For the first time, I have much too much material to fit in a single issue. Some recently submitted articles are being held for the next issue. The largest article is a list of computer resources put out by Harvey Lauer and Leonard Mowinski. Any readers wishing more resources should see the most recent issue of "AIDS AND APPLIANCES REVIEW" put out by the Carroll Center for the Blind (770 Center Street, Newton, MA 02158). The most recent issue is on voice output devices and systems. The next issue will be on braille output.
I am pleased to announce an upgrade to version 2.44 of BRAILLE-EDIT. The most significant improvement is a much improved grade two translator. I have used the translator tables provided by Graham Stoodley. Mr. Stoodley is a lawyer for the Canadian government. He reports that he used his vacation time to work on the grade two translator. He also prepared a long transformation chapter called "TXG2". If you use the global replace with "TXG2" on a newly translated file, you increase the braille accuracy. For example, the word Leningrad fails in the regular translator, but the mistranslation is fixed by TXG2. In a sense, Leningrad is correctly translated by the 2.44A translator.
There have been some reports about problems with transfers to the VersaBraille. Apparently, some disk errors cause bad data to creep into BRAILLE-EDIT chapters. These bad data (characters with the high bit set) can cause a transfer to abort. I have modified the transfer program to strip off any high bit that may have been set.
A number of bugs have been fixed. The editor in 2.44A no longer gives the title prompt when the programs are being loaded. Writing as textfile gets the last line of the chapter into the textfile. Problems with the translators and word processing commands have been fixed (the translators in 2.44 bomb when the last characters in a page are word processing commands). If there are problems saving a configuration, the user now gets an accurate description of the problem. The pause on form feed now work properly. A catalog on a single disk drive now works.
As I do more work on version 2.45 of BRAILLE-EDIT, I will have release more "intermediate versions". Unless you have a real need for accurate grade two braille, you need not get a copy of version 2.44A. If you do want a copy, just send two blank disks. I think we all owe Mr. Stoodley many thanks for his work to improve low-cost braille translation on a microcomputer. It used to be that I had a list of favorite words that flunked my translator. These were Leningrad, pineapple, outhouse, grasshopper, potholder, grasshopper, and shorthand. All these words (and many more) are now contracted properly. It will take some effort to develop a list of words which flunk the new, improved translator.
As many of you may know already, Noel Runyion is no longer working for Telesensory Systems, Inc. He used to be the applications engineer. His most public function was to answer telephone inquiries about VersaBraille interfacing. He is being replaced by Chris Gray.
Noel will be well remembered for the extraordinary support he gave the VersaBraille. The transition to Chris has been fairly smooth. Chris has been answering the "problem line" for several weeks before Noel left. Even though Chris has had the benefit of an excellent and rapid education, it is not appropriate to expect him to be a carbon copy of Noel Runyion.
If you need applications information about the VersaBraille, I have one piece of advice: plan ahead. If you anticipate doing a particular interface, contact TSI to get advance copies of appropriate applications notes. Please avoid the situation when a customer, a vendor representative, a supervisor, and a technical whiz-kid are all crowded into a single room trying to do a VersaBraille interface. When things get bogged down, the only thing that comes to mind is to call the TSI applications engineer. It would be much better if you called ahead of time to find out what equipment you really need, what procedures to use, and what booby-traps to watch out for. You can also schedule the interfacing session for a time when the TSI applications engineer is free if you do run into trouble. If people are in a jam, I may be able to answer their VersaBraille questions. Under no circumstances can I promise prompt service.
Gayle Brugler of TSI has expressed interest in finding out what technical issues are not being answered by the present applications engineer. If you are having difficulty getting through, then please write or call Gayle Brugler to explain the situation. She may be able to answer your technical questions as well.
Noel Runyion came to TSI to build a sophisticated random access audio terminal. TSI never got around to working on that project. Perhaps TSI has been afraid to get involved with audio technology. Noel has decided build his machine outside of TSI. I hope Noel Runyion gets all the financing and technical support he needs to design, build, and market this new generation of audio-response computer equipment for the blind.
It has come to my attention that a number of individuals and agencies are buying expensive sensory aids equipment without paying much attention to fundamental consumer issues. If you buy an automobile, you want to make sure that the vendor supplies you with a vehicle that does what you expect it to do. A piece of sensory aids equipment can cost as much as a new car. It is about time I reviewed some simple consumer tips.
First, you should keep copies of the sales brochures that describe the aid in the first place. You should keep copies of all letters you send and all letters you receive from the vendor.
Often, a vendor will make a particularly good offer if you buy a new device hot off the assembly line. I have no problem with a vendor trying to shore up his or her cash flow when the vendor is starting to sell a new machine. The problems really start to crop up if the machine has a long gestation period, or if the machine does not perform to expectations (or both). A reputable vendor will offer to buy back the device if it disappoints the user after 30 or 60 days. For example, TSI will buy back a VersaBraille after 30 days if it does not meet the user's expectations. A customer should also be able to cancel the contract and get their money back for any reason before any goods have been shipped.
A potential purchaser should study the vendors carefully. Find out if the vendor has a reputation of putting a product on the price list before developing the product. A vendor should be able to supply a list of existing customers which match the potential customer's situation. It would be prudent to speak to a lawyer before you mail out any substantial check or sign any contract.
As many readers know, I have been working on ways to use the Apple II to train people in the rules of grade two braille. I have been able to combine use of braille keyboard, braille dots on the screen, instant braille translation, and voice output to make a very interesting package. For over a year, I have been cooperating with Sue Ponchillia on this project. After a long gestation period, the braille training program is almost done. Sue has typed in large amounts of text and drills. I am awaiting her latest disk, to which I will merge my latest program changes. The Braille Training Program either works with the Echo II or just with the screen. It will be sold in two forms, Echo and non-Echo.
