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Using Braille in Modern Technologies

Using Braille in Modern Technologies - Braille is a technique for enabling blind and visually-impaired people to read and write. Refined in the late 1800's by Louis Braille for blind people, it was originally developed by a French army captain to enable officers to read battle commands without the aid of candle light hence revealing your position.


Each braille character or "cell" is made up of 6 dot positions, arranged in a rectangle comprising 2 columns of 3 dots each. A dot may be raised at any of the 6 positions, or any combination. Counting the space, in which no dots are raised, there are 64 such combinations. For reference purposes, a particular combination may be described by naming the positions where dots are raised; the positions being universally numbered 1 through 3 from top to bottom on the left and 4 through 6 from top to bottom on the right.

 For example, dots 1-3-4 would describe a cell with three dots raised, at the top and bottom in the left column and on top of the right column. Because the 64 distinct characters are never enough to cover all possible print signs and their variations, it is necessary to use multi-character sequences for some purposes. Often this is accomplished by using certain characters as "prefixes" or "indicators" that affect the meaning of subsequent cells. For example, a dot 6 before a letter indicates that the letter is a capital, whereas otherwise it is understood to be lower case. For another example, dots 3-4-5-6, called the "numeric indicator", causes certain following letters (a through j) to be reinterpreted as digits.

Dot height, cell size and cell spacing are always uniform, and so many significant characteristics of the text, such as italics used for emphasis, must be handled by such indicators in Braille. An exception to that formatting, such as the centering of main headings, is commonly used in Braille in much the same way and for most of the same purposes as in print.

Separate braille codes may be used for notation systems other than natural languages such as music, mathematics and computer programming.

Partly because of the size that Braille pages occupy, and partly to improve the speed of writing and reading, the literary braille codes for English and many other languages employ "contractions" that substitute shorter sequences for the full spelling of commonly-occurring letter groups. For example, "the" is usually just one character in Braille. When contractions are used, the Braille is usually called "grade 2" in contrast to "grade 1" transcriptions where all words are spelled out letter-for-letter.

Using Braille in Modern Technologies

After taking a look at what Braille is, let us find out its current status and the interesting innovations related to this reading and writing system for the blind.

Facts About Braille

Almost every country has adopted Braille as its official communications code for the blind. The United States, European countries such as Germany, Portugal, and Hungary, and Asian countries such as China, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia have their own distinct Braille codes. Presently, one of the newest Braille codes is the Tibetan Braille code.

In the U.S., around ten percent of the 1.3 million legally blind individuals can read and write Braille. This is according to a 2009 report done by the National Federation of the Blind. The vast availability of assistive technology and publications in audio format are believed to be the main reasons behind this small figure.

Braille literacy, however, increases the opportunities of the blind in employment. In the U.S., approximately thirty-two percent of the total blind community is employed. And in this figure, around ninety percent of blind people who have jobs can read and write Braille.

Incorporation of Braille in Various Facilities and Devices

Examples wherein Braille has been included in public facilities and specific products.

Braille in Public Areas

There are now buildings with elevators that have buttons with Braille markings. The blind therefore can ride the elevator on their own without the fear of accidentally going to the wrong floor.

Announcements and instructions posted on walls of public places also have Braille transcriptions so that blind people traveling on their own can read them. ATM machines have also started to include Braille markings to enable blind customers to make transactions. In relation to this, some people view it with amusement, some with frustration, that there are Braille signs on the elevators in parking garages, or on drive-through ATMs, which blind people obviously won't use much. The reason is not to make fun of people who can't drive, rather, it is cheaper to install similar elevators and ATMs on all places.

Braille Displays

Computers now incorporate the use of the Braille system. Braille displays are a type of hardware used by blind people to read what is being displayed on the computer’s screen. Once connected to the computer, this device translates into Braille the currently highlighted line, word, or character. Then through its refreshable Braille output, users can read the particular highlighted text. Users can also activate buttons and select items through this device. Braille displays also have several sizes. There are 84-cell desktop units, and there are 12-cell portable displays you can connect to your mobile phone.

The printer is one of the most useful devices for sighted computer users. Blind people, on the other hand, also have their own version of the printer. This is called the Braille embosser. This device lets users quickly produce reading materials in Braille.

First, the document has to be created and saved through a word processor. Next, the document is put through a Braille transcription software. This application allows the user to edit the layout and convert the text to the desired code. Then the user inserts Braille paper into the embosser and starts the embossing process. Braille embossers are used mainly in producing Braille books and numerous copies of a particular reading material.

Stand-Alone Braille devices

Braille Embossers

Braille users who prefer a more compact means of accessing and creating documents can use stand-alone Braille devices. These are portable hardware that include a refreshable Braille output through which they can read the text documents copied into the device. Stand-alone Braille devices evolved from mobile devices, mainly functioning like PDAs. They include a word processor, email, calendar, contacts, calculator, etc. Users do not have to connect this machine to a computer in order for it to function.

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