Young adult writers! Detroit teacher of blind kids wants your ebooks for her Braille printer!

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39 Responses to “Young adult writers! Detroit teacher of blind kids wants your ebooks for her Braille printer!”

  1. Selkiechick says:

    @ 30 Braille isn’t quite just another font.

    There are several different “grades” of Braille. Most Braille readers read “contracted braille” which uses single letters for common words (like the) and other abbreviations, so that the reader doesn’t have to go letter-by-letter. There are fonts that exist that do letter by letter transcription that you describe, and some of them are here:
    http://www.tsbvi.edu/Education/fonts.html

    But it is a somewhat complex system. There are conventions for punctuation, and for spacing, for example. There’s an online course here that outlines the conventions used:

    http://loc.gov/nls/bds/manual/

    There are a couple of software programs that have been developed to translate electronic text into Braille. I work at a university where I create e-text for college students, and when we need to create Braille, we use Duxbury Translation Software. I am not sure what the competition looks like, if they have other, less expensive competitors.

    http://www.duxburysystems.com/

    Which works pretty well, but like all automatic things, can make mistakes that a human transcriber would catch.

  2. Anonymous says:

    so if the (c) law says such, are we allowed to OCR a book then convert it to braille using that data???

  3. insert says:

    Has anyone invented a “monitor” for blind people? Sort of like one of those toys they had at museum gift shops with pins that took imprints of your hand or whatever. but mechanized. It could convert Roman text to braille. Maybe could display pictures too.

    (Note: By reading that idea, you agree not to develop that idea without royalties. You also agree to give me your firstborn child, since a post hoc EULA on a comment is actually legally enforceable… not.)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cory Doctorow, you gain +1 positive karma. Congratulations.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “US copyright law makes it legal to convert any book to Braille or audiobook for blind people, but it is technically challenging and expensive to do this without the electronic text”

    If this is true, why doesn’t Google (through its google books program) or Amazon (through its electronic books program) make electronic text available to qualified organizations/schools for conversion to Braille?

  6. arikol says:

    So you’re saying that your more sensible way of publishing has a bunch of hidden benefits?

    That sounds great and I hope more authors do this.

    HOWEVER.

    I do want an option to pay you for the digital versions. I have pretty much stopped buying paper books, as I much prefer the easy portability and backupability of digital media. I have read all your stuff, yet not paid for any even though I am an eager digital customer. I just need an easy, simple and safe way to do this transaction.

    Downloading for free is great, I still want the people who make cool things to get paid.

  7. Anonymous says:

    If it’s legal to convert the text to braille, couldn’t they peruse the hundreds of thousands of ebooks on usenet and purchase a bound copy of those they are interested in?

    The ‘pirates’ have already performed the conversion to text, and using usenet eliminates the possibility of illegal distribution. Purchasing the book provides the license (if I understand correctly).

  8. joshberkbooks says:

    Hey, I wonder if a PDF could work? The Word file is old (pre-edits) & the most recent digital version I have of the book is PDF… I guess I could copy and paste a PDF into word but I wonder how weird the formatting would get & if that would effect its usability in braille. Will figure it out! This seems like a great project!

    Josh Berk

  9. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    OK, honest question.

    If US copyright law makes it legal to convert any book to Braille or audiobook for blind people, can I send in ebooks that are not CC?

    Eg. all the books I trawled off usenet before ebooks were popular..

  10. Ultan says:

    I recommend the SF classic “Little Fuzzy” by H. Beam Piper. Although printed in the early 60s, the copyright was not renewed and the text is available at project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/18137

    The writing is crisp and the themes are still relevant today. A cute, furry species of tiny hunter-gatherers is found on a planet that was only recently colonized by humans. A large corrupt corporation owns most of the planet, but stands to lose it if the Fuzzies are acknowledged to be people.

    Many of Piper’s other works are also available free from Project Gutenberg.

  11. Anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth, National Braille Press published editions of the Harry Potter series, and definitely has an interest in continuing to make current books available to blind readers of all ages. You might want to talk to/work with them; they say that one of the hardest problems is getting the books in suitable softcopy form.

  12. Enormo says:

    Good for Patti Smith. In most states literacy for the blind is qualified by being able to push a button on a tape player.

    Sharp inquisitive minds gone to waste because most publishers are fearfull in release digital versions of their books. You would think that the publishers would take the recording industry’s storyline as a cautionary tale. Either lead the world into the future or be dragged into it on someone elses terms.