I have sold a number of earlier versions of the program. These do not have the text or the programs of the current version. In order to distinguish the new version from the old version, the new version has been designated "version 1.00". If you bought a copy of an earlier version, mail me a blank disk to receive the new version.
Version 1.00 costs $100 for an individual. For organizations, there are two levels, $300 for 5 copies of the program, and $500 for 10 copies. Purchasers may be interested to know that I am splitting the proceeds with Sue Ponchillia. She has put an enormous effort to produce the most effective training materials possible.
I have two documents available for free. One gives details on how to interface an Apple to a VersaBraille. The other gives details on how to interface a Cranmer Brailler to an Apple. Both sets of instructions are designed so a technical novice can get these devices interfaced. The VersaBraille guide deserves special notice. In the recent months, I have gotten quite a number of phone calls about difficulties getting a VersaBraille interfaced with the Apple. I took my existing instructions and expanded them to 8 pages. So far, no one who has these instructions has had to call me for more clarification. These instructions are totally free. Just write or call for a copy.
The BRAILLE-EDIT interface guide has been re-issued on Oct. 1. For the Raised Dot historians out there, the interface guide has been issued on June 1, June 15, August 1, September 1, and October 1. One of the reasons there have been new editions is that I keep finding out the instructions that I had printed previously were inaccurate. The new copy is $10. It is available in print, VersaBraille tape, and disk. I also have an audio tape of the Aug. 1 edition. I hope to have the Oct. 1 edition recorded real soon.
I have other print documents which I will mail to anyone who asks for them. One is an article by Robert Sweetman about using a computer in a law office. It is a good layman's guide to the use of existing computer technology to the needs of the blind professional. I also have the text of the papers I presented at the Minneapolis conference. One is on BRAILLE-EDIT, the other is on the Nemeth code programs that I have written.
Joseph Lazzaro and I have finished writing a draft of a BRAILLE-EDIT manual written for the user of the Echo II. By the time you receive this newsletter, it should be available in audio or print. The cost is $10 for either edition.
I am resuming work on the Apple IIe owner's guide on VersaBraille tape. It should be ready within a month. Again, there is a charge of $10 for each VersaBraille tape. I will also be updating the BRAILLE-EDIT manual on VersaBraille tape soon, as well.
As I reported in an earlier newsletter, I am now selling an assortment of cables and interface cards. I am selling the Echo II synthesizer, the CCS 7710 card and the Apple Super Serial Card. I have cables for the Apple to the VersaBraille, the Apple to the Cranmer Braille, and the Apple to the Kurzweil Reading Machine. I am also a dealer for the Cranmer Brailler. Please contact me if you are interested in any of these items.
The Kurzweil Reading Machine can read typeset material. A DEST optical scanner cannot. The DEST can only read typewritten material (text without proportional spacing). Right now, Kurzweil is the only company making scanners that can read typeset books. They make two machines, the familiar KRM and the K-DEM (Kurzweil Data Entry Machine). The K-DEM is expensive, costing around $90,000. The Clovernook printing house has recently bought a K-DEM. they use it to read the magazines they put into braille. I think it is fair to say that the K-DEM is outside the budget of most readers of this publication.
This brings us back to the KRM. The KRM can be an excellent tool to get the text of a book or a magazine into an Apple or a VersaBraille. Granted it does not want to give any formatting information besides a carriage return at the end of a line. I do not mind inserting paragraph symbols if I do not have to type in the entire text myself. Accuracy of reading is highly dependent on the KRM settings, typefont, print quality, and KRM software version. The best results seem to come from those who are using the latest software upgrade in the KRM. If you are curious about the procedure to get text from the KRM to the Apple, please get a copy of the latest BRAILLE-EDIT interface guide.
I recently got a 60 page document from typewritten copy into VersaBraille tape via an optical scanner. Bucknell University has an optical scanner (a Hendrix) as part of its word processing center. They read a copy of "The Freshman Advisor's Handbook" into their CPT word processing system. Then they transferred the text into the main university computer. I was able to get the text onto Apple disk by using a terminal program on the Apple. I read the textfile into BRAILLE-EDIT, and spent some time reformatting the text. I got rid of carriage returns, put in paragraph symbols, and inserted print page indicators. I also had to verify that no text got lost (especially at the top and bottom of the print page). When I was satisfied by the text, I ran the grade two translator, and sent the braille to Caryn's VersaBraille. I figured that if I had been allowed to cable my Apple directly to the optical scanner, I could have cut my labor by two thirds. However, the direct cabling would have disrupted operations at the word processing center.
During august and September 1983, the Sensory Aids Department of Volunteer Services for the Blind, Philadelphia, PA conducted an evaluation of the MB2400. The MB2400 ia a paperless braille device manufactured by Triformations Systems, Inc. of Stuart Florida.
The MB2400 is a portable device which weighs approximately 11 pounds and measures 12 by 12 by 3 inches. It has a self contained a self contained rechargeable battery. This is undoubtedly one of its best features. At first glance, the MB2400 appears to be a simple clean looking device of uncomplicated design. This first impression is very deceiving. As one beginning to get to know the MB2400, one realizes that it is a difficult machine to both learn and use.
