Re: Screen readers and how to develop them: A historical perspective

  • From: Kerneels Roos <kerneels@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2010 21:11:13 +0200

Wow what a lot of fascinating information! Thanks a lot guys. I actually got the original link from the magazine article archive from Jacob on another list and there I replied: "Facinating!" only to read this list to see some other guys had the same responses :-)

Even the comments about the price ha ha.

The other topic that started in this thread, about Braille etc... Well, I tend to agree more with Alex, that reading Braille is a whole different experience than listening. I would not go so far as saying people not making use of Braille are illiterate, but I would encourage everyone to give Braille their best shot. Listening is awesome and more practical than Braille in this day and age, but it's not the same as reading words from paper, and I'm a fairly newcomer to the tactile reading world. I've read here and there that there are some scientific backing for this difference, but I also experienced it myself, a kind of thril, when reading some words as if it just goes streight to your heart / brain. A sort of much more direct input, speaking in a language your brain just gets -- heck Idon't know what it is, but I know it's different.

In closing, here's a link to a summary of speech synthesis recorded in 1986 -- makes for very interesting listening (see the link to the zip file at the end of the page if you want all the samples at once).

I think the next big thing in synthetic speech is going to be computer driven mechanical models of the auditory tract if Wikipedia is anything to go by.


On 12/21/2010 3:36 PM, Rasmussen, Lloyd wrote:
Braille produced on computers in the 50's and 60's (for individual use by 
programmers) was done by modifying a line printer, putting soft material behind 
the paper and hammering out asterisks in a braille pattern.  It only worked on 
thin paper, and didn't hold up well.

The first refreshable braille display was made by Oleg Tretiakoff in France in 
about 1975.  His company became Elinfa, and his displays eventually ended up at 
Triformation Systems (now Enabling Technologies).

After reading that article, I looked up Votrax on Wikipedia and found some 
reasonably accurate information.  I Followed that with the Speech Synthesis 
History Project of the Smithsonian Institution, cited by the Wikipedia article. 
 Between 1986 and 2002 the National Museum of American History collected a lot 
of information that would interest blind technology fans.  There you can read 
some things about the history of Eloquence, Kurzweil, Votrax, Telesensory 
Systems, Infovox, DecTalk, Haskins Laboratories, Bell Labs and other speech 
technology research which we take for granted today.

And I also decry the lack of braille instruction and expectations.

Lloyd Rasmussen, Senior Project Engineer
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress   202-707-0535
The preceding opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the 
Library of Congress, NLS.

-----Original Message-----
From: programmingblind-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
[mailto:programmingblind-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Alex Midence
Sent: Monday, December 20, 2010 6:04 PM
To: programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: Screen readers and how to develop them: A historical perspective

Glad you liked it.  I was hoping someone on this list would have personal 
recollections of this time and the tech available.  Neat how there was braille 
output as far back as the 50's.  It's a shame that that stuff is stil as 
expensive as it is.  Perhaps, some day, as happened with speech technology, 
blind people will see the price of a braille display drop to something 
affordable as in, under a thousand dollars?  Same for a braille 
printer/embosser.  I am enormously concerned at how many of the blind kids I 
have met recently have poor braille reading skils and don't really seem to care 
that they are bordering on illiteracy.  Having something or someone read to you 
is not the same as direct input from a written document to your mind without an 
intermediary.  In this age of electronic texts, you would think that braille 
would explode in popularity since you no longer have to fill a room with tomes 
of the stuff.

Alex M

On 12/20/10, Rasmussen, Lloyd<lras@xxxxxxx>  wrote:
That was fascinating.  Dr. Stoffel worked at NIH for a period after he
wrote that article.  I could go on and on about this ancient
technology, but had better do it off-list.

People had produced braille from computers since the 50's.  The first
speech for a blind computer user was for Jim Willows, an engineer  at
the Lawrence-Livermore Laboratories in 1968 (letters and numbers
played out through a digital-to-analog converter).

The context of this article ...  Votrax devices had been on the market
for several years, but the SC-01 chip was put into the Type 'n Talk in 1981.
This device had built-in letter-to-sound rules, so you didn't have to
send phonemes to it as you did the earlier V S A and VSB boards.
These three
  which took RS-232 data and either acted like terminals or interpreted
terminal sequences and sent the data along through another serial port
to be displayed.  They were not screen readers running on the computer
whose screen was being read.  It was revolutionary to think that you
could buy a $300 Type 'n Talk instead of a $5,000 talking terminal to
speak the data coming from an RS-232 device.  The Echo II synthesizer
(using the T I
technology) was added to the Apple II at about this time.  By the end
1983 there were screen readers for the Apple II and for the IBM PC.

I worked a little bit with the FSST-3 and the VERT terminal, and heard
Deane Blazie demonstrate the TotalTalk at various conventions.

Lloyd Rasmussen

-----Original Message-----
From: programmingblind-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:programmingblind-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Alex
Sent: Monday, December 20, 2010 3:24 PM
To: programmingblind
Subject: Screen readers and how to develop them: A historical

Hi, all..

I thought this was rather interesting.  It is an article written in
1982 about some of the techniques used back then to write screne
readers or "talking terminals" as they called them.  I was struck by
some of the predictions the author made with regard to the future,
some of wich came true and others which did not.  There was also a
very interesting section on speech synthesis and how to get the
hardware and software to do many of the things we take for granted
nowadays like starting and stopping speech, repeating previously
spoken text, deciding what to say as an acronym and what to speak as a
word, punctuation levels and so forth.  It was fascinating stuff.

Oh yeah, and get a load of the prices for that stuff!  Keep in mind
that was in 1980's money too.  Put like a 33% markup on it and you
might approximate what it would cost in today's money.

Alex M
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Kerneels Roos
Cell: +27 (0)82 309 1998
Skype: cornelis.roos

"If one has the talent it pushes for utterance and torments one; it will out; and 
then one is out with it without questioning. And, look you, there is nothing in this 
thing of learning out of books. Here, here and here (pointing to his ear, his head and 
his heart) is your school. If everything is right there, then take your pen and down with 
it; afterward ask the opinion of a man who knows his business."

(To a musically talented boy who asked Mozart how one might learn to compose.)

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