2001 Conference Proceedings

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TIGER, A NEW AGE OF TACTILE TEXT AND GRAPHICS

Patricia Walsh
E-mail: walshpa@mailbox.orst.edu 

John A. Gardner
E-mail: John.Gardner@orst.edu 

Science Access Project
Oregon State University Department of Physics
Corvallis, OR 97331-6507

Introduction

The Tiger Advantage Tactile Graphics Embosser is a Windows printer for blind people. Tiger was developed within the Oregon State University Science Access Project and is now commercially available from ViewPlus Technologies, Inc.

Tiger is a tremendously useful tool for agencies that need to make graphical or highly structured information in tactile form. One purpose of this presentation is to show how standard (and reasonably user-friendly) Windows applications can be used to create tactile information or convert printed information to tactile form. We intend to demonstrate, with help of sighted friends, how to create tables, graphs, bar charts, and other things from MS Excel, how to edit scanned images or imported clip art, and include them in text documents, and how to use a hot key plus Enter to convert text to braille prior to printing on Tiger. Tiger is not just a product for service providers however. We are both blind and both use Tiger extensively as an essential tool. In this talk we intend to demonstrate some of the uses we have made of Tiger. We'll also describe briefly a Tiger project by summer students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Tiger and the DotsPlus tactile fonts

Tiger is a robust embosser using a punch and die technology developed at Oregon State University that embosses high quality dots at a resolution of 20 dpi, It has a full WYSIWYG Windows printer driver that permits one to emboss text and graphics from standard Windows applications. Tiger is designed to emboss black and white line and block graphics. Tactile images of visually textured colored or grey-tone images such as typical photographs will generally not be useful to blind readers. However, the Tiger printer driver recognizes light colors as white and dark colors as black, so most line and block graphics print beautifully.

Tiger can substitute dot patterns when printing text, and the user can choose from a variety of tactile representations simply by selecting a screen font that will emboss the desired patterns. The ViewPlus/Duxbury Translator is bundled with Tiger and permits users to translate text to braille through a hot key command prior to printing.

Unfortunately, conventional braille is incapable of representing a great deal of the literature that many blind students and professionals want to read. Even when braille has sufficient capability, it isn't always easy to do braille translation on documents prepared with conventional software technologies. For example, the ViewPlus/Duxbury Translator can translate simple unstructured text in most applications and, because of the flexibility of the Microsoft document model, can translate most structured text (e.g. tables and lists), text box labels on graphics, etc. Even in Microsoft applications it cannot translate automatically-generated text such as item numbers or page numbers. It also cannot translate text in embedded objects.

A number of years ago one of us (JG) proposed extending literary braille to create a true tactile font, now embodied in DotsPlus(R). A person who can read braille can learn DotsPlus in a few minutes well enough to read non-technical literature. One needs to learn only two or three new symbols and a rule for DotsPlus numbers. Reading more advanced literature requires learning the new symbols used in that literature. DotsPlus is substituted for characters if users choose the Tiger screen font. The Tiger Expert screen font prints characters in the more compact DotsPlus Expert tactile font in which capital letters and other double cell symbols are embossed as single 8-dot braille cells.

We strongly recommend that blind users who print their own materials from Tiger try DotsPlus and DotsPlus Expert text for complex materials. The small time investment in learning a few new symbols is rewarded by the ease of use and the joy of reading materials whose layout is identical to the visual layout. We shall describe instances of how Tiger and DotsPlus have enhanced our ability to communicate.

A university student's report on using Tiger

I, Patti Walsh, have just completed my freshman year at Oregon State University. I was fortunate to meet Tiger a few months after beginning my studies and several months before it became commercially available. I am a fluent braille reader who learned DotsPlus in a few minutes and began using DotsPlus for all Tiger copy. I was soon using Tiger in all classes.

As a history major I had taken several classes without having maps to follow, Although class notes included maps and corresponding explanations, I was unable to access this material. With the Tiger Printer all of the lecture notes created by the professor were easily adaptable for me, including the maps. My history advisor, who was also professor of two of the classes I have taken, enjoyed my increased class participation. He also was happy that I could be evaluated on all course material and held to the same standard as all other students.