  13. Mike says:

    I hope they’ve pillaged Webscription.net for books. They’re allowed: http://www.webscription.net/news.aspx?showarticle=2

  14. Anonymous says:

    There are electronic braille displays, and they come in a number of sizes, from little ones that display 20 cells(characters) at a time to larger ones that can display 80 cells (2 lines of standard Braille.

    An overview from the American Foundation for the Blind:
    http://www.afb.org/ProdBrowseCatResults.asp?CatID=43

    Unfortunately they are very expensive, and most cost thousands of dollars, well out of reach of many students.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Please tell any teachers of the blind you know (or parents of blind kids) or blind kids themselves to sign up for Bookshare at http://www.bookshare.org/.

    It’s the official way to get books into digital formats into the hands of teachers of blind readers everywhere….and it’s free thanks to a massive grant Bookshare received last year from the Dept of Education.

    Grace (mom of Braille reader and Bookshare user)

  16. grikdog says:

    Good luck with that. You might scope around Taiwan and other un-American venues for texts. I once stumbled on an English translation of a Chinese translation of Jack Williamson & James E. Gunn’s Star Bridge — the translation was frankly and unreadably atrocious, but it exists. Look beyond the pale and you may find plenty of stuff that could automatically (somehow) become legit by being transposed into braille. With scruples, all you’ve got is a deeper shine on the old vanity press.

  17. Anonymous says:

    She probably already knows all about it, but just to make sure somebody should also mention Project Gutenburg to Ms Smith

  18. Anonymous says:

    Just a note for those interested… bookshare does take volunteers (scanning, proofreading and other tasks!)

    http://www.bookshare.org/about/volunteerOverview

  19. Ultan says:

    To expand on my last post, there are many works avilable from project Gutenberg that would interest the kids as much or more than works that are only available on paper. Many of these are old, but not all. Here are lists of books on topics that would appeal to older kids and young adults:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Children's_Literature_(Bookshelf)
    - Includes many essential authors such as:
    Frank L. Baum
    Frances Hodgson Burnett
    Lewis Carroll
    Kenneth Grahame
    Rudyard Kipling
    Andrew Lang
    Hugh Lofting
    Lucy Maud Montgomery
    Anna Sewell
    Robert Louis Stevenson

    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Adventure_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Mythology_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/School_Stories_(Bookshelf)
    -including, surprisingly, P.G. Wodehouse – more of him at: http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/w#a783
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Detective_Fiction_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Crime_Fiction_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Fantasy_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Folklore_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Horror_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Humor_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Short_Stories_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Pirates,_Buccaneers,_Corsairs,_etc._(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Travel_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/India_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Historical_Fiction_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Western_(Bookshelf)
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Native_America_(Bookshelf)
    – I didn’t see Ernest Thompson Seton in any of the above ( http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/s#a535 ).
    His “Two Little Savages – Being the adventures of two boys who lived as Indians and what they learned” ( http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13499 ) is a classic.

    There are a huge number of works in these bookshelves – I would Braille-print these bookshelves and the first page or two of the works that look interesting or that come from well-known authors (a Google count of the name in quotes with the keyword “author” serves as a pretty reliable metric for those you haven’t heard of – many of the listed authors are famous in their fields but relatively unknown by the public at large.) If a student finds the first pages intriguing then you can print the whole thing for the library. This will prevent printing stuff that no one wants to actually read.

  20. Lee says:

    What a terrific idea! My own YA ebooks are probably not suitable, since they’re written with older teens and adults in mind (yup, you’ve guessed it – the Big Three: language, violence, sex), but I’m passing the word along.

  21. Ultan says:

    I tried to submit a follow-up post, but it had so many links that it was held for moderation. This is a less link-heavy version:

    There are many works available from project Gutenberg that would interest the kids as much or more than works that are only available on paper. Many of these are old, but not all. Here are lists of books on topics that would appeal to older kids and young adults:

    Try the following links to bookshelves on:
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Category:Bookshelf

    Children’s Literature
    (Includes many essential authors such as: Frank L. Baum,Frances Hodgson Burnett, Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame, Rudyard Kipling, Andrew Lang, Hugh Lofting, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anna Sewell, and Robert Louis Stevenson.)

    Adventure, Mythology, School Stories, Detective Fiction, Crime Fiction, Fantasy, Folklore, Horror, Humor, Short Stories; Pirates, Buccaneers, Corsairs, etc.; India, Historical Fiction, Western, Native America –

    I didn’t see Ernest Thompson Seton in any of the above. His “Two Little Savages – Being the adventures of two boys who lived as Indians and what they learned” (Gutenberg etext 13499) is a classic.

