1999 Conference Proceedings

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DEVELOPMENT TOOLS FOR NON VISUAL EDUCATION APPLICATIONS

Dominique Archambault (1,2)
Dominique Burger (2)

(1) Université du Havre
Département Information Communication
IUT du Havre — BP 4006 — 76610 Le Havre — France

(2) INSERM Creare
Université Pierre et Marie Curie B23
9, quai Saint Bernard — 75252 Paris cedex 05 — France

Dominique.Archambault@iut.univ-lehavre.fr 
Dominique.Burger@snv.jussieu.fr

Summary

The TIM software workshop is a set of development tools dedicated to the design of non visual education applications, based on a distributed object model. Independent components drive special devices like touchpad, speech synthesis or Braille displays.

Introduction

Education applications for children on CD-Rom may be very rich in possibilities, including many audio features. In some cases, visual display is not essential. The spoken comment, with musical accompaniment and sound effects, offers a good content. It seems very interesting to use this kind of medium with blind children, because of the important amount of material available.

The main problem is that such applications use only visual interface. A sighted child will navigate in the application using a mouse, through various visual displays. But if you try to use them with a blind child, the application has to be driven by a sighted person (an adult or a good friend). The blind child is not active, he only has to listen to what happens. Here is an example of dialogue which could be heard in such a case (in fact it is a real recording) :

In an education multimedia application dedicated to blind children, we use a touch device named « Concept Keyboard ». This application is called « Tactison » and is used in several French schools for blind children [Burger 94, 96]. Tactile exercise sheets (called overlays) are installed on the Concept Keyboard. When the child presses an object placed on an overlay, multimedia events are produced. The idea came to use the Concept Keyboard to build education applications like adaptations of CD-Rom, games, based or not on existing material.

When developing such applications we use different common devices : the Concept Keyboard, Wave player, speech synthesis, Braille display. Many different speech synthesis and many Braille displays are available, each of them needs to be used with special drivers. Using the recent progress in the area of distributed objects, we propose a software workshop, including software components associated with each device. These objects are device independent, that is they can be used with multiple items. The distributed objects model of our software workshop allows us different features, mainly :

The TIM software workshop

The TIM software workshop (for « Tactile, Interactif, Multimédia » — « Tactile, Interactive, Multimedia ») includes different tools : object components, tool for making overlays. The operating system used is Microsoft Windows 95.

Object components

Object components are written using C++. They are independent of applications and can be used very simply by application developers. One example is the support of Braille displays. Each item uses particular drivers and programming functions. The Braille component encapsulates drivers for several items. A application developed with this component will be able to support whatever equipment.

Object components can be upgraded without modifying the existing applications. Keeping the same example, the Braille component allows to add equipment (a new Braille display). The driver and programming functions of the new supply will be added to the component, then all the applications that use this component will be able to support the new equipment.

Another important feature of the components is that they should provide visual display and support standard input, allowing the applications to be used without any special device. Thus applications may be also used by sighted children, in order to support mainstreaming of handicapped children. For example in a school, several computers can be used with the same application, one using special devices for blind children, and the others with sighted children.

Global architecture of an application Global architecture of an application

The component « touchpad »

The component « touchpad » deals with the Concept Keyboard. It encapsulates the communication with the device, using serial communication port and implements the different actions that can be performed on it : « click », « double click », « pressed ». The serial port receives the position of the action performed.

Application developers don't need to know how to communicate with the Concept Keyboard. They only have to implement the action to be performed on each action on the Concept Keyboard. The first version of this component supported only the simple click. Then it was improved to allow other actions (« double click » and « pressed ») without any modification of the existing applications.

Another important feature of the component « touchpad » is capability to use mouse and screen. The overlay is reproduced in a window, and the actions performed by the mouse sends the same messages that the Concept Keyboard (allowing the application to be also used by sighted children, in order to support mainstreaming of handicapped children).

The component « tape »

The component « tape » is used to play sound files. It is a very simple component. The first version uses « mci » features and allows only the use of wav files. It is possible to update this component, adding features : other sound files, possibility of regulating the sound volume, mixing sound files...

Components currently developed

Currently, we are developing two components. The first is associated with speech synthesis, and the second is for Braille displays. In each case, the component will be able to drive multiple equipment.

The speech synthesis component must be able to drive the most popular French and multilingual synthesis (Synthé3, Elan, Apollo), and support the SSIL norm. The Braille display component, is also able to drive different items (ClioBraille, BrailleWindows, AzerBraille, ScolaBraille, VisioBraille).

Overlays

Two different techniques can be used to design overlays. The new overlays are handmade, using relief paint, pasting, Braille labels. When the overlay is stable, we use a software tool for drawing it. We dispose of series of predefined objects and textures. Then it is printed on swelling paper. This technique allows to produce in small-scale production.

Applications

This TIM software workshop is dedicated to design non visual education applications. First we can adapt existing applications. This allows to reuse the very important quantity of material available on CD-Rom. For example we developed an adaptation of French educational and recreational CD-Roms named « L'univers de Pomme d'api » [UPA] vol. 1, 2 & 3, and we are currently working on the adaptation of a CD-Rom for discovery of music Instruments [Music].

The main feature of these CD-Roms is the large amount of recorded sounds. For the adaptation of [UPA] almost all the resources come from the original CD-Roms. Only a few functional messages had to be recorded. In the case of [Music], the musical resources are reused, and a textual comment is added, in textual format, to be displayed by the speech synthesis (and later on the Braille display).

Another kind of developments allowed by the TIM software workshop is the design of education computer games. A good example is the application « Spell ». In this application, Braille letters are disposed on the overlay, with a few functional buttons. The application, using the speech synthesis, is able to display sentences as « B as boat » when the « B » is pressed on the overlay, to spell the word, and to ask the child to spell words, using the overlay.

Conclusion

The first applications using the « touchpad » component have been proposed to blind children. Using the TIM software workshop, development was very fast, re-using a large amount of available material. These applications allows children to drive the application in an autonomous way, without assistance of a sighted person. The most simple ones can even be driven by very young children (from 3 or 4 years old).

Acknowledgments

This project is supported by a grants from the « Association BrailleNet » and a grant from the « ANPEA » (French National Association of Blind and gravely visually impaired Children Parents).

Bibliography

[Burger 94]

« Tactison : a multimedia learning tool for blind children», Dominique Burger, Amina Bouraoui, Christian Mazurier, Serge Ceserano and Jack Sagot, ICCHP'94, pp. 471-478, Springer-Verlag, 1994

[Burger 96]

« Tactison : a multimedia tool for early learning », Dominique Burger, Peggy Buhagiar, Serge Ceserano and Jack Sagot, New technologies in the education of visually handicapped, pp. 237-242, Colloque INSERM, John Libbey Eurotext Ltd, 1996

[Music]

« Les instruments de musique », CD-ROM, Microsoft [Orfali 95]

« Essential Distributed Objects Survival Guide», Robert Orfali, Dan Harkey and Jeri Edwards, Wiley, 1995

[UPA]

« L'univers de Pomme d'Api, nos 1, 2 et 3 », 3 education French CD-ROM's, Bayard Presse/Ubi Soft


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