Although there are only a few keys on the top front of the unit, there are many more tucked away on the side and back panels. There are even some hidden under a sealed panel on the underside of the machine. These latter controls are used to set the various parameters. These can only be set by turning the unit over, removing a panel which is held in place by two very small screws, and using a small screwdriver to move very small delicate looking switches. This is not an ideal arrangement for a blind user. It would be a far better arrangement if these parameters could be set from the keyboard.
The keyboard itself is a strange one. The basic keys represent the six dot cell known to all braille users. However, the layout seems to have been made for the jolly green giant. They are much too far apart for the average user. With decades of braillewriter keyboard patterns to use, it seems incredible that the design engineer missed this basic fact.
It one is lucky enough to obtain some instruction for a Triformation Systems representative, one may have a fair chance to learn the MB2400. On the other hand, if a person is left to struggle with the braille manual, struggle is exactly what one will do. The manual in is present form is all but unreadable. Triformations Systems has stated that a new manual is in process. This new manual can only be an improvement.
The braille display on the unit that we evaluated was extremely difficult to read. The dots do not stand up very high, and many which are at rest do not completely withdraw. Therefore, one is left with a confusion about which dot is meant to be up, and which are meant to be down. Triformations Systems representatives state that the braille is very clear on their machines, and very easy to read. They say that the machine that we evaluated was not typical. We cannot speak to that. We can only evaluate the unit that Triformations Systems Inc. selected for us to work with.
On the left rear of the MB2400 there are a number of controls which are primarily used for the tape drive. One feature of this tape system is that a person can use the MB2400 as an audio tape recorder. This feature, in my opinion, is not useful. I do not believe that a person would purchase a sophisticated piece of equipment like the MB2400 would use it in the same way that a person would use a $30 tape recorder.
If I had to choose the single most unpleasant feature about the MB2400, it would be the fact that there is no visible cursor. I was completely baffled to learn this. I do not know of a single visual device that would require the user to move text past an invisible point on the screen to use the cursor. Why a design engineer would think a blind person would find this an acceptable way to work is beyond me.
The overall impression of the MB2400 is one that leaves me with the feeling that it was designed by computer engineers for computer knowledgeable people to use. It is not a friendly device, and it is not one that appears to have been designed for the average blind user.
The concept of using paperless braille to handle braille writing or as a way for a blind person to interact with a computer is an excellent one. The MB2400 in its present form is in my opinion not a satisfactory device for these purposes.
Due to a misunderstanding, I recently reported that the Microbrailler paperless brailler could not operate at 9600 baud. This is untrue. Both the Microbrailler and the VersaBraille can operate at a range of baud rates up to 9600 baud. Both devices are suitable for use with the Zero Card made by Cyberon Corporation. I apologize for any inconvenience caused by my earlier incorrect report.
Many months ago, I received a report of a successful interface between the Microbrailler and the Apple computer. the individual used the modem setting on the Super Serial Card and a baud rate of 300. I still would like to get a report of a successful interface with a high baud rate and using the terminal setting (or using the CCS 7710 card). While I have serious misgivings about the Microbrailler, I believe if you do have one, you should be able to use it to its best advantage. As I have said before, because of the limitations of the Microbrailler, a Microbrailler owner is in more need of BRAILLE-EDIT than a VersaBraille owner.
If there are any readers with other opinions of the Microbrailler, they should feel free to send them in. I understand there are some satisfied Microbrailler users. I would like to hear from them.
I would like to thank all my readers who took the time to write or call all they knew about Iceland, Icelantic, and Icelantic braille. I think I have enough information and contacts to be in a good position if by correspondent from Iceland wants be to work on an Icelantic translator. While Duxbury Systems has considerable experience doing foreign language braille translators, I figure that Icelantic may be a good place to start.
A number of people have been writing and calling with suggestions on improving BRAILLE-EDIT. Emerson Foulke writes "I am getting up another list of suggestions for you to consider as you overhaul BRAILLE-EDIT. Many of the suggestions in this list were also included in earlier lists, but I thought that bringing them all together in one list might make their rejection more convenient". His suggestions cover ways to improve the quality of voice assist editing and ways to make setting up a configuration less confusing. I see no reason why his suggestions cannot be accommodated.
I am a student at California State University, Long Beach and work part-time as a student assistant in the Disabled Student Services office. Our office purchased the BRAILLE-EDIT program and this has proved to be a most worthwhile investment. Here are some of the ways in which I have used the program and some of the ways that I plan on making use of it.
Our office has a newsletter which I wanted to write an article for. So I wrote my article in grade two braille on the VersaBraille and sent it to the Apple where I used BRAILLE-EDIT to translate it and print up a hard-copy version. Then I gave my printout to the student editor to put in the office newsletter. The process of going from braille to print took a matter of minutes. The process of producing print went so smoothly for me that I could hardly believe it was this easy. All the previous anxiety over typing has been replaced with a pleasant feeling of accomplishment. This is only one of many ways I see of using BRAILLE-EDIT.
I foresee our office and our students getting much more worthwhile use from the system. Right now our system only includes a VersaBraille and the Apple but there are plans to get an Echo II for speech output and a printer for hard-copy printout. At present the Apple is located in the Education Computer lab but if it was in the office the staff could leave my messages on it or they could leave any text they were writing on it and I could have access to this information. I am doing research in one of my classes this semester and I plan on using the system to write up my final research report. Once we get our voice output this system could help our learning disabled students in meeting their writing requirements.
These are only a few of the uses I can see being made of the BRAILLE-EDIT system but there will probably be more advantages to this system once we get it fully equipped. The BRAILLE-EDIT system is an important breakthrough and I would like to thank David Holladay for his work in making this program possible.
