The Braille transcriber: a bridge between visual and tactile cultureGiuseppe Di Grande Published the 03/10/2023 08:00
Braille, a tactile writing system invented by Frenchman Louis Braille in 1825, represents one of humanity's most significant achievements in the field of communication for blind people. As famous writer, activist, and deaf-blind teacher Helen Keller wrote: "Through the magic of six dots, the door of knowledge has been flung open and the blind of every race and nation have entered into a promised land of the mind, a wonder-world of the spirit beyond the senses' ken. We are never more free than when we have a beloved book in hand, for, as we hold it, our freedom does not forsake us but lifts us up on its wings and bears us swiftly away to the enchanted regions of the mind that transcend all barriers and boundaries."
Transcribing text into Braille remains a challenge for many companies that provide this service today, due to the inaccessibility or structural diversity of common printed documents. Fortunately, new technologies have simplified the process of transcribing text into Braille, with Software such as Biblos that allows for high-quality results to be efficiently obtained. This is where the work of the Braille text transcriber comes in, a professional who has the skills and expertise to transpose digital or paper texts into Braille format. While for some end-user needs, simply printing the original text in Braille is sufficient, for other purposes, especially for educational purposes, the transcription of texts into Braille is a crucial activity to ensure and improve the accessibility of tactile content.
The Braille text transcriber is a professional whose main task is to convert text from a visual format to Braille format. This transcription process is essential to ensure better access to culture for people with visual disabilities who use paper Braille books. The conversion of texts into Braille allows blind people to read the content of documents, books, manuals, and other written materials through touch, thus acquiring knowledge and skills in various fields.
Transcribing texts into Braille has always been a highly specialized and niche profession, requiring specific knowledge of the system and transcription techniques. With the advent of new technologies, the process of transcribing a Braille book has been simplified through the automation of transformation processes. This has allowed for greater efficiency and speed in book production. However, automation has also required specialized skills closely related to Computer science, such as knowledge of Word processing Software and specific transcription Software.
To become a Braille book transcriber, it is necessary to possess a series of specific skills, which, although typical of the sector, are not always taken for granted. It is essential for a transcriber to have a deep understanding of the Braille system. Unlike the graphemes of ordinary writing, Braille uses a series of raised dots arranged in a grid of two by three to represent letters and symbols. As mentioned before, a Braille transcriber must be able to use specialized Software and tools for transcribing texts, such as Biblos, the Braille transcription Software, and generally the Braille writing tools. Additionally, a transcriber must know techniques for rearranging the visual parts of a text and adapting them to Braille format, as a book includes paratextual elements that become actual tactile anchors for those reading with their fingers. Therefore, Braille text transcription requires great attention to detail and an ability to interpret the original text. Besides ensuring the accessibility of school textbooks for visually impaired users, Braille text transcription may also require differentiation of the text structure based on the needs and reading abilities of the final user. For instance, for children with visual impairments, it may be necessary to use a simplified form of transcription, with larger spacing and shorter lines of text, to facilitate reading and comprehension. For adults who are visually impaired, on the other hand, a more complex Braille may be necessary, with greater density of information and a structure more similar to that of the original text. Differentiating the structure of Braille text may also involve the use of tactile symbols and signs to indicate the images and illustrations present in the text. This allows visually impaired users to have a more complete and detailed understanding of the content of the book, so that they can access the same information as sighted readers.
To pursue a career as a Braille transcriber, it is necessary to acquire a set of specific skills through professional training. However, in Italy, training opportunities are limited to very few specialized facilities that internally train their own personnel, as this work sector is underdeveloped. Moreover, formal training courses open to the public, either at the same facilities or at vocational training institutes, are rare.
Instead, there are several cross-cutting options to acquire the necessary skills to become a transcriber. A common solution is to attend training courses on Braille writing and transcription technologies, which are periodically offered throughout the country. Additionally, many educational resources are available Online to develop these skills. In particular, with regard to the use of Biblos Software - the leading Software in Italy for transcribing books into Braille - resources are available on the DIGRANDE.IT website, video tutorials on the author's Youtube channel, in the support group, and within the Software itself, in addition to the opportunity to participate in training courses periodically offered.
Accessibility to culture is essential to guarantee the social inclusion of people who are blind. The possibility of accessing written information, documents, and books is a fundamental right, which can only be guaranteed through the use of assistive technologies. Despite the progressive discontinuation of paper Braille, recent assistive technologies make it possible to enjoy Braille texts through special Hardware peripherals, commonly known as Braille displays, which allow for dynamic reproduction of Braille text.
In this constantly evolving context, the work of Braille transcribers plays a fundamental role in increasing accessibility for visually impaired individuals to both Braille books and digital books. Mastery of the skills required for Braille transcription allows for pursuing goals beyond just creating books in this specific format. In particular, the knowledge acquired can be applied to the production of digital books, a type of publication that represents a significant source of accessible information and culture for everyone, including those with visual disabilities.
The creation of accessible digital books requires the combination of a series of techniques and tools, known to those involved in Braille transcription, which proves to be a particularly useful option as it allows for the creation of electronic versions of the text capable of providing a satisfying and effective reading experience for visually impaired individuals.
Therefore, the creation of accessible digital books represents a concrete opportunity to ensure the accessibility of information to all users, regardless of their visual abilities. In this sense, knowledge of Braille transcription techniques also proves to be a key factor in creating accessible digital content.
The importance of accessibility is attested by numerous real-life examples of how the availability of accessible books, first in Braille and now also digital, has changed the lives of blind people. For example, the availability of school textbooks in Braille has allowed many blind people to access education and have the same opportunities as those who can see.
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