Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 11 / APRIL 1981 / PAGE 52

Micros With The Handicapped

Susan Semancik and The Delmarva Computer Club

One of our major objectives at this time is to devise an inexpensive means for providing a listing for a blind programmer. The possibilities we've considered to date are as follows:

  1. Have someone continuously available to read the program to the programmer.
  2. Buy a speech synthesizer that will vocalize BASIC words, letters, punctuation marks, numbers, graphics characters, and control characters.
  3. Build a tactile device that will pulse Braille equivalents of each character encountered in a listing.
  4. Sound out the Braille equivalents of each character encountered in a listing by using a different note or sound for each dot in the Braille cell using the CB2 line.

We know that possibility a) works. We have been forced through lack of money and/or equipment to use this means to solve the blind programmer's needs. But, it is certainly not a desirable solution, especially to the programmer. One thing that is soon apparent to anyone working with the handicapped is that the majority have an overwhelming desire for independence and self-reliance. To support this desire, we must look beyond possibility a).

Possibility b) is possible since Commodore has announced the development of a synthesizer for the PET, but we do not yet have access to one. It's price of almost $400 may or may not be a deterrent to its wide-spread use. We'll have to wait and see. Possibility c) is being considered by the Delmarva Computer Club at this time, and hopefully we can give you details on its use and cost in the very near future. The other devices that we know about that are currently on the market are very expensive and/or computer dependent. For example, Maryland Computer Services, Inc., Bel Air, Maryland, has advertised a Hewlett-Packard desktop computer and a talking interface that provides spoken output of 64 ASCII characters for $10,500. Triformation Systems, Inc., Stuart, Florida, has advertised a high-speed braille output on paper tape from computer via built-in acoustic coupler for $2,950. And this past March, ELINFA, Inc., Washington, D.C., announced a portable braille recorder with braille display and computer interface for $4,600.

That brings us to possibility d), which is immediately available to anyone with an amplifier and speaker connected to the PET's CB2 line. Since this is commonly used already to produce sound and music, this would mean no additional expense for most people, and so seems to be a good place to start exploring. It is certainly inexpensive, and an ear plug can be used with the speaker so that only the user can hear the sounds. This would require the blind programmer to learn something new; but, essentially the code is the same; only the method of perceiving the code is new. Rather than feeling the dot's position within the braille cell, the user will listen to determine a note's position within a range of notes.

The program entitled "A Sound Idea for the Blind" is an assembly language program that will run on either an OLD or NEW ROM 8K PET computer. It is designed to teach anyone the Braille equivalents of letters in both a visual and auditory form. After typing RUN, the user can type any letter on the keyboard and will automatically see that letter's braille dot configuration, and hear the notes that correspond to those dots. The user can also hit any number from 1 through 6 to hear singly the notes assigned to each dot position. This program could be used by the visual user to learn Braille or by the non-visual to learn the sounds associated with each position of the Braille cell.

The speed at which the notes are sounded is controlled by the data number in line 240. To speed it up, put a smaller number like 75 in place of the 200. If a change in either the quality of the sound or the pitch is desired, the data numbers in line 310 can be changed. These are listed pairwise for the six dot positions of the cell.

To test how well the sounds have been learned, this program can be modified as in the program entitled "Braille Letter Tester". The Braille codes of the 26 letters of the alphabet are randomly sounded and printed on the screen for the user to identify. The sound can be repeated by pressing the equal sign key instead of a letter. The line

455 IF A$<"A" OR A$>"Z" THEN 430

must be added so that the program is not terminated with an illegal value when a non-alphabetic character is entered. If the visual user really wants to "see" what the code would sound like to someone blind, the printing of the Braille code on the screen can be eliminated by changing six operation codes to NOP with the addition of the following line:

295 POKE 838, 234: POKE 839, 234: POKE 840, 234:
    POKE 883, 234: POKE 884, 234: POKE 885, 234

We hope to be able to expand this "sound" concept to realize our full objective of a program's listing for a blind programmer. Let us know if this is a realistic alternative, or if there are other possibilities that we haven't considered.