Volume 9, Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2007




The purpose of Wisconsin Braille Inc. is to advance communication and coordinate the efforts of all persons concerned with the availability, quality, and distribution of brailled materials in the state of Wisconsin thereby encouraging braille literacy.




It is with great pleasure that I accept the invitation and challenge to be the next President of Wisconsin Braille. I was a member of the first Board of Directors, and for several years now, have been active on its Special Book Project Committee. The mission of the Board, to promote braille literacy for the children of Wisconsin, matches my own passion. I have been a teacher of the visually impaired for the past thirty years and have had the privilege of teaching braille to at least one blind student each of those years. A braille reader is better prepared to face the challenges of school life and the world of work.

Wisconsin Braille continues to advance its mission in many ways. Two of our members, Mary Ann Damm and Constance Risjord, train and monitor braillists at the Oshkosh State Correctional Institution. Other members are on state-wide or national committees that deal with braille-related issues. We have been pursuing licensure for braillists with DPI and the Legislature for a few years. Our Special Book Project and Preschool Book Project offer several new Braille books every year at no charge to teachers and parents. We are available for training, and try to connect adult braille readers with blind children to act as their mentors. To facilitate communication, we maintain a web site, wisbrl.org, and we publish a well-written newsletter three times a year.

On behalf of the Board, I thank all of you who have supported our work and mission with your financial and moral support. Without it, our work would be hampered. You are always welcome to attend our Board meetings. We look forward to partnering with you well into the future!


What in the World is NIMAS?

Teachers and transcribers are abuzz about NIMAS. What is that, and how is it going to affect braille-reading students? Following are some commonly asked questions, but first some definitions.


NIMAS (National Instructional Accessibility Standard) is an off-shoot of federal legislation that calls for the provision of textbooks for K-12 blind or print disabled students. In order to do this textbook publishers have agreed to provide a requesting agency, i.e., state education agencies and local school districts, with electronic disks (formatted according to a new standard) of all new books so that they can be translated into braille, large print, etc. NIMAC, the acronym for National Instructional Materials Access Center, is where the disks will be stored.


Q. How does NIMAS relate to math, science and social studies? As I understand it, the translated file will only have text, correct? That is not making too much more accessible is it? Even if a Geometry book file is available, the graphics are really what is needed most and they are on each and every page. A. At the present time only the straight text parts of math and science books can be translated from the NIMAS files. Any math equations and other symbolic content are presented as images. This would save some time, but the equations, etc., will still have to be added by a Nemeth transcriber. Simple graphics might be able to be added with a computer drawing program.

     As for social studies, the text would be translated quickly, but the maps are a problem. Here, the drawing programs just are not good enough, though, unfortunately, many production centers are using them.


Q. My 7th grader will have Geometry next year and his braille text book alone will cost $4,500. Will NIMAS help lower that price?


A. NIMAS and NIMAC will help accessibility and timeliness BUT the cost, I fear, will be greater since the transcription of these files requires more expertise. Braille transcribers thoroughly familiar with formatting a textbook are an integral part of the process. Some people (who do not know braille) seem to think that school districts receiving NIMAS files can simply send them through an embosser and voila! a braille book comes out the other end complete with correct format, pictures described, and all graphics done perfectly.
     The real solution is for publishers to hire transcribers to format and add necessary graphics, descriptions, etc.,  before the disks are sent to the school districts. This would assure the quality of the disks, but it would also add to the expense — an expense that would have to be incorporated into the overall price of all braille textbooks; just as a portion of the tuition that all college students pay goes to provide services to those with disabilities.


Q. NIMAS takes care of the K-12 students, but what about braille books for adult students when they are in college?


A. If a college receives federal funding it is required to provide alternate media. Most large universities have a Department of Disability Services. Whether they will provide correctly formatted braille is problematic, however; they often provide readers, instead, or an e-file.

* * *

A federal mandate extending NIMAS to post-secondary education is being introduced in Congress.


Help Develop a Free Braille Transcription Program


by John J. Boyer


I have started a new business, JJB Software, Inc., to develop software for people with disabilities. The website is www.jjb-software.com.


At the moment the principle project of JJB Software is the development of an open-source and free braille transcription program designed from the start to handle math, science and engineering material. The development is being sponsored by ViewPlus Technologies, Inc.


The software has two components; a basic translator and back-translator with special features for mathematics, and a complete transcription package that does formatting as well as translating. The project also includes its own application, called xml2brl. This is a Mac Console application at present. However, I will soon have a GUI program like MegaDots or Duxbury. It will run on the Mac, Linux and Windows. Later on, plugins for Microsoft Word and other word processors will be developed.


The name xml2brl signifies that the program takes a file written in the new computer lingua franca, xml (Extensible Markup Language) and translates it into contracted braille, with proper formatting. The formatting is accomplished by means of a style sheet similar to that in MegaDots. The program works very well with files from www.bookshare.org. It also does a good job on a calculus book that MIT put up on its website. The math is translated into good Nemeth Code. Other braille math codes can be handled by changing the translation tables.


