Raised Dot Computing Newsletter: Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired -- ISSN 0890-0019. November-December 1990 -- Volume 8, Number 87.

Published Every Other Month by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison, Wisconsin USA 53703. Telephone: 608-257-9595. Fax: (608) 241-2498.

Subscriptions: $18/year Print, $20/year Audio Tape, $30/year Apple II BEX data disk. (Kindly add $20/year for postage outside N. America.)

Single issues: $4 each (specify medium).

Submissions are always welcome, especially on diskette. All are subject to editing for style and clarity. All opinions expressed are those of the author. Editors: Caryn Navy, David Holladay, and Phyllis Herrington.

Entire contents copyright 1990 by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Nothing may be reprinted in any medium--print, braille, audio, or electronic--without prior written permission from RDC Inc.

Table of Contents: the all-uppercase words name the disk chapters; the words after the equals sign are the actual article titles.

READ ME FIRST = How To Read the RDC Newsletter on Disk.

From the Editor -- Caryn Navy

We wish you all a very wonderful new year!

We apologize for the lateness of this issue. As described in some of the articles, we have been quite busy cooking up new things at RDC in preparation for the new year. Well, we still found ourselves forced to have some fun when 17.3 inches of snow in Madison closed RDC for one day. My California-raised guide dog took the Advanced Topics in Snow seminar before taking the Snow 101 course.

At the Closing the Gap conference I spoke with a Newsletter subscriber who was unsuccessful in transferring material between BEX and the Braille 'n Speak. She had used the article in the May-June 1990 issue, but she had overlooked one step. If you have problems with this or other BEX applications, do not hesitate to call our technical support number, (608) 257-8833.

Hot Dots 3.0 Will Be Available in January

RDC is pleased to announce that we will begin shipping the totally new 3.0 version of Hot Dots in January of 1991. Hot Dots is our braille translation program for the IBM-PC and compatible computers. Hot Dots contains the tools necessary for producing braille from print files and for producing print from braille files.

Hot Dots 3.0 is virtually an entirely new program. It is much easier to use than previous versions of Hot Dots, more powerful, and much faster and more accurate in translating between print and braille. We designed Hot Dots 3.0 to enable those who have no previous experience with braille, as well as braille experts, to create reasonable braille easily.

Hot Dots 3.0 does not contain its own text editor. However, we included features that make it easy for you to use your own word processor or text editor to create and edit files for use with Hot Dots.

Improvement Highlights

Here are some of the major improvements which are found in Hot Dots 3.0:

The biggest addition to this new version of Hot Dots is file importation software which directly reads the native files from over 30 different word processing programs, including WordPerfect 5.0 and WordPerfect 5.1.

Has this ever happened to you? You want an article or letter from a friend or coworker, and you ask for the item on disk. When it arrives, you find that it is in the format of a strange word processor. You then have to go back and ask your friend to create a generic ASCII textfile. "What's a textfile?" your friend asks you.

If your friend uses one of the roughly 30 word processors supported by Hot Dots 3.0, you can make braille easily from his or her disks. Using the new Hot Dots 3.0, you do not have to own the same word processor. Neither you nor your friend has to convert a document into an ASCII textfile before processing it with Hot Dots 3.0. Your friend just needs to tell you which word processor he or she used, which should not be very difficult. Because Hot Dots 3.0 reads the word processing file directly, it makes use of the formatting instructions which the word processor included in the file. It changes them into the corresponding Hot Dots format commands.

On the other hand, many documents may come to you as generic ASCII textfiles (for example, files from bulletin boards, files from optical scanners, or manuals and other books available on disk). The same file importation software also does a very good job of interpreting the format in a generic ASCII textfile to create the corresponding Hot Dots format commands.

Whether you start with a file from a word processor or with a generic ASCII textfile, you can get reasonably well formatted braille without any intervention. Of course, Hot Dots cannot make perfectly formatted braille without any human intervention. But we think that you will be very pleased with the format that Hot Dots creates automatically from the original file. For even better results, you can use the Hot Dots features for finetuning the braille translation and format.

The Hot Dots 3.0 translator from print into braille is vastly improved. It is much faster and much more accurate than in previous versions of Hot Dots. It is hard to measure a translator's accuracy before it has been used heavily in the real world. In addition, we do not want to look foolish by boasting of "perfect braille translation." However, we do stand behind the accuracy of the braille translation. See the separate article on our "dollar per bug offer," which is our way of expressing how good the braille translation is.

The new back translator from braille into print is also greatly improved. This translator allows you to write on a device like the VersaBraille or the Braille 'n Speak and produce quality inkprint output.

The DOTS Menu

A straightforward menu provides one way of using Hot Dots. The menu system is the "local train" system for using Hot Dots; each "station" is clearly labeled, and you can do whatever you want at any station. As in earlier versions of Hot Dots, the menu program is called {DOTS}. We have arranged the menu options in a more logical order than found in earlier versions. The new menu is arranged as follows:

To take a file from a word processor or a generic ASCII textfile through the menu system to produce braille, you would use options 1 through 4 in order (import, translate, format, and finally output). We hope that the new menu arrangement will be much easier to use than the earlier one.

Batch Files

The Hot Dots 3.0 program also includes a number of useful batch files, which are the "express trains" for using Hot Dots. The names for these batch files are based on the DOTS menu options which they perform. The batch file {DOTS1234} takes a single file through all the steps needed to produce hardcopy braille. Here is an example of its use: {DOTS1234 CATBOX.DOC WPF5 LPT1}. This takes the file {CATBOX.DOC} from WordPerfect 5.0 or 5.1 format ({WPF5} is the code for WordPerfect 5.0 or 5.1) and imports it into Hot Dots form, translates it into braille, formats the braille, and outputs the braille to the embosser attached to LPT1 (the primary parallel port). {DOTS1234} produces two files along the way: {CATBOX.HD$}, the untranslated, imported file with Hot Dots format commands, and {CATBOX.BFM}, the final formatted braille file ready for output.

