Roger Riise and the author...

Roger Riise and the author, January 2015.

Blind date

When I lost my eyesight almost three decades ago, small personal computers had just become available to the public for an affordable price. Microsoft's disk operating system DOS usually ran these PC's, and when I started to work as a teacher at Huseby centre for the visually impaired, Oslo, in late 1988, swedish Isotron AB had just released their screen reading software Termivox (see for instance Bjorn Granstrom's account from 1987). Usually, at Huseby, we applied the Termivox software on a DOS machine in combination with voxbox from Sweedish Infovox AB for speech synthesis. In fact, the Termivox/voxbox- system formed one of the pillars on which I was able to build a professional career despite my vision loss. The other pillar was of course a braille display combined with the brltty software. It's now January 2015, and I am about to visit a friend of mine working at The University of Troms? (nowadays denoted The arctic university). Roger Riise is a chief engineer and head of a team ensuring the quality of the university's digital information systems. Like myself, he lost his site during the late 80'es, and just like me he relied heavily on synthetic speech synthesis to stay within working life. Unlike me though, he doesn't use much braille. The thing is that Roger still has a box running with a fully functional DOS of 16 bits. Attached to the PC is a Voxbox served by IBM's Screen Reader software (which superseded the Termivox at the turn of the 1980'ies) running on the DOS machine. When we inspect his installation files, we can see that these routines probably were first installed during 1989. If I remember correctly, I left my Termivox during early 1990, in favour of the IBM Screen Reader. It's simply amazing to listen to this equipment once again, and to touch the Screen Reader's dedicated keyboard. Again I can hear the clicks from the keys of the Screen reader's keyboard, which promised access to text information for the visually impaired ages ago, and which still resides in the back of my head from late nights trying to figure out mysteries of my operating system. Standing in Roger's office with his equipment in front of me, I can confirm that the responsiveness of the software when it comes to speech output is irreproachable, and that the quality of the text to speech synthesis (tts) has not increased notably over these 25 years which have passed bye since I first encountered Termivox. In fact the infovox voices of my espeak soft synthesizer sounds much the same today as the Voxbox in Rogers office, even if my espeak uses the sound system of my linux box instead of a dedicated hardware synthesizer. This visit into Roger's office in 2015 has given me reasons to think back, and to try to recall the choices made when establishing an eyes-free computing environment for myself. However, due to urgent tasks in my office, I had to delay this work until early 2016. At present, most blind students and professionals in Norway use windows or mac based systems, even if linux and emacs probably is the only option which offers full control of the computer to a blind user. I start out by explaining to the novice what a braille display is and how to operate it, before looking a little bit more in detail on speech output under linux- or more specifically under ubuntu 15.04 and debian 7.8. I then continue by a walk-through of some common work tasks using emacs as the primary tool of operation.

Roger Riise and the author...

The infovox speach syntheziser

Roger Riise and the author...

The IBM Screen Reader keyboard>/em>

Displaying computer screens as braille

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