RoboBraille: Enhancing Document Accessibility by Scott Davert, HKNC for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults

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Photo of Scott Davert, standing on the sidewalk with his white cane and assistive technology

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, (at left) is a Senior Instructor in the Adaptive Technology Department and Communications Learning Center at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) in Sands Point, New York. Previously, Scott reviewed vision enhancements and hearing and physical/motor enhancements for Apple's iOS 5 release.

This week, Scott reviews RoboBraille, a Danish web-based service that converts files from one format to another. As Scott notes, "With school about to start for a lot of people, this is a service that could come in handy for converting textbooks in that always-pesky PDF format."

Understanding File Conversion Issues

People who are blind or deaf-blind often find it necessary to convert files from one format to another. Typically, blind or deaf-blind users will need to convert a graphical PDF file to an accessible format, such as Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), rich text format (.rtf), digital braille (.brf) or plain text (.txt) whenever textbook publishers supply books in .pdf format. There are many software applications that can convert files from one format to another, but these applications require installation on the user's computer hard drive in order to perform format conversions – until a service called RoboBraille came into being.

(Note: A Portable Document File, or PDF, contains images, text, and hyperlinks in a single document or file. Many screen-reading software programs that are used by people who are blind are not able to "read" these images or graphics and convert them into readable text.)

About RoboBraille

The Robobraille logo. It contains the name Robobraille in text and graphical braille

RoboBraille is a Danish web-based service that converts files from one format to another. Files can be converted from – or to – .doc, .docx, .jpg, .gif, .bmp, .pdf, .html, and many more. RoboBraille also converts files to digital braille (.brf). RoboBraille supports a wide range of languages, including American English, Arabic, British English, Danish, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovenian, and Spanish. You can even view the RoboBraille website in a number of different languages, via language conversion buttons on the RoboBraille home page.

How RoboBraille Works

Supported file types are .doc, .docx, .pdf, .txt, .xml, .html, .htm, .rtf, .epub, .mobi, .tiff, .tif, .gif, .jpg, .bmp, .pcx, .dcx, .j2k, .jp2, .jpx, .djv, and .asc. The process of converting files is very straightforward:

Step 1: Choose the file you'd like to convert and upload it to the RoboBraille website. For screen reader users, be aware that once your file has successfully uploaded, the "upload file" instructions remain on the web page; therefore, you will have to "arrow around" to learn when your file has completed uploading.

Step 2: Once you have uploaded the file, you will be presented with a list of output formats, such as a document, tagged pdf, audio, or an e-Book.

Step 3: The next step asks you to specify conversion options. For example, if you're converting a .pdf file to another document type, you will be presented with a list of available formats, including mp3 audio, e-Book (including .epub and .mobi), document (10 different document formats to choose from), and various forms of digital braille.

Some options: If you choose to convert the file to an mp3 document, you can choose whether you'd like the text-to-speech engine to read in American or British English, as well as specify the speech rate or speed. If you upload a Microsoft Word file for conversion, you have the additional option of Daisy full text and audio format.

Step 4: After choosing your desired format, enter an email address to which RoboBraille can send the converted file as an attachment. For mp3 files, you will be provided with a link to the file from the RoboBraille server. You can then download the file, and be on your way to enjoying the file format of your choice.

Assessment and Limitations

I have found that graphical .pdf documents are quite accurately converted with RoboBraille's OCR (i.e. optical character recognition) tool. The five documents I used to test RoboBraille's conversion ability had an average of less than one error per page. Turnaround time varies, based on the size of the document; for example, a three-page document may take less than two minutes, while a 300-page document could take over an hour.

The service has a 32MB limit on file size, which could present some issues for users who need very large .pdf documents converted. Also, protected documents cannot be converted. Finally, while one can convert files to digital braille, it is slightly misleading that the converted files are given a .txt extension. It would be nice if RoboBraille could include the digital braille .brf extension as an input format, so that users who create .brf files can convert them to another format when needed. This would also be helpful for some of the other proprietary formats, such as Keyword.

Overall, RoboBraille is a great service that can come in handy when conversion software is not available. And while RoboBraille gladly accepts donations, the service is free and works with Safari, Internet Explorer, and Firefox when I tested it.

It is beyond the scope of this review to explain each type of file that can be uploaded, along with all conversion options, but the above examples demonstrate how RoboBraille can become yet another resource in the ever-expanding assistive technology toolbox for users of adaptive technology.

Thank You, Scott!

We thank Scott for his review and look forward to more Scott reviews in the future! For more information, you can contact Scott at scott.davert@hknc.org.


Topics:
Web Accessibility
Reading
Assistive Technology
Accessible PDF

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