Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

High-Tech Braille Devices

January 13, 2022 American Printing House Episode 44
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
High-Tech Braille Devices
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Change Makers, we’re celebrating braille history with a look at some of our high-tech braille that feature braille technology. We’ll look at a brand-new product that’s in the works, learn what new feature is coming to Chameleon 20 and go waaaaay back and learn about the history of braille. We will also have a check-in with Partner’s With Paul.

Participants (In Order of Appearance)

  • Sara Brown, APH Public Relations Manager
  • Donna McClure-Rogers, APH Early Childhood Product Manager
  • William Freeman, APH’s Product Manager, Educational Product Innovation
  • Micheal Hudson, APH Museum Director
  • Paul Ferrara, CPACC, ADS, Certified Braille Transcriber
  • Kim Nova , Mystic Access, Director of Product Development
  • Chris Nova, Mystic Access Founder


Additional Links

Jack Fox:

Welcome to Changemakers a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.

Sara Brown:

Hello, and welcome to Change Makers I'm APH's Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And today we're celebrating braille history with the look at some of our high tech braille devices that feature the latest of braille technology. We'll look at a brand new product that's in the works. Learn a new feature that's coming to Chameleon 20 and go way back and learn about the history of braile devices. We'll also have a check-in with Partners with Paul. Up , first we have APH's Early Childhood Product Manager, Donna McClure-Rogers. Hello, Donna and welcome to Change Makers.

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Hi Sara, it's nice to be here.

Sara Brown:

Great. So can you tell us about this brand new product that's coming soon?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Sure. This product goes by the name of Polly. Uh , it was developed in partnership with Thinkerbell Labs out of India, and Polly is an independent braille learning device, complete with a curriculum for both contracted and uncontracted brail. It also includes an online parent-teacher portal that allows the device to be customized, to fit the child's needs.

Sara Brown:

And talk about Helios. I understand that's the learning management system that comes with Polly. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Helios is the online portal. Um, it is basically a web site that provides information about use data. Uh , you know, how much the child has been online , what lessons they've mastered , where they're struggling , that type of thing . It , has a lot of graphs and just data that can really help doing , IEP reporting and providing that information to the classroom teachers or the parents just wanting to know, you know, where is the child, "where's the child at right now? How are they doing? Um, you know, what real characters do they know? Are they master spelling that type of thing ?"

Sara Brown:

So the product is Poly. Now tell me how is poly different from other APH products?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Well, Polly has a lot of really exciting features , um, as a former TVI and a braille reader, myself. The first thing that I noticed when I picked this device up was the electronic slate. I really enjoyed being able to erase when I was working on those slate and stylus skills, a , uh, there's also a jumbo display , which there's two cells for the jumbo display and then six standard cells on this device and these work in conjunction, but the jumbo display is used for not only for input on the device, but also for output. So it kind of takes the place of , of how a teacher might introduce a braille character to a young child using the tennis balls and muffin tin. Remote braille instruction that this device provides is extremely helpful, especially now, as we're all dealing with this ping pong effect of, "are we virtual today?" "Are we in person today?" That type of thing. Um, when this all started, the field did a great job stepping up and making it possible to continue teaching our students that needed that hands on instruction so much. But with this device, teachers can remotely make assignments to their students and push those through as long as their students are connected , um , to the internet. And they can do that using either the Bluetooth with Wi- Fi for this device, or they can also plug in , um, with a hard wire ethernet port , whatever the students have available. It'll make it possible for them to receive those assignments. And then for the teacher to be able to receive feedback on how the child is doing, and this device is created in a game like format. So it's very similar to those commercial beginning reading programs that cited kids have in an abundance of choices. Um , but those are just not really accessible to our braille readers. And this device has everything right there for the student . They can navigate independently , they can get all the feedback they need and they can even get their instructions, repeated. Everything is, is perfectly accessible for both the teacher and the student. I really enjoy , um, the Helios website because even the graphs are accessible. Um, this company has done such a wonderful job, making sure that even our teachers that need that accessibility feature are able to access all the information that is provided to the side users.

Sara Brown:

Okay and what's the target demographic for Polly?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Um , we are looking at this device working best for children between the ages of probably five and nine or 10. Um, this would be, you know, your beginning braille readers and , uh, the, the it's because the feedback on the device is geared for a younger child. Uh, we have taken the time to have the voice for this device recorded within the studio at APH. So you're not getting this computerized screen reader voice , um , talking to the child. We want them to be able to make that personal connection with the device and feel like , um, they're actually receiving feedback from a person. And so a lot of times if they give a correct answer, they'll hear , um, children clapping and saying yay, or , um, the narrator might say you got that right. You know, and that might be some that an older child might not necessarily need that much feedback. Um, you know, it's not to say that an older child or even an adult couldn't use this device. Um, but again, you know, at the moment we do kind of have it geared more for those younger kids .

