2004 Conference Proceedings

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COMPLETE ACCESS TO ALL PAPER AND COMPUTER FORMS, TABLES, AND CHARTS

Presenter(s)
John A. Gardner
Vladimir Bulatov
ViewPlus Technologies, Inc.
Corvallis, OR 97331
Email: John.Gardner@ViewPlus.com 
Email: Vladimir.Bulatov@ViewPlus.com

Introduction

Blind students and professionals can use reading machines[1] to read simple information on printed pages and screen readers[2] to read text on computers. Screen readers also permit blind people to fill out some types of electronically-accessible forms. However, much important information that blind people need to read or create remains inaccessible without help of a sighted person. Many kinds of forms, tables, and charts are available only on paper or computer formats that cannot presently be read or manipulated by a blind person.

ViewPlus Technologies[3] is developing a general audio/tactile method that provides blind people good access to this kind of spatially-structured information. A prototype of this technology will be demonstrated. A blind computer user can easily create a tactile replica of a printed page or a page within a computer document, feel the image and hear (or read with an on-line braille display) the text associated with any place on that image that their fingers select.

It is straightforward to read selected cells in tables of almost arbitrary complexity, to read information in blocks on charts, and even to identify regions on forms that the user needs to fill out. A user can open text boxes on forms to fill in information, proof the final filled-out form, and then print it on an ink printer or forward the electronic file to its intended destination.

Reading Complex Information on paper.

Unless a reader has enough vision to read the paper directly or with a magnifier, it will always be necessary to scan the page and convert images of text to "real text". For most accurate reproduction of the final document to be read using the ViewPlus audio/tactile technology, the scanned image should be saved as a gif file or other standard bit-map image format. Once the paper has been scanned, the user has an electronic document and can follow the procedures described in the next sections.

Reading Complex Information in an Electronic File

A blind computer user needs only to be able to select a page or region to be read and then print it to a special ViewPlus "printer" program. This program creates a new "printer view" document that replaces the original on screen, and that document is automatically embossed on a Tiger Tactile Graphics and Braille Embosser. The user places the embossed page on a ViewPlus touch pad and feels a tactile image of the page. Generally text will be far too small to be tactually readable, so embossed text is normally represented on the tactile copy by a special, easily identifiable pattern. Any boxes, arrows, lines or other structural elements will be reproduced and felt by the user. Text is normally selected by pressing at the beginning and end of what the user wants to hear. This can be a line of text, or it can be a block depending on whether the beginning and end are on the same line. Generally this page gives the user adequate access to most forms, tables, charts, etc. If there are portions that are too small to be identified tactually, the user can select a rectangle by pressing its opposite corners and then zoom it to fill the screen display area. The zoomed image is also automatically embossed on Tiger. The new zoomed page can then be read audio/tactually as the original was.

Editing and Adding to the Final Document

A user can edit textual information on the document that has displaced the original. Generally the size of the text region imposes a practical limitation on how much text can be expanded. It is possible for the user to select some region, for example a place on a form that needs to be filled in, and instruct the computer to open a text edit box at that point. If the form has a printed line or box at the indicated place, the edit field will be placed on the line or in the box. If there is just white space, then the program normally opens a text box vertically aligned with other text near the point touched. The user can explore tactually to learn the size and position of that edit box and change it if it's not in the desired location. Once the box has been closed it becomes just another text object in the document. It can be edited or removed completely, just as any other text object can be edited or removed.

Conclusions

The new Viewplus audio/tactile information access technology that is previewed in this presentation puts a blind person on a nearly equal footing with a sighted person in ability to access complex forms, tables, and charts, including the ability to fill in an electronic replica of a paper form. The reading/writing process is more cumbersome for a blind person because of the necessity of creating an intermediate tactile version of the document. However the tactile version can be critical if one needs to understand the spatial layout to understand information.

Users can save the computer document and tactile copy created while reading the original. The computer document is in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) format. Sighted people can view SVG files with a free downloadable Adobe[4] or open source[5] SVG viewer. Blind people can view the document using the same audio/tactile ViewPlus technology that was used to create it.

References

  1. Kurzweil, http://www.kurzweiledu.com, Open Book, http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/software_open.asp Vera, http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/scanners_vera.asp

  2. Jaws, http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/software_jaws.asp Window-Eyes, http://www.gwmicro.com

  3. ViewPlus Technologies http://www.ViewPlus.com

  4. Adobe SVG Viewer http://www.adobe.com/svg/

  5. Batik SVG Viewer and tool kit, http://xml.apache.org/batik/


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