Interesting article from Access World on Braille reading and productivity

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claire amoroso

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Aug 28, 2021, 5:41:48 AMAug 28
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Just came across this article which has some interesting ideas, although some of the resources are based in the US. 
Claire 

Gerardo Corripio

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Aug 28, 2021, 7:36:25 AMAug 28
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Yes great article and tips! That’s what I miss with my EReader from NLS which I’m pilot-testing as part of the NLS Overseas program: the way one reads on a Braille page; half the line read by the left hand, and the other half by the right. But any tips for Braille display users to gain reading speed and efficiently? I did try the auto-scroll, but it’s just not my way of reading! I prefer manually using the thum keys; I have better control.
Great article! Thanks for sharing!

Gera
Enviado desde mi iPhone SE (2nd Generation) de Telcel

El 28 ago 2021, a la(s) 4:41 a.m., claire amoroso <kenmare...@hotmail.com> escribió:

 Just came across this article which has some interesting ideas, although some of the resources are based in the US. 
Claire 

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Sébastien Hinderer

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Aug 29, 2021, 3:46:38 PMAug 29
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Dear Claire,

Many thanks for the link, it was indeed very interesting.*

I sent a comment which I copy below, after my signature.

Any reaction would be warmly welcome. Sorry, when I started to write the
comment I didn't expect it to become that long.

Best wishes,

Shérab.

Hello,

Many thanks for the nice article.

Born blind, I am a daily user of braille displays. Well, since I am a conmputer scientist and also use braille at home, let's say that most of my life is spent in front of a braille display.

I would like to share several random remarks that came to me while reading the article:

1. the article does not mention those braille displays that can detect finger positions and adjust the auto-scroll accordingly rather than trying to guess when to do it based on the number of displayed character, which feels a bit more sensible.

2. One other point that I would find interesting to discuss is the ease of use: how comfortable it is to read, how quickly you become tired, things like that. For years, I wanted nothing else but 40-cells displays. I think it is because I am using 80x25 screen terminals in text mode, so with a 40-characters display you cover half of a line. However, lines of this kind of lenght, I noticed, require a lot of hand movements, while shorter lines, 28 characters long, say, as with printed braille, require less motions and are thus potentially less tiring. So I started considering having two kind of braille equipments, one with a 40 cells display to work with computers, and a shorter one dedicated to reading eBooks. Sadly, at the moment I read almost no eBook because I find it so tiring and long that it drains all my energy.

3. This brings me to my last remark which is actually a question. IN terms of efficiency, it feels like the ability to combine braille and speech synthesis could bring the best of both worlds, however depending on how it's done. I am dondering whether some research has already be undertaken in htat direction? As far as I know, no screen reader (in the wide sense of the word, i.e. a software giving access to the screen content, no matter how) has been designed with this question in mind. For all screen readers I know, their approach is asymetric. What I mean is that it feels to me either they have been designed primarily speech rendering, and then braille has been added later but is somehow considered a secondary, auxiliary rendering method. I think the big majority of the screen readers fall into this category and tha's why they have this name. Or it happened the other way around: a screen rendering system designed primarily for braille and where it's speech which had been added afterwards. The only example I am aware of here is brltty, which happens to be the one I am using constantly, with the addition of Orca when I need a GUI.

Many thanks for this article. I didn't realise there was research happening in this field but that quite pleases me.

Oh, and by the way: one other question I have is about typing properly. I didn't proof read all this text and you may notice it's full of typos. Is anybody aware of any method that would help a user of braillle to improve his typing, making it faster, less tiring and with less mistakes? The dedicated software seem quite visual. Of course, we have spell-checkers, but they will report the error only when you press the space bar, which might be too late. I mean, a sighted person will be able to fix a typo as soon as he/she makes it because the person has an immediate visual feedback, which may matter iin improving. So perhaps to compete, we blinds would need a more immediate feedback, too.

