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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 027-158-E
Division Number: III
Professional Group: Libraries for the Blind
Joint Meeting with: Public Libraries
Meeting Number: 158
Simultaneous Interpretation:  No

eBraille - Making braille easy around the world

Neal Kuniansky
Duxbury Systems Inc. http://www.duxburysystems.com
Westford MA, USA
E-mail: neal@duxsys.com


This paper will highlight a new proposal for a web based braille creation. It will be accessed from all over the world. It will revolutionize the ability for librarians to deliver alternative format media on request! Moreover, it will do it in multiple languages.And best of all it is actually under development with collaboration among Duxbury Systems Inc., the Canadian National Institute of the Blind, and the American Printing House for the Blind.


This is a presentation of an idea that is so powerful that it will change the world. At least, it will change the world for those individuals that wish to have information in braille. And it will change the world for those that wish to create information in braille.

What If . . .

What if you get a request for information. No problem, you deal with patron requests all the time. You are a reference librarian. You are a professional. You utilize your resources and obtain the requested information. You probably utilize computers, databases, and electronic links to other library databases.

What if that request is from someone that is blind and needs the information in braille? Is it easy for you to fill that need? Is it even possible for you to get this information into braille? Do you have the expertise? Do you even have the knowledge to know what expertise is required?

What if you could just go to a website where you quickly and easily translate that information into braille. Then you delivered the electronic braille to those with a refreshable braille display, or their own braille embosser. If you have access to a braille embosser then you can deliver ready to read hard copy braille.

What if people with access to the Internet go to a website and have their documents translated to braille. In addition, they do this simply and without knowledge of braille.

What if this web site could handle the braille for many jurisdictions; British English, American English, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic braille and many other languages?

What if a reference library had on-line collections of braille materials? Moreover, you could emboss or access selected documents on-demand.

Finally, what if eBraille was such a web site. A web-based gateway where documents could be received, translated to braille, perhaps even embossed and shipped; all with minimal human intervention. Thereby making it possible to respond to request for information in braille quickly and easily without having to locate an expert.

We Have the Technology Today

This is not just a dream. It is going to happen. A collaborative project involving Duxbury Systems Inc. (DSI), the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has resulted in a proposed project to accomplish this.

All the components exist to make this a reality today. Although these components will have to be enhanced and in some cases new tools will be required. There is powerful braille translation and formatting software. There are web-based systems for handling the communication, and even the possibility of web based embossers.

DSI is the world leader in braille translation and production software with 25 years of braille software experience. It started business before DOS, Windows, or Macintosh and is as old as Microsoft itself. DSI handles braille translation for over 30 languages and variants.

The CNIB, founded in 1918, is Canada's largest braille producer. It is also Canada's largest provider of rehabilitation services for visually impaired individuals and was DSI's first commercial customer over 20 years ago.

APH, founded in Louisville Kentucky, USA in 1858, is the oldest and largest institution of its kind in the United States of America. It is also the world's largest company devoted solely to creating products and services for people who are visually impaired.

The Genesis of eBraille

eBraille is a concept that will change the world. eBraille had its beginnings in the realization that the present means to make braille available to library patrons, students, braille readers, employees, customers, and those wishing to communicate in braille generally require substantial investments in software, training, staffing, and braille embossers.

For entities absolutely required to make materials available in braille, most notably the U.S. public education system, products such as computers, the Duxbury Braille Translator, and braille embossers have been critical. However, for the library and private sectors, braille is not easily delivered. Is this due to the large commitment of time, money, and training that is required? Where does one turn to get the expertise to put this all together? In other words, it is not easy.

There are many libraries, schools, and agencies around the world that have an unused braille embosser. eBraille can help put these machines to work doing what they were intended to do, making braille!

So, how will this work?

Let us say you have a request for information in braille? The first step is to locate the information. This is something that you are already comfortable doing. Once you find the information then you wonder, "is it available in braille already." If so, you can request it and have it fairly quickly.

