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How Braille Forms the Complete User Interface when Learning and Communicating in Information and Knowledge Society.

Focus: School Years

Topic: Access and Information Technologies

Keld Stochholm

Retired Principal of Refsnæsskolen, National Institute for Blind and Partially Sighted Children and Youth

Skovduevejen 35 A,

DK 4872 Idestrup

Denmark

Phone: + 45 5413 2334

keld.stochholm@mail.dk

Svend Thougaard

In charge of the Material Laboratory

Refsnæsskolen, National Institute for Blind and Partially Sighted Children and Youth

Kystvejen 112

DK 4400 Kalundborg

Denmark

Phone: + 45 5957 0298

svend.thougaard@vestamt.dk

In 1983 we started thinking about a Braille interface technology concept for blind children based upon the general technological development. It was obvious to us that Braille should form the basis of information as well as software. We wanted a computer for writing and reading with access to technology providing for information and software communication to and from the blind person.

Svend Thougaard presents Micro-Log (exclusively) and working as data terminal for a computer.

Later on it became clear to us that computer based technology for the blind was not so obvious to others. We found out that some people did not want to use Braille at all, but synthetic language instead, others thought that you could continue finding solutions for Braille reading, but they found that the new technology was not suitable for contractions. Others meant that the blind persons might as well use ordinary computer keyboard. Others again thought that the blind persons could not use the new technology directly, but the technology could be used producing Braille books in the same way as before, obviously using 6-dot Braille. It was clear to us that we should not use new technology for the production of materials of the old technology. Naturally new technology should be presented to the blind person in Braille and linked to new technology using 8-dot Braille. This because 8-dot Braille´s 256 characters are equivalent to code page holding (containing) the characters visually presented on screen and printer. Likewise there are 256 characters in Windows tables used today, e.g. Latin 1. The essential is that there is total compatibility between visual and Braille characters and vice versa.

Svend Thougaard presents:

8-dot Braille, code 865

8-dot Braille, code Latin 1

8-dot Braille, values for Mathematics

8-dot Brille, illustrating Mathematics in Braille and the similar in ordinary print.

I think that we are the first and perhaps the only ones having comprehended that the 8-dot cell is valuable because you utilize all 256 Braille charaters. There are no disadvantages writing or reading 8-dot Braille. We have defined the 8-dot characters as close to the 6-dot characters as possible. Thus it is not difficult for an 8-dot reader to read an old 6-dot text.

In our system writing as well as reading is communication based on files, i.e. an electronic communication. In such a system a standard text can be translated into contracted text, not necessarily limited to rule-sets, but also individual user-defined contractions. Vice versa a contracted text can be translated into a standard text. This means that the blind person can communicate with other blind persons as well as sighted persons using standard texts. The blind person contracts his text and reads it. The blind person responds writing contracted Braille, the text is decontracted and sent as standard text.

Blind people preferring reading 6-dot-Braille can translate 8-dot-Braille into correct 6-dot Braille because of the total compatibility from 8-dot Braille.

As a supplement to the computer for the blind, we developed sound-Braille. Each dot in the Braille cell corresponds with a note. In this way each of the 256 characters have a special chord. Using sound-Braille when writing you can easily register having written the correct character. Hearing the character can be an advantage to blind persons with limited tactile abilities. Furthermore sound-Braille can be supportive concerning reading speed as the brain perceives sounds faster than tactile stimulation.

Svend Thougaard presents sound-Braille on Mini-Log.

In Dos communication the uniquely defined Braille is very useful, as you can write the commands in Braille. The Dos programs imidiately recognize the commands. The introduction of Windows interface was problematic for the blind, as it is based on the visual interface. Screen readers were designed, the purpose of which were finding the items that the blind person was going to use. Here the problem is to avoid losing one´s way in the areas of the screen without items. To solve this problem we constructed a communication program starting out in the program itself instead of using the visual screen. Entering the program itself, logically following its structure, we find the places which we want to activate.

Svend Thougaard demonstrates Win-Log.

In principle there is no reason why blind persons should not use the Internet and be active partners in cyberspace. In reality there are problems because sighted programrs are not too particular observing rule-sets for programming as long as the visual expression on the screen is good. This causes problems when using the technology independent of the visual interface. Instead of rejecting technological possibilities for the blind due to such problems, we should solve the problems and not go on producing special materials for the blind. This leads to the opportunity of using the economic and professional resources to find solutions making the tactile interface based on Braille providing for blind persons´ contact with the knowledge and information society.

Here we would like to mention the Israeli Virtouch Mouse   and drawing software, which provides for quite new opportunities concerning tactile illustrations. The small blind child should be allowed using the drawing software. The sighted person can print out the drawings to see how the visual presentation is. We might swell the drawings for the blind child. When the child gets familiar with his own drawings, it will lead to familiarity with drawing files sent to the drawing software.

Svend Thougaard demonstrates Virtuel Touch Mouse.

This means that we have the possibility of digitally distributing the texts and illustrations of the blind via the Internet or telephone modem or on disc.

Significance for the future of the blind and the professionals.

We are in a world forming a quite new basis for the blind. The world is no longer a visual world, which we have to translate to the blind through methods of compensation. On the contrary the world is how you sense it. In the same way the technology in this world is a code, which can be sensed, perceived and cognitively handled from different sensory concepts. Content, code and substance are the same. The difference is the interface and consequently the way of handling senses and perception is different. We are no longer talking about translating visual materials for the blind, but the digital material is presented in different interfaces, comprehensible for the blind and comprehensible for the sighted. The sighted people should acknowledge that the blind people experience the common technological world using their interface, handling their senses, perception and cognition, the value of which is equivalent to what the sighted people experience. This recognition is fundamental for the future teaching of the blind. Teaching not based on compensation, developing methods, materials and aids, trying to translate the visual world in a way that the sighted people think is comprehensible for the blind. If blind and sighted people understand the profundity of this, the future will bring a great world to the blind people with the same qualitative information and communication as sighted people. The medium shall be the only difference.


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