Sara Brown:

Now, what was the motivation behind the development of Polly and what brought about this need?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Uh, this one actually came about , uh , one when the team at Thinkerbell Labs was , uh, working together on a graduate school product. They , um, they had noticed that a lot of sighted children have apps that are available , um, like maybe on their iPad that will sing the alphabet song. And then the alphabet letters appear on the screen. So the sighted child can see the letters, but there wasn't anything that worked , um, in conjunction with a braille display for their blind students. So they took an iPad and one braille cell , and they created , um, an app that would be able to , uh, show the alphabet letter as the song was going through , uh , singing the alphabet. So it began with just the simple iPad and one brail cell . And it has turned into this fabulous device that teaches contracted braille, provides games for the children, gives that feedback for the teachers online. And then, you know, again, my favorite thing, they can, they can work with that electronic slate. So , so they can build those skills to have the most portable braille experience that, that they can be provided with.

Sara Brown:

And when will poly be available for people to purchase?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Uh, we are looking at spring of 2022 .

Sara Brown:

And is there anything else you would like to say regarding Polly?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

I do. Um, this device is really geared to allow our students to be able to practice when the , um, when their TVI is not present. Um , we all know that it's great for students that are beginning braille to have that five days a week with that TVI. I , but sometimes that's just not possible and we don't want our children to only have braille instruction for one day a week. Um, and we know that does happen. So , um, you know, if, if you're thinking about getting this device for one of your students, please make sure that your district knows that this device is intended to go home with the student it's intended to be used in the classroom without the TVI present. And so, you know, that may need to be added into the IEP just to make sure that everybody's on the same page. Um, you know, the parents can walk through and learn braille alongside their child with this device. And it would just create that holistic approach that we're looking for so that we can , uh, help everyone in the field to implement braille into this child's general ed classroom as quickly as possible.

Sara Brown:

All right , Donna, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.

Donna McClure-Rogers:

You are so very welcome

Sara Brown:

And Polly is only available inside the United States. For those outside the U.S. who are interested, we encourage you to contact Thinkerbell Labs directly to get Polly's sister product, "Annie." We've put a link to Thinkerbell Labs in the show notes. Up next, we're gonna learn about an update in the works for Chameleon 20. Here to talk about Chameleon 20's new update is APH's Product Manager, Educational Product Innovation William Freeman . Hello William , and welcome to Change Makers.

William Freeman:

Hello. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Sara Brown:

So tell us what's new with Chameleon 20?

William Freeman:

Uh, there's a lot new with the Chameleon. Uh, we've recently added Spanish language support, which is great shows the menus in Spanish and also adds support for , uh , Spanish braille codes. We've all also added a one handed mode that makes it easier for folks to use the device one handed and the most exciting thing coming to the Chameleon right now is text to speech which will be coming in our 1.3 update.

Sara Brown:

What was the motivation behind adding text to speech to Chameleon and how will it improve?

William Freeman:

Well , uh , text to speech is a great way to reinforce braille literacy while also giving folks an easier path to learning how to use their Chameleon. So as a person is reading braille on their Chameleon , uh, they can use the speech to learn new braille words and contractions, and even choose to rely on the speech if they need a short break from the somewhat task of reading braille , uh , uh , something also that I've realized , uh, that I didn't think of was TTS (text to speech) , makes it possible for someone that can't read braille to interact with the device, which will be great for parents and teachers that have otherwise never used a braille display. And maybe aren't that proficient with reading braille

Sara Brown:

And speech engines. What , what speech engine will TTS use?

William Freeman:

It's gonna use Acapella

Sara Brown:

And how will the student access speech?

William Freeman:

Multiple ways? So there's the speaker on the unit, but also a headphone jack. If they want more privacy, another thing is they could plug it into a speaker or even into their computer. If they wanted to share their speech with someone else, like if you plug it into your computer, you could share it over a video call.

Sara Brown:

Okay. What are the different options for text to speak ? Does it do more than just say what's currently displayed?

