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A braille translator is a software program that translates a script into braille cells, and sends it to a braille embosser, which produces a hard copy in braille script of the original text. Basically only the script is transformed, not the language.
For the purposes of this article, the word "inkprint" means text prepared for reading by the eye, whether actually printed, displayed on a screen, or stored in a computer. The word "braille" means text prepared for reading by the finger, whether actually brailled, displayed on an electronic braille device, or stored in a computer.
Braille-translation software (or embedded hardware) converts inkprint into braille or braille into inkprint. The usual circumstance is that someone has inkprint in a word processor file or at an internet URL, and they want braille. The braille could be sent to a braille embosser to produce physical braille or be sent to an electronic braille notetaker. Another circumstance is that someone has braille in an electronic braille notetaker that they want produced in inkprint to be shared with someone who does not read braille.
Braille-translation software is usually classified as Assistive Technology, since the action of the software provides braille for a blind person. Braille translators can be run by persons with or without sight.
Some languages use uncontracted braille, where each letter uses a specific braille character. Uncontracted braille requires manipulation of capitalization, emphasis, numbers, and punctuation. Some languages use contracted braille, where the rules for various contractions (braille abbreviations) are quite complex.
For example, in contracted English braille, the inkprint word think (5 letters) is rendered in braille as 3 characters: ⠹⠔⠅(th)(in)k. The use or non-use of these braille contractions is related to word pronunciation, For example, the "th" sign is used in the word "think", but not in the word "pothole". Unless properly programmed, a computer might make a mistake that no person would make, such as using the contraction for "mother" in the word "chemotherapy".
The most difficult part of producing braille is making the decision of when to use and when not to use braille contractions. When people make these decisions, it is braille transcription, when computers make these decisions, it is braille translation.
During the 1960s, there was an M.I.T. Project to automate the production of braille. Robert Mann wrote and supervised software for braille translation called "DOTSYS," while another group created an embossing device which became known as the "M.I.T. Braillemboss.". Eventually, MIT out-sourced the software work to MITRE Corp. of Bedford MA. The MITRE Corporation team of Robert Gildea, Jonathan Millen, Reid Gerhart and Joseph Sullivan (now president of Duxbury Systems) developed DOTSYS III, the first braille translator written in a portable programming language. DOTSYS III was developed for the Atlanta Public Schools as a public domain program.
At the first International Workshop on Computerized Braille Production, held in Muenster, Germany, March 1973, many braille-translation projects from around the world were described.
An archive of documents on the history of braille, braille translation, and some braille devices is maintained by Duxbury Systems.
- Duxbury Systems (Duxbury DBT, supports over 130 languages and math)
- Documents on Automated Braille Production: An Historical Resource
- Blista-Brailletec GmbH (German braille production software)
- Support for wireless braille displays in iOS 5, Apple Accessibility retrieved 3/29/2012
- Robobraille (server-based braille software) retrieved 3/29/2012
- Braille Translation System for the IBM 704 by Ann S. Schack and R.T. Mertz, 1961 retrieved 3/30/2016
- Computer Translation: Grade 2 from Print; Report of American Printing House of the Blind, by Ann Schack, et al., June 1969 retrieved 3/30/2016
- Robert W. Mann, Sc.D., Selected Perspectives on a Quarter Century of Rehabilitation Engineering, Journal of Rehabilitation Research, and Development Vol. 23 No. 4, Pages 1-6 retrieved 3/30/2016
- History of Duxbury Systems, retrieved 3/29/2012
- Computerised Braille Production Proceedings of the First International Workshop in Münster Germany, 1973 edited by R. A. J. Gildea, G. Hubner, H. Werner, 1974 retrieved 3/30/2016
- Documents on Automated Braille Production: An Historical Resource retrieved 3/30/2016