FSCast #213

March,  2022

GLEN GORDON:  On FSCast 2013, I’m joined by Dr. Robert Englebretson, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Rice University.  We’ll hear about his work updating the braille code for the International Phonetic Alphabet, and an ongoing multiyear study investigating how braille is taught and why some people are more proficