********** The Technical Braille Center by John J. Boyer ********** From the Editor: For individual Braille users perhaps the most exciting part of the recent advent of relatively low-cost Braille translation software and Braille embossers has been the ready access we now have to literary Braille. If the text is in a computer file or can be put into a file, obtaining a clear Braille version is now pretty straightforward.
The same cannot be said for musical notation or scientific or mathematic texts. If one needs access to graphs or technical drawings, the same sort of roadblocks appear. A new resource is now available to those facing such problems. Computers Helping People, Inc. (CHPI) is a small company in Madison, Wisconsin, dedicated to solving such problems with care, speed, and efficiency. John Boyer started the company; this is what he says about it: ********** The Technical Braille Center produces books in Braille, large print, and special electronic forms for scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who are blind, dyslexic, or paralyzed. It also provides books for students preparing for careers in the technical professions, who urgently need the equivalent of the printed materials their peers use. We also produce Braille music.
We emphasize fast turnaround times--constantly improving our technology to reduce costs--and human preparers knowledgeable in mathematics, science, and music.
Our center capitalizes on new technology for the translation of mathematics into various media. It is run by the person who developed the technology (a deaf-blind computer scientist). It taps into the skills and idealism of the students and staff of Madison's many institutions of higher education. It is part of a private, nonprofit corporation. Since it is not a unit of any government agency or educational institution, it can offer its services to everyone. It began operation in the spring of 1997 and has now produced several textbooks.
The books are prepared by a small group of specially trained editors who are themselves familiar with mathematical and musical notation and are trained in the production of tactile graphics, which enable blind readers to study graphs, charts, and diagrams.
The software used to translate books works well when transcribing plain text, but it often produces errors and inconsistencies when the pages have unusual formats containing diagrams, graphs, or equations. This limitation is what makes Brailling technical texts so difficult. The content must be painstakingly edited by those familiar with the mathematical and musical notation used. This editing process accounts for 90 percent of the time (and cost) required to produce the finished product. The pages are produced using an interpoint Braille embosser.
For each text the activities are as follows:
1) Agencies and individuals place orders by contacting CHPI by mail, fax, e-mail, phone, or dropping by the East Johnson Street office. Small jobs can be paid for at the conclusion of the work. For jobs over several hundred dollars we require that the person making the order sign a transcription contract and pay half the estimated price in advance. The estimate is made by counting the number of print pages to be transcribed, determining the number of Braille pages that will result from each print page and counting the number of graphics which must be produced in tactile form. This process is complex, particularly since our costs change as we develop the technology. For these reasons we generally ask the customer to send us the book so that we can make an accurate estimate.
2) The books must be electronically scanned, which puts the entire text into a word-processing file. In music translation some musical notation is too complex to be scanned using the procedure described above. In these cases a skilled musician plays the piece directly into the computer using a MIDI keyboard, which works much like a piano.
3) The text parts of the file are carefully edited and formatted. Musical parts are edited with software that shows the music in the usual graphical form on the screen. Verbal and numeric information on graphics is edited and placed in appropriate positions on the page.
4) The file is run through the translation program and turned into actual Braille. The program was developed by CHPI in partnership with Braille Planet, Inc. (formerly Raised-Dot Computing, Inc.), another Madison nonprofit.
5) The Braille text is proofread by a skilled Braille reader, final corrections are made to the inkprint version, and it is then printed in Braille a final time.
6) The graphical parts of figures are hand-drawn because the Braille embosser cannot produce graphics of sufficient quality. The original paper copies of figures are kept so that they can be used to produce additional copies of the book. The figures are transferred to plastic sheets which are bound with the paper sheets containing the text and music.
7) The completed Braille volumes are shipped to the customer. The first few volumes can be shipped as soon as they are completed without waiting for the whole book to be finished.
8) After a book is shipped, we keep the files on our computers so that we can provide copies to other people who need them. We also place information on them in the LOUIS database at the American Printing House for the Blind. You can find out what we have available by looking at our own book list.
Contact John J. Boyer, Executive Director, Computers to Help People, Inc., 825 East Johnson Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53703, phone: (608) 257-5917, fax: (608) 257-3480, or e-mail: <[email protected]>. **********