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Making Knowledge Accessible to the Blind - Challenges and Opportunities

1 July 2023
Michal Gil- Peretz
blind in the sea

Based on an interview with Amos Be'er, Director General of the Central Library for the Blind and Reading Impaired

Background / Introduction

Braille is a script designed for the blind and visually impaired who, due to their visual limitations, use their sense of touch to read various texts. Braille was invented in the mid-19th century by Louis Braille.

Type is based on prominent dots printed on paper – each character and symbol consists of a different combination of six dots. In addition, there is an electronic version of Braille, designed for reading texts on a computer. In this script, each character and symbol consists of a different combination of eight dots, which allows the expression of final letters, capital in Latin, bold script (BOLD), mathematical symbols, etc., which could not be expressed by the six points alone.

Braille is an international script, based on identical combinations of six-eight dots in all languages, for the same letters with a similar sound, for example, A in Hebrew and A in English will be written in the same way. Also B in Hebrew and B in English, and so on. Letters with different sounds will be written differently in each language. Thus, to know in which language the text being read is written, You must find unique letters (for example, capital letters at the beginning of a sentence).

Unique challenges for unique languages

A unique challenge for the blind population is the direction of reading and writing – Braille is read from left to right in all languages, including languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and the like, which are read and written in the opposite direction to that of Braille, i.e. from right to left.

The fact that these languages use diacritics is also a challenge since the graphic expression of diacritics in Braille had to be invented. In Hebrew, it turns out, there are several different graphic expressions, which developed in Israel simultaneously. For this purpose, several conversion tables must be familiarized with to consume dotted Braille.

Languages written with symbols and symbols (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, etc.) pose an additional challenge for Braille readers, due to the necessity of using specially agreed symbols, which had to be developed specifically for Braille.

Making Mathematics Accessible

Challenges and coping strategies

Mathematical symbols written in Braille have agreed-upon base symbols, such as plus, minus, etc. Other symbols, such as root, presumption, etc., are written as words. One of the challenges, then, for students is the need to "translate" the signs into words, in addition to the challenge of using Braille. According to Amos Be'er, coping with this challenge was not an obstacle for him, when he chose to take the 5-unit math test. The only problem was the length of the answers...

Making graphics accessible

Challenges and coping strategies

The technological development of recent decades has greatly contributed to making the field of graphics accessible to the blind public. Today some printers can print embossed graphics, which allows tangible accessibility of images, maps, etc., by using different textures and drawing outlines.

There are international bodies responsible for making maps accessible, as well as collaborations between libraries around the world, which share knowledge between them and contribute to uniformity of knowledge accessible to the blind public.

3D printers also help make it accessible to the blind, and in the future will even be able to express fonts of different styles, italics, etc.

Braille display

The Braille display is a means of computer I/O that makes digital information displayed by the computer accessible by touch, and also allows writing in Braille, and translating it into digital input on the computer. The monitor is the human-machine interface not only for the blind and visually impaired, but also for blind-deaf people, who due to their dual disabilities cannot use screen reading technology, which is common today in many devices, Such as computers, smartphones, etc.

The Braille display includes a pin system, which the computer can highlight and hide to display the digital information for the blind. The braille display pin system "translates" one written digital line into Braille. Using a pulley installed on the monitor, it is possible to move between the lines, thus consuming digital information from the Internet, Office software, and the like. In the same way, the display can be written in Braille, and the text is "translated" into digital information accessible on the computer. Sometimes the Braille monitor is placed in front of a keyboard Normal, in a way that it is easy for the blind person to switch between the two typing methods.

The Braille display opened up an entire world for people with visual, vision, and hearing disabilities, and promoted their ability to integrate optimally into the world of sight and hearing. So, for example, you can write and read using the Braille monitor, and listen to music at the same time.

Braille Literacy

Like sighted children learning to read and write in elementary school, blind children learn to use Braille during their first three years of schooling. Braille literacy is first acquired in Braille printed on paper. They must also learn to write, that is, to print on a braille machine. In more advanced classes, they learn to read and write using a Braille display.

Challenges and coping strategies

Elderly blind people, who are exposed in old age to the Braille monitor, may experience difficulty in switching from printed Braille to using the Braille monitor, just as among the adult sighted population, they may experience difficulty in switching from reading a printed book to reading various digital books.

There is a high chance that blind people, who have abandoned their Braille literacy and switched to consuming information exclusively through audio, will have more spelling mistakes. Hence the high importance of learning Braille at an early age, and imparting Braille literacy, which is the basis for the ability to consume information in general, and digital information in particular.

In contrast to the seer population, which once they have learned to read and write, perceive with their own eyes any written information to which they are exposed, even if unconsciously, blind people must devote special effort to maintaining a high level of literacy so that they can experience the current world and the endless amounts of information it contains today.

The one-size-fits-all vision of knowledge – not just for the seer population!

Explanation

There are several organizations around the world that constitute the light and naïve in the field of access to knowledge for the blind and reading impaired, which are engaged, inter alia, in disseminating updates and changes that have become accepted around the world over the years. A prominent example of such a body is the Perkins Library in New England, USA, which is an international repository of knowledge on a variety of subjects, such as printed Braille books, printed literature in large print, recorded books, and so on.


Challenges and coping strategies

But not everything is rosy in the Braille world either, and there is still work to be done for uniformity of knowledge. It turns out, for example, that there are certain differences in digital braille between Apple and Microsoft computers. There are also different versions of different mathematical symbols. For this purpose, conversion tables exist, and discussions and debates are held about the correct way to make them accessible. According to Amos Be'er, there is currently no single global central body responsible for international standards.

All these and more pose additional challenges for the blind population, but they can also be an opportunity if only there is someone who decides to invest in it.


Finally,

In Israel, the Central Library for the Blind and Reading Impaired leads the field of accessibility for the blind public. The library deals not only with making books in various formats accessible but also with the cultural accessibility of films, television programs, and other cultural events. This type of cultural accessibility enables blind people to take an active part in social and cultural life in Israel, thereby increasing their sense of belonging to society as a whole.

When you think about it, this is another facet of the world of knowledge management, in which all the elements that make up the field are expressed. At the end of the day, we are all human beings, whether we see or not.


* Full disclosure: The author has been volunteering for the past three years as an announcer at the Central Library for the Blind and Reading Impaired. Sources:

Amos Be'er, Director General of the Central Library for the Blind and Reading Impaired

Braille on Wikipedia

Louis Braille on Wikipedia

Hebrew Braille on Wikipedia

Perkins Library, USA

Download Braille font for PC- https://www.fontyukle.net/classification/Braille

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