Emma S

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Aug 30, 2021, 7:11:28 PMAug 30
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Hi Shérab,
Very interested to hear you are a computer scientist using Linux systems with screen reader and braille display.

What are you working on at the minute, are you developing software? I'm curious to know more about how you've set your system up to support you to do computer science tasks. You mention using the 40 cell Braille Display. Do you have a preferred IDE or text editor for example? Linux systems lend themselves to doing a lot of work in the Terminal - are you mainly working at the command line? Which applications are you using day to day to get the job done, and how good are they in terms of accessibility?

I am running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS on a Tuxedo laptop - it's their fork of Ubuntu I'm using which has Ubuntu Budgie desktop. I'm only blind in one eye, and learning Braille in case anything happens to the other one. So I can read the screen ok after scaling the display up. I have played around a bit with the Orca screen reader but not used it seriously yet. Which settings do you recommend as the most practical for that? Also have you had to memorize the Ubuntu user interface keyboard shortcuts?

Cheers!
Emma

Sébastien Hinderer

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Sep 4, 2021, 12:13:08 PMSep 4
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Dear Emma,

Many thanks for your nice message andyour interest.

My apologies for the late response, the week has been quite loaded.

I am quoting your message and using bottom-posting style, I hope nobody
minds but if it happens to be the case please do not hesitate to let me
know and I will do things differently.

Emma S (2021/08/30 16:11 -0700):
> Hi Shérab,
> Very interested to hear you are a computer scientist using Linux systems
> with screen reader and braille display.
>
> What are you working on at the minute, are you developing software?

I have a job that is called research engineer in France. It means that I
am working with a team of research whose research field is the theory of
programming languages. The programming language they develop is called
of OCaml. I work on the compiler's build system, making it possible to
create cross-compilers and stuff like that, I'm sorry if that does not
speak to you, you can ask and I will explain in simpler terms.

> I'm curious to know more about how you've set your system up to support you to
> do computer science tasks. You mention using the 40 cell Braille Display.
> Do you have a preferred IDE or text editor for example?

Well historically the first operating system I used was MS-DOS so let's
say that text-mode is kind of my mother tongue. I spent a short period
using Windows 95 or 98 I don't remember, but my experience at the time
was not very good. To access the screen, I had to use the assistive
technology provided by the manufacturer of my braille device, which had
nothing to do with what today's screen reading features I think. At that
time, at least in France, each manufacturer developed both the hardware
and the software, both the one that was embedded in the braille device
(let's call that one the firmware) and thee one running on the PC to
communicate with it. I think it's only later than the two things were
decoupled but meanwhile I stopped following that because I switched to
Linux whihc gave me back the text-mode I was usedto and comfortable
with.

I am not really stuck with one editor. When I did my transition from DOS
to Linux, the Linjux documentationproject had a series of HOWTOs
explaining how to do different things under Linux (scanning, burning
CDs, etc.). One of those HOWTOs was to help making the transition from
DOS andWindows to Linux and that HOWTO recommended joe as an editor. I
am still using it today, in conjunction with emacs, depending a bit on
what I am working on and a lot onmy mood I guess, but I am pretty sure
others will have come up with other absolutely fine solutions. I don't
use an IDE actually. Just an editor andthe command-line.

> Linux systems lend
> themselves to doing a lot of work in the Terminal - are you mainly working
> at the command line?

Yes. Since I don't need to use spreadsheets or stuff like that, most of
the time I don't even have a GUI running. I run it only to use Firefox
and kill it as soon as I am done. This means that I am very bad at using
the graphical interfacess, most likely very bad compared to many
visually impaired persons, although they did not study computer science
as I did.

Also, while I am talking about studying computer science, in the school
where I started to study computer science I was the only visually
impaired person but everybody was using the terminal so my way of
working was not that alien. The only thing is that I was using Unix
virtual ocnsoles, whereas the others were using terminals but run under
XWindows, like xterm or stuff like that, but I think it took me quite a
bit of time to even realise this difference was there, because it was
never mentionned in our conversations. So given this environment, it
seems to me I was much more "like anybody else" that if I had been using
Windows and a screen reader. But it's of course very specific to my
history, I think.

> Which applications are you using day to day to get the
> job done, and how good are they in terms of accessibility?

So for web browsing, as mentionned earlier I use Firefox and that's the
only thing I am doing in graphical mode. When I can, like on Wikipedia
or Google, I use lynx, a text-mode web browser. I also use woob (web out
of browser) to do some tasks on the web without actually having to open
a browser. This tool I use to download my bank account logs everyday.
This is an automatic task so when I want to see them, they are already
onmy computer andI can even look at them off-line.

I use mpv to listen to videos and youtube-dl to download them (mpv
itself uses youte-dl as its video downloading backedn). Of course you
loose al the navigation facilities, but in exchange you never see any
advertisement, which I find really nice. And youtube-dl can do
manythings: download all the videos from a channel or a playlist, etc.
So you have off-line video browsing for free, if you were thoughtful
enough to download the videos of interest in advance.

I use mutt to handle e-mails. Under Unix, the tool you use to handle
e-mails and the one you use to edit them are two different things so you
can combine your favourite e-mail client (mutt) with your favourite text
editor. I use emacs for that.

Also, an important feature I use in Emacs is org-mode, which I use as a
tool to implement David Allen's GTD organization method.

I also use version control software for the programming activities, ssh,
and I think that's pretty much it.

> I am running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS on a Tuxedo laptop - it's their fork of
> Ubuntu I'm using which has Ubuntu Budgie desktop. I'm only blind in one
> eye, and learning Braille in case anything happens to the other one.

I think that's a very wise idea. Maybe getting used to speech synthesis
may help you, too, because braille has the drawbacks of beeing a bit
slow and tiresome. In those situations where you don't get into a text
deeply, listening to it with a speech system may be faster and less
tiring. Perhaps I am even biased here, perhaps those who work mainly
with speech will say that listening to a text is perfectly okay to get
into it deeply, which I'm pretty ready to believe. I think it's a matter
of habbits. And you can also adjust the speed of the speech synthetizer
and make it speak slower if the text is complex. YOu can also use both
text and braille in a synchronized way, listening to the text as long as
this is enough and reading in braille when you want to see the details,
to get a spelling quickly or so.

> So I can read the screen ok after scaling the display up. I have played around a
> bit with the Orca screen reader but not used it seriously yet. Which
> settings do you recommend as the most practical for that?

Well since you are partially sighted and I am blind, I am not sure the
settings that work for me would be okay for you. I also think there
exists a screen magnification tool under Linux, a bit equivalent in
features to ZoomText, but I don't know how it's called. If I were you, I
would subscribe to the orca mailing list and ask there. People on that
list are friendly and helpful and I am sure they would be able to give
you much better hints as myself since our use cases are a bit far away
from each other: I'm blind and you still have some sight, and I use
text-mode while you seem to target rather graphical mode, even if I
understand you could be interested in the command-line, too.

> Also have you had
> to memorize the Ubuntu user interface keyboard shortcuts?

No. I use Debian and the mate desktop and I think the only keybinding I
know is alt-f1 to open the menu. But I am definitely not an example to
follow on this.

Best wishes,

Shérab.

Emma S

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Sep 29, 2021, 3:41:37 PMSep 29
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Hi Shérab,
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you! Wanted to thank you a lot for such a detailed and fascinating reply. I am a software engineer myself so found all the info about the tools you're using, really interesting. Especially the fact that you're using terminal / text based working primarily and rarely use a GUI.

I have heard of lynx before and have played around with pine mail client for some testing at work but quite a while ago! Started looking into woob as well, and want to look into that some more. Didn't realise that even with the modern Web you can still use text based browsers OK, very cool.

I have managed to get orca working better on my laptop now and found it will read out the contents of a terminal / command prompt very well so I can appreciate why you prefer that!

