BackgroundLiblouis is an open source library that translates text in multiple languages into many braille codes. It has been in development and use for several years. It provides the translation services for familiar programs, such as JAWS, NVDA, DAISY Pipeline, bookshare.org, and more. (See www.liblouis.org.)
Liblouis is an incredible international effort that exemplifies the power of collaboration: providing a truly useful tool through mutual cooperation. APH first used Liblouis in 2012 to introduce experimental support for UEB on the braille Android™ device called Braille Plus 18. We called it experimental because while it got many of the UEB rules right, there were also several problems.
Software engineers from APH worked with the Liblouis code maintainers to correct the tables, enhance the rules, and provide exceptions; however, it became clear fairly quickly that fundamental architectural modifications were required to fully support some of the new UEB constructs, especially where UEB streamlined consecutive capitalized words and in regards to the treatment of emphasis.
APH programmer Mike Gray worked with international partners to introduce new operation codes, add expression matching, and obsolete unused status bits. While it was our intention to have these modifications released by the official UEB implementation date of January 4, 2016, the process of balancing radical changes while preserving support for dozens of languages and braille codes proved a bit more challenging than first imagined. The good news is that it works, and it works well; and you can use it today, even before the official APH release. Here is how:
Go to http://tech.aph.org/lt and install Send To Braille. Send To Braille is a free-of-charge Windows Send To shortcut that lets you point to a document from File Explorer, select Send To from the context menu, and then pick Braille to translate the file into quality UEB.
Disclaimer: Send To Braille produces "Quick and Dirty" braille. It does not perform any formatting except to preserve line breaks. It also cannot do anything with inaccessible images and other inaccessible complex file elements; however, if you have a simple document, such as a letter, the Send To Braille shortcut creates an accurate rendering of that file in UEB.
Send To Braille uses the APH beta version of Liblouis to translate the document. The quality is there; now the challenge is to continue carefully merging these changes back into the existing Liblouis body of code.
BrailleBlasterWhile Send To Braille gives the average user a “quick and dirty” method to get accurate braille, textbook quality braille is essential for educational purposes. This is where BrailleBlaster comes in. BrailleBlaster is an open source project that uses Liblouis for the translation tasks it performs. BrailleBlaster is an editing tool for braille transcribers that gives them the means to translate; format; split into volumes; add transcriber notes; describe images; create braille tables of content, glossaries, and preliminary pages; and input direct braille for particularly difficult operations. In other words, BrailleBlaster provides all the tools necessary for a trained transcriber to efficiently produce a quality embossed braille textbook from an original publisher file, using the raw translation from Liblouis. Preliminary testing results indicate a substantial increase in the number of textbooks that can be produced compared to the current methods.
The development of BrailleBlaster and modifications to Liblouis are part of the REAL Plan (Resources with Enhanced Accessibility for Learning). The REAL Plan is an ongoing initiative of the American Printing House for the Blind to improve the conversion and delivery of braille and other accessible formats to students who are blind.
Transforming BrailleThe APH Technology Product Research and Educational Product Research departments are currently guiding the design and field testing of a new, inexpensive braille reader called the Transforming Braille Display. (See http://www.transformingbraille.org/.) The Transforming Braille Group, LLC, with APH’s Larry Skutchan at the helm as CEO, is holding a sales meeting at the 2016 California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference to find wholesalers for the device, which costs one-fifth the price of current refreshable braille technology on the market and can be used on its own as a reader or by connecting to other devices, such as computers, phones, and tablets that support braille input and output.
Braille BuzzAPH designed and is currently field testing a new early childhood toy for learning braille called Braille Buzz. Reminiscent of oldies like the Speak & Spell™ by Texas Instruments, this simple toy includes a braille keyboard, synthesized speech output, braille embossed letter buttons, and interactive braille games.
Braille CalculatorIn August of 2015, APH released a firmware upgrade for the Orion TI-84 Plus Talking Graphing Calculator that includes support for refreshable braille displays. For the first time ever, a student can use this advanced calculator and get output in both UEB and Nemeth braille. (See http://tech.aph.org/Orion%20TI-84%20Plus%20Documents/gc_res.htm.)
Visual BraillerDuring the transition to UEB, braille transcribers working on the National Library Service (NLS) certification expressed a desire for a way to perform the exercises on an iPad. The Visual Brailler app for iPad serves that purpose. It performs the same functions as a traditional mechanical braillewriter, with the exception of embossing paper, and enables the transmission of lessons through email.
Visual Brailler is free on the Apple® App Store® online store. (See https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/visual-brailler/id888739587?mt=8.)
In November 2015, APH released the 3rd generation of this device, which includes enhancements such as a better USB connection, improved navigation control, simple Bluetooth pairing, and more ergonomic keys. (See http://tech.aph.org/rbd_info.htm.)