Unlike Duxbury or MegaDots, xml2brl will not include a print-side editor, though a braille-side editor may be provided for fine adjustments. Word processors can now export their files in xml. If the word processing has been done properly, it should then be possible to run the exported file through xml2brl and get a near-perfect, embosser-ready file as output.


You can find a detailed discussion of this software at www.jjb-software.com. If you have a Mac or Linux machine and some knowledge of programming, you can even download it and try it out. Even if you don't, I would like to hear from you. The more feedback I get the better the final product will be. Eventually it will handle graphics as well as math. Farther down the road, I hope to implement chemistry and music transcription. Ambitious, right? But, if enough people are interested and help with testing, it may eventually rival both MegaDots and Duxbury. And it's free!


[Following is a review of Boyer's program by a member of the Oshkosh Braille Program who is a certified Nemeth (math) transcriber. His background includes programming and database administration for the U.S. Army and programming and technical support for Microsoft.]


I reviewed the documentation on the software developed by John Boyer. Unfortunately, I could not review the software itself as I do not have a Linux or Mac OSX based machine. However, after reviewing the very technical user's manual, I have two things to say: (1) only those who have a brave heart, a love of all things braille, and a knowledge of computer programming would want to deal with this software right now, and (2) the ambition of this software is amazing. When it is complete, if all those ambitions are met, it will be a great program.


Of course I understand that the current program is meant as a development open-source program so that people can tweak it and help develop it. This of course is a great idea. However, I think, most braillists are probably not computer programmers, which would make use of this program right now difficult at best. When the GUI (Graphical User Interface) is complete for Mac, Linux, or Windows it should be better. Of course, most people are going to be Windows or Mac users.


The idea of a program being able to take a scanned document with "scano's" and clean it up and translate it into good braille sounds great, but we all know that to try and account for all possible scanning errors and other quirks would be almost impossible.


As for the "xml2brl" and the "mathml2brl" and eventually the chemistry and tactile graphic program capabilities — Wow! If it could take an XML document and create good braille like that, that would be amazing. I guess the questions I have extend to this program as it does to others. Even with the ability to scan the document and translate math equations and chemistry formulas, etc., how are you going to teach the program to recognize proper braille format? How would it know where to place a marginal note or whether to keep and use color indicators instead of another emphasis indicator? I suppose most would depend on how well the XML document has been created and formatted. So basically it means that a braillist needs to know how to make XML documents well so they translate well. This of course means that the braillist will need to know Braille Formats: Principles of Print to Braille Transcription 1997 very well. Not a bad thing I guess. But then again, will it really be the transcriber creating the XML document or the publisher?


I look forward to the day when I can actually have the program to test out functionally.


Gleanings from the Internet:


Blind More Accurate at Judging Size Than Sighted.


Close your eyes and imagine a loaf of bread. With your eyes still closed, estimate with your hands the size of that loaf of bread. Do you think your  mental representation is an accurate one? Specifically, how accurately have you gauged its size? According to researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand, you probably overestimated the size of the bread. That is, unless you are blind.


Researchers found that "blind individuals were more accurate than sighted individuals in representing the size of familiar objects." Their findings are presented in the study, "Superior Performance of Blind Compared with Sighted Individuals on Bimanual Estimations of Object Size," in the January 2005 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.


This research sought to examine the accuracy of memory representations by instructing participants to imagine a set of familiar objects (e.g., a can of soda, a loaf of bread, a carton of eggs) and then demonstrate the size of each object with their hands, without being able to see. Participants included both sighted individuals (who closed their eyes for the task) and blind individuals.


"Surprisingly, in over one hundred participants with normal vision, a marked overestimation in object size was demonstrated, suggesting that the visual-memory representations in sighted individuals might not be accurate after all," Franz said. Meanwhile, blind participants showed no overestimation and were more accurate in estimating object sizes.


The researchers argue that in people who are blind, the memory of familiar objects relies only on manual (not visual) representations that are based on their experiences holding the actual objects. In sighted individuals, however, memory of familiar objects relies on visual-memory representations. The authors believe visual representations may be inaccurate in size because "sighted individuals see objects everyday in different orientations and from different distances."





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A Change for NBA


In an attempt to aid more teachers of visually impaired students and transcribers who prepare classroom material and textbooks, the fall meeting of the National Braille Association, to be held in Minneapolis, October 25-27, will offer a study plan different from the usual smorgasbord of workshops. This is not a permanent change. Next spring's professional development conference will return to the usual format.


In October, participants will attend one of only two subjects being offered. Each session will occupy two and a half days.

        1) Focus on Solutions for Providing Daily Braille Materials to Students with Visual Impairments is meant primarily for teachers of blind or visually impaired students and school braillists who may or may not be NLS-certified.