I see you are an emacs fan, I don't yet know emacs but I do know vi  haha!! A good excuse to learn emacs for me then.

Any more good Linux tools you like, then I would be interested in the info.

Cheers!
Emma

Sébastien Hinderer

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Sep 29, 2021, 4:16:03 PMSep 29
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Dear Emma,

Many thanks for your warm response.

Do you know the quotation that says that the beauty is not in what you
look at but in your look itself? I like it and I think it also applies
to what you wrote about the "fascinating" aspect of my response.

May I ask in which situation you are yourself?

Are you blind? Visually impaired? If neither of those, may I then ask
what brought you to the field of braille in general and to the list in
particular?

(if people are bored by this exchange I don't mind switching to a
private conversation)

Emma S (2021/09/29 12:41 -0700):
> Hi Shérab,
> Sorry for the delay in getting back to you!

Absolutely no problem. As far as I know there was no hurry or emergency
or whatever of that kind.

> Wanted to thank you a lot for
> such a detailed and fascinating reply.

My pleasure.

> I am a software engineer myself so
> found all the info about the tools you're using, really interesting.

In which field are you working? What kind of software are you developing
and in which language / environment?

> Especially the fact that you're using terminal / text based working
> primarily and rarely use a GUI.

Well, one point I find difficult to evaluate is in which situations this
is an opportunity and in which ones it's just a pain, making my life
harder.

> I have heard of lynx before and have played around with pine mail client
> for some testing at work but quite a while ago! Started looking into woob
> as well, and want to look into that some more. Didn't realise that even
> with the modern Web you can still use text based browsers OK, very
> cool.

The situation is not that pink, I fear. In my experience, the web sites
where it is still possible to use a text-mode browser that in addition
does not interprete Javascript are quite rare. At the other side, even
widely used web sites remain quite difficult to use, even with modern
web browsers and the accessibility enabled. To give just one example,
the pandemic has forced us to use web sites for organizing meetings
massively. Not all of them have the same level of accessibility. Even on
the most accessible ones, it's not that easy. For instance, screen
sharing is something that remains totally inaccessible to visually
impaired persons, as far as I know.

> I have managed to get orca working better on my laptop now and found it
> will read out the contents of a terminal / command prompt very well so I
> can appreciate why you prefer that!

Well, even for graphical terminals, if you use braille, you will have a
much better experience in working in the terminal through brltty rather
than with Orca. It may be different for speach users, but even for them
I am not sure that Orca, whichis primarily a scren rendering tool for
GUIs will be as good as, say, speakup which has been developed
specifically to follow text terminals.

> I see you are an emacs fan, I don't yet know emacs but I do know vi
> haha!!

Well I have no real religion, actually. I very much like org-mode for
the agenda and stuff like that, but I do not use emacs exclusively, I
also use joe for historical reasons.

> A good excuse to learn emacs for me then.

It's very rich, but I am guessing that vim is, too. And I think there
are projects to rewrite a better vim, I think I heard about neovim you
may want to have a look at.

> Any more good Linux tools you like, then I would be interested in the
> info.

You know, I am a very, very basic guy. Doing computer like a farmer if
you like. It's not to insult farmers, just to say that I go for
simplicity. I use git of course, and emacs has magit that lets you
interact with git from within emacs. magin in turn has an extension
called "forge" and which aims at "virtualizing" the forge you are
interacting means. What it means is that it makes you able to handle
pull / merge requests from within emacs / magin the same way, whether
your project uses GitHub, GitLab and a few other similar solutions. In
emacs there is also the nov.el mode that lets you read epub files but
it's a bit strict on what it accepts. youtube-dl comes to my mind to
download videos, follow them off-line and with no advertisement, plus
you can download the sound only, a whole channel, playlists... it's an
amazing tool.

Perhaps if you could be a bit more specific about what may interest you
I may be able to suggest more precise things.

Best wishes,

Shérab.

Ben Mustill-Rose

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Sep 29, 2021, 6:46:27 PMSep 29
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Hi both,

Some great conversation going on here - it's really interesting to hear about people’s different ways of working and their pros and cons. Regarding the topic’s suitability for the forum, I'd say that anything that involves Braille in one way or another is completely on-topic, although if it ends up being a discussion around using pure text to speech - E.G. no Braille, it might be best to take it off list.

As it so happens I can actually make a small contribution to the discussion as I am also a totally blind software engineer.

When designing my current work setup (which evolves over time to a certain extent) I prioritized 2 main requirements: minimal hacking / friction required to get things working and a high level of acceptance from the rest of the team, each arguably being just as important as the other.

I require 0 or little friction because as a completely speech / Braille dependant software engineer my experience is that you'll sometimes be forced down all kinds of weird and wonderful inaccessibility rabbit holes that you'll frequently have to engineer your way out of, sometimes in your own time. I can't control the fact that I need to use CloudWatch (which is horrifically complicated to interact with using a screen reader) but I can choose my IDE and elements of my workflow for example, so where I have a choice, I opt for things that largely "just work" so I can get as much work done as possible.

As I say, acceptance of the wider team is also very important. We're big on paring at work and whilst I know that this is going to vary massively between teams and employers, my setup needs to be conventional enough that someone on the team will be comfortable with it enough that they're able to drive, or at the very least comfortable enough to be able to offer a second opinion if something's not working or I'm looking for feedback. For me at least if either of those things aren't true it's just not going to fly with the team / my manager.

In practice, this translates to a box running Windows 10 with the NVDA screen reader, Ubuntu running under WSL and VSCode with a selection of extensions to make interacting with things like WSL easier amongst other things.

My experience of screen readers under Linux has broadly been what I'd politely describe as suboptimal. Sébastien will obviously attest to the fact that it is doable and he's definitely not the only one which is great, but for me at least I've found performance and consistency out of the box to be fairly poor all the times I've tried over the years.

As an example I recently installed Ubuntu 20.04 on my main desktop to give it a spin (3700X, 32GB 3200MHZ, NVME drive etc) but disappointingly when using Orca it felt like I was using a system that was about 10 years old. Is it possible to improve performance? Probably. Is the key going to be to update some random library that I'm going to have to compile myself because it hasn't made it into the package repositories yet then change some non-obvious value in a config file somewhere? Perhaps. In a work context I couldn't care less though because there's an acceptable option that largely just works out of the box and ultimately I'm being paid to write software, not fix issues with my setup that no one else on the team will be experiencing.

My setup gives me what I feel is the best of both worlds: I have access to the NVDA screen reader which in my opinion is far, far more mature than anything available under Linux and works well with all the tools I need, but then thanks to WSL I can still run our products locally that struggle under Windows, interacting with Ubuntu using NVDA with ease when I need to, arguably better than I'd be able to if I was running it natively with Orca in fact.

NVDA being open source has also proven advantageous over the years although obviously this is also the case with ORCA. For me, it's meant being able to continue to use the voice that I've used every day for around 22 years (a fun reverse engineering project during lockdown 1) and exploring options around sonification of punctuation - E.G. { is surfaced as a short 392HZ beep in my left ear for example. I frequently have to interact with multi-megabyte data structures so being able to develop this capability has been incredibly useful for me personally.

Unfortunately Braille doesn't really feature in my work setup other than for presentations. I'm a relatively confident reader, but if I was to switch to writing / reading code using it (instead of my screen reader which I run at approximately 700WPM), my skills are such that I'd take a massive productivity hit which again just wouldn't be acceptable in the context of the team. In hindsight I wish I'd kept it up during university when I had enough spare time to become truly efficient in using it in a professional context.

I'd be happy to continue the discussion and advise anyone who's looking for some pointers to get them bootstrapped, although since I largely only use speech at work please contact me off list instead of replying to this message.

Cheers,
Ben.

Ben Mustill-Rose
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The Braillists Foundation
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