Neal Kuniansky and David Holladay
Duxbury Systems, Inc. produces the DBT braille translation software, which is used around the world. Duxbury Systems is a family owned company located in Massachusetts USA. Founded in 1975, it has been in business for almost 40 years.
For years, Duxbury Systems added translators for new languages based on contacts, braille education initiatives, and business needs. About six years ago, Duxbury Systems increased its focus on languages. We are a company that strives to support braille in all parts of the world, not a company that is only interested in nations that have directly solicited our help.
In January 2011, Duxbury Systems released its version 11.1 of DBT with many more languages. The list of languages almost doubled to about 135 separate languages. We handle primary and secondary languages for virtually all of North and South America, Europe, and Asia. We support the languages of many other nations across the globe as well.
For India, we support all languages using the ten major script systems. Since people identify by language name rather than by script name, the Template menu in DBT lists 45 different languages of India. As long as you choose a related language, DBT actually supports over 300 languages of India. Please visit the Duxbury Systems website to see the current list of supported languages in India and elsewhere.
Some readers are familiar with Duxbury DBT, some readers may be familiar with other braille production software, and others may not be familiar at all with this sort of computer program.
A word processing program allows a computer user to type in text, correct it, and print it out. With additional pieces of software, that text has additional uses: it can be e-mailed, downloaded, uploaded to blogs, etc. The main point is that with a computer, a printer, proper cabling, and a power source, you can produce inkprint. Braille production software lets you import files from various file types, convert the text into braille, and then send the braille material to a braille embosser to be produced in paper (or electronic) braille. All of that comes together, as long as you have a computer, a braille embosser, the necessary cabling, a word processor, and braille production software, such as Duxbury DBT.
When one launches Duxbury DBT, one is faced with a fairly blank screen. Using the Open File command or the New document command gives the user a chance to specify which file to open or start working in a new document. During the process of opening a file or starting a new document, the user is asked to name a DBT Template. If the user has specified a default, pressing Enter accepts that default.
Otherwise, one can explore a long menu list of possible Templates. In general, there is one DBT pre-defined Template per language, so that picking a Template is just picking a language. At this point, the file is displayed from within Duxbury DBT. Pressing the command Control-T translates into braille, using the rules for braille for the specified language. The user has a chance to review the material in braille on the screen. A blind (or deaf-blind or visually impaired) user can use access technology to review the material. When it is time to produce the braille on paper, the user issues the Control-E Emboss command.
A key point to be made is that every copy of Duxbury DBT is the same. Each can produce braille for 135 languages. If a college in California (USA) buys a copy of Duxbury DBT, then they have access to all of these languages. Recently, Duxbury Systems got an e-mail of thanks from a blind Cambodian student who was attending an American college. She was delighted that her school could produce Khmer text for her in proper Khmer braille, thanks to the careful work that Joe Sullivan has done on Cambodian braille. There was no need to purchase or download a “Cambodian option”. All the instructions to produce the Cambodian braille are there for all users.
Duxbury Systems has worked with a number of volunteers around the world to localize the product. The localization allows all the prompts and user interface to be in a language other than English. At this time, all of the localizations are for European and North American users (plus Korean and Brazil-style Portuguese). We welcome contact from enthusiastic users who wish to help us offer the benefits of the software to those who do not speak English.
An NGO wants to set up a computerized braille production facility in Uzbekistan. For hardware they need a power source, a computer, an embosser, and all necessary cabling. An internet connection is useful to obtain materials, ask questions, and obtain software updates. For software, they need a braille translator. For the purposes of this article, we assume Duxbury DBT. They also need a Word processor, Microsoft Word or Open Office. Open Office has the advantage that it is available at no cost to most end-users.
In 2012, Duxbury Systems got an e-mail from Bangladesh. We learned that while we supported Bengali as it is done in India, we were not supporting Bengali braille as done in Bangladesh. A further complication was the widespread use of a non-Unicode font in Bangladesh. Duxbury imports files from Microsoft Word or Open Office as long as the text uses a Unicode font. Decoding a non-Unicode font can be very tricky. Duxbury Systems has done this for only a few fonts.
Unicode fonts tend to string logical characters in spoken order. Braille character order generally follows spoken order as well. Unicode fonts, which are almost universal, are also seemingly made for braille conversion. The Bengali font was focused on written order and appearance. Some individual characters were just slivers of shapes meant to give meaning only when combined with other characters. Despite language and communication difficulties, Duxbury was able to work out the font, and the Bangladesh version of Bengali braille. One lesson for Duxbury was that changing the translator so that changing how “unknown to Duxbury” combinations showed up in braille made it much easier for local experts to give us feedback.
During the early stages of our 2007-2011 effort to support more Asian languages, Duxbury Systems was contacted about the impending sale of a number of copies of DBT that was dependent on support for Dzongkha, the language of Bhutan. We received a PDF file of the braille chart, and started to work on it. Duxbury Systems worked closely with staff from the Ministry of Education in Bhutan. From our perspective, the most unusual part of the project was that we were required to sign a statement that we were not charging for the development, that Duxbury Systems would only be paid for the copies of the software at the standard price. We readily signed, since this was our intention from the beginning.