You may instead want to perform only the file importation step and then examine and modify the {.HD$} file before continuing. The batch file for performing only this first step is {DOTS1}. You call this batch file with just two parameters--the file name and the word processor type. As the name suggests, {DOTS1} does only the file importation step and creates a new {.HD$} file, which you can edit in your text editor or word processor. The {.HD$} file has temporary carriage returns in it to establish word wrap on the screen, with no line exceeding 80 characters. Later steps in the Hot Dots process remove these carriage returns. (In the {.HD$} file, the hard returns, for forcing a new line, have already been changed to the Hot Dots new paragraph or new line indicator.)

Finally, we round out our collection with {DOTS234}. This takes a Hot Dots {.HD$} file and translates it, formats it, and outputs it.

All of these batch files work without restrictions on your choice of current drive and directory. The batch files also give you the option of preparing files for output to a paperless braille device rather than a hardcopy embosser.

Supported Word Processors

When you import a file into the system, you get to select between 30 different word processors. Here is the list of supported file formats:

When you import a file, Hot Dots understands the paragraph, centering, italics, and margin commands. You get acceptable braille format without having to edit the file.

For ordinary, generic textfiles, you use the file type

The file importer does a much better job of converting these files into Hot Dots files than the rules file {FIXTXT.RUL} ever did in the previous versions of Hot Dots.

Purchasing Hot Dots 3.0

We will begin shipping Hot Dots 3.0 in January of 1991.

For new Hot Dots purchasers the price is $350.

For registered users of previous versions of Hot Dots, an upgrade is available through the end of 1991. To upgrade, you must send in $125 and your original Hot Dots disk.

A Hot Dots 3.0 demonstration disk will be available soon.

Hot Dots 3.0 Translation Offer

We are confident enough in the procedures used to test the forward grade two translator in Hot Dots 3.0 to make a special offer. If you find translation errors, send us a written list. If we were previously unaware of an error, we will issue you a credit of $1 toward future purchases from Raised Dot Computing, up to a limit of $50.

For example, if you found that

incorrectly used the (of) sign, you could get a credit of one dollar. However, we must inform you that we discovered the problem with during our testing procedure.

This offer is valid only during 1991.

While a one dollar credit will not put your kids through college, we hope it will give you an incentive to examine your braille for anything amiss. We do not claim that our new translator is 100% accurate. But we do think it is close, and we want your help in getting even closer.

As with all offers, this offer has a list of restrictions. Here goes:

We hope this offer will cause people to report any problems they encounter with our software. Of course, we are interested in all bug reports. But we will issue credit slips only for forward translation bug reports.

Announcing BEX 3.1 and a Price Increase

Raised Dot Computing is releasing a new version of BEX in January, 1991. Upon its release, BEX 3.1 will replace BEX 3.0 as the current version of BEX. BEX 3.1 will cost $450. This new version of BEX incorporates a number of improvements over BEX 3.0. It includes the popular ProDOS Bridge software (which we have been selling for $40). BEX 3.1 is available in both 5.25 and 3.5 inch disk formats. When you configure at the Learner or User Level with only one disk drive, BEX 3.1 automatically adds one RAM drive to the configuration if your computer has appropriate memory. BEX 3.1 also incorporates a number of minor bug fixes and supplementary documentation.

The Price Increase

BEX was introduced in 1985 for $400. We are increasing the price to $450 to cover our higher expenses. We regret any inconveniences that this may cause. We want to continue to keep BEX as current and as flexible as possible. In order to do this, we have to adopt this new price.

ProDOS Bridge Software Included

In 1990, Raised Dot Computing introduced the ProDOS Bridge module to enhance BEX. This $40 module improved an existing BEX by enabling it to read AppleWorks Word Processing files. Once you boot up BEX, BEX can read the AppleWorks data files and create well-behaved BEX chapters. Using this feature, teachers, aides, or volunteers can enter material in AppleWorks to create braille or large print. What's more, you can create braille or large print easily from handouts and other documents that already exist as AppleWorks files.

The ProDOS Bridge BEX enhancement has proved to be extremely popular. Therefore, we have built this software into BEX 3.1. Using BEX 3.1 with no additional module, you can read AppleWorks Word Processing files or ProDOS textfiles from a 5.25 or 3.5 inch disk, from the root level or a subdirectory.

BEX is Now Available on 3.5 Inch Disks

You can order BEX 3.1 on either 5.25 or 3.5 inch disk. This means that you can run BEX 3.1 on a computer that does not have a 5.25 inch disk drive. If you want BEX on 3.5 inch disk, you must specify that at the time of purchase.

Please note: We will not upgrade any existing BEX program on 5.25 inch disks to a BEX on 3.5 inch disks. The 3.5 inch disk format is available only for new BEX sales.

Automatic RAM drives

In BEX 3.0, one of the biggest advantages of configuring at the Master Level is the ability to use RAM drives. A RAM drive is an imaginary disk drive created in RAM memory. A RAM drive allows very fast access to your program and your data. Once you have finished creating your chapters on a RAM drive, you do have to remember to copy them to a real (physical) disk to save them for future use. Anything left on a RAM drive is lost when you turn off the computer.

Many Apple IIgs computers are sold with one 5.25 inch disk drive. A user of BEX 3.0 must configure at the Master Level in order to get access to any additional disk drive (3.5 inch disk drive or RAM drive). We have found that it is very difficult to use BEX with a configuration containing only one disk drive. We have also noticed that many BEX users are scared of the Master Level, and they miss the advantage of using RAM drives.

In BEX 3.1, when you configure with only one disk drive, BEX checks to see if your computer has RAM memory available through slot 3 (on an Apple IIgs or on an Apple IIe with a RamWorks card). If so, BEX 3.1 automatically "reconfigures" itself to add a RAM drive. After doing this, BEX thinks there are two disk drives. Drive 1 (the program drive) is the RAM drive containing all the Main side software. Drive 2 (the data drive) is the disk drive you used to boot BEX.

