Robo Braille: enhancing the accessibility of documents
By Scott Davert
For many reasons, people who are blind or deaf-blind find it necessary to convert files from one format to another. For example, converting a graphical PDF file to an accessible format such as Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), rich text format (.rtf), digital braille (.brf) or plain text (.txt). This is especially the case when textbook publishers send out books in PDF format. There are many software applications that can convert files from one format to another, but these must be installed in order to perform conversions for some of the above mentioned formats. That is, until a service called Robobraille came in to being.
Robobraille, (www.robobraille.org), is a Danish Web based service that will convert files from one format to another. Files can be converted from or to: uncontracted and contracted Braille, plain text, Microsoft Word,JPEG, PDF, and many more. There are also many languages supported such as Danish, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and several others. You can even view the Web interface from the list of available buttons for the languages that are present on the home page.
The process of converting files is very straight forward. First choose the file you’d like to convert and upload it on the front page of the site much as you would upload a file on any Web site. The only issue with this is that once your file has successfully uploaded, the upload file portion of the web page remains there, so you have to arrow around to find out when your file has completed uploading. The service has a 32MB limit on file size, which could present some issues for those who need very large PDF documents converted. The complete list of input file types supported are : .doc, .docx, .pdf, .txt, .xml, .html, .htm, .rtf, .epub, .mobi, .tiff, .tif, .gif, .jpg, .bmp, .pcx, .dcx, .j2k, .jp2, .jpx, .djv and.asc
Once you have uploaded the file, you will be presented with a list of alternative types for the file such as a document, tagged PDF, audio, or an eBook. The next series of options are contextual. For example, if you’re converting a PDF file to another document type, you will be presented with the various formats available. MP3 audio, eBook formats including EPUB and MOBI, document (10 different types to choose from), and various forms of digital Braille are all available with for PDF file. If you choose to convert the file to an MP3, you will then have a choice as to the speed of the speech along with whether you’d like the text-to-speech engine to read in an American or British voice. These options vary slightly based on what you upload. For example, if you upload a Microsoft Word file for conversion, you get the additional option of DAISY format, even with both text and audio.
After choosing your desired format, you then need to enter an email address where Robobraille can email you the converted file as an attachment, or in the case of MP3 files, you will be provided with a link to the file from their server. You can then download the file, and be on your way to enjoying the file format of your choice.
I have found that graphical PDF documents are quite accurately converted with the OCR tool Robobraile is using. The 5 documents I tested this conversion with had AN AVERAGE OF LESS THAN one error for each page. Turnaround time varies based on the size of the document. For example, a 3 page document may take less than 2 minutes, while a 300 page document could take over an hour.
A few limitations:
As mentioned above, the files you upload must be less than 32MB. Also, protected documents cannot be converted. Finally, while one can convert to digital Braille, it is slightly misleading that the files are given the file extensions .txt. It would be nice if Robobraille could include the BRF format as an input format so that those who create .brf files can have them converted to another format when needed. This would also be nice to see for some of the other proprietary formats such as Key Word.
Overall, this is a great service that can come in handy when no conversion software is available. While they gladly accept donations, the service is free and worked with Safari, Internet Explorer, and Firefox when I tested it. Obviously, going through each type of file you can upload and all of its options is beyond the scope of this article, but the above examples demonstrate how Robobraille can become yet another resource in the ever expanding assistive technology toolbox for users of adaptive technology.