Is it available in an electronic format? Increasingly the answer is yes. If so, you can request the file and have it in minutes. Then you log onto an eBraille web site, select a language, send the file, and get back an electronic braille document. If they have an embosser, you just email the braille document to them. If you know of available web embossers you just send the braille document to that embosser, or you send it to your local braille embosser.

When can I use it?

Right now, we are designing and implementing the project. Once that is accomplished, we will deploy eBraille with an English user-interface. Hopefully, we will also have the user interface available in other languages as well. Exactly which other languages will be enabled for translation is still undetermined, but there should be several from the beginning. We need additional sources of funding in order to make eBraille available to any one anywhere. We anticipate having a beta site that is functional in December of 2000. Then once this initial site is running smoothly there will be time for future development.

One obvious area for development is localization. So, the web page will be available in many local languages. So for instance, there would be a French web page with all of the information and dialog boxes in French, and this could be true for virtually any language. It is only a question of finding available time and money.

This is nice but why should I care?

While eBraille is very helpful for many libraries and places around the world, it will be a major contribution to areas of the globe where there is no current method for braille translation. All of a sudden, countries anywhere around the world will be able to have a method for preparing braille.

By using open source technologies, it is possible for braille authorities to create braille translation for languages and codes that do not currently exist. In addition, they will be able to plug that work into the eBraille mechanism. Others can utilize this new translation table. At least that is part of the dream. Therefore, whether people are in a mountainous isolated area in Afghanistan, an Igloo in Alaska, or a downtown apartment in New Delhi, if they can get a connection with the Internet they can create, transmit, and receive braille!

eBraille is a concept that will revolutionize the availability of braille around the world. It will make it easy for librarians to get information in braille to patrons.

What are the problems?

There are several areas of limitation.

The first limitation is the types of files and information that are reliably treated. The initial file types will most likely be limited to Microsoft Word, Corel's WordPerfect, text only with line breaks, possibly even well structured HTML. You will even be able to copy and paste information from a web site into eBraille.

The second area of limitation is braille formatting. eBraille will not produce perfect braille. It is going to produce very useable braille quickly; getting braille to people that would not otherwise have access to it. The braille words and contractions (if a contracted braille translation is requested) will all be correct in most instances. The formatting may not be letter perfect. [This is analogous to print paragraph conventions. There are those that state all print paragraphs should start with an indention of three spaces. Others state that there should simply be a blank line between paragraphs.] Is this difference critical to a reader? NO. The words and general formatting transmit the information adequately. The same will be true of the braille.

eBraille will not replace professional braille transcribers. It is not intended for things such as legal documents, and academic testing. Documents where everything must be perfect will need a professional braille transcriber or production company!

In conclusion, eBraille will make it possible for Librarians and others with access to the Internet to easily prepare braille, even if they are not experts and do not have access to experts in braille.

Index of some relevant terms

Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing for blind individuals. The basic "braille character" is composed of six possible dots. Two columns of three rows.
Image of the Braille dot pattern

Braille translation software turns text into braille. Such software must take into account such things as contractions, capitalization, and how the braille page formatting.

Braille Embosser: This is a type of printer that makes braille. Braille embossing by a series of little hammers that push out the dots ("emboss") of the braille on to the page.

Interpoint Braille: This is a braille embossing method where the braille is on both sides of the paper. Braille takes up a lot of space. In general, a single page of print will result in about three pages of 11 by 11 ½ inch braille paper.

Contracted Braille is also known as Grade 2 braille. This is a similar concept to print shorthand. Each braille character can be a single print character or a number of characters or even a word. Each language has its own rules for contracting.

Uncontracted braille is also known as grade 1 braille. In this form of braille, each braille character represents a single print character.

Refreshable braille devices have a number of pins that represent the possible dots of a braille cell. They come up and down allowing the braille reader to feel the dots.


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