If you use BEX 3.1 on a 3.5 inch disk on an Apple IIgs with one 3.5 inch disk drive, BEX automatically creates the RAM drive and loads the Main side software when you press the spacebar at the Starting Menu. The whole process is very easy to use.

Running BEX 3.1 on an Apple IIgs not endowed with two 5.25 inch disk drives, you can work as a newcomer to BEX much more comfortably at the Learner or User Level. Working at the Learner or User Level, you do not have to switch between program and data disks all the time. Since all the Main side software is loaded into memory, you can use the disk drive exclusively for holding your data disk. Of course, if you do copy any chapters to drive 1, you have to copy them back to drive 2 before you turn off your computer. Otherwise, the material is lost forever.

This added convenience in using BEX 3.1 on an Apple IIgs at the Learner or User Level is not meant to replace the Master Level. Advancing to the Master Level in BEX 3.1 still gives many advantages, such as much more flexibility in configuring more RAM drives and other disk drives. We hope that a more pleasant experience at the Learner or User Level will make it easier for you to become familiar with BEX and then move on to the Master Level.

Miscellaneous Bug Fixes

With the release of a new version of BEX, we have taken the opportunity to fix a number of minor bugs and problems. As we mentioned in our last Newsletter, a new version of TEXTALKER is required to use the very latest Echo synthesizers on an Apple IIgs (because Street Electronics was forced to make a design change in the Echo not compatible with the older TEXTALKER software). This affects only Apple IIgs computers running at fast speed with a new Echo synthesizer.

BEX 3.1 contains the very latest revision of TEXTALKER, version 3.1.4. To the best of our knowledge, this new edition works fine on all Echo synthesizers on all Apple II computers. Raised Dot Computing would like to give Larry Skutchan and the American Printing House for the Blind our highest praise for making these changes promptly, and for adjusting TEXTALKER for some of BEX's peculiar requirements.

In the last year, our Newsletter has mentioned a number of bugs and glitches: problems with 3.5 inch disk drives on ROM 3 Apple IIgs computers, problems with DoubleTalk pitches, and occasional problems with accessing the Ready chapter. All of these bugs are eliminated in BEX 3.1. If you have difficulty with your existing BEX program caused by any of these problems, call our technical support number. We will send you a disk or instructions for fixing your BEX disk.

Supplement to the Manual

Raised Dot Computing has prepared supplemental instructions which explain changes since the writing of the BEX 3.0 manual. It covers the various issues that come up with using BEX on a 3.5 inch disk, how to use a RAM drive at the Learner or User Level, and how to make use of the ProDOS Bridge software.

We have also prepared a supplement to the BEX Interface Guide. It covers the use of BEX with some of the sensory aids equipment that has been developed since our last rewrite of the Interface Guide in 1987. These instructions discuss the Braille 'n Speak, the Pocket Braille, the Index Brailler, the Kurzweil Personal Reader, and the Eureka A4. We also give more detailed descriptions of data transfers between BEX and the IBM-PC and between BEX and the Macintosh.


You cannot upgrade from any previous version of BEX to BEX 3.1 on 3.5 inch disk. Upgrades to BEX 3.1 from BEX 2.2 or earlier versions will work just as upgrades to BEX 3.0 have been working. You send in your BEX version 2.X disks and documentation and $175. At this point, we have not set any policy for upgrades from BEX 3.0 to BEX 3.1. There is no convincing reason to want such an upgrade. Everything that is available in BEX 3.1 (on 5.25 inch disk) is available in BEX 3.0 (provided you configure at the Master Level and request the bug fixes mentioned above if you need them).


It is our goal to make sure that BEX works well with the Apple II computers and sensory aids devices that are currently available. We have attempted to finetune BEX to work better on an Apple IIgs. As Raised Dot Computing starts its tenth year of operation, we want to demonstrate our commitment to making sure that our Apple II software works well with your current equipment. If you have further suggestions for improvement, please do not hesitate to send them to us.

Training News

This is the column where you can tell each other about training sessions involving our products. If you are holding a training session of this kind, please let us know so that we can include it in this column.

BEX and Computer Training in Washington State

Several one-week computer skills classes will be taught at the Washington State School for the Blind in July 1991. Each class will provide information on BEX, the Braille 'n Speak, and the Adaptive Firmware Card. Class size is Limited to 8. The classes will be taught by Bruce McClanahan, who wrote the excellent workbook

(described in the March-April 1990 issue of the Newsletter).

The classes will be appropriate for those who use the Apple computer regularly and are beginning or intermediate users of BEX. Some sample BEX topics are: configuring BEX, using the BEX Editor (including the clipboard), and using BEX's Replace characters option. There will be some emphasis on passing material between BEX and other systems. This includes reading AppleWorks files and transferring material to or from the Braille 'n Speak. There will also be material on other programs for the Apple II, such as Magic Slate.

To receive more information or a registration form, contact:

Response from the National Braille Association -- Barbara Sheperdigian

[Editor's Note: We have printed several articles about certification of braille transscribers. We asked the NBA to comment.]

The following statement expresses the position of the NBA Board of Directors.

It is not the purpose of the National Braille Association to set standards for the braille codes or to certify proficiency in the codes. These responsibilities lie with the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) and the National Library Service (NLS). We support those bodies and work closely with them. NBA's concern is for the transcriber and for the quality of the braille produced, regardless of the method.

The world of braille production has been changing drastically with the development of computer technology. The impact that translation programs and Optical Character Recognition devices (OCR's) are now having on the production of braille in the United States will only increase. It is vital that everyone involved be aware of the importance of proper format, as set forth in the official braille codes, particularly for the young or inexperienced reader. We salute all who endeavor to prepare quality braille and we will continue to provide support wherever we are qualified to do so.

