Braille Math Made Easy With The Tiger Formatter

Abstract: The Tiger® Braille Formatter is a Windows® software application used to transform MS Office documents into a form suitable for embossing on ViewPlus® Tiger® technology embossers. Tiger® embossers have 20 dots per inch resolution and can emboss Braille and tactile graphics with variable height dots. The Formatter’s primary purpose is to replace text with Braille and reformat the document to accommodate the considerably larger font size needed for Braille than normal text. A new release of the Formatter will include ability to transform math within MS Word documents to virtually any standard Braille code, to DotsPlus® Braille, or to custom Braille codes developed by individual users. The new open source Liblouis open source translator is used for both literary and math Braille translation.
1 Introduction

The Tiger® Braille Formatter software application was developed so that users of ViewPlus® embossers could easily convert text in MS Office documents to Braille before embossing. Most MS Word and Excel documents can be translated to Braille and reformatted automatically with no special editing by the user. Formatter permits many user options including language. Presently more than 20 literary Braille languages are supported, and the list is growing. Formatter is currently being expanded to provide translation of math, in the form of MathML, to various Braille math codes as well as to DotsPlus Braille. The Formatter application, DotsPlus® Braille, and the open source liblouis Braille translation engine used by Formatter are described here.
2 Tiger® Braille Formatter

Tiger® Braille Formatter is a plug-in for the Microsoft Office® Word and Excel applications. Word or Excel users may select a broad variety of Braille translation options, including choice of Braille language, choice of non-contracted or whatever levels of contracted Braille are permitted by the selected language, choice of using capital letters, emphasis markup, etc. Users may choose to see dots or ASCII font characters on screen after formatting is done and may choose to see the original text displayed as interline regular text. The transformed file may be embossed on any ViewPlus® embosser. The regular text can also be printed on the embossed copy if the ViewPlus® Pro Ink or Emprint™ embosser is used.

Some special Braille formatting needs are provided, e.g. ability to show page numbers of both the final Braille document and the original print document. However the overall formatting of margins, paragraph breaks, footer and header type, etc. is determined by the Office® application and is not altered by the Braille transformation process. Consequently, easily-readable Braille documents can be prepared by anybody who knows how to use standard computer software. Expert Braille transcribers may hand-correct the many small details required to conform to all the requirements of official Braille codes, particularly those that depend on context that cannot be recognized by computers.

Graphical information is retained and embossed. By default, dark areas of graphics are embossed with high dots, and light areas with low dots. Text within graphics is translated to Braille if the text is represented by proper screen fonts. Bit mapped text in graphics is not recognized as text and is not translated. In order to represent such text in Braille, a sighted person can replace it with proper text in a standard text box placed to cover the original bit map image. The text in this text box will then be properly translated.

Human editing may be needed in some other cases as well, e.g. reformatting of tables that are too large to fit when text is translated to Braille; Braille text on graphics that is too large to fit in the original position.
3 DotsPlus® Braille in Math Equations

DotsPlus® Braille [1,2] is an extension of standard Braille that represents letters, numbers, and a small number of other characters as Braille symbols and represents most other characters as graphic images. Most non-alphanumeric symbols such as the plus, slash, and backslash are tactile images of the print symbol. Punctuation marks are graphic symbols similar either to the print or Braille symbol. Accented letters of non-English languages are represented by graphic symbols that feel like the Braille patterns in those languages.

Lower case Roman letters are represented by the standard internationally-recognized Braille patterns. Upper case Roman letters can be represented by double cells consisting of the lower case Braille cell preceded by either a dot-6 (English standard) or dot-46 (used as the capital letter prefix in most non-English languages). These are called regular DotsPlus® and DotsPlus® Euro respectively. Capital letters may also be represented as single 8-dot cells in which the upper 6 dots are the lower case Braille cell with an additional dot on the bottom row left (dot-7 position). This is DotsPlus® Expert. Greek letters are also representable as double cells or single 8-dot cells with a dot-8 (dot on lower right). DotsPlus® numbers are those of Central European computer Braille for which 1-9 are the letters a-I with an additional dot-6. Zero is dot-346.