    And most importantly, and which I left out of the post held for moderation, *Science Fiction*.

    There are a huge number of works on these bookshelves – I would Braille-print these bookshelves and the first page or two of the works that look interesting or that come from well-known authors (a Google count of the name in quotes with the keywords “author OR writer” serves as a pretty reliable metric for those you haven’t heard of – many of the listed authors are famous in their fields but relatively unknown by the public at large.) If a student finds the first pages intriguing then you can print the whole thing for the library. This will prevent printing stuff that no one wants to actually read.

  22. ikegently says:

    Patti Smith and others interested should look into Bookshare, an online library of over 50,000 titles available for people with print disabilities.

  23. Anonymous says:

    As a man who’s dealt with various blind tech for most of his life, I might be able to help a little.

    The problem here is that most braille libraries are adding relatively few books to their libraries now, or are closing down and selling off stock. A lot of their current stocks will be from anywhere in the last 80 years, in a huge range of conditions.

    In general, they buy in audiobooks instead – Either standard CD formats, or ‘daisy’ reader formats which usually take the form of a bunch of small mp3 chapters and an html file that organises them. I can see why they prefer the format, but I cant say I agree with their decision.

    Braille printers can cost as low as a few hundred dollars (second hand), and can be printed to relatively easily if you have the right paper…but running OCR on a text and piping it straight into a printer is fraught with risks, as a mistaken character can become much more confusing when it becomes part of a contraction. with printed letters you can generally see what the character was meant to be, but there’s no ‘shape similarity’ in braille to guess from.

    The way of the future for blind children who do want to read: usb braille displays. They cost a few thousand each, and it’s maybe 20 characters worth of braille in a live display. They’re surprisingly reliable, very responsive, and can work with most operating systems…the downsides being you have to read one line at a time, and you have to have them plugged into a computer.
    I hear that the one-line-at-a-time problem may be fixed in the future with materials that shift shape when a current is applied, rather than requiring many moving parts. You’d be able to manufacture larger displays for a lot less.

    At the moment, the only thing I know of with a braille display that can be classed as an ebook-reader of sorts is the braillenote (by humanware). A small portable computer with voice and braille output, but they’re very, very expensive.

  24. Anonymous says:

    26>: I have been looking for a material that thickens when having some current/voltage on it and reduces when not, making a dot. It does not need to be a very small dot, like a pixel at first. Using that material it should be possible to create a braille kindle. Some software to translate normal text into braille shouldn’t be that complicated (it is just another font). I’ve looked around, but couldn’t find such a material yet.

  25. Selkiechick says:

    There are “braille monitors” called electronic braille displays. They can range from 20 characters to 80 characters long. There is a good overview of them here:

    http://www.afb.org/ProdBrowseCatResults.asp?CatID=43

    Unfortunately, they cost thousands of dollars, putting them out if the reach of a lot of students.

  26. Anonymous says:

    oh god, what a fantastic idea

  27. Anonymous says:

    Cory, my name is Kelly and I work for author Chris Crutcher. It looks like all but one of his books is available via Kindle/Amazon as e-books. How can we make those available to this teacher for braille conversion? He would like to help her, but I’m not sure how to move forward, so your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Kelly Halls
    CC’s Assistant
    [e-mail redacted]

  28. shanealeslie says:

    @ #29

    This is a job for MAKE. I bet that a MAKE challenge to design an open source braille monitor for under $100 found result in a spec and schematic within a month. I’ve got $10 for the winning designer.

  29. jrandomf says:

    Hi, Jim Fruchterman here, CEO of Benetech, the parent nonprofit of Bookshare. Thanks for the folks who mentioned Bookshare ( http://www.bookshare.org ), which started as a grassroots library built by mainly blind volunteers scanning for each other, and now available to all students with print disabilities for free in the U.S. ($75 a year membership for adults with print disabilities in the U.S./$8 a year in India). Many teachers use Bookshare to get source files to create hardcopy Braille: the main software programs that do this now support turning our DAISY XML files into hardcopy braille (like Duxbury already mentioned).

    I would say Braille display users are our most avid members of Bookshare: imagine carrying 2000 Braille books around in a two pound package. But, they aren’t cheap!

    Kelly: six of Chris Crutcher’s books are already on Bookshare http://www.bookshare.org/search?keyword=Chris+Crutcher&search=Search and are available to student (and adults) who provide proof of disability. We have an agreement with the SFWA (the science fiction and fantasy authors’ association) encouraging authors to submit their files directly to Bookshare with permission to provide them to disabled people worldwide. This means we can avoid chopping and scanning and proofing the books, and the permission allows us to go beyond just serving the U.S. Many publishers make similar agreements. Inside the U.S., we can rely on a copyright exemption built into the law, which is why we can already have Chris’ books. I noticed that the most recent book we have of Chris’, Whale Talk, is already available globally thanks to an agreement we made with Random House.

    For authors who provide their books with Creative Commons licenses like Cory, you don’t have to prove a disability and subscribe. You can just go to our website and get them free, subject to the terms of the specific CC license. Yeah, CC!

  30. Anonymous says:

    I would plug http://www.365tomorrows.com/ as a source of good short stories in digital form,published every day.

  31. Nygma says:

    I use to work for a community college as their disabilities media specialist. I didn’t know any braille, but that didn’t make a difference. I would take PDFs and use OCR software to extract text then run them through a braille translator and print on double sided paper from there. (ear plugs were a great thing at this point!) I knew they were correct because I would take random sample pages and compare them to a template I translated by hand.

    My main point however is that as part of that office I had to make sure the student I was making the document for had bought the book. Under law, anyone can translate a book they own. Also, many texts were available from the publishers free of charge for such purposes. I had access to a database for California colleges to use. But if you just have to contact the publishers, they are usually very happy to work with you.

    PDFs are okay to work with if it’s straight text, but if there are any drawings, math equations, it’s a pain. So much better to get a text file, more so if from the publisher, since it’s formatted properly.

    So if you give the teacher a copy of the book, CC, or public domain book, she can have a braille version as well.

  32. Takuan says:

    I’ve often wondered if anyone blind read and posted here as a regular.

  33. JoshP says:

    It’s good to know that despite how crap one’s own personal life can be and it’s surroundings the same, that somehow, somewhere, someone is doing something awesomer.
    If this lady is asking, she wants the good stuff, Gary Paulsen, not Tinkerbell. In my undergrad YA lit class even Rampling’s Sleeping Beauty was considered YA (gawds knows I enjoyed it in my teens/yes it was on the banned list).
    Stuff like Harry Potter and Twilight open the door. But ya’ll know this, cause your awesomer..right…RIGHT?

  34. Anonymous says:

    Why has any one not made an electronic braille reader yet?

    One that can convert some ebook standereds into braille?

    Would it be that difficut? current ereaders had to wait for epaper to work but with braille all you need are pins that pop up and down.

    Could be a nice open project for some group to work on.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Someone here made a note of http://www.365tomorrows.com/ – all the stories are released under Creative Commons, so you’re free to convert them into any format you need. Not all the stories there are appropriate for middle-schoolers as some do address adult issues and some (though very few) are graphic in nature. There are well over a 1,000 stories on line in the archives so there’s plenty of material to choose from.

  36. Anonymous says:

    What about books from the public library? Our library system offers eBooks you can check out. Would those books be ok to be converted?

  37. Tricia Roth says:

    ReadHowYouWant is a Sydney based technology company that partners with leading publishers to make their content accessible -7 sizes of Large Print, electronic Braille suitable for embossing or reading on a refreshable Braille display- There are over 4500 titles available for sale for either $4.99 or $9.99. We publish about 200 new titles each month.We have lots of YA titles.

    We believe that all content should be made accessible at the time of publication and that readers should be able to pick the format that suits them best. here’s a link to our accessible site http://www.readhowyouwant.com/braille/

  38. J France says:

    Anon @ 22: That sorta tech is stupidly easily and cheaply available. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be enough blind folk to justify the innovation – at least on the mass-produced/cheap consumer scale.

    Time to teach kids to run around with sharp sticks, or something? It’s all fun and games, especially when you lose both eyes? (I keed!)

    And ANY e-text should work, DRM or not. I’ve managed to rip text from almost all DRM’d e book formats (Kindle not included) at one point or another, I thought you just had to get it into plain text for the converter to work.

    And Usenet seems to be the way to go to get copies, but alas a hardcopy “license” doesn’t mean you can chop it into braille. LEts look at how a certain party reacted the the Kindle’s text-to-speech capacity, just to get an idea of how some view plain text to Braille conversion.

    And it’d seem all Patti Smith’s are awesome, at least the two I now know of.

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