Sincerely, Barbara Sheperdigian, President

The National Braille Association is a sponsor of the Braille Authority of North America.

Another Perspective on the Certification Question -- Lynn Zelvin and Marj Schneider

In the July-August 1990 issue of the RDC Newsletter, Gayle Gould addresses the issue of whether people who are using translation software to produce braille "for our friends who are blind" should be certified transcribers and whether this software should be allowed in the certification process.

[Editor's note: I feel that I should have added a clarification to Gayle Gould's article. I believe that she referred to "our friends who are blind" in a broad sense. Her transcription group produces textbooks and other instructional materials to be used in schools.]

What Ms. Gould fails to consider is that some of us producing braille using translation software are blind. Even if we chose to become "certified braillists," we cannot because blind people are not allowed to take the NLS certification course. We can only be certified as proofreaders. Furthermore, her article lacks the perspective of someone for whom braille is a primary means of written communication. Therefore, we'd like to offer our view on the matter.

First of all, let's remember how ubiquitous inkprint is in this society, and how people use it--daily newspapers, magazines, catalogs, newsletters, flyers, junk mail and bills. Students receive reading handouts and homework assignments. Written material is generated by many people on the job, and communication among employees is often done in print. Then there are the personal uses of print in correspondence, notes, grocery lists, calendars and phone files. Books are not necessarily even a part of many people's reading and communication lives. But what would be the reaction if someone proposed that only certified printers could produce print? Might it not be called censorship, a restriction on our freedom of speech?

At a time when we are told that only 10% of blind people can read braille and that blind children are not always encouraged to use it because, "there's not much available in braille," how can anyone think of restricting a technology that is being used to increase the amount of very readable braille that is obtainable? Yet this would be the end result if the view that only certified transcribers should produce braille becomes the norm.

The following are just some of the ways in which braille translation software is helping to provide greater access to the inkprint world for blind people:

1. In some places, schools or school districts have procured braille printers. A teacher who is producing class materials on a computer can translate it and give the same material to a blind student, at the same time!! Anybody who has had to sit through classes, not participating, and possibly not even understanding what is going on, only to receive the paperwork in a more accessible format several days later when it's no longer relevant, will agree that it would have been preferable to get something they could look at themselves, even if it wasn't perfect. Many times the print version isn't perfect either.

2. In some workplaces where there are, for different reasons, braille printers, blind employees can get office memos in braille. Since the alternative may be not receiving important information in a timely manner, it's really not crucial whether the heading is properly centered or the word "per cent" is written out instead of using a percent sign before a number.

3. Some organizations that offer services to disabled people in general are able to print out information, such as housing or food stamp regulations for their blind clientele. Some offices are able to send braille letters containing information that needs to be taken care of quickly.

4. Some telephone companies, banks, and utilities are providing braille bills to customers through the use of computer technology. One of us has experience with such bills. Although the format wasn't elegant, the information was perfectly accurate. It was not certified transcribers, but blind people, who were involved in this effort. Being able to get this kind of mail means less money spent on readers and more privacy for the blind consumer.

5. Parents of blind children can use this technology to provide materials for their kids which aren't otherwise accessible. They can even use it to leave messages or print shopping lists. Certainly, these parents should be encouraged to learn braille, and efforts like the book

are designed to help in this situation. The daunting eighteen month certification process would be discouraging for most parents and it just isn't necessary.

6. There is a theater group of disabled people that obtained a braille printer to provide scripts and other materials for blind participants.

7. The editors of a newsletter for disabled lesbians have taken responsibility for putting out a braille version since its inception. Sometimes this means that the editors, none of whom have yet learned braille, do the formatting and translation themselves. It isn't always perfect, but they're learning because blind subscribers are very capable of offering criticism and suggestions. The editors can also send braille replies to letters from blind and deaf-blind subscribers who might be afraid to have such correspondence read by someone else.

8. National Braille Press puts out a weekly publication called

in what they call "jiffy braille." It's not like getting a newspaper, but it lets you keep up with Ann Landers and Dr. Ruth.

Many of the above examples are situations where braille would not exist if the software used contained a severe warning that it should only be used by certified braille transcribers.

The reality of print communication is that it is not perfect either. Newspapers are reputed to be full of errors. School handouts are often full of mistakes and hard for anyone to read. Whole movements and even revolutions have been founded on mimeographed leaflets and newsletters. Most computer translated braille is a lot better than plenty of print, no matter who does it.

And what is the alternative to braille? In many cases it is cassette tapes. They are very important, but remember that all features that are said to make up "good braille" are absent on tape. We don't have to worry about a few misspellings because there is very little spelling given by readers. Neither is there any punctuation. And I can't remember a taped book that made distinctions between different levels of headings. For some reason, no one seems bothered by this and there is no move under way to limit taping to certified personnel. If less braille is produced because of the fear of imperfection, tapes are all we have.

Another important point is that many people producing computer translated braille are ourselves blind. Think about what it means to say that someone can't produce anything in their own communication medium because they can't be certified in it. Or even that they should need such certification. If we can't be certified, why should we have any incentive to abide by "rules" that our sighted counterparts are putting together in newsletters and conferences that we are not invited to?

We in no way wish to slight the thousands of volunteers who have worked incredibly hard to produce very good braille for so many years. But grade 2 braille itself is somewhat antiquated, with contractions for such useless words as rejoice and thyself. We need to bring braille into the 1990's, and that requires more and more involvement in the development of our own written language. If we need to make some changes based on what's possible on a computer, WE, the blind public, need to be making those decisions. The TranscriBEX manual itself has places where it is indicated that a particular feature is not permitted by the rules of transcription, but is being included by popular demand. So the rules aren't sacred and we don't believe they should be.

Adherence to the rules is no guarantee that a braille book will be easily usable by blind people. A case in point is:

published by the National Library Service. The print edition of this book is probably quite usable, but it's really difficult to locate information in the braille version. It's easy for sighted transcribers to be somewhat unaware of the logistics of actually sitting down and reading or looking something up in braille. This book would have benefitted from reformatting for the braille edition.

