Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guest Post: Plover for Braille

Braille input using Plover – a new addition to Plover

About the author: Henry is a partially sighted journalist currently embarking into the world of stenography. Accessibility hobbyist and general word nerd!

Note: While the author is partially sighted, his primary medium of reading is a mix of large print and recorded audio, but he does know British Braille at grade two.

Braille – a system of raised dots to enable access to printed documents, diagrams and computers.

Personally, I liken Braille to stenography for a variety of reasons.

First of all, there are varieties of ways you can write it. For example, there are two levels, grade one and two. Grade one is limited to the alphabet, numbers and punctuation, compared to grade two, with shortforms, called contractions, that are similar to briefs in steno. There are contractions for word endings, like “–ing”, and for words such as “the”, “and”, and “with”. Braille is made up of six dots called a cell, and for example, ‘A’ would be the first top left dot.

Braille cell:

Secondly, Braille is expensive – there are very few learning materials and if you want to write in Braille, the cheapest option is to by a frame and stylus, which is punching dots into a sheet of paper, which is a slow and tedious process. If you need to write in Braille quicker, you could pay around £400 for a Brailler, which is identical to an old manual typewriter or even manual steno machine. If you wish to print Braille at high volume, you would need to fork out the enormous cost of around £4000.

After realising the potential for Plover being used for Braille input, I have decided that the way to do this is to create a dictionary for Plover that changes input from steno to Braille, so that Braille users, may that be a novice, experience user or someone using Braille, may experience the joys of Braille for fun without having to pay such high costs associated with it.

Another similarity between steno and Braille is that both are dying out. People are turning to computers with synthesised speech and using no Braille at all. While others do agree with “the technological revolution”, what would happen if a computer were to fail – what would the back up system be? Would there even be a back up system? After so much QWERTY input, Braille may need to be relied on, and if a user has been inputting in Braille, they are much more likely to remember it than if they have not used it for a long period of time.

As I am not versed in the many different Braille codes other than British English, I feel that other Braillists will certainly want to use musical, mathematical, scientific, chess, or foreign language notations, so if you can spare the time to help prepare dictionaries for Plover, I personally would be very thankful, and so would those who could save money and not use have to pay for expensive technology.

Plover could help keep another soon to be only a piece of history alive.

I would like to make it clear that I am not suggesting QWERTY and synthesised speech is worthless – it certainly is not, but I, like others, want Braille to be upgraded to the 21st century.

The rate of unemployment of blind and partially sighted people is much higher than those who are fully sighted, making it even harder to afford expensive technology – most people have access to a computer, so a simple download could help someone learn Braille, reinforce skills, try a new a hobby, or even help train the teachers of visually impaired students or Braille transcribers of tomorrow.

My next item on my list is to try to use the Braille dictionary and Plover with a dictionary together with a steno machine – steno machines have a very similar touch to Braillers such as the iconic Perkins Brailler, and according to Perkins, their Brailler is “the most widely-used Brailler in the world.” After that, I would like to create a guide to use Plover and Braille and Plover together to allow people who do not know Braille but wish to learn it the ability to do so.

The overall aim is not to get the text in tactile form -- it is to allow people to enter text into any application using either their preferred method of text entry, Braille, or to give people who are learning Braille, either people with a visual impairment or people learning to transcribe print to Braille, the ability to practice – even on Facebook or Twitter!

Plover for Braille will not result in an embossed Braille document, but it will allow anyone to access Braille without the expensive technology that is required. It is to allow you to access Braille -- it may be that it gives you, the user, experience in Braille in order to become Braille-literate, or to enable learning before or totally without the cost.

Thank you for reading this, and happy stenoing, and hopefully soon, we will be happily Brailling!

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