The Inspiration for Dotless Braille

The inspiration for this site is my father, who recently sent me his notes about braille. Here's how he got interested.

My father. [D]

Ah, but a man's reach
should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?

Robert Browning

Around forty years ago my father, now an emeritus professor of chemical engineering, happened to see some pictures in the Rotogravure Section of his Sunday newspaper about how the braille version of the Jack and Jill children's magazine was transcribed and embossed. He was amazed at the apparent difficulty of the process and wondered why the embosser wasn't being driven off the same Teletype paper tape that would have been used to produce the Monotype or Linotype print version of the magazine. (These printing machines were used for almost 100 years, only being displaced by electronic desktop publishing about ten years ago.) Being an engineer, he decided to try and understand the problem before making suggestions which, of course, led to his learning about the difficulties of producing braille transcriptions based on contracted braille. (At that time contracted braille was the only braille code that most blind people knew how to read.)

After he had decided to teach himself braille, he encountered numerous impediments, many still in place, along the path of sighted learning of braille. In fact, he ended up going physically to the Library of Congress to find a book about braille. He'd tried the local blind school but neither the superintendent nor the principal knew braille and the teachers only had children's books as their guide. A number of his tools and ideas, including the use of NUMBRL and Kobigraphs to help learn braille, are presented on these pages. His interest was and still is in how computer technology could help make more braille and other tactile information available to blind people.

Of course, even ten years is a long time in the computer world and many people and organizations have taken up this cause, including those listed on our links page. A lot of hardware and software development has gone into assistive technology including approaches that use a source/render or source/translate/render paradigm to allow blind and sighted persons to share the same information source. However I haven't been able to discover any current projects with the intent of rendering braille for sighted people in the meaningful way that DotlessBraille™ will. (This will require more than simple rendering, of course; cf. the section on creating a DotlessBraille™ source.)

A number of significant challenges confronting braille today require the development of better electronic and mechanical hardware; there is, for example, a serious need for significantly cheaper refreshable braille displays for braille computer monitors. However, I am a retired computational scientist and the only kind of engineering I've ever been very good at is software engineering. That's why I chose setting up this website as my contribution to the cause of braille literacy. It not only explains some of my father's ideas but also our new DotlessBraille™ display approach that is made possible in part by software technology that has been developed for the Internet.

My hope is that that the information on this website will attract more human resources to solving the problems of making more braille texts available. Although the small number of braille readers in the United States limits commercial opportunities in this area, supporting braille literacy is nonetheless a fascinating and challenging area. If you think you might be interested, there are some ideas on our volunteers page.

This page was last modified March 04, 2002.

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