At Womyn's Braille Press we produce books in braille using computer translation. These books don't all follow the finer points of the rules of transcription, but they are in very readable braille. At times we have made formatting changes to make books, especially reference books, more usable by the people who will read them. We are continuing to learn, and we follow those guidelines that seem practical. But we feel that access to the material we produce is too important to wait for perfection.

It can be likened to periodicals that are produced in print using desktop publishing software. It's not always as good as a professional would produce, but the result is a very readable end product and makes freedom of the press more free.

The most important point is that braille is a form of written communication, not a work of art to be framed on a mantlepiece. Well formatted braille printed on very good braille paper is a pleasure to read. But the ideal shouldn't be used to restrict our ability to read and to access information. I doubt if Ms. Gould would consent to restricting her own reading to that which is available in braille.

By the way, who at RDC is certified? Inquiring minds want to know!

[Editor's note: Nobody at RDC is a certified transcriber. We do, however, consult braille code books and get help occasionally from NLS or NBA in designing our braille transcription products and producing our own braille material. We believe that there is room for different levels of adherence to official codes in different kinds of braille. We aim at providing software tools which let users adhere to the rules as closely as they want to. We also recognize that haphazard use of translation software can produce poorly formatted braille that is difficult to use.]

The Braille Blazer, A Truly Personal Embosser -- Rick Roderick

[Editor's note: This review is reprinted with permission from the summer issue of the

a publication of the Kentucky Department for the Blind. In his work at the Kentucky Department for the Blind, Mr. Roderick has access to a Braille Blazer and to a Romeo Brailler. Therefore, many of his comparisons about the Braille Blazer are made with respect to the Romeo Brailler.]

The Braille Blazer is manufactured and sold for $1695 by:

At the beginning of the last decade, many said that a low-cost, computer-driven braille embosser could not be produced. In 1982, the Kentucky Bureau for the Blind constructed the first prototype of the Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler. It was a reliable but clumsy device, reaching speeds of 10-15 characters per second, depending on the model. Each sheet of paper was inserted manually, meaning that it had to be tended constantly while in use. Having no parallel port, it could not take advantage of this kind of connection provided by the new IBM PC's. Since then, a myriad of braille embossers have been produced at similar and higher cost, which have added speed, tractor feed, and a parallel port. Most of these devices are bulky, heavy, and noisy; quality has gone up, but prices have not come down.

Dean Blazie, the inventor of the Braille 'n Speak, saw a need for a lower-cost alternative to such printers as the VersaPoint and the Romeo. The Braille Blazer is the realization of this idea.

Design and Ergonomics

The Braille Blazer has a very small footprint, about half the size of a Romeo. The case is constructed of plastic, giving it a weight of only twelve pounds. The Romeo weighs 26 pounds. The Blazer can be easily carried from one room to another. On the back are the on/off switch, the serial and parallel ports, and the headphone jack. On the top are the rocker switch to manually set top of form and the three configuration buttons which control all menu settings and various paper-feed functions. All buttons and switches are well-constructed and easy to manipulate. There are no DIP switches.

There is a dust cover which is easily opened or removed. No braille embosser is truly quiet, but the Blazer is one of the least objectionable I have heard. It does not vibrate to the extent of the Romeo. The noise level is approximately that of an ordinary dot matrix printer.

The speaker is poorly placed at the back of the unit. However, there is provision for an external speaker or earphones.

Paper Handling

Two of the greatest limitations of the Braille Blazer are paper width capacity and speed. The embosser can use paper up to twelve inches long, but the maximum width it can handle is nine inches. Most embossers can handle a width of up to eleven-and-a-half inches. The Blazer is quite slow, with a speed of fifteen characters per second. However, the use of continuous tractor-feed paper makes it faster than the commercial Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler. The Blazer is self-loading. That is, after paper has been fed onto the pins, the press of two of the top three buttons simultaneously will automatically position the embosser to the top of the page and set top of form there. I found the setting a bit higher than desirable, and I repositioned the paper and the top of form by using the rocker switch on the side after top of form was set automatically. The Blazer can handle light or heavy paper. I used it with standard 20-pound computer paper and found the dots to be quite distinct.

The Blazer has both text and graphics modes. These are changed by turning over the platen. Graphics was quite good in the self-test, but I did not have the software tools for using the graphics mode in any other way. Graphics is done in much the same way as on the Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler.

For the most part, the movement of paper was quite smooth, with only occasional tangling. During brailling, the three keys on top are used for paper handling functions. They are, from top to bottom: online/offline, linefeed, and formfeed.


The Braille Blazer has a logical, easy-to-use menu structure. To get into the configuration menu system, you press the three keys on top simultaneously. The voice announces "configuration menus" and then announces the first menu, "speech menu." The keys on the 3-key pad are the skip, back, and enter keys. You use the skip and back keys to find the menu or menu item you want, and then the enter key to select it. To select a setting for a menu item, cycle through the choices with the enter key, and stop at the one you want. For example, to set speech for serial input, select the speech menu. The first question asked in the speech menu is the kind of input to speak. Use the enter key to cycle through the choices serial, parallel, and off.

The speech menu is very much like that of the Braille 'n Speak. You can change rate, pitch, volume, and the way numbers are spoken.

In The printer menu you can set type of input for printing (serial, parallel, or off). You can also set length, width, word wrap, etc.

In the serial menu you can set the parameters of the serial port: baud rate, stop bits, etc.

The average consumer uses the service menu the least. Its most useful item is the self-test, which can print in either text or graphics mode.