Before I got my copy of BRAILLE-EDIT, I used to transcribe my recorded textbooks and class notes with a four-track recorder. However, this was inefficient. If I wanted to add or delete something, I had to re-record whole tapes at a time. This used to drive me crazy. Then, I found out about word-processing.
I use the BRAILLE-EDIT program as a note-processor. That is, I transcribe important sections of my cassette books and class notes onto Apple Disks. Then, I can do whatever I want with the condensed material. I use an Echo Two Speech synthesizer to playback the text. I can even tape record the processed notes onto four-track cassette. Moreover, I can tailor the way I want to hear the text. For example: If there is a fraction to be read, I can have the Echo speak it out in a specialized way. Say the fraction is A times B divided by X times Y. So, I type in the material in such a way that the Echo will say: "the fraction, with numerator (A TIMES B), divided by the denominator (X TIMES Y)." This can be very useful, especially for complex formulas.
I already have a large collection of Apple disks containing hundreds of physics and math formulas; And I hope to add a braille printer to my system in the not too distant future. But for now the Echo Two is a low cost output device. I can connect the Echo directly to my four-track cassette recorder with a patch-cord so I can playback my notes and formulas in school. The good thing about having my condensed texts on Apple disks is that the material can be transformed into any medium: print, speech, or braille.
So to summarize, for the near-term, the Echo provides a low-cost output. And, for the long-haul, all my BRAILLE-EDIT chapters will be totally compatible with future devices I may add to my Apple. This proves the "expandability" of the BRAILLE-EDIT system to me. It also proves that an Apple computer that runs BRAILLE-EDIT makes a great conversation piece.
Why have no articles from sighted users been submitted to the Raised Dot Computing Newsletter? I have some conjectures about this. As readers respond who can prove me wrong, you will have more articles from the sighted.
I see two main reasons for the reluctance of sighted readers to respond. One is because the first lower-cost (I refuse to say "low-cost") output device for hard copy was not available until this summer. The other is because the use most sighted people make of BRAILLE-EDIT is for transcription, and most transcribers are women of the "older generation" rather than young "computer freaks". Because we simply follow directions and spend less time interfacing, adapting, or, heaven forbid, programming, we have little to report.
I was using my Apple computer for braille transcription before BRAILLE-EDIT was written. I use ED-IT Braille Version which was adapted by Robert Stepp from a print text-editor program of his. This program gives me the exact line-spacing orientation necessary for my specialty, the transcription of music into braille. My output is through a Perkins brailler modified by Robert Stepp for electronic input but not for carriage-return, line-feed, or inter-communication from the Perkins keyboard. As the first transcriber to use electronic technology to produce braille, and as a member of the Board of NBA (National Braille Association), I have had the opportunity to observe braille transcribers around the country with their reactions to the use of computers.
Because of the lack of affordable output devices, I said little about my wonderful transcription tools until May, 1981, when NBA met in Albany, New York, where I knew Canadian members would likely attend. Most Canadian transcribers braille for CNIB centers where LED-120s are available for output. Several demonstrations given in a hotel room elicited a consistent and interesting response. Blind observers, eager to find out about access to computers, crowded in around the equipment, and transcribers (most of whom are grandmothers) stayed as far away as possible. They were curious but extremely wary of the new-fangled machines!
My demos left the blind fascinated with the excellent quality of the braille dots from the modified Perkins but disappointed that they had no direct access to the computer (as they do with BRAILLE-EDIT). The transcribers, on the other hand, were astonished at the possibility of correcting errors without recopying entire pages of braille and frustrated because no output device like my modified Perkins was available. The Canadians started making specific plans to acquire Apple computers, a few transcribers dealing with braille in special formats started preparing braille on disk and copying it manually from the computer screen, and the majority had to wait.
Subsequent demonstrations were low-key. When BRAILLE-EDIT became available, the REB project in Virginia under the leadership of Conchita Gilbertson started acquiring computers and transcribers to assist in the production of textbooks for school children with VersaBrailles. [Editor's note: Conchita's group now has 21 books on Apple disk]. The use of VersaBrailles in elementary education is still far from being widespread. The state of Virginia is probably the leader with 18 children receiving the advantage of this wonder machine. Other states are starting gradually, but the price factor definitely limits rapid growth; consequently, the number of transcribers preparing braille texts for cassette tape is also limited.
Recently I have observed a marked difference in the attitude of older women to these new-fangled machines. In March, 1980, I attended my first workshop on new technology for the blind. Dr. David Uslan spoke to an audience of 18 people - all teachers. I was the lone person with either grey hair or transcription skills. The most recent workshop on technology was one I led on Oct. 5th, 1983, in Dallas. Over 50 people attended, most had that distinguished grey hair, and some came 45 minutes early to ask questions and try things out. There is greater acceptance at the idea of having a computer in the home and more willingness to spend around $2,000 dollars for equipment to enhance their volunteer activity. The most important fact is that output centers are beginning to become a reality. NBA has purchased a Cranmer Brailler and ordered a Thiel line embosser for their Braille Book Bank in Rochester, New York, the State Department of Education in California has ordered 12 Cranmer Braillers to spread around the state, others are following suit, more VersaBrailles will appear in school systems, and the Cranmer Brailler is affordable to small groups if not individual transcribers.
Most transcribers will be working without an output facility in their home, so it will take a period of time to discover what formatting mistakes are cropping up with their unfamiliarity about inserting directions to the printer in braille copy. Hang in there, though, you young professionals who are making such good use of this new technology. Given a little time, we grandmothers will catch up. When we do, we should be able to produce lots more good braille for you on paper or cassette tape in the same number of volunteer hours we now spend at our manual braillers.