DotsPlus® Braille can be used for anything, but it was originally developed to permit math to be represented tactually in the two-dimensional form normally used by sighted people. This form is not as spatially efficient as math Braille. The two-dimensional standard math layout is also less efficient for sighted people than a linear form. The less efficient 2-D form is used because it is intuitively more understandable than a linear form. There is no reason to believe that the same is not true for blind readers.

It is quite easy in principle for mainstream math to be embossed in “normal” form when DotsPlus® Braille is used for characters in the equation. The math display engine needs to have enough flexibility to permit screen fonts to be changed to a font that embosses as DotsPlus®. The very popular MathType® math editor used in MS Word and many other Windows® applications permits equations to be displayed in such a form. Version 2.2 of the MathPlayer plug-in for Internet Explorer also permits equations to be formatted to emboss as DotsPlus® [3]. One selects a Tiger®, Tiger® Euro, or Tiger® Expert environment, and the equations are transformed to ones that emboss as regular DotsPlus®, DotsPlus® Euro, or DotsPlus® Expert respectively. Figure 1 shows a math example page. Figure 2 shows that page when text has been converted to the Tiger® screen font which prints as DotsPlus® Braille and the equations have been displayed with the MathType® Tiger® environment. Figure 3 shows the embossed printout when the file shown in Figure 2 is printed to a ViewPlus® embosser.

Fig. 1. Screen image of a MS Word file showing the solution to the quadratic equation.

Fig. 2. Screen image of the file of Figure 1 shows that page when text has been converted to the Tiger® screen font which prints as DotsPlus® Braille and the equations have been displayed with the MathType® Tiger® environment.

Fig. 3. The pattern of embossed dots when Fig. 2 is printed to a ViewPlus® embosser. The regular literary and math text and the math graphic portions could also be printed in ink on the embossed image with a Pro Ink or Emprint™ embosser.

DotsPlus® math representation has been used successfully by a handful of blind university students [4-6] in the US and UK for a variety of reasons. Some were unable to learn to read math in the conventional math code, and others used DotsPlus® because it could be obtained almost immediately from MS Word documents at a time when translation to standard math code was tedious and time-consuming. Others use it because it more easily facilitates communication with sighted people. The standard keyboard characters of DotsPlus® Braille can be learned in minutes by a proficient Braille reader. More advanced math symbols are learned when needed, just as they are by sighted readers. A blind student who has no comprehension of the way standard math is laid out will need to learn math notation just as sighted students do. The students who have learned and used DotsPlus® Braille have a wide range of ability but none has experienced a serious learning curve when learning to read math with DotsPlus®. The same certainly cannot be said for standard math Braille code learners/
4 Official Math Braille

Most major countries have adopted some official representation for math in Braille. Generally these math Braille codes differ markedly from country to country, even those sharing a common language. The US Nemeth math Braille code, for example, is very different from the UK Braille math code. The only commercially-available software that transforms a mainstream math format to standard math Braille is the Duxbury DBT Braille translator ( Math written in Scientific Notebook ( can save files as LaTeX which can be translated to US, UK, or French math Braille by DBT. A number of other math Braille translation projects have been reported [7-11] but none have yet resulted in applications that are presently available in a form that is useful to most end users.
5 The Liblouis Open Source Braille Translator Project

The Liblouis Braille project was begun as a commercial collaboration with the intention of developing a multi-language open source Braille translator. In general there are two facets to Braille rules – content and formatting. Achieving excellent Braille content is considered easier than achieving excellent formatting, so the initial goal of Liblouis has been to concentrate on obtaining excellent translation of text content to Braille in multiple languages. This capability is adequate for the Tiger Braille Formatter, since format is done by settings of the Office document. It also serves the needs of a broad group of other companies who make Braille devices of many kinds. It is hoped that this community of interest will broaden to include major Braille agencies. These agencies are best equipped to assure that the translation tables for their particular language are maintained as rules change. Liblouis information is currently available through the JJB web site It will eventually be moved to an appropriate open source host, and pointers to the open source site will be available from the above JJB site.

A new library, Liblouisxml, has recently been added to the Liblouis family to translate from MathML to various math Braille codes. Nemeth and UK math code is the initial target, and it is expected that tables for European math Braille codes will be developed through collaboration with experts on those Braille codes.