The Braille Blazer can be driven by a word processor, such as WordPerfect; this produces computer braille. This gave good results, as long as I set proper braille margins and used the standard DOS printer driver. More commonly, this embosser would be driven by a braille translation program. We used Hot Dots from Raised Dot Computing. First we tried the Hot Dots "vanilla driver" and got extra blank pages inserted between the correctly brailled pages. Then we used the Hot Dots Cranmer driver and set the Braille Blazer to print 25 lines per page; this got rid of the problem of blank pages. I have been informed now that a new firmware revision on the Braille Blazer allows it to be set for a form length of 0 lines. This allows the braille translation program to take complete control of page divisions; in this case, the vanilla driver would work.


Speech was similar to that of a Braille 'n Speak. Its quality could be described as moderate, better than the Echoes but not as good as the Accent from Aicom Corporation or the Audapter from Personal Data Systems. We tested the Blazer with Flipper, using the Braille 'n Speak driver. There were some problems. Using Flipper's single character echo, most letters were read only occasionally. However, we did hear all punctuation. The parameters of the speech synthesizer could not be controlled with this driver. We also tried the echo driver. Speech and other parameters could be controlled at times, but they would often revert back to default settings. After only a few minutes of use, the Blazer and the computer would lock up, making it necessary to reboot. The Braille Blazer's most recent firmware revision may take care of these problems.


The Braille Blazer is reasonably priced at $1695. This is by far the lowest price of any braille printer available. Dean Blazie has explained that this savings is possible because there are fewer solenoids and other parts needed to accommodate the lower speed and the smaller paper size. The original product was offered at an introductory price of $1495. But even at its current price, the Braille Blazer is a bargain.

The Braille Blazer and RDC's Apple II Computer: Their First Meeting -- Caryn Navy

At the Closing the Gap conference in Minnesota this past October, a very welcome visitor at the RDC booth weighed only 12 pounds. It was a Braille Blazer, the personal use brailler from Blazie Engineering (see the previous article). Dean Blazie very graciously allowed us to borrow the unit at our booth, and we got some hands-on experience with it. We concentrated on using the Braille Blazer with the Apple II programs BEX and pixCELLS.

Since we did not bring any 8-1/2 by 11 inch braille paper with us, we used continuous-form computer paper, intended for inkprint output. In the Blazer's printer menu we set paper weight for light, and the dot quality was very acceptable for short-term personal use.

The Connection

We had an Apple IIc computer at our booth. We used our 2M cable to connect port 1 of the Apple IIc to the serial port on the Braille Blazer.

On an Apple IIe computer we would use an RDC 6M cable to connect a Super Serial Card with RDC standard switch settings (Interface Guide Section 3) to the serial port on the Braille Blazer. On an Apple IIgs we would use an RDC 11M cable to connect the built-in Apple IIgs port to the serial port on the Braille Blazer. (See Interface Guide page 1:6 for setting up a IIgs port.)

Configuring the Braille Blazer

The Braille Blazer uses speech output for communicating with the user in the configuration menu system. In the noisy environment of a conference exhibit floor, we were very glad that we could use an earphone for this speech output. (To accommodate deaf-blind users and European users, the folks at Blazie Engineering plan to make braille output in the configuration menus an alternative.)

In the printer menu on the Braille Blazer, we set port to serial. We also set left margin to 1, right margin to 34 (the Apple software takes care of the right margin), lines per page to 0 (the Apple software takes care of sending out form feeds to move from page to page), word wrap to off, auto linefeed to off, and paper length to 11 inches. On the serial menu, we set baud rate to 9600, parity to none, stop bits to 2, data bits to 8, and handshake to hardware.

BEX and the Braille Blazer

In our BEX configuration, we included a BEX printer set-up for the Braille Blazer. For this BEX printer, we selected class B for brailler and brailler number 5 for Thiel. We continued by specifying carriage width of 30 and form length of 25. We did not give any automatic set-up sequence.

When we brailled some material from BEX, the output on the Braille Blazer came out fine.

pixCELLS and the Braille Blazer

Carolyn, our shipping goddess, was the pixCELLS pro at the conference. To configure pixCELLS for the Braille Blazer, she asked for Romeo Brailler and changed dots per line to 90 and dots per page to 111.

Carolyn was able to emboss some wonderful graphics samples on the Braille Blazer. Highlights were a map of the Persian Gulf region, some geometry diagrams, and some decorative items like hearts. Before the conference, Carolyn had created a file for embossing a Persian Gulf map on the VersaPoint. The VersaPoint, which accommodates wider paper, allows more dots per line. At the conference she made a copy of the file and modified it for the narrower paper on the Braille Blazer.

We very much enjoyed having the Braille Blazer as a companion for our Apple II at the Closing the Gap conference. For information on the Braille Blazer contact Blazie Engineering (see Facts on File). We at RDC sell the VersaPoint brailler, which is faster and accommodates wider paper. For information on the VersaPoint call us at (608) 257-9595.

Print into Grade One Braille: French, German, and Italian -- David Holladay

In the previous issue of the Newsletter, we described a disk which modifies the BEX back translator, which translates braille into print, for use with foreign language grade one braille. This program disk, which we call the

is available free of charge.

We received a number of requests for this disk. Some of the letters indicated a desire to use inkprint data entry to produce foreign language grade one braille. The

does not contain any tools for producing foreign language braille; it helps those writing foreign language grade one braille to produce proper inkprint output of the material.

Raised Dot Computing sells a module for BEX called TranscriBEX. TranscriBEX consists of a series of tools and instructions for producing better braille output. In developing TranscriBEX, we included some translation tools for producing grade one foreign language braille. While these translation tools are actually in BEX now, only the TranscriBEX Manual describes how to produce foreign language grade one braille. Because of the response to the last Newsletter, we think it is time to tell BEX users how to do it.

Spanish is Different

To produce Spanish grade one braille, you need a special transformation chapter. Please write to us and ask for a copy if you need it. The disk will include all the instructions you need.

French, German, and Italian

When text is primarily English, show any accent marks in isolated foreign words or short phrases by entering an at-sign (@) before the accented letter. The at-sign is translated into the braille generic accent sign, dot 4.

