February 1998

Root Page of Article: The Quest for Access to Science by People with Print Impairments, by John A. Gardner

A Printer for Blind People

Braille printers can print braille words from text files. Most can also print in a "graphics" mode in which the dots are uniformly spaced. unfortunately one cannot print both braille characters and graphics simultaneously.

The braille graphics cannot be printed from standard computer graphics applications. Braille printer manufacturers and a few other organizations provide some limited software that permit a few types of line graphics to be constructed. The (typically 10 dpi) dot resolution, the difficulty of making these graphics, and the inability to print any text have severely limited the usefulness of braille printers for graphics applications.

Many organizations are now using a special "swell" paper for making tactile graphics. Black dots and lines copied on this paper swell when the paper is heated in a radiant heater. With patience one can obtain reasonably good quality tactile graphic materials, but the cost per page is high, and few people have mastered the art of making good quality images. Blind people have great difficulty in making swell paper materials without sighted assistance.

The tactile graphics embosser invented by SAP researcher Peter Langner, currently being devloped by the OSU licensee ViewPlus Technologies, Inc, is an embosser intended for use with standard inexpensive braille paper. It prints line and block graphics from common Windows applications and substitutes DotsPlus tactile font characters for the screen fonts. A user printing only standard characters can choose optionally any one of several braille substitutions instead. The printer can emulate a braille printer in standard braille text applications. This printer should make it possible for any sighted computer user to print out good tactile hard copy scientific information including math, graphs, and diagrams. This is a dream come true for parents or other relatives, teachers, and peers of blind people. ^

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