The Tiger Printer gives me control of my education. Most information prepared for a class is created with or can be imported into a Windows application. A professor can create material for the class, e-mail a copy to me, and I can print the material directly to the Tiger Printer. In most cases I can just select all, change to Tiger font, and print. When the material is structured, it is occasionally necessary for a sighted person to make minor alterations, and many of my professors have offered to just do that to be sure that I am receiving what they think I should.

In biology classes I printed labs, pie charts, bar charts, and other data representations. While participating in the labs, I could create my own charts, print and proof them, and include them in the final report. My biology professor, Dr. Leslie Blair, sent me all biology course and lab materials and personally made the occasional minor formatting changes necessitated by the large size of fonts needed to print tactile characters. These alterations largely consisted of replacing some text on figures with labels and creating a legend so everything fit on the picture.

My math professor, Dr. Peter Argerous, had never taught a blind student before, He created lecture notes for the entire class in Tiger font. He could then e-mail me the material and I could print it in a matter of minutes and have exactly the same text and graphics lecture notes as all other students.

I also used Tiger to obtain daily notes from the math class. Another student would take the notes, transcribe them to a word document, including all the diagrams in the text, e-mail it to me as an attachment and I could print them. This allowed me to have a copy of the notes within a few hours of the class. I will show examples of the computer files I received as well as the Tiger printouts during the presentation and will explain how they were created.

None of the people who sent me these materials needed to know anything at all about braille. The only "special training" that anyone required was to realize that Tiger could usefully print only line and block graphics and that I needed text in one of the Tiger fonts at a specified size.

A university professor's report on using Tiger

I, John Gardner, am a physics professor who wanted to continue his career after becoming blind in mid-career. I learned to read literary braille (although never became fluent) and a little Nemeth braille, but my most pressing need was tactile graphics. My students generate a great deal of data, and there was just no practical way for me to "see" it or any other graphical information that is essential for most scientists.

I do not use Tiger to print out lots of text as Patti does, because my braille-reading skills are still minimal. So Tiger does not provide me complete information access. However Tiger has largely solve my needs for graphically-presented information. My research students find it quick and easy to prepare tactile copies on Tiger of experimental data, computational results, and other materials that a thesis advisor needs to review. My assistant can create tactile copies of figures in papers I need to read, papers and proposals I am asked to review, and graphical information of many other kinds.

These diagrams have text of course, but even my limited braille skills are sufficient to read these short text labels. I have always found it difficult to read braille made with the various capsule papers, but Tiger's braille is excellent.

I travel a great deal and have found visits to other countries considerably enhanced by tactile maps of places I visit. Such maps are usually available as computer clip art, and it usually takes only a few minutes for an assistant to create a map, indicate positions of important cities or landmarks, and send it to me to print on Tiger.

More and more I find that information can be obtained in an electronic form so I need little special assistance to print and read it. An example is an estate-planning flow chart used in a recent conversation with my attorney. This was available as an Excel chart that she provided before our meeting. I just printed it and brought the copy.

I will show some of the information during the presentation and describe how it was created.

Report on Tiger use by two Texas educators

In order to teach Excel to a group of summer students at the Texas School for the Blind, teacher Gloria Bennett created an Excel screen as a table in Word and embossed that on the TIGER in order to show students just what the Excel screen looks like. As the students worked with Excel, they created their own spreadsheets that they printed directly to the Tiger from Excel. Her file is available from the Tiger Application Notes web page and will be shown in the presentation.

She and math teacher Susan Osterhaus taught them how to use Excel features by having them enter students' ages and then find the mean, median, and mode manually. Then they learned how to have Excel compute these quantities automatically. Later they developed their own special projects using Excel.

Students also participated in a beta test of the Accessible Graphing Calculator that is the subject of another paper in this meeting. They printed graphs on Tiger in order to have a hard copy to compare with the audio rendition.

We are grateful to Ms. Osterhaus and Ms. Bennett for sharing their summer experience and permitting us to describe it in this paper. We are also grateful to Ms. Bennett for giving us permission to use the Word/Excel file she created.

Conclusions

The Tiger embosser is a powerful tool for agencies who need to convert complex information to tactile form for blind clients. However, we believe that it is a tool whose greatest potential is its use by blind people to read standard literature written with standard computer applications and to communicate complex mainstream information. In this presentation, both uses will be demonstrated in detail.

Acknowledgements

DotsPlus and Tiger were developed by the Oregon State University Science Access Project. That research was sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation.


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