1. DotlessBraille™ Displays

Note. If you know absolutely nothing about braille, you might appreciate this page more after you've checked out the "Five-Minute Introduction to Braille" or some of the other information on this site.


A DotlessBraille™ display is a representation of braille in print—like the logo on the main page—that uses print characters instead of dots. The unique aspect of a DotlessBraille display compared to other braille equivalents is that the same braille cell or dot pattern is represented by different print characters in different contexts. This feature makes DotlessBraille displays more readable because the braille cells, as they are used in most braille codes, have different, and even unrelated, meanings in different contexts.

The primary purpose of a DotlessBraille display is to make accurate proofreading of braille transcriptions possible for sighted persons who don't know the dots. This is especially important in technical areas where there is a shortage of blind proofreaders. Of course, the proofreader would still need to know the transcription rules for the particular braille code but these should be easier to learn in the context of a DotlessBraille display rather than in terms of the braille cells or direct print equivalents such as Braille ASCII.

Other potential uses for DotlessBraille displays are to give sighted persons an easier way of understanding how a braille code works before they've learned the braille cells and for interlining using a braille equivalent.

Only very minor modifications to current transcription applications would be required to support DotlessBraille displays.

Displays: Rendering DotlessBraille™

The Dotless BRAILLE logo can be used to explain the difficulties of displaying braille in print as well as to illustrate our proposed solution. Our DotlessBraille™ approach is to use the same source-render paradigm that is used on the World Wide Web: we will develop a source—which will capture the local semantics of the braille cells—that can support a variety of alternate displays or renderings of braille transcriptions according to the preference of the person using the display. Although the creation of the source for the display is the more difficult and significant part of DotlessBraille, the display is discussed first because it is easier to understand. However, please keep in mind that the source will allow for other display options than the particular one shown here.

Please note that the DotlessBraille™ display examples on this page have been done by hand in a paint program. One of our most important volunteer opportunities is to develop an appropriate display methodology—this would probably require not only special fonts but other unique features.

The logo is a transcription of the original print for "Dotless BRAILLE" in contracted literary braille. Note that although the following discussion uses this literary braille example, the same concepts can be applied to transcriptions based on the Nemeth code (see an example for a quadratic equation) or other braille codes.

Figure One shows the eleven braille cells or dot patterns for "Dotless BRAILLE" with their print equivalents shown as fixed-width characters underneath each cell.
Fig. One. One-for-one braille-to-print.
Lower-case print letters are used for the seven letter cells while special characters are used for the four indicators, which don't have standard print equivalents: tildes are used for the three capitalization indicators (dot 6 cells) and a vertical bar is used for the general contraction indicator (dots 4-6). We chose not to use the Braille ASCII keyboard characters for these indicators because they are confusing, being a comma and a period, respectively.

Figure Two shows same the braille cells again but with a DotlessBraille™ display underneath the cells. (Recall that this is only one of many options for a DotlessBraille™ display.)

Fig. Two. DotlessBraille™ display.
A comparison reveals that only two of the eleven cells are represented by the same print characters in both Figures: the lower-case "o" and the lower-case "t" . This illustrates the point that any print system which only uses 63 different print characters for the 63 braille cells cannot really ease the problem of sighted proofreading of braille; a problem that is due primarily to the use of composition indicators and of contractions in braille codes.

DotlessBraille™ Displays for Composition Indicators.

The capitalization indicator is an example of a markup or composition indicator. A single capitalization indicator acts like a Shift key to change the next letter from lower case to upper case; two repeated capitalization indicators act like a Caps Lock key to change all the letters of the next word to upper case as illustrated in the version of our logo on the main page. These effects are shown in print in the lower part of Figure Two by using the appropriate upper-case letters. This is why the indicators themselves are shown in gray type; they now function as placeholders since their effect has been encapsulated in print by the display of actual upper-case letters. In other words, the markup indicators would only need to be checked directly during proofreading in case errors were noted in the typesetting of affected characters.

The numbers used for the capitalization indicators in Figure Two are their NUMBRL codes; other symbols could also be used. A similar approach could be used for other braille composition or markup indicators.

DotlessBraille™ Displays for Contractions.

The contractions present a more difficult display problem since, unlike font changes, they require a direct display. The first contraction in the example is a part-word contraction while the second one is short-form word.

The part-word contraction happens to be a two-cell braille symbol that corresponds to four print characters, "less", in the original. (The sequence of print characters that correspond to a braille symbol are sometimes referred to as a sign. See also the Glossary entry on semiotics.) The first cell, dots 4-6, is a general contraction indicator that indicates that the second cell, dots 2-3-4, isn't a transcription of the letter "s" but, rather, of the sign or string, "less", which ends in the letter "s". This is shown in Figure Two by the custom display of the print string "less", which has been scaled horizontally—in the paint program for now—so that all four print characters only have the same width as the two braille cells in the symbol. (Technically speaking, there is one print character for one cell. The print characters should be thought of as pre-composed characters: one made of "le" and one of "ss".)

Some might argue that a more accurate reflection of the braille would be to use a special symbol for the contraction indicator and somehow display the part-word itself as one cell. This latter can be accomplished dynamically if the display target for the DotlessBraille™ is a browser like Netscape or Internet Explorer that shows image descriptors on MouseOver events. An example can be seen by hovering over the version of the logo that is displayed on our home page.

Although the MouseOver display is useful for beginners, an experienced proofreader is unlikely to need to use it except where there appears to be an error. A static analog, which could be used for ordinary printing, would be to simply use some special font effect, like the color and underlining typically used for hyperlink text, to indicate a contraction. It might then also be convenient to append a list of the print signs corresponding to the contractions in a Glossary.

The second contraction is the short-form word for "braille" which happens to be a five-cell braille symbol—counting the word-capitalizer—that corresponds to seven print characters, "BRAILLE", in the original. The word-capitalizer markup is treated as a separate symbol with its effect shown by the use of upper-case print letters as previously described. This leaves the problem of finding a print equivalent for the three-cell braille symbol which is the contraction for the seven-letter print word "braille".

There are at least two possibilities for displaying this short-form word.

Implementing Dotless Braille

The next page contains a detailed technical description of the steps that would necessary to actually produce a DotlessBraille™ display of a braille transcription. Although there is a lot of information, the actual development would only require a few days effort from a person with the appropriate background.

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This page was last modified on March 07, 2002.

Contact us at: info@dotlessbraille.org