To commemorate World Braille Day which occurs annually on January 4, (Louis Braille's birthday) I thought we'd take a look at braille production and how it has evolved in recent years.
Braille transcription has always been a labor-intensive process. Originally, transcribers would read the print and key in the corresponding braille, one character at a time. As scanners and optical character recognition software became available, it was possible to start from a text file resembling the printed book, which could then be converted to braille digitally. These text files were never perfect, however, directly from the scanner, and required letter by letter checking to ensure that they matched the print. This process shifted the nature of the work from data entry to proofreading, and allowed for only slight economies in time.
Over the last three years, the CNIB Library has introduced new production processes that have dramatically reduced the time needed to produce braille titles.
The Library begins by creating a near perfect (minimum 99.995% accurate) digital master based on the original print, using XML, or eXtensible Markup Language. This master is stored for possible future use in any text-related output but is not flavoured towards any output; it stores all the information about the original book only. Compliance with the upcoming DAISY 4 standard will not be difficult, as many of the expected specifications are already present here.
From this point, the XML master can be transformed (i.e. the text and markup information manipulated with stylesheets) into an XML file containing braille formats and codes, which can then be imported into Duxbury Braille Translator software. Duxbury Systems, the maker of this software, has been very receptive, responsive and enthusiastic about assisting in this process, and have further developed XML handling in their software. The Library's advancements could not have happened without them.
Most of the heavy lifting is now done by the time a file reaches a transcriber, who finalizes the work by brailling un-automatable items such as complex tables and image descriptions, and performing a quality assurance check.
Dovetailing nicely into this is the rise of eBooks. Publishers in Canada and elsewhere are now making digital text files available for reading on mobile devices, dedicated readers, desktop computers and tablets, and have shown an increasing awareness of the need to provide these files to the Library, to assist in braille transcription. The Library has developed transformations from several common eBook formats. The end result is that braille titles spend less time in the Library's production queue and are ready for reading much faster than ever before!
To learn more about braille and production methods visit the following links.
Duxbury Systems, maker of braille translation software
DAISY, Digital Accessible Information System
BANA, Braille Authority Of North America
UKAAF - UK Association for Accessible Formats
International council On English Braille, ICEB