I had the privilege of using the Sagem braille printer at the University of Illinois Rehabilitation-Education Center until I moved last August. Some of the my Apple disks were prepared using the ED-IT Braille program of Robert Stepp and some were prepared with BRAILLE-EDIT. Both worked fine. In response to Carolyn Jones' "Sagem Report" I will recount what I did in hopes it will assist someone else. Since it has been 3 months since I used the Sagem, my memory is hazy on some details, but what I do remember may help.
The Sagem receives at 110 Baud. Set your serial card for that rate. Be sure you have specified the correct slot number. Turn on the Sagem. It will be in local mode; the key marked LO is lit.
Position the paper at top of form. There are two keys that control form feed on the Sagem. One moves the paper one line at a time in local mode and the other moves it to top of form in remote ("Line") mode. If memory serves me correctly, both keys carried the picture of a downward arrow with three slashes through the shaft. I never could remember which was which, so I just tried both, if necessary, to get paper movement.
Switch to line mode by depressing the key marked LI. The Sagem is now ready to receive at 110 Baud from either program.
One other key is worth mentioning. We had a terrible time loading paper until we discovered that a key with two concentric circles on it must be depressed along with certain other function keys including those that are used when you change paper.
I am well aware of the maintenance problems with the Sagem, but this unit is operational. It gave me output from fanfold braille paper, a real blessing since the only alternative output I have is a home-modified Perkins brailler with manual carriage-return and line-feed. Both units clunk along at approximately the same, slow speed, but when the Perkins is running I must sit at the brailler and return the carriage for every single line. When the Sagem is running, I go do other things and make constructive use of whatever time it takes for the Sagem to braille all my prepared pages. Incidentally, if anyone has a used Sagem sitting around, I will be happy to pay shipping costs to take it off your hands.
In the past few months I have been experimenting with the Diablo 630 printer with the purpose of obtaining good quality of braille on at least notebook weight paper. I have had a good deal of support from Diablo's western offices and believe that we will achieve success in the near future. I have several specially covered platens which will allow the dot character to penetrate the paper enough to raise a dot. However, I have found that even with the metal print wheel and the highest hammer intensity, the period character will not penetrate paper of heavier weight than bond typing paper. It also seems that the shape of the period itself limits the size of the dot that can be raised even under optimum conditions. Our next effort will be to modify the hammer itself so that we can eliminate the print wheel altogether. If all else fails I will probably custom make a platen by cutting grooves at the appropriate spacings. By that time I probably will find the money to purchase a real braille embosser. That sort of thing never fails. I would note that my better braille readers feel very comfortable reading the braille embossed on bond paper and are quite happy with the quality for a minimum of 3 or 4 readings. I am committed to the Diablo because of the versatility of being able to produce superb print and acceptable braille for a reasonable price. I do not see it as a device capable of mass producing production quality braille but it could certainly be a good vocational tool in a low budget situation.
I have also been experimenting with the Kurzweil Reading Machine both as an input and an output device. I have found that the KRM will send about 98% correct characters if the operator spends the time to make certain the type style has been learned correctly and the various contrast and other settings are correctly set. In other words if you spend time getting the KRM to read correctly you will get pretty good text at the Apple. It's ironic to note that many of the students prefer the Echo II as a voice output particularly if a better quality speaker is used. Unfortunately, I have not had the time to do very extensive tests, but if I ca get someone else trained in the use of both the BRAILLE-EDIT program and the KRM, I will report further developments as they become noteworthy.
My next big area of interest will be to send and receive BRAILLE-EDIT files from one school to another via phone so that a braillist located across town can transcribe material and send it back without mail delays and time consuming auto trips. If anyone has experience in any of these areas, I'd love to hear from you. My address is Tom Coursey, 2767 South Fenton St., Denver, CO 80227.
After speaking to you Monday, I got to thinking about the comments I have received from teachers relative to the use of the BRAILLE-EDIT program. Since the use of this program is relatively new to schools on the elementary and secondary level, some problems may have cropped up. First, teachers are not fully aware of how to use it because they do not have enough time to play with it. Also teachers in large school systems may not have had a chance to try the equipment at all. Teacher inservice is necessary in this area to get teachers involved. The second consideration is that up until very recently, training programs for teachers of the visually impaired have not included much in the way of providing exposure in technological aids for the visually impaired or for that matter in any of the technological advances in the past few years. This situation is changing rapidly now and could lead to more information on how BRAILLE-EDIT, and computers in general are being using in schools.
The most distressing thing that I have heard is the reluctance of certain schools to allow visually impaired students to use computers or participate in any of the classes. Sometimes the computer room is the domain of one teacher who doesn't feel that special education is part of the education process. School systems tend to feel that adaptations to computer equipment are too expensive to be of any value. Granted, specialized equipment is expensive but student motivation almost always wins out over limitations that the equipment might cause.
Please feel free to give my name to anyone who wishes to know what I am doing at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. I am especially interested in contacting teachers who are just getting started in using BRAILLE-EDIT and sharing the mistakes that I have made. We technopeasants have to stick together. I can be reached on Monday and Thursday mornings at (212) 519-7000 ext. 331. My home phone number is (914) 528-1796.
Editor Note: Mr. Lauer and Mr. Mowinski are evaluators of sensory aids equipment at the Hines, Illinois VA hospital. This material was written in response to urgent requests for information.
