In the early 1990’s right after the Americans with Disablities Act was signed into law I helped incorporate a Braillex screen reader / keyboard into a PC with custom mainframe applications to enable the company I worked for to hire their first blind customer service representative. It took a great deal of concerted effort with the PC vendor, Papenmeier, & third tier support at the terminal emulator software vendor because midstream in the emulator’s translation characters typed by the agent echoed back and switched from EBCDIC to ASCII, which meant our blind agent couldn’t see some special characters and others that they typed would move the cursor wildly across the screen. We hired some assembly language gurus to code a keyboard scanner that captured and faked the echo back from the terminal emulator which worked great. After that we used the knowledge gained to enable other blind agents to work at Telecommunications Relay for Deaf call centers as well. Technology has moved forward a lot since those days, with sites like BARD, bluetooth connections, and new devices.
Now it’s time to look into the future – as we move to the Internet of Things, and as we encounter new devices, what is the future of Braille? Here’s an article on the new report from the Library of Congress
The Future of Braille” Report Presents Recommendations for Improving Literacy Opportunities
Deputy Librarian of Congress Robert J. Dizard Jr. today released a report exploring issues related to braille, the literacy tool that makes independence possible for people who cannot see to read regular print, at the National Federation of the Blind national convention in Orlando, Florida.
"The Future of Braille: NLS Braille Summit Presentations and Outcomes" details the proceedings of a conference held by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in partnership with the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19–22, 2013. It was attended by more than 100 librarians, instructors, producers, and other experts in the field of braille.
NLS director Karen Keninger said, "This was the first gathering of its type since the early 20th century. People were eager to share their experiences and to contribute their ideas to help shape the course of this important literacy tool."
"The Library of Congress has been providing braille books since it was authorized by law to provide free library service for people who are blind or have low vision," Dizard explained. "This program, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, has recently expanded to include electronic braille, which is downloaded over the Internet from the Braille and Audio Reading Download site (known as BARD) and read using braille embossers or note-takers with a Bluetooth connection.
"The Braille Summit is a product of our effort to keep this medium at the forefront of library service," Dizard said.
Speakers included Peter Osborne, chief braille officer of the United Kingdom’s Royal National Institute of Blind People, Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in Washington, D.C., and other notables in the field. Panels discussed improvements in the braille code, methods of producing braille, lowering costs, leveraging technology, and addressing misperceptions about the literacy tool.
Participants recognized that collaboration is the way forward for strengthening braille literacy. As NLS has been a leader in ensuring access to reading materials, the gathering recommended that NLS support efforts to update braille technology and specifications. They also recommended that the service provide a low-cost braille display in the same way that it provides audio-playback equipment.
Other stakeholders were encouraged to address the shortage of teachers and cost prohibitions, promote braille as a communications tool, make better use of technology to reduce the cost of braille production and to produce a low-cost braille display unit.
The report is available online at www.loc.gov/nls/.
NLS administers the braille and talking-book program, a free library service available to U.S. residents and American citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, or disability makes reading regular materials difficult. Through its national network of libraries, NLS mails books and magazines in audio and braille formats and digital audio equipment directly to enrollees at no cost. Music instructional materials are also provided. Selected materials may be downloaded. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/nls/ or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).
The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.