William Freeman:

Yes. So there's , uh , of course a say all function that will start reading from the current cursor position. There's also read current line, read text under cursor, as well as a typing echo and delete echo functions. It's cool because you can turn each feature off and on as needed. So you don't necessarily have to use all of those features. You can just pick the ones you want to use. So if someone doesn't wanna be bothered with speech very often, maybe they turn off all the other options and just leave, read text under cursor turned on, and then that way, if they come across some brow that they're not familiar with, they can just move the cursor using outer buttons, and then hear that unfamiliar word, read aloud . Um, users of course, users will also be able to increase and decrease the speech rate, which we know is a must have feature. No one wants to sit around listening to a voice that's either too slow or too fast for their personal tastes.

Sara Brown:

What's what, what the advantage to a student for Chameleon to have speech?

William Freeman:

There's tons of advantages. Uh, like we've talked about, it's a great way to learn new braille words by using read text under cursor. Uh, but it can also just generally help build their confidence. Like the typing echo can be used for letters, words, or both. And that means while the student is typing, they can be sure that they're making the characters and words that they think they are initially they'll build their confidence as they continue to become fluent braille readers and writers. Overall, it's just another way to get students reading braille learning braille is hard. It takes so much time. So anything we can do to make that process easier and more fun, we want to do it.

Sara Brown:

Now. I understand chameleon has different voices. Why put that option in there? Why the choice?

William Freeman:

Choice is what the Chameleon is all about. Uh, we really wanted a braille display that students could customize and know belongs to them. When we first introduced this product and part of that was the , uh , different colored cases. Now we've extended that to the voice selection. So students can pick a voice that they are comfortable hearing at launch users will be limited to two voices per language with English, getting "Sharon" and will and Spanish getting "Rosa" and will. However, with our next release, we will introduce the ability for users to download a whole range of voices, including non-American English, voices, fun , children's voices, and also bilingual voices that can competently speak both English and Spanish. One aspect of this that is really interesting is that users will be able to select both a primary and secondary voice. The primary voice will read menus and system messages, and the secondary voice will read content. So you could pick, say a British voice to read your menus and system messages, you know, make it very proper and then a more American voice for your content. Um, and with the addition of all these features it'll mean that every chameleon really is unique to the person as everyone's gonna have their own preferences.

Sara Brown:

When will this release be available?

William Freeman:

Uh, it'll be coming out early this year .

Sara Brown:

William, is there anything else you would like to add ?

William Freeman:

Uh , main thing , uh , the main message I wanna get out to folks with both the Chameleon and the Mantis is update your units. Uh , I've been really trying to make a big deal outta this lately, and it's because we're finding out some folks aren't updating their units. So make sure you update your units. We're listening to your feedback. Everything we're putting into these devices is based on stuff you've asked for. And we just want folks to be able to take advantage edge of all the cool stuff that we're bringing.

Sara Brown:

All right , William, thank you so much for joining us today on Change Makers.

William Freeman:

Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It's been great.

Sara Brown:

Up next. We're gonna check in with partners with Paul.

Paul Ferrara:

Thanks, Sara and welcome back to Partners with Paul. Glad to have you with us today on the show we have Kim and Chris Nova from Mystic Access. Chris is the founder of Mystic Access and Kim is the Director of Product Development. Welcome into the show. How are you today?

Kim and Chris Nova:

Great, Paul, Thanks for having us.

Paul Ferrara:

A lot of things we wanna talk about today. So for folks who may not know Chris, what is Mystic Access?

Chris Nova:

Mystic Access, is a company that I founded back in 2013. And , uh , our mainstay is audio documentation for mainstream and or blindness related products.

Paul Ferrara:

Great. Can you tell us more about some of the products on your site?

Chris Nova:

Sure. We have tutorial for the Amazon echo, for example, everybody's favorite a person Google home , uh , iOS, Android, and we even have an APH tutorial up there as well.

Paul Ferrara:

Yep . That's definitely something we wanna cover here in just a bit. Kim, is there any new products or offerings we should know about?

Kim Nova:

We do have a few cool new things, Paul, in terms of the actual audio that we offer, which can be downloaded digitally or purchased on physical media, like an SD card or an NLS cartridge. We have a cool new class on podcast listening that people may find fascinating since we're sitting here actually recording a podcast all about the various ways you can do it, whether that be on an app via iOS or Android via your Victor stream or another player that might need you to manually download a podcast feed. We talk about all these things. I like what podcast feeds, what are episodes? What do you need to know to get your feed downloaded onto a player? For instance, if it doesn't allow you the capacity to do it magically through the beauty of electronics, you know, through the player itself. So it's a very comprehensive class that starts with foundational concepts and moves all the way through to more advanced concepts. And it's three sessions of powerful information over three hours in links . So that's a cool class for people who are kind of looking for alternative ways or just perhaps some new ways to check out their podcasts. We also have a couple new hardware products that we're carrying. One is a desk caddy . That's really cool. So if you have some goodies that you just want to make sure always at hand, it's a nice spinning metal desk caddy with a lot of compartments and we have some really cool magnetic cable ties too. So these are kind of fun things we got in for the holidays and they're great gifts for time of year. Really.