As we discuss resources with people setting up computer aids clinics or compiling lists of resources, two things usually stand out. One is that you need statements from each company as to what they now offer. The world of computers changes quickly. People like us can best help by pointing out significances, relationships and resources not known to consumers and providers like you. Unfortunately, marketing literature is often wishful writing. Sometimes a phone call will reveal more if the caller insists on finding out what is currently available. Ideally, user reviews tell still more. The weakness of user evaluations is that most users have little to compare with. Nobody, not even evaluators like us, has tried all the relevant options or even assembled them under one roof. You need the opinions of people who have worked with several systems.
The popularity ratings of a given computer or operating system can be misleading. By the time good software for blind people is available, a machine may have passed its zenith of popularity. For all the good help they give, computer stores can also be misleading. They tell you what works for sighted people. Many a blind person has bought a fine computer for his colleagues or spouse but not for himself.
The second point is that there are no universal solutions. Everything depends on the applications to be made and the equipment to be interfaced. Decisions are made more complex by recently-available options to select either off-the-shelf components or get equipment specially designed for blind users. For example, let's say you want to do word processing. If only speech is wanted, you have several options. You could use the ITS by Maryland Computer Services which is specially designed, or an Apple with an Echo II which requires special software (i.e. BRAILLE-EDIT or DOCUMENTS), or an AVOS system described later or (less effectively) a number of micro computers with the addition of either a Cybertalker, a Vert, a Total Talk, an Orator or a Free Scan Speech Terminal. If braille is also wanted, and the two are ideal together, then the Apple and either the VersaBraille by TSI, the Braillink by Clark Technologies, or the Cranmer Modified Perkins by MCS would be good. Triformation Systems now has its Microbrailler but be careful. Its features severely limit its range of applications. The braille devices by themselves are weak as word processors, so although you could use them with a speech device such as a Vert or Cybertalker or Total Talk or Orator or FSST, it would not usually be advisable. Then if you must work with a main frame (big computer), there is another set of factors to be considered.
Let's say you want to teach or study the Bible. There is a program for that from Bible Research Systems in Austin, Texas. It runs in Apple and Radio Shack Model III. It works with the Echo II in the Apple but may not talk in the Radio Shack. If Visicalc is needed, then the ITS is the only one that will work. The ITS also has a Forms Writer program which may be critically needed. For programming using speech output, it has some unique advantages. However, some people will not touch speech for programming. They want braille. We could go on and on with applications.
The ITS is new since the information you have was published. "ITS" stands for Information Through Speech, and it consists of the HP 125 micro computer made for business applications. There are two micro processors, one of which is a CP/M computer to run the user's applications. The other is dedicated entirely to the speech program, and as such, it has some fine human engineering features. The ITS can serve as a computer terminal also.
We are familiar with most systems available, but we could have biases, so we should tell you that we currently use an Apple, a VersaBraille, and a number of peripheral devices; and we have recently worked with the ITS.
There is no Quick Talk. As far as we know, its designer Phil Schwartz only delivered to one or two people and did not fill orders he got.
As far as we know, Voice Box from Alien Group does not do blind people much good. It seems to be in the category of SAM discussed later herein. That is, it has potential if modified.
Street Electronics: The Echo II for the Apple is the best low-cost speech available. It has screen review and most things we need. The Echo GP is for other computers. That is, the GP stands for general purpose. That model interfaces with RS-232 ports which are fairly standard in the industry. The advantage of the GP is its ability to interface with a variety of machines. It does not, however, have screen review. Screen review must be programmed into the host computer with which it is used. The advantage of the Echo II which plugs directly into an Apple slot is screen review and ease of use with most application programs. However, it only works in the Apple machines, the Franklins and at least some other Apple clones. Blind users tend to prefer the Echo devices because of their greater speed and better software. However, cosmetically, the Echos get a lower mark than most of the other speech synthesizers. They take experience to make them fully intelligible. However, that is a problem only for novices and in applications for which users cannot be given practice.
The IBM Audio Typing Unit was designed for word processing, and that is its major application. It is good where certain models of IBM equipment must be used, namely, the Memory 50, the Memory 100, the Mag Card I and the Mag Card II. Those machines are being phased out. Aside from those applications, it is far from the best word processor for a blind person, and it cannot be interfaced with other machines.
The best one I have found is called BRAILLE-EDIT. It runs only in the Apple and certain Apple clones and works with speech, braille and screen and is a breakthrough in getting rid of the communication barrier between blind and sighted people. It is written and sold by David Holladay of Raised Dot Computing. It is also a good Grade II braille translator and back translator.
There are a number of other word processing means. We have already mentioned the ITS. The company called AVOS for Audio Visual Operating Systems in St. Paul, Minnesota sells an Osborne personal computer (which uses a CP/M operating system) interfaced and programmed with an Echo GP. It works well with utilities. They have a data base program which we have seen and a word processor which we have now also seen. It works very well.
Another arrangement that is strictly a word processing system is the Olivetti Electronic Typewriter hooked to a Cybertalker. However, nearly all word processors cannot be profitably interfaced with speech terminals and devices like the Cybertalker or the Vert. That is, although they can be made to talk, they only serve as "print terminals." That is, one can output to them in a batch as if to a printer. By then, it is too late to do editing.
The best approach is to have the blind person use a micro computer with special software and speech. Text is then sent in blocks back and forth, thus often costing no more than an ordinary word processing work station. I have interfaced a Lanier word processor very well with an Apple using Holladay's word processing program.
The Zero Card is a new aid very worthy of note. Like the Cybertalker, it is made by the Cyberon Corporation of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It plugs into an Apple computer and allows output to a variety of speech, braille and large-print devices. It requires no commands or programs to be loaded and thus can be used with most protected software. Or a second output can be added. For example, speech can be added where one already has braille or large print. So far, we have tried it successfully with the Cybertalker, the Echo GP, the Intex Talker, the VersaBraille (preferably a Model C), and another Apple computer. (In the second Apple, we ran the Street talking terminal program described later.) The Zero Card works with a spell-checking program called Sensible Speller and terminal programs. It adds new flexibility and options to using the Apple.