In a text that is primarily in a foreign language, braille uses a different system for showing accented letters. The foreign language portions are in grade one braille, and accented letters are shown as special symbols. At the start of any foreign language portion of the book, enter the four characters space, underbar, lowercase o, space ( _o ) to switch into grade one translation. If the text returns to English, return to grade two translation by entering the four characters space, underbar, lowercase l, space ( _l ) where English resumes. If the entire book is in the foreign language, simply enter the ( _o ) translator control at the start of the book.

In grade one braille, numbers and punctuation and capitalization are the same as in grade two braille. No braille contractions are used at all. This means that quite a few braille cells (the cells for:

etc.) are available for other purposes. Some of these symbols are used for accented letters in foreign material.

The entry codes for accented letters consist of three typed characters: a letter, a less than sign (<), and a punctuation mark that resembles the inkprint accent mark. When the BEX braille translator hits one of these combinations, it generates the correct single braille cell for the accented letter. For example, the entry code for a letter

with an acute accent is {a<'} (the apostrophe mark resembles the acute accent mark). Here is the list of the different kinds of accent marks and the punctuation marks with which we represent them in this system:

Here is a chart showing the various combinations. It shows the accented letter, the entry code, and the resulting braille.

Getting Inkprint Output with Accented Letters

The data entry codes for creating accented letters in braille are very similar to what you need to create inkprint output of accented letters. Just replace the less than signs with the character control-H (the backspace, or left arrow character). On most printers, a control-H causes the printer to back up one character, and the next character stays in the same place as the previous character (overstriking). For example, o <control-H> caret would print out as a letter o with an overstriking caret, which looks like an o circumflex.

If you had a file using the entry codes as described above, you could quickly convert it into a form for inkprint output. just use the Replace characters option to replace all less-than signs with <control-H>.

Here are Two reminders about using the control-H character as data: When you are answering the replacement string prompts on the fly (not using an existing transformation chapter), press the left arrow key (or control-H) at the very first {Find} prompt in order to include control-H in one of your strings. Also, to enter control-H in the BEX Editor, press control-C and then H.

Bona Fortuna!

Joy of TranscriBEX -- Caryn Navy

It has been many months since we have had this column in the Newsletter. But we have not forgotten about our TranscriBEX users.

Translation Control Over Apostrophes and Quotes

An apostrophe character in your inkprint data entry may become one of three characters in braille: an apostrophe (dot 3), an open single quote (dots 6, 2-3-6), or a close single quote (dots 3-5-6, 3). Sometimes the translator generates the wrong one. For example, an apostrophe at the beginning of a word usually becomes an open single quote, a mistake in words like

and To correct this problem, enter {>'} (greater-than followed by apostrophe) to force a braille apostrophe. For example, enter {>'cause}. This is documented in Section 8 of the TranscriBEX Manual.

There are also situations where you want a single quote but the translator creates an apostrophe. To force an open single quote, enter {<<'}; to force a close single quote, enter {>>'}. This is generally needed for an open single quote before or after the letter s. For example, to braille the word

in single quotes, enter {<<'systems>>'}. These two translation data entry codes are not mentioned in the TranscriBEX Manual! They were added after the manual was writen.

While we're at it, here are two additional undocumented translation data entry codes. The double quote symbol in inkprint becomes one of two symbols in braille: openquote (dots 2-3-6) or close quote (dots 3-5-6). The translator rarely makes a mistake here. However, you can force an open or close quote if you need to. To force an open quote, enter {<<"}. To force a close quote, enter {>>"}. For example, suppose you want an open parenthesis followed by an open quote and an ellipsis. When you enter {("...}, the translator gives you a close quote. So enter {(<<"...}. Again, you will not find this in the TranscriBEX Manual!

When a Braille Page Number Clobbers Text

We would like to thank two TranscriBEX users, Susan Floyd Mooney and Kay Travnicek, for pointing out a somewhat rare but unfortunate glitch in TranscriBEX formatting. When braille text and a page number occur on the same braille line, all braille formats call for at least three spaces of separation between text and page number. Thanks to the reports given by these two transcribers, we have found one case where TranscriBEX violates this rule.

When the reported problem occurs, text on the bottom line in textbook format does not stop three spaces before the braille page number. Instead, text continues right up to the page number and may be partially covered up by it. The problem is fairly rare because four things must happen simultaneously to create the potential for this problem to occur: You are using \\textbookformat.

You are using a TranscriBEX format that involves a BEX left margin greater than 0 and the use of paragraph indicators. We believe that this limits the problem to the \\proseplay and \\verseplay formats.

A line of dashes indicating a new print page occurs on the next-to-last line of the braille page.


What does this mean for you? Here are two possible work-arounds:

1. When you are using \\proseplay or \\verseplay in \\textbookformat, never use a paragraph indicator immediately after a \\pp [number] command. In this situation, use a carriage return followed by the command \\left instead of a paragraph indicator to introduce the new speaker. This will keep the problem from occurring. The only drawback of this approach is that the change of speaker will not appear as a new paragraph in the BEX Editor.

2. When you are using \\proseplay or \\verseplay in \\textbookformat, do the data entry as if this problem did not exist. However, when you use the preview brailler, look for the problem. Look for a new print page indicator line on the next-to-last line of a braille page followed by a new speaker, to see if the problem occurs on the bottom line. The problem should be very rare. Where it occurs, fix the original chapter by using a carriage return followed by \\left instead of a paragraph indicator, as described in work-around 1. The drawback of this approach is that it requires extra processing.

If you are using a different work-around, please share it with us.

Information on InWords Coming Soon -- David Holladay

We have been hearing interesting rumors about the possibility of optical character recognition on the Apple II computer. The Quickie, a hand scanner for the Apple II, has been available for some time and costs anywhere from $200 to $250. But scanning text into a computer also requires software to perform optical character recognition.

