2001 Conference Proceedings
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TIGER, A NEW AGE OF TACTILE TEXT AND GRAPHICS
John A. Gardner
Science Access Project
Oregon State University Department of Physics
Corvallis, OR 97331-6507
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.