Now there is speech for the IBM personal computer. The program costs $395 and is sold by Solutions by Example in Boston, Mass. The program supports several popular synthesizers. We have not tried it but have heard positive reports. IBM has finally begun to deliver its talking terminal for its 3278 environment. Users of IBM main frames will know what that means. They should investigate by contacting their local Special Products Division of IBM.
Jupiter Technologies has a multi-user system suited for an agency or small production facility where several blind and sighted employees need to work together with the same texts. It uses a PDP-11 computer and permits speech and braille outputs for its several users. It is not intended for an individual or single classroom.
The full speech versions of all the machines have unlimited vocabulary. The programs or algorithms for text-to-speech conversion vary, so some have more rules and thus better speech. The main differences in their efficiency are the speed with which they can talk and the features of the application programs with which they work.
ARTS Computer Products has more than one model of the Orator now. You should get information from them directly. They also have some braille devices promised that may have materialized. They have a low-vision terminal too.
The Total Talk by MCS has choice of three or five screens now. Their Model II is now $6,000.
Triformation Systems has a talking terminal called the Free Scan Speech Terminal and a talk program for a Zenith personal computer.
The Apple can now be used as a speech-output terminal. It takes an Apple Super Serial Card, an Echo II and a talking terminal program from Street Electronics whose address is new this year. The Echo II now costs $150, the terminal program costs $40. The Apple Super Serial Card, costing $195 and the Echo II must be put into an Apple II plus or the new Apple IIe with at least one disk drive.
The Texas Instruments 99/4A can be used as a terminal but without many needed features like screen review. The speech is slow by comparison with most of the others. It is also possible to configure that TI computer to speak in a programming mode but not efficiently for vocational applications. It has the advantage of being inexpensive--several hundred dollars. That can be a disadvantage for the uninformed who may think they are getting a bigger bargain than is actually the case. The machine and the needed information and software is sold by Duane Fisher, whose address is given below.
There is a notable source for software to make certain Radio Shack computers and the Lobo Max-80 useful with speech output. It is Mr. Ronald Hutchinson whose address is also given later.
There are several low-vision computers and terminals. They are from Apollo, Visualtek, Arts, Sensory Aids Corporation and Elayo Americas. The companies are working on interfaces and options for other computers like the IBM personal computer and the Apple. These same systems are being sized up for simultaneous use with speech. Some already can be used with speech if some modifications are made.
TEXT TO SPEECH MODULES: It is not true that The Kurzweil company has a talking terminal. Their reading machine can be used as an output device with speech, but it is little better than an Echo GP or Intex Talker or Personal Speech System by Votrax except that one can review the screen and the speech is more cosmetic and faster.
On boards, boxes, etc.: A lot has changed. Some prices are lower. The Echo II is $150 and the Echo GP is $300. The Type 'N Talk is out of date now and of limited value unless you have a program specifically designed to "nurse" it; that is, mate well with your system and give you features you need. The Echo GP and the Intex Talker are much better; that is, bigger buffers, punctuation options, easier handshakes, spelling options, etc. The Votrax PSS Personal Speech System will perhaps also be a competitive speech-output device in this category if they get the bugs out of the firmware. None of these devices gives the user screen review without special software run in its host computer.
The Intex Talker from Intex Micro Systems, Inc. in Birmingham, Michigan is a good $300 speech-output device in this category. It uses the SCO1 Votrax chip for the speech so is slower than the Echo GP, its competitor. However, the speech may be a bit clearer, and the software is good.
There are a number of cards to be plugged into the Apple and other micros like the Atari which facilitate speech. Most have little value for blind people as tools. The notable exception is the Echo II by Street Electronics discussed above. First, the Echo II works in the languages of the machine which means that it talks with many application programs without modifying the programs. Second, it has features added for blind users including screen review capability by block, line, word and character; three levels of punctuation to be enabled or disabled and commands to announce the location of the cursor both on the screen and when in its audio screen review mode. The Sweetalker from Micromint may be another useful device, but we have not yet gotten the promised software to make it useful.
Here is a sad example of a non-useful device for us. A little plug-in peripheral card called SAM for Software Automatic Mouth from a company called Don't Ask Software of Los Angeles has the most intelligible and potentially fastest speech, except for the most costly devices. But it hardly bears mentioning because it can't be used with other programs unless they are specially modified.
These addresses are not in a special order. They were gathered in this file in the computer from several lists. This list is not exhaustive.
Mr. Ronald Hutchinson, 2350 North 4th Street, Columbus Ohio 43202. (614) 263-4324. Or Mr. John Cramer, (614) 279-8271. They have software for speech in Radio Shack computers and the Lobo Max-80.
Mr. Duane Fisher, 5028 Merit Drive, Flint, Michigan 48506. (313) 736-3774. Hardware and software for speech in Texas Instruments 99/4A computer.
Solutions by Example, Box 307, New Town Branch, Boston, Massachusetts 02258. (617( 244-5880. They have speech software for the IBM personal computer.
Mr. Richard Gage, 9 Gowing Road, Wilmington, Massachusetts 01887. (617) 421-9273 or 658-3527. He has information about using IBM equipment with speech.
Audio Visual Operating Systems, 1485 Energy Park Drive, St. Paul, MN 55108. (612) 646-1515. Known as AVOS, they sell the Osborne 1 with speech output and software.