Chris Nova:

The other thing we , the other thing we have is a partnership with guidelines and edges, where we have talking medical products, blood pressure, monitor oximeter, and a infrared thermometer.

Paul Ferrara:

So definitely a range of products. Let's get back to the audio for a moment. Uh , those are something that you completed in partnership with APH. Can you tell us more about that, Kim?

Kim Nova:

Absolutely. We were really excited to work with APH in creating and compiling a tutorial on the Mantis Q40. And since the Mantis is such an innovative little product, we were really excited to get involved with working on this with you guys and making this really comprehensive again, audio that takes you from again and the more foundational concepts of what's the mantis. "Why do you want one?" "How do you orient yourself to this device?" "What does it do all the way through all the different applications?" So you can learn about how to write documents and make calculations and of course use terminal modes. So there's a ton of great information in there that hopefully will make using your mantis a less stressful and more fun experience.

Paul Ferrara:

There is a lot, it is comprehensive. No question about it. So if you're an audio learner, by all means , uh , we're gonna talk to you about how you can get to that here in just a bit. So let me end with this. Is there anything else going on you'd like to talk to us about?

Chris Nova:

Well, We do have on our site of bunch of paid products, but we also have a bunch of free downloads. We have a biweekly Mystic Access podcast that comes out every a couple weeks. It's Kim and I , so you get to listen to us. We also have a free downloads page where there's literally hundreds of hours of audio for you to download and listen to for free.

Paul Ferrara:

That's fantastic. And we appreciate the opportunity to have you on today. Thank you very much for joining us.

Kim and Chris Nova:

Thanks, Paul. We appreciate the opportunity.

Paul Ferrara:

So at the, in the show notes, you're going to find a link to the Mystic Access site. We're also going to include a link to the Mantis tutorial, have a look around, I'm sure you can find something useful there. Thanks for listening. And now back to you, Sara,

Sara Brown:

Thanks so much, Paul. And now we're back to the beginning. We have APH's Museum Director, Michael Hudson, and he's here to talk about early braille devices. Hello Michael, and welcome to Change Makers.

Michael Hudson:

Good morning, Sara. Now I've just discussed the new APH product that's coming soon, which is called Polly and the, and updates to Chameleon 20 both high tech braille devices. Can you talk about some of the early braille tablets and devices?

Micheal Hudson:

Sure. So Louis (Braille) publishes his code for the first time in 1829. And , uh, one of the things that made braille so superior to raised letters, which was the system they were using before, that was that you could write braille pretty easily. Um, and today, you know, if you go in the APH catalog, you'll find , um, slight stylus'. Um, what Louis came up with was called a Braille Tablet, which is really kind of a desk slate, but if you think of a clipboard size board , um, and then , um, it had , uh , holes pierced down the side of the frame and then a little metal writing flame frame with the little windows that guided your stylist to create the six dot cells, right? And so you would write one line at a time and then you would lift that writing guide out, slide it down, one set of holes, click it in and then write your next line . And another thing that was different about it was , uh, today , uh , slight and stylus. It has these recessed , uh , pits on the bottom side of the frame and that, so when you, when you push your sty into it, it goes into that, that, that recessed hole makes a nice rounded dot , uh , Louis's braille tablet had grooved lines. And so its braille is not quite as, as , uh , well formed and neat as a modern slate and stylus, but it was still , uh , a quick and easy way to write with. So you could sit and take notes in class, and that was just a , a vast improvement over, over raised letters.

Sara Brown:

What was technology like in those early devices?

Micheal Hudson:

Well, I mean, they're made out , you know , uh , they're made out of wood and brass , um, and , um, and then they start being made out of cheaper metals. Um, and, and also nickel , uh , you , you start seeing, even though they're still made out of brass, they start being nickel plated so that they wouldn't tarnish. Um, and, and, you know, get your , get your fingers dirty when you were using them. The, the stylus come in, all kinds of shapes, you know, everybody that had one thought of a different way to, to carve the knob on the stylist to make it more comfortable for your hands . So you see things that look like wooden tops , um, uh, things that look like chess pieces , um, you see the made out of all kinds of materials. So, you know, wood obviously is common, but then , uh , as early plastics come along, you start seeing a made out of plastic, you know, APH for the longest time had one called a saddle stylist, which was supposed to fit nicely in your hand, but it also was flat on the edges so that it wouldn't roll. Um , and, and that's, that's helpful, you know, so you're not constantly knocking your stylist and then , you know, it falls on the ground . You can't find it. So , um , yeah, everybody who , who , whoever saw a slate in stylus and their entire life thought of a different to make them . So, you know, they come in, they come in pocket size , they come in desk slates, they come in upward writing and downward writing. You know, one of the, one of the things that's always been seen of as a challenge for stylus is that when you press the, the stylus into the paper, you have, you know, the dot appears on the bottom side of the page. So you have to know two braille codes. You have to know the braille code to write with, which is basically everything is as if you're looking in a mirror. Um , and then you have to know the way to read it, you know , um , um , left to right. Um , as you might normally read. Um , and so, so there's all these inventors who come with upward writing slates, like, so they would take the stylus. And instead of it being a sharp point, it would be a hollow tip. And then on the bottom frame of the slate, instead of it being a recessed pit, it would be a raised pin , right? So the , the hollow tip of your stylist would fit over the top of that raised pin and make an upward dot. Um, so we, we , you know, and APH has sold several models like that. They never their problem with all of those upward writing slates is they tend to make ghosts dots, meaning that at, because there's a raised pin on that bottom slate. If you, if you don't get the stylist really super, perfectly aligned right down on it, sometimes you'll get ghost dos . And so your braille is not very clean. Um, but that didn't keep people from trying to lick that, that design problem, but still, you know, there's nothing like having something you can stick right in your pocket, just like a pencil and paper. And , um, and you know, if you just wanna write down a note or a phone number or something like that, still something that is very handy.

Sara Brown:

Wow! The fact that you had to learn two types of braille codes...

Micheal Hudson:

mm -hmm ,

Sara Brown:

...Just to do that is insane. So when you're writing, you're thinking about how this is going to almost translate on the other side. ..

Micheal Hudson:

Yes, that's right. But, but think about this, when you're six years old, this is a piece of cake, right? It's not that big a deal cause your brain is plastic and it's nimble and yes, and you're , it's easy to learn new things. And the idea that, well, you have to write this way and you have to read this way. It's not a big deal for your six now for people that lose their vision later in life, you know , uh , a slight and stylist maybe is gonna be a , you know, is not something necessarily that they're gonna be all that interested in using, but, but you know, really that whole , uh, upside down and backwards, the way of, of writing with the slate and stylus, is a big reason why the braille writer , the brail writer was invented, right? The mechanical braille writer . We think of the Perkins Braille Writer as the, as the, kind of the gold standard today , uh, for, for reading braille. And, and it , the original braille, a mechanical braille writer was invented by a guy named Frank Hall, who was the principal at the Illinois Institution for the Education of Blind in , um , Jacksonville, Illinois, and the Illinois school didn't even use braille. They used a competing code called New York point that we've talked about before, right. A dot code that was like braille, but not braille. And so , uh, Frank Hall wanted to invent a mechanical writer to kind of overcome that whole, the whole writing with a slate problem. But when he started trying to mechanize New York Point, he, he ran into some problems because New York Point did not always take up the same amount of space. It was of a variable width. And so what he ended up doing was coming up with a mechanical braille writer, we call it the Hall Braille Writer and the first , um, commercial models for the hall brail rider came around 1892 or so. And, and it basically had seven keys, right? It had six keys for the six dots in the braille cell, and then it had a space key. That's all it had, but that braille that it was, it , it was a brilliant little machine. And everybody who wrote braille that, you know, was using a slate stylus that got their hands on a brail writer, like, oh my gosh, this is awesome. So much faster. You didn't need to know, you know, two different , a way to write a different way to write a different way to read. And , uh , once you got, you know, adept at the typing part of it , um, you're sitting there banging out braille much, much quicker than, than doing it by hand with a SL and stylus. And , um , every braille writer that we use today, including the Perkins, you know, owes its technological roots to Frank Hall and a , and a gunsmith that was a buddy of his named GU Seber , um, who helped him kind of figure out the mechanics of it. And then , uh , also there was this , uh , typewriter company in Chicago called the Munson Typewriter Company. And they're the ones who kind of helped him mass produce it.

Sara Brown:

Okay . Now tell me about braille printing and mass production, because I'm sure with this new braille, the mechanical braille opened up a , all the doors for printing as production.

Micheal Hudson:

So, so, so now, you know, Hall's got his Hall Braille Writer and you can, you can quickly, you know, take notes in class or write a paper in braille or, or write a letter in braille. Right. But how do you, how do you make, you know, lots of copies of say the same book, a fourth grade spelling book in braille , right. So, and it , and it's, and it's our boy Frank again. So, so, you know, right now he's got a , a machine that writes on paper, but he starts thinking what I , what I , what I also would like to do is invent a , a bigger heavier duty machine that writes on brass hinged, brass plates plates that can be loaded into a clam shell style printing, press. It opens its jaws. It spreads that printing plate , an operator puts a piece of paper in it, slams its jaw shut and, and , and the dots get pushed onto the page. So he invents this machine called the Hall Stenograph machine. So it's a big tabletop , uh , size machine, maybe about four feet wide. And it has a big foot , a foot pedal at the bottom and the same six keys. Right? So you type your , uh, the , the Le the , you push the keys down that correspond to the pins. You want to make the, the braille character say, say, you're trying to make an E so you're gonna press "one in five", and then you slam down that pedal. And that's what forces gives you the kind of the mechanical advantage to, to , to punch those, those , uh , dots into the, to the, the brass plate. And , uh , so you , you sit there with your book in front of you, the print book. And so the operator then will, in their mind translate the print characters into the braille, type them onto the page. And now you've got one page, you've got page one of your fourth grade, you know, geography book or spelling book. So you gotta make a plate for each page of the book. Right. And at first , uh , the whole paragraph machine just puts braille on one side of the page, right . But in the 19's and 20's, uh , people start experimenting with this idea called inner pointing. Okay. And in inter pointing , uh, you, you've got dots on the brass plates on one side, on both sides of it. Okay. And they slightly offset those dots between the characters on one side and those on the back. So they don't cancel each other out. They actually fit inside of each other. Right. There's just enough space between the dots , uh, to do that. And so now you can prepare these embossing plates , uh , so that you're producing brail with , uh , pages with brail on both sides. And now it's a lot less bulky, right? Takes up half the amount of space. Um, you , and , um, so inter pointing becomes very popular. And, you know, even today, although we're using much different, more modern presses , uh , digital presses, we're , you know , inter pointing is still a part of, of most braille production. And, and , and by the way, Sara , uh , them printing us didn't wanna do it. They didn't want to inter point , um , um , they , uh, uh , they didn't really want to change, you know, our , our , our people, you know, we were pumping out the braille doing it one, you know, on one sided pages, they didn't wanna have to think about how are we going to invent a sterograph machine that will put the dots on both sides of those brass plates cause halls, machine wouldn't do it. But the pressure from the field was so great that our, a board eventually decided to do it. And so we invented our own, we worked with the American Foundation for the Blind and invented a new sterograph machine that would, that would do that. Uh , two-sided uh, uh , plate preparation. And so just to bring it on up to the future. So, so you're still talk , even though you've got a machine, right, that makes, that makes your brail plates, and you've got machines that mass produce your braille. You , um, it's still slow. And your , your stereo machine operator needs to be really highly trained, right? So if, if you, you , you get a woman she's, she's highly trained. And then she decides to leave the workforce and go, you know , uh , have a family. Now you've gotta train somebody else in this, this very unique thing that , uh , braille braille presses do . So the, you know, the idea is how could we computerize this whole deal? Right? And so in the 1950s and sixties, the center of computer technology is, is IBM. Um, International Business Machines. So APH collaborates with IBM , uh, to figure out how to, how to compute this whole thing. And back then computers, you know, data entry is done. You, you do, you do data entry on this machine that punches holes into these, into these punch cards. And then you load a stack of punch cards into a , a feeder. And it, it feeds them into the computer and it shines light and wherever you've punched a hole light shines through, and , and the computer reads that. Right? And so we figure out a way to have a , a , the transcription is done by , uh , someone typing on , uh , punching these cards. And then we would ship the cards up to , uh , New York and they would load 'em into a machine, and it would it'd feed 'em in the computer. And then computer would be programmed to translate the print characters into braille, and then punch, punch, punch, punch , punch . It would punch a bunch of card , big , another big stack of cards out that now that's the braille translation. They'd ship that back to us. We'd put that into a card reader that was connected to a special machine, a stereograph machine, a computer stereograph machine, and then it would, it would punch the plates. It would, emboss the zinc. By that time, we weren't using copper anymore. We were using zinc plates and it would, emboss the plates. Then you would take those and put them into the, into the , uh , the press, right to mass, produce them today. That whole process can happen on your cell phone , right? Your cell phone , we , you could use a, you know, software package called like braille blaster from the (American) Printing House. And , um, you know, you could load just about any publication, any print publication into , into that program and it'll translate it . And that, you know, you've got the computing power of, of a mainframe computer in your pocket . Um, and today a transcription occurs , uh, just using a desktop computer, you know, here at APH, we have a , a Braille Translation Department that does that. Um, and, and there are also braille translation programs at lots of prisons. You know, we work with a lot of prison, braille programs, get all the textbooks translated. Um, and then a lot of times you don't even use those bossing plates anymore. Although we, we have some presses that still use the Bo in bossing plates for publications. You wanna make lots of copies of like, say the McDonald's menu, right. Um , every now and then we'll, we'll, we'll bid and get the contract for the McDonald's menu. And we'll make a million copies of that, that you need still need the, the embossing plates. But a lot of times we make one book for one kid somewhere out there in the United States. And so that you use , uh , a digital press, like a Brailo 650, or an Interpoint NV 55. The Brailos come from Norway. Uh, the Interpoints come from Belgium and we, you know, have adapt a little bit , but , um, so a lot of, a lot of embossing now is done... It's all digital. Um, and then your next question is gonna probably be what about paperless brail, right?

