Christchurch-based Pulse Data International has launched a notebook computer with word processing, personal organiser and email software for blind people. It is based on Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system, and allows information to be keyed in and read using the Braille coding system of embossed dots.
The machine, known as the Braille Note, is to be marketed internationally, with Europe as an initial focus.
Braille characters consist of a matrix of six embossed dots per character. On the Braille Note, there is an additional pair of dots representing cursor position and other characteristics of the text. Display is by way of a row of 32 matrices of pins, each representing one character. The pins are raised and lowered by the machine as appropriate, so they can be felt. The characters can of course be scrolled across and down, to view a document through the 32-character “window”.
Because Braille is an abbreviated language, 32 characters represents as much as 50 characters of text, says Pulse Data managing director Russell Smith. The machine also has a speech synthesiser for those who sometimes prefer a rapid readout, but this cannot convey the formatting of the document, whereas Braille display can.
Input uses a Braille keyboard where a number of keys are depressed simultaneously for each character, each key representing a raised dot.
The machine runs its own word-processing, email and personal organiser applications, suitable to the needs of blind people; but the documents produced by the word-processing program are readable in Microsoft Word. Similarly a Word document can be read from a PC screen into a Braille Note.
Microsoft provided assistance in navigating the complexities of WinCE to create suitable applications, says Smith.
There are only about 500 people in New Zealand who read Braille, Smith says; hence the need to aim early for an overseas market; but every blind child in a New Zealand school is still taught Braille. After a dip in use following the availability of reasonably-priced text-to-voice synthesis, Braille has now recovered a relatively high level of use in Europe, and is on its way back in the US, he says.
The Braille Note is equipped with a modem. It can be plugged into the serial port of a PC to convey documents between the two, and can be connected with other digital equipment for the use of blind people.