WestCode Software has announced InWords, optical character recognition software to work with the Quickie scanner on the Apple II. Their phone number is (619) 679-9200. According to preliminary information, the InWords software will be available for $129. It requires an Apple IIgs or an enhanced Apple IIe with at least 512K of memory.

Based on the description from the vendor, it is highly doubtful that a blind person could operate the system independantly. However, we would like to find out how well, if at all, this combination could function as a low-cost, Apple-based system assisting transcribers in the preparation of braille.

We have been promised an evaluation system as soon as it is available. Watch this Newsletter for more information!

Bulletin Board

Henter-Joyce is Moving

Henter-Joyce, the makers of JAWS and other sensory aids products, is moving. Their new address is:

Please note that the toll free number and the fax number have been changed.

The Microwave Times now available in braille

The Microwave Times is a bimonthly microwave cooking magazine featuring an average of 45 pretested recipes per issue and tips and techniques of microwave cooking. Now it is available in braille and on tone-indexed cassette. This magazine has been produced in print since 1975 and is for use with any microwave oven. It has proven to be a very effective teaching tool, promoting a safe method of cooking for everyone, especially the disabled. The price is $34 for a year subscription in braille, or $31 for tone-indexed cassette with binder.

Please make check or money order payable to:

New Educational Resource Center for Women and Girls with Disabilities

In the educational system, often girls and women with disabilities are unseen and underserved. The new Educational Resource Center being launched by Educational Equity Concepts will address this inequity. Funded by The Women's Educational Equity Act Program of the U.S. Department of Education, the Educational Resource Center will further educational opportunities for women and girls with disabilities by systematically collecting information and making it available to educational institutions and organizations as well as individual women and girls who are disabled.

The need for an Educational Resource Center is urgent: 75% of women with disabilities are neither high school educated nor employed; one out of every six women with disabilities has less than eight years of formal education; 66% of women with disabilities attend high school--only 1/3 graduate; women with disabilities are half as likely as women without disabilities to have some college education; after twelve years of education, women who are disabled all too often find themselves without employment or continuing education.

With the passage of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the climate is right for promoting more mainstreamed programs that address the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities in general and women with disabilities in particular. The Educational Resource Center will enable individual women as well as educational institutions and organizations to better meet the expanding options and opportunities that this landmark legislation will foster.

The Educational Resource Center is a project of The National Clearinghouse on Women and Girls with Disabilities. The Clearinghouse recently published

the first national directory of services for women and girls with disabilities, along with a revised and expanded edition of

Educational Equity Concepts, Inc. is a national nonprofit organization founded to actively promote equal opportunity by creating school and community education programs and materials to empower groups who because of sex, race, and disability bias are outside the economic mainstream.

For information, contact:

Accessible Information on the Americans with Disabilities Act

We recently sent away to the U.S. Department of Justice for a copy of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We wanted to know how this legislation might affect us and our customers. We found the text somewhat different from our expectations.

The full text of the Americans with Disabilities Act is available in the following accessible formats: Braille, Large Print, Audiotape, Electronic file on computer disk, and the electronic bulletin board at (202) 514-6193.

For a copy of the text or for additional information, contact:

A New Tactual Graphics Business is Being Born

Carolyn Briggs has been inspired to start a side line business to produce and sell tactual graphics. Braille greeting cards for all occasions and maps of worlds, cities, or buildings will be available. For samples and information, contact:

Optacon for sale

For sale: Optacon purchased in the mid 70's. It includes the charger, carrying case, and the typewriter lens module for the Smith-Carona typewriter. The price is $500 or best offer.


Transcriptionist Available

Jillian Queen is a sighted braille transcriber. She does textbooks, tactual graphics by hand, foreign languages, Nemeth Code, and most other kinds of braille transcription. Cost is determined by the number of braille pages.


Facts on File

Addresses Mentioned

About the Authors

David Holladay is still thrilled to send and receive faxes. His most difficult faxing experience was sending a fax to Armenia.

Caryn Navy enjoyed preparing a sample braille bus schedule for one of the Madison Metro bus routes.

Rick Roderick is an Assistive Technology Specialist at the Kentucky Department for the Blind.

Marj Schneider is one of the founders of Womyn's Braille Press, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. She has been a member of the Board of Directors for the entire history of WBP. Every year at the Closing the Gap conference in a suburb of Minneapolis, the RDC exhibitors look forward to the wonderful food she brings to our booth on the last day of the conference.

Barbara Sheperdigian is the President of the National Braille Association. When Caryn attended an NBA conference, she learned a lot from Barbara Sheperdigian's workshop on Textbook Format.

Lynn Zelvin is a member of the Board of Directors of Womyn's Braille Press. Part of her work with WBP is serving as an in-house computer specialist.

The RDC Full Cell Plus

Carolyn Briggs, Shipping Goddess; Phyllis Herrington, Tech Support; David Holladay, President; Aaron Leventhal, Software Development; Linda Millard, Bookkeeper; Susan Murray, Office Manager; Caryn Navy, Vice-President.

Production Notes

Written & edited with RDCUs BEX on an Apple IIgs. BEX commands changed to RTF/Interchange format control words with BEXUs Contextual Replace. File transfer with BEX and Hayes Smartcom II to an Apple Macintosh Plus. RTF commands interpreted and the spell checked by Microsoft Word 4.0. Pages composed with Aldus PageMaker 3.02, output on an Apple LaserWriter, and printed at the Print Shop. Two track audio edition mastered on APH Recorder and copied on high speed Recordex 3-to-1 duplicators.


Apple Computer, Inc: Apple IIc, Apple IIe, Apple IIgs, Macintosh, ProDOS; Blazie Engineering: Braille Blazer, Braille 'n Speak; International Business Machines Corp.: IBM-PC; Raised Dot Computing, Inc.: BEX, Hot Dots, TranscriBEX; Street Electronics: Echo II; TeleSensory: VersaPoint; WordPerfect Corporation: WordPerfect.