        2) An Overview of the NBA Braille Formats Course and Certification Examination is meant primarily for experienced transcribers who are producing textbooks.

        The two groups will share a  presentation on Promising Practices—K-3 Educational Materials, an update on NIMAS, a trip to the Mall of America, and a supper and tour of Minnesota State Services for the Blind.


CEUs can be earned by participation in these courses. The cost is $300 for NBA members, $350 for non-members. The price includes continental breakfasts, lunches and breaks, and one supper. In addition, those registered for Session One will receive a copy of The Literary Refresher Course for Teachers and Transcribers. Those registered in Session Two will be given the NBA Braille Formats Course.


Check www.nationalbraille.org for periodic updates and registration information.



The Braille Corner


Dear Ms. Perkins,

    I have two questions about blank lines. First, I know that if there is a break in context with the text ending on line 24 or 25 of the braille page, then a blank line should be left at the top of the next page. Does this also apply to changes in formatting? If, for instance, a list ends on line 24 and the next thing is a paragraph, should line 2 on the next page (assuming a running head) be left blank?

    And second, is it true that when brailling cookbooks if you don't have room for at least three lines/ingredients at the bottom of the braille page the recipe must be taken to the next page? That seems to waste a lot of space.



Dear Wondering,

    In answer to your first question: Yes, braille readers can't always tell that line 25 is blank unless they check the right corner to find the page number. They are unlikely to do that if they are reading quickly. Many years ago when I asked this same question of Maxine Dorf at the National Library Service she chided me with the comment, "We don't read with rulers, you know."

    The answer to your second question is also yes. If a list has a heading it can start at the bottom of the page with only two items listed. If there is no heading there needs to be room for three items. See Braille Formats Rule 7§2a(7).


                Ms. Perkins



Ask Mr. #s


Mixed Numbers and Complex Fractions


[Discussion of fractions continued from Winter 2007 issue of Wisconsin Braille newsletter.]


Recognizing a mixed number or a complex fraction is not difficult because they are built off of the simple fractions.


What is a mixed number? Where Nemeth is concerned, a mixed number is an expression composed of a whole number followed by a simple fraction whose numerator and denominator are both numerals. The important thing here is that everything has to be a number or an omission symbol representing a number, NO letters. Even if it is in the form of a mixed number, no letters may be used.


How are the mixed numbers presented? Here are the fraction indicators that are used in mixed numbers:


_? Opening Mixed Number Fraction Indicator


_# Closing Mixed Number Fraction Indicator


The same rules regarding horizontal and diagonal fraction lines discussed in the last issue apply to mixed numbers as well. The opening and closing indicators surround the fraction portion of the mixed number and the whole number is treated as any other whole number would be in Nemeth.


[insert print examples]





Complex fractions are easy as well. A complex fraction is simply a fraction whose numerator and/or denominator contain one or more simple fractions or mixed numbers on the baseline of writing.


The build of a complex fraction uses the following indicators:


,? Opening Complex Fraction Indicator


,# Closing Complex Fraction Indicator


,/ Horizontal Complex Fraction Line


,_/ Diagonal Complex Fraction Line


As with other fractions, the opening and closing indicators surround the entire complex fraction and then the appropriate fraction indicators are used within the complex fraction to represent the simple fraction or mixed number.


[insert print examples]





See Rule XII §64-§66 of The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, 1972 Revision for more information on and examples of mixed numbers and complex fractions.



Mr. #'s


The Wisconsin Braille newsletter is published three times a year. Deadlines are: Spring/Summer – May 1, Fall – September 1, Winter – December 15



The purpose of this newsletter is to disperse information. Wisconsin Braille Inc. does not endorse or vouch for the reliability of any of the persons, organizations, or products appearing in this publication.



Wisconsin Braille Inc. welcomes letters from readers on all subjects concerning braille and blindness. Publication of letters will be at the editor’s discretion. Letters must be signed, but names will be withheld upon request.




            Use the following form to join or renew your membership to Wisconsin Braille Inc. Please make checks and money orders payable to: WISCONSIN BRAILLE INC.


Regular membership, annual dues: $10

Sustaining membership, annual dues: $30

Lifetime membership: $200


Please include: the date, your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. Also advise if you wish printed material to be sent to you in regular type, e-mail or braille.


Please answer the following: What is your affiliation with the braille-reading community? (List all that apply.) Teacher, educational assistant, transcriber, proofreader, administrator, producer, parent, user, other (specify).


Return application and payment to: Wisconsin Braille Inc., Membership Chair,

5263 Anna Lane, Middleton, WI 53562



This version of the Wisconsin Braille newsletter was prepared by the members of the OSCI Braille Program. It has not been proofread. Readers are encouraged to report noted errors to: Wisconsin Braille Newsletter, Editor,  P.O. Box 45076, Madison, WI 53744-5076.


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