Sara Brown:

Yes, yes.

Micheal Hudson:

Yeah. So, because you got that's, what you've been talking about is the, the Chameleon and other , uh, refreshable braille devices, little computer note takers, and you can just sit there and bob...bobby..bob, in your class, or in your, in, in the grocery store, or while you're talking to your mom on the phone and take notes , um , and then it's got the refreshable braille display where it raises the pins electronically. Well, that all starts in the late 1960s. They start , uh, you know, a number of inventors start working with pretty complicated little devices like that used some sometimes use rubber , uh , belts. And , uh , the , the , the dots would, would , would , it would kind of a , like a memory , uh , foam material, the belt was. And so he could raise the pins in rubber, and then when it would, when it would cycle on through, through the pulley, it would flatten the dot back up. But that, that didn't really end up working, being practical, but it got Oleg Tretiakov. His wife was a , uh , uh , a linguist who was interested in , uh , braille translation and Ole was more of a computer guy. Uh , and so, you know, as happens sometimes with married couples, you know, somebody, you know, you bring on more problem you're, you know, struggling with at home. And the other half of the team is like, maybe they bring something different to the, to the problem. And, and that's what Oleg did he sat down and created this machine called the digit cassette in France about 1975. And the digit cassette was out, oh, it was about probably , uh , 12, 15 inches wide and , uh, about 10 inches deep and maybe about four inches thick. And it used audio cassettes to store the data. Um, and so , uh, and then it had those six, they had the keyboard, the , a braille keyboard that you could set and do data entry with, and it would store it on the audio cassette a magnetic tape, but then it had a, I think a 20 or 25 cell refreshable brail display that , um, it could, you know, play back basically what you had typed onto the audio tape, but it would play it back as in, in braille. Right. And it used to a technology called Pizo electric technology to raise the pins. Um, and , uh, Tretiakov comes over the United States. He's, you know, trying to figure out a way to, you know, mass produce this. And he goes to a, a company called Telecensory a big , uh , accessibility company back in those days. And try was negotiate with them to produce the , uh, the , uh , Tretiakov, machine, the, digit cassette , well Telecensory was like, "no." And so basically what they did was they stole Tretiakov idea. Right. And they took his idea and came up with this thing called the Versa Braille, which was the first commerially available refreshable braille device in the United States, also used , uh , um, uh , magnetic tape , um , cassettes, you know, to store the information, but it was portable pretty heavy. Um, by comparison day , you couldn't stick in your pocket, but it was portable and used a rechargeable battery. And every, all of our devices today, really, they all kinda harken back to those two devices, the Versa Braille and the , although there are European manufacturers that, that have their roots in , in other inventors in Europe. Um , but you know, the exciting thing to is that , you know , that piso electric cell for the longest time has been kind of the , the limiting factor, because it was pretty expensive. Each cell was, you know, I don't know, 250 bucks or something like that just per sale . So if you had a 40 cell display, that's 40 times, two $50. Right. And so , uh, and so that's why , uh, like inventions, like the , uh , Orbit 20 that we , uh, uh, came up with , uh, a few years ago and it's, it's now out of our catalog, but it used a different kind of technology. And so a lot of inventors are, you know, poking and prying and , uh, working on that on the, kind of like in the hourglass, you know, the blockage, the one little thing in a , in a technology that, that, that is kind of slowing it , uh , development down . Um, but , um, you know , there's been a lot of, lot of movement, a lot of growth and a lot of miniaturization, you know, these devices just keep getting smaller and smaller and cheaper and cheaper. And that was the whole idea is how can we get to a point where we can put one of these in the hands of every body who wants to use one? Um, and, you know, we're really getting close to that. Um , you know, the chameleon and the , and , uh , what's the other device that, that just came out,