Fig. 4. Screen image of the file of Figure 1 after formatting for a Tiger® embosser. The Braille options are: Contracted US literary Braille and Nemeth math Braille. An option has also been selected for showing original text. When embossed on the ViewPlus® Pro Ink or Emprint™ embosser, the standard text is printed in ink, and the Braille dots are embossed. When printed to another ViewPlus® embosser, dots are embossed but the standard text is ignored.

Figure 4 shows a screen shot of the translation of the file of Figure 1 when the US Nemeth Braille code is selected for math. The figure shows both the Braille dots and regular text. When embossed on the ViewPlus® Pro Ink or Emprint™, the regular text can be printed in ink. The Braille dots will be embossed by those two or any other ViewPlus® embosser.
6 Testing

One of the authors (JJB) is an expert on US Braille and has served as primary alpha tester for the Braille output of Liblouis. A number of blind ViewPlus® users, consultants, and ViewPlus® distributors serve as beta testers. Braille errors reported by these beta testers are continually corrected by improving the translation tables for that language. Some errors in non-English Braille required addition of commands to the basic Liblouis translator routine. Some languages have been tested more thoroughly than others. As of this writing, the authors believe that Liblouis accuracy is excellent for US and UK English and for several Scandinavian languages. Most standard math is being translated properly, but very arcane advanced math expressions still remain to be tested thoroughly.
7 Acknowledgements

The authors thank Mr. Thomas Johnston for assistance with creating UK and non-English tables and for valuable assistance with beta testing.
Gardner, J., (2002) Access by Blind Students and Professionals to Mainstream Math and Science, Proceedings of the 2002 International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs, Linz, Austria, July 15-20, 2002
Gardner, J. (2003) DOTSPLUS Braille Tutorial, Simplifying Communication Between Sighted And Blind People, Proceedings of the 2003 CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, CA, March 19-22, 2003
Gardner, J., Soiffer, N., and Suzuki, M. Emerging Computer Technologies For Accessible Math, Proceedings of the 2006 CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, March 21-25, 2006
Francioni, J., and Smith, A., (2002) Computer Science Accessibility for Students with Visual Disabilities, Paper published in proceedings of 33rd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, Northern Kentucky, February 2002, pp. 91-95
Francioni, J., (2005) Observations on the Math Needs of College Undergraduates with Visual Disabilities, Proceedings of the National Federation of the Blind GAMA (Goals for Achieving Math Accessibility) Summit, April 14-15,
Gardner, J. (2005) New Technologies for Accessible Tactile Math and Accessible Graphics, Proceedings of the National Federation of the Blind GAMA (Goals for Achieving Math Accessibility) Summit, April 14-15, 2005
Batusic, M., Miesenberger, K., Stoeger, B.: Labradoor, a contribution to making mathematics accessible for the blind. In Edwards, A., Arato, A., Zagler, W., eds.:Proc. ICCHP 98 (6th International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs), Oldenbourg, Wien, München (1998)
Mo¸co, V., Archambault, D.: Automatic translator for mathematical Braille. In Stephanidis, C., ed.: Universal Accessing HCI –Inclusive Design in the Information Society. Volume 4. Mahwah, NewJersey, USA, Lea (2003) 1335 – 1339
Moço V. and Archambault D.: A transcription tool for mathematical Braille. In Craddock G., McCormack L., Reilly R., Knops H., Eds.: Proc. of the AAATE’03 Conference in Dublin, Ireland. – IOS Press, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2003) 481 – 485
Moço V., and Archambault, D. (2004) Automatic Conversions of Mathematical Braille: a Survey of Main Difficulties in Different Languages, Proceedings of the ICCHP Conference, Paris, France, July 7-9, 2004
Archambault, D., Fitzpatrick, D., Gupta, G.,Karshmer, A., Miesenberger, K. and Pontelli P. (2004) Towards a Universal Math Conversion Library, Proceedings of the ICCHP Conference, Paris, France, July 7-9, 2004

One thought on “Braille Math Made Easy With The Tiger Formatter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *