Off-Topic: Computing for the Blind

Martin McCormick martin at
Tue Mar 27 13:39:43 UTC 2012

Polytropon writes:
> That's correct. However, unlike a Braille readout which
> gives tactile information (through the reader's hands),
> synthetic voice cannot easily accomodate to the reader's
> habits and reading speed. "Scanning text" is not possible
> as the generated voiced text is played in "linear time",
> which means you cannot easily skip forward and backward,
> re-read a certain passage, and you basically do not come
> down to the "letter level", you only have a "word level".

	You are absolutely right on all counts. I was speaking
from the standpoint of the amount of work and or extra expense
that one would need to go through to get the interface fully
operational. Nobody has yet figured out how to build a Braille
display that is affordable, let's say 100 US Dollars or less for
even one line of Braille much less a whole page or better yet a
graphical screen that could display shapes and possibly textures
that are not Braille characters. Prices of 5000 Dollars are not
uncommon and single-line displays sell for well over 1000
Dollars anywhere you go.

	What is needed is a way to accomplish a tactile matrix
that doesn't require precision machining or hand assembly for
each pixel. That's why today's displays are so incredibly
expensive and delicate.

	There are lots of neat ideas such as stimulators you
might ware on your fingers as you move your hand over a large
area, but making a tightly-packed matrix at almost microscopic
level is still a pains-taking task.

	By the way, math done by any method other than Braille
is darn next to useless. Equations in Braille can be formatted
very much like they are in print and there is a whole Braille
system for reading and writing math. So, I am not disagreeing at
all with what you wrote here, just clarifying why I made the
statements I made.

> While this has benefits in "unconcentrated reading" (e. g.
> reading an article or literature", it can be problematic
> with scientific or technical text where a (healthy) reader
> would let his eyes "jump" within the text stream.

	The thing I hate the most these days is the lost art of
the linear declarative sentence. If the output of a program is
some full-screen form in which the information one wants is in
check boxes, you have to listen to the whole !%#%00--- thing
just to find out whether or not it worked. There are usually one
or two things we really wanted to know and the rest is unchanged
but must be endured to get the one or two grains of wheat in all
that chaff.

	Since it's full-screen stuff, it is hard to pipe to a
script so I guess the artists are happy and the rest of us are
just tapping our feet impatiently waiting for the water torture
to end.

	Fortunately, unix operations are still relatively free
from the worst GUI parlor tricks, but I use safari on a Mac to
access some Windows-centric web sites related to work and they
make me want to straighten out a horse shoe without a forge I
get so mad at listening to the minutes of audio with the results
of what I did always at or near the last of the text and there
seems to be no way to stanch the deluge without loosing the gold

	In conclusion, FreeBSD has been another wonderful
open-source platform as far as I can say. Many of the systems I
run it on here do not have sound cards and are either on virtual
boxes, in other buildings or towns and so a speech or Braille
console directly on the system isn't possible so I have always
used some other device to provide accessibility and never been
disappointed. After all, it's unix which means one can expect
certain behaviors regarding standard devices.


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