Layout i elektronisk punktskrift

Presentasjon av et forprosjekt, holdt på nordisk møte i Stockholm 10.
november 2016

v/Lars Bjørndal

Layout in electronic braille, a preliminary work

As mentioned in last year’s annual presentation, OUP has worked on a project with the goal to produce a manual/guide about layout in braille. The project is called «layout in braille on paper and on braille display». Before we started on this «main project», we thought we could more or less make two manuals in parallel: one for braille on paper and one for electronic braille. So in the manuals, when e.g. describing how to create a heading on a specific level, we could describe this in both manuals.

One possibility we discussed, was to adapt the way Statped has created their electronic books designed for blind pupils for the past 15 years. I’ll come back to the details about how they do this later on.

In the main project, we looked deeper into the area on how to describe layout in electronic braille. We realized that we first had to look into what possibilities we have for making the layout in electronic braille, and importantly, what the future is expected to bring regarding formats and universal design in this area. On this basis, the main project group, together with OUP, decided to make a preliminary work to see if we could find a good direction for describing layout in electronic media.

We appointed a group including members from NLB (the library for blind and other people with reading challenges), Statped (a national service for special needs education), and OUP (Norwegian Braille Authority). This group has been functioning for about a year now, and before finishing up, we made a report that I will spend the next few minutes presenting to you.

The very interesting first step in the preliminary work, was to find out and describe how Statped and NLB prepare electronic braille to their users. I’ll start focusing on how Statped does this.

Prepared books in Word format

15-20 years ago, Statped started to produce electronic books as a word processor document. At first, Word Perfect, the good old MS-dos program, was used. Later on, when MS Word became in common use, it took on as the output format. The stuff (hva refererer `the stuff’ til?) is more or less based on how the text is presented in braille on paper, although 8 dot computer braille is used rather than 6 dot literary braille. Derived from this practice, there’s now a convention on how to structure and present the content:

  • headings are marked with a preceding xxx followed by a number, telling which level the heading is at
  • exercises is preceded by >>>
  • page breaks are represented with --- followed by the page number
  • text that is not part of the transcribed book, such as descriptions
    of pictures, is enclosed in brackets

Just to mention some of the techniques that are used. Space was previously used as an effect, e.g. two spaces at the left margin to start a new paragraph, but after the graphical user interface was introduced, the space is in many situations not honored correctly by the screen reader. And so, unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense to mark paragraphs and lists that way.

Some of the most important advantages with Statpeds way of doing this, is as follow:

  • the difference between reading braille on paper versus on braille display is minimized
  • the different type of markings act as tactile distinctive marks
  • the environment around the pupils, including the teachers, knows the program that is used, and can see the text in print on screen
  • the pupils only need to learn to search in the word processor to be able to navigate the book
  • the pupils can write directly in the document

For a braille only reader, the markings work very well. When you read consecutively on the braille display, you know when you come across a new heading, paragraph, exercise and so on. On the other side, some disadvantages are that the books are somewhat special designed for a narrow group of pupils, rather than universally designed. They are not very functional for synthetic speech users. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Word itself is a Microsoft product that fits and works best with Windows. Today more and more people are using tablets and smartphones to access all sorts of information, and this equipment is also becoming more and more common in schools and even in
kindergarten.

Prepared books in HTML format

NLB provides electronic books for students. They also used to use the Statped way of doing transcriptions, when they first started to deliver literature to students, which was meant for reading on a braille display. However, they received complaints from many students about this way of arranging the material. They found it annoying to read with speech synthesizer, when you come across xxx1 for instance, among other things. So instead, NLB decided to produce the books in plain HTML, like a regular web page. In this format all people can use the remedies they’re used to, in order to read. It’s even possible to open the book in a word processor like Word, if desired. However, the links is then lost from the table of content entries, for instance. Another decision NLB made, was to not explain graphical materials. Some students didn’t want those texts, and in addition, it is very time consuming to write up all that stuff. Omitting such descriptions results in less production time, and thus more titles can be produced.

In the HTML books, NLB use normal tagging to structure the book. Thus, headings, paragraphs, tables and so on can be searched for by the screen reader, just like on a web page. A partially sighted user can zoom appropriately, and he/she can set background/foreground colors to his/her liking. Obviously, the books can be read by speech synthesizer as well.

Two disadvantages are that a braille only user, depending on the screen reader in use and setup, doesn’t necessarily get information about what element a specific text has. And last, but not least, the browser doesn’t have the capability to set bookmarks at current reading position, to recall the next time.

Prepared books in full text DAISY format

In addition to the Word-books, Statped has produced some books as DAISY with text and audio, human voice, called full text DAISY books. At a first glance this sounds like a good idea, however I’d like to mention one disadvantage: These books are only accessible to a braille user with FSReader, which is a DAISY player software that’s available for JAWS users, and the Bookshelf program that is part of the SuperNova screen reader. So if a pupil or student uses Window-Eyes, NVDA or other screen reader software, they don’t have access to these books on their braille displays. At this point in time, we don’t have any solution for this. If you have any ideas how to solve this, please let us know.

The EPUB format

For a moment, let us try to glance into the future. The EPUB format is widely used commercially, to deliver ebooks. For years, there has been an assumption that EPUB and DAISY are going to merge together. And the next generation EPUB format, version 3, has the needed flexibility to be used both for making universal designed commercial books and well prepared books for the blind and others with reading disabilities. If this happens, we believe it will bring us a huge step forwards. Especially if commercial actors alongside the DAISY world, both start to use that format, and are cooperating in developing reading and playing software and hardware that are universal designed.

Notes and conclusion

As you can see, we have variations in format, layout and level of adaptation. Moreover, the needs and the target group is very heterogeneous. Many of our pupils have additional disabilities, just to mention one aspect. The books are different as well, and may require different approaches when transcribed.

Today the mobile platforms are in common use, also in schools. The screen readers on Android and iOS are much less developed and has less functionality compared to those we have on Windows computers. We can hope that will change soon, but until that happens, we need to take this into account.

One conclusion is that the Statped convention should be used for the youngest pupils, to take care of readability on a braille display and how it links to braille on paper, in the way that they are used to. Whether the Word format should still be used, we are more uncertain about. When the pupils get older, we believe that the situation today has changed, and they read very much material that is not arranged this way, and so it may be little or no reason to sustain this practice to those.

For now, we don’t have any clear conclusion. However, the report is mentioning the formats that are discussed, and the production methods are touched, just to get the picture more complete. Especially the EPUB 3 format is described.

One final note we made is about being able to emboss the whole or part of a book in braille, locally at school. Today Statped produces a book either in paper or in electronic form. It would be valuable to have more flexibility, so that the pupil could read some part on a braille display and other parts on paper.

This is all we have done so far. The next step is for the main group to further discuss what recommendations we will give for producers of prepared electronic braille, and what guidelines we have for commercial producers to make books more universally designed, including better readability on braille displays.