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Archive for February, 2010

The Decline of Braille: Doomsday For The Dots?

By Alessandra Retico

They are letters you can touch: six little dots you brush with your fingers, 64 combinations to encode the world. But now Braille, the blind person’s Esperanto, is set to become a dead language.

New technologies mean the tactile alphabet is being used less and less, as sound takes its place: technologies such as telephone services with synthetic voices to read newspapers; talking computers and audio-books. Many young blind people no longer learn the physical grammar that would allow them to communicate with any other user in any language, preferring to put on their headphones. These days, only 25% of Italian people who are blind (362,000) and 10% of blind Americans (1,300,000) know Braille (compared with a figure in the US of more than half of all blind children in the 1950s, according to a recent issue of the New York Times). Invented in 1829 by Louis Braille, who became blind at the age of six and inspired by a military code for the transmission of messages at night, the system still survives, but faces strong competition from information technology.
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Researchers Plan To Automate Web Image Description

Groundbreaking work to try to enable computers to describe visual content on web pages begun this month with the formation of a new UK academic research network.

The network is aiming to develop a web browser plug-in which would be able to analyse an image and describe it to a visually impaired user. It is one of a number of projects exploring computer vision and computer language programming to be undertaken by the new V&L Net ( http://www.vlnet.org.uk/ ) – the Vision and Language Network of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
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Proposed US Law Would Force Product Accessibility

Manufacturers and suppliers of consumer technology devices in the US could be forced to make all their products accessible to blind consumers, if proposed legislation is passed by Congress.

Introduced by Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic House of Representatives member from Illinois, the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind Act 2010 ( http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4533/text ) is based around creating accessible alternatives to what it calls “increasingly complex user interfaces” found in consumer electronics.
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Braille Struggles Under Threat From Audio Technologies

The future of Braille is being threatened by the rise of digital audio technologies, but it continues to hold valuable potential to enhance the lives of blind people, according to an article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica translated exclusively for this month’s E-Access Bulletin by Margherita Giordano.

Braille could become a “dead language” as new technologies such as telephone services with synthetic voices to read newspapers; talking computers and audio-books mean the tactile alphabet is being used less and less, the article says. These days, only 25% of Italian people who are blind (362,000) and 10% of blind Americans (1,300,000) know Braille, compared with a figure in the US of more than half of all blind children in the 1950s, according to a recent issue of the New York Times.
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