Paperless braille, magnetic tape, and display readers
Everyone knows the story of how anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller how to understand the meaning of words. It was by pumping cold water on her hand from the family well and then tapping out the spelling of the word water on her palm to communicate what it was she felt. The world of language and eventually reading was opened up to Helen by her teacher and this literate method of touch.Skip to next paragraph
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Joan and Leonard Rose of Falmouth, Mass. want to do the same thing for sightless people in a modern way. And they believe their invention, the Rose Braille Display Reader, a paperless braille word processor that employs magnetic-tape cassettes, will be as effective as the water and well Anne Sullivan used.
In an age of increased awareness of the special requirements of handicapped persons, their Braille reader meets as well as anticipates the following needs for print material by persons not now able to see:
* The large amount of space needed to store Braille material.
* The lack of portability of texts due to sheer weight.
* The high cost of Braille.
* A chance for the sightless to participate fully in the electronic revolution brought about by word processors, home computers, and microcomputers.
Leonard Scadden of the US Department of Education, Bureau of Education for the Handicapped, calls it "the first device to come up with a full page of paperless Braille display. Braille is a very important medium of information for the blind and the Rose Reader meets this need."
Allen Dittmann, research coordinator for the US Department of Education and project manager of the federal grant the Roses' received in developing their Braille reader, says, "Sighted people don't realize the terrible inconvenience of Braille. A blind person needs a wheelbarrow to carry a complete book."
* If the Gideons International were to place Braille editions of the King James Version in motel rooms, each Bible would require 15 volumes for the Old Testament and 5 volumes for the New Testament, 20 in all (a Braille volume is 12 inches by 12 inches by 2 inches thick).
* A Webster's standard desk dictionary is 72 volumes in Braille and a 20 -volume (inkprint) edition of the World Book Encyclopedia translates into 168 volumes in Braille and takes up over 74 feet of shelf space.
At present, $2.5 million a year is spent just paying for the postal costs of Braille texts, Dr. Dittman says. Braille texts are mailed free to libraries and schools, but the taxpayer ultimately picks up the tab. Having the information stored on cassettes would produce significant annual savings, he says.
The Roses' envision a triad of terminals avialable to a sightless student -- in the home, at school, and in the local public library. (The number of terminals in the latter two locations to be determined by user demand.)
"One of the applications we are most excited about is in the field of education," says Joan Rose. "Instead of staggering back and forth to school with the paper Braille texts needed for homework and review, the student can tuck the necessary tapes into his or her pocket. Until this moment, doing an average homework assignment has created an intolerable daily transportation burden for the blind student."
The size and layout of the braille cells and the size of the individual dots in the Roses' reader are exactly the same as those found on the conventional Braille book page, (42 characters across and 25 lines down). The difference is that one tape holds the equivalent of 500 pages of paper Braille.