Sara Brown:

We've got the Chameleon 20 and Polly is coming out.

Micheal Hudson:

Polly. Um , then that's after Polly Thompson who was , uh , who was , uh , Helen Keller's assistant, but all this stuff is, you know, it's happening fast. And , uh, the changes are , it's just pretty amazing to watch the, the , the , the new products that are coming out , um, that to make braille easier to use. Um , and, and , you know, it's a tribute to how elegant Louis's original code was that this thing that was, you know, published for the first time in 1829, which we're coming up now, you know, won't be too long till we'll be working on the 200th anniversary, but it's co the code is so elegant. Uh , so easy to so easy to use that. And so flexible that we're still, you know , uh , technology is making it easier to use, but the reason that we're still inventing new technology is because the code itself is so elegant.

Sara Brown:

And, you know, when something's done right or done, well, it will stand in the test of time. And this is a classic example of that. It has not strayed very much from the original, the original code. So that's just, that's the, that's my thinking. That's my thoughts on it when something's good, the first time you change , you don't reinvent the wheel.

Micheal Hudson:

Yeah. So my old boss, Gary people always used to ask him, you know, why , you know, when will braille go away? And he would always say, when people no longer need a pencil and paper, when side people no longer need a pen to, you know, then people who are blinder vision impaired will stop using braille. But as long as we need to read to , uh , to , to memorize things , uh, to store data, to, to , to send messages to each other , uh , people who are blind will be using , um , Louis' code,

Sara Brown:

What else can we see regarding braille in the APH museum?

Micheal Hudson:

We have an awesome collection, as you might imagine. Uh , you know, it starts with Louis's original , uh , publication of the braille code in 1829. What we call the per se day , the method it's super rare. There's only six copies of the book left in anywhere in the world. And we have one of them it's on display. We have over a hundred braille slates, the collection, and probably 50 of 'em on display in all shapes and sizes and materials designs. Um, we have 40 , uh, different bra riders , uh, from all over the world, from Europe, from Asia, from north America, you know, starting with that , uh , hall rail rider . We have , uh , you know, the St machine, if you wanna see that we have that , uh, we have , uh , some of the early computer , uh, the IBM developed , uh , computer translation devices that are on display. And , um, you know , uh, we, we di we've done temporary exhibits with the , uh, refreshable brail devices, but that's, we'll one of the things I'm really excited about the new museum project that we're working on is that we're gonna be able to put out a lot of this technology I've been collecting over the last 16 years that we haven't had room for in the new museum. And so , um, you know , a lot of the Bri and bosses , uh, the digital , uh , note takers and stuff will have , um, on display and , um, and , uh, and also in a , an accessible way so that people can actually get their hands on. And is

Sara Brown:

There anything else you'd like to add regarding braille devices?

Micheal Hudson:

Yeah, I think it's just that the braille code is alive, Sara, and , um, and so, you know, we have just this in incredible new , you know, new generation of users that's coming up and, you know , uh , it's , uh , it's, it's, it's just a constant process of people , uh, poking and prodding and stretching and , um, and, and asking questions. And I think if we just keep asking questions, why do we do this? Why do we do it this way? Why did , how did it happen that we, we got the , to where we are , um, uh , that people just keep applying their, their , their human ingenuity to this, this, this simple problem of reading and writing. And, and , uh , and so I , you know, I think that's what our museum talks about, and I , and I'm excited to see where we're gonna go next.

Sara Brown:

Thank you so much, Michael, for joining me today on Change Makers.

:

Thank you Sara.

Sara Brown:

Thank you very much for listening to this episode of changemaker. We've put links to Chameleon 20 and Mystic access in the show notes, and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.