In 2009, we received a new PDF of a braille chart, requiring serious re-work on our part. One of the aspects that made the additional work satisfying is that it was clear that the new chart was created based on the extensive experience with the prior system. Duxbury Systems is proud to support the Bhutan Braille System, revised in 2009.
In Laos and Tibet, NGO organizations had set up braille production. The local persons did use Duxbury DBT, and were disappointed at the results. The problem was incomplete information about the braille codes at Duxbury. Through e-mail, we instructed the local staff to e-mail us Microsoft Word or Open Office files of the source text, with an e-mail explaining what the wrong braille was, and what the correct braille should be. Duxbury would e-mail the corrected table, and we would try another round.
The exciting part of this is that the relationship is straightforward. The trail blazer who helps Duxbury to add a new language translation table does not need to begin by raising funds. Sometimes progress is slow in the beginning, but we always get good results in the end. The improvements are placed in the next version or service release produced by Duxbury Systems, letting all users have access to the new or newly improved language support.
Based on contact from Australia, Joe Sullivan of Duxbury Systems learned that persons in Vietnam were having difficulty producing braille. In 1993, William Jolley and Rhonda Pryor of the National Federation of Blind Citizens of Australia sent Joe Sullivan Braille instructions and samples, as well as a list of contacts. As a result of this work, support for Vietnamese has been built into DBT for Windows since its earliest version. Contact with Vietnam has been on-going, including a trip to Vietnam by Joe Sullivan which was arranged by Larry Campbell of ICEVI.
Duxbury Systems does not charge for developing translation software for new languages. Occasionally Duxbury Systems gets a request to support a new language. If the number of speakers of the language is over four million, and if the language is dominant in a nation we always say yes. If the number of speakers is not that high, or if the language is just one of 14 in a nation with a complex language heritage, it is a hard decision. But by all means please ask. We especially welcome people with information about a braille code for which we have little or no information.
To contact Duxbury about a new language, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To add translation tables for a new language, we need to be able to e-mail someone in English. We explain the way we like to see reports, and then get to work. As the project continues, the burden falls more and more on the local contact, since it takes more and more braille to be produced and read until an error is found. Some languages can be supported fully in a few weeks. Some languages (such as contracted Tagalog or Korean) may take about a year.
In almost all cases, we offer a free license to the local contact. Work goes quickly (and easier) when the local contact fully understands how to write useful reports.
Duxbury now supports almost all of its languages going from braille-to-print as well as print-to-braille. Why is this important? A blind student can enter braille into an electronic braille device using a braille keyboard. After the material is transferred to a computer, DBT can translate the braille file into inkprint. The inkprint can be brought into Microsoft Word or Open Office. Thus a blind student can write in braille and print out text in Korean (and many other languages).
The list of languages that are supported for braille-to-print is not quite as long as the list of those that are supported for print-to-braille. And there are limitations. For example, DBT can convert Mandarin braille into Pinyin (Romanized Mandarin), but cannot produce an inkprint file with Han characters (Chinese characters).
The production of braille mathematics is a very technical subject. Duxbury Systems offers four different mathematical translators:
You can specify that a particular math system be used with any of the translators. We are aware of many additional braille systems for math and science notation. We hope to eventually add to this list.
The methods of entering mathematics into a computer so that Duxbury DBT can understand it are well described on our website, so we will spare the reader from the details. Duxbury Systems is motivated to help improve braille production of mathematical texts. Several of our staff have detailed knowledge of producing mathematical and science notation in braille.
Accessibility has always been important to Duxbury Systems. Two of the full-time staff are blind and need to access DBT and other products of Duxbury Systems. The fact that Duxbury DBT is accessible means that many blind persons have been employed as braille transcribers or in related professions in braille production. We are aware of a number of blind persons who have been employed for many years due to their ability to use Duxbury DBT.
At various times, we are challenged by someone who needs to be shown that Duxbury DBT works for a specific language right now. We find ourselves explaining to someone in Northern India how to produce Pakistani-style Urdu (as opposed to India-style Urdu). In a short time, we need to explain downloading the software, getting it working, cabling and configuring the software for the user's embosser, and then working with the specified language and testing the braille. And of course, this all needs to happen very quickly, since the dealer is naturally afraid of missing a sale.
Our solution has been to create a special web page for just such emergencies. If you visit http://www.duxburysystems.com/samples.htm you learn about all of these issues. We offer sample files in 60 languages to help someone see what they can do with Duxbury DBT.
We invite readers of this article to go to this page so they can run some tests for themselves, and see what Duxbury DBT can do. If you use our demo software, the braille will have one consonant sprinkled in the braille many times. With a fully licensed copy, the braille will be as perfect as our developers can make it. Be aware that some of the development work mentioned in this article may not be available for a few months after you read this article. Contact us at email@example.com if you are disappointed by your test of Duxbury DBT.
Duxbury Systems is very sensitive to the needs of persons in regions of the world that need additional support and assistance to produce braille.
We offer this assistance in a number of ways:
We are here to serve braille needs here and in every corner of the world.