for improve education for the blind was very limited.

It was in 1992 year, Prof. Mao Yuhang of Tsinghua University invented the Chinese speech synthesis system and relevant software. Not only he donated the new technique to our school but also provided us with six PC computers. It was PC-286, but was very valuable at that time. After that IBM donated our school with 10 computers of PC-486. These computers greatly  improved our hardware facilities. Meanwhile Prof. Mao also gave the courses of computer to the teachers and students and improved the software continuously. Beginning form 1994 year a new course of using Chinese computer was set up for the first grade student in primary school.

In Beijing School for the Blind the teaching of Chinese computer is concurrent with the language and literature course. In the past the main difficulty for the blind pupils in their study of Chinese language is to distinguish Chinese characters with the same pronounce and one character may have many different meaning and to understand that there are so many characters being polyphony. In the past it is sufficient for the blind student to know the “Chinese speech” but not necessary to know the “literal language”. This makes them impossible to communicate outside world with literal language. The powerful computer system with adaptive software especially designed for the blind essentially changes the situation. The teaching of Chinese computer for the blind is being carried out from first grade of primary school. The blind pupils can accept Chinese language knowledge with computer aiding. They are greatly excited. They can understand Chinese language as many as an ordinary student. Even though they cannot write a text by hand, but they can type a text into computer and then print it out as a normal text on the paper by printer. This is impossible without computer technique and hence is a great breakthrough in education for the blind.

Eight years passed since we began using Chinese computer for the blind. Blind children of eight classes have got the training of using Chinese computer. Most of them can “write” composition by using computer. Their parents who were impossible to understand Braille now can read he normal letters written by their children.

We expect that in not too long time later computer will be used more popularly and more adaptive software will be developed. The blind pupils will not be satisfied within the limit of writing and reading. They would like to know more knowledge of computer and get to know more information from the Internet. Using computer they can participate in the common society equally and actively. This situation appeals to develop more adoptive software especially suitable for the blind. It is necessary to have more attention and assistance from the society and institutes of public welfare.

The successful produce of Braille displayer with suitable Chinese transfer software brings great exciting to the blind student in Beijing School for the Blind. Not like the speech aid system, using the Braille displayer the student can initiatively get information from the computer. They can “read” text by  finger-touching with the speed just as they like and may repeat or skip some paragraphs easily. We expect that in the near future we can reform the textbook for the blind with computer files. Then the student don’t need to bring the cumbersome special printed books in their study. We believe that this new reading facility for the blind may change the teaching process radically.

Nowadays, the computer aid of Chinese language teaching is processed in the primary school. In the high professional school the blind students are accepting training of computer using skills and preparing for the examination of information technique. Computer is widely used in many courses such as the English, mathematics, biology, music, traditional medicine, anatomy and psychology consulting.

In order to share experience of adopting computer in teaching for the blind we held many times of the training course for the blind people. In the same time we compiled many teaching books concerning computer applications and share our experience with other schools for the blind such as in FuZhou, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, Qingdao, Zhengzhou, XinJiang, Wuhan, Zhejiang etc. Some blind friends come from Singapore, Hong Kong for getting computer training.

3、Prospect of development of Chinese computer for the blind.

Along with the progress of science-technology the function of Chinese computer should be improved continuously. A network specially exploited for the blind may be realized. We hope in not too long later there will be computer on every classroom desk for the blind student and they can study any course independently. For the blind student who are not able to come to school and would like to get education at their home, this may be realized by long distant educational network specially designed for the blind. All this doesn’t mean that teaches will lose their work. There are so many computer courseware should be developed. Besides, face-to-face assistance in teaching process for the blind will never be out-of-date. Any way, all professional teachers for the blind will face a requirement to renew their knowledge and change their mode of teaching. We must be getting ready to face more challenge in reforming educational fashion for the blind. We are looking forward a new world that blind people will participate into common society more equally and independently. They can play more role in contribution to the society by using their effort and intelligence.

China is a big country and there is the most population of blind people in the world. China is also a developing country. It is a big challenge for us to develop education system meeting the need from that large quantity of the blind. Any experience in this field from other countries will be helpful to us. We are urgently need advice from forerunners of our proficient. We are also hoping to share our experience with those people who are interested in the topic of modernization of education for the blind


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