Psycho-linguistic Research Associates, 2055 Sterling Avenue, Menlo Park, California 94025. (415) 854-1771. Hardware and software for talking Zenith Heathkit Computer and software for speech in Radio Shack computers.
Sensory Aids Corporation, Bensonville, Illinois (312) 766-3935. They sell the Viewscan low-vision reading device and the Epson Computer interfaced for use with the Viewscan as a large-print computer.
Elayo Americas, Inc., P. O. Box 23927, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33307, (305) 563-9400. They have programs for large print in the Apple and apart from that a camera arrangement for use with the Apple for low-vision users.
Mr. Eliot Friedman, The Cyberon Corporation, 1175 Wendy Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103. (313) 994-0326. Sells Cybertalker speech terminal and the Apple Cyber Card known as the Zero Card which is an output peripheral for the Apple. It outputs to speech or other device when nothing else will.
Clark Technologies, Mr. Lee Brown, 16205 Fantasia Drive, Tampa Florida 33623. (813) 962-4105 or 223-8155.
Arts Computer Services, 80 Boylston Street, Boston, Mass. 02116. (617) 482-8248. They have a large-print terminal, talking terminal and other instruments.
Triformation Systems, Inc., 3132 S.E. Jay Street, Stuart, Florida 33494. (305) 283-4817. They sell the Microbrailler Electronic Brailler, the LED 120 hardcopy braille printer, THE FSST talking terminal, and other aids.
Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc., 185 Albany Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139. (617) 864-4700. The Kurzweil Reading Machine.
Telesensory Systems, Inc., 455 North Bernardo Avenue, Mountain View, California 94043. (415) 960-0920. They have the VersaBraille electronic brailler, the Optacon reading machine and the Vert talking terminal.
Raised Dot Computing, 310 S. 7th Street, Lewisburg, PA 17837. (717) 523-6739. They sell BRAILLE-EDIT, the Cranmer Brailler, an assortment of cables and adapters, a braille training program, and a profuse amount of documentation in print, disk, VersaBraille tape, and audio.
Jupiter Technology, Inc., 111 Gibbs Street, Newton Centre, Mass. 02159. (617) 9765-5092. They have speech and braille computer aids.
Duxbury Systems, 77 Great Road, Acton, Massachusetts 01720, (617) 263-6761. They sell a Grade Two braille translation program which runs in a number of computers using CP/M operating systems.
Tandberg of America, 1 Labriola Court, P.O. Box 58, Armonk, New York 100504. High-quality tape machine with speech compressor.
Voxcom, Inc., 100 Clover Green, Peachtree City, Georgia 30269. They have card readers for storing audio information on the edges of file cards.
Visualtek, 1610 26th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404, (213) 829-6841. They have a large-print computer.
Apollo Electronic Visual Aids, P. O. Box 2755, 2932 Lassen Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311, (800) 272-8080 or (213) 700-2666 Large-print terminal and typing system.
Sensory Aids Corp., Suite 110, 205 West Grand Ave., Bensenville, IL 60106, (312) 766-3935. Epson Computer with Viewscan for large print.
Maryland Computer Services, Inc., 2010 Rock Spring Road, Forest Hill, Maryland 21050, (301) 879-3366. They have the ITS (Information Through Speech( computer, the Total Talk 2 speech terminal and the Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler, a hardcopy braille terminal. They also sell the German-made Thiel braille printer.
Ultratec Inc., P. O. Box 4062, Madison Wisconsin 53711, (608) 273-0707. The Superphone is a portable keyboard terminal with modem good with the VersaBraille and certain speech devices. It can also store text on a cassette recorder.
Votrax Division of Federal Screw Works, 500 Stephenson Highway, Troy, Michigan 48084, (313) 588-2050. They have several speech-output devices and boards for building speech into other machines.
Nady Systems Inc., 1145 65th Street, Oakland, CA 94608. Two-way radio communication systems called Easy Talk. Volunteer Services for the Blind sells the Echo II for $99 plus $3 shipping. contact Fred Noesner, VSB, 919 Walnut Street, Philadelphia Pa 19107.
The following items can be purchased from Foley's Low Vision Aids as well as from their manufacturers listed below: Echo II, Echo GP, Sweet Talker (including software), Documents 2.0, Directories 2.0, and BRAILLE-EDIT. Foley's Low Vision Aids is also an Apple Dealer from whom both hardware and software can be bought. Foley's Low Vision Aids, 1357 East David Road, Kettering, Ohio 45429, (513) 294-2433
Southeast Software, 7743 Briarwood Drive, New Orleans, LA 70128, (504) 246-8438. They sell Data Capture, a computer program for the Apple. Data Capture allows the user to save remote files onto disk.
William Grimm, Computer Aids, P. O. Box 5502, Fort Wayne, IN 46895, (219) 456-1856. Mr. Grimm sells the programs DOCUMENTS, DIRECTORIES, and INFO.
Street Electronics, Inc., 1140 Mark Ave., Carpinteria, CA 93013, (805) 684-4593. Street Electronics is the maker of the Echo II and the Echo GP.
Intex Micro Systems, 725 South Adams Road, Suite L8, Bermingham, Michigan 48011, (313) 540-7601. They make the Intex, a useful voice synthesizer.
Bible Research Systems, 8804 Wildridge Drive, Austin, Texas 78759, (512) 346-2181. They sell the Bible on disk (called "The Word Processor"). Price: $190.00. This is a valuable and unique service for clergymen and students. It facilitates searches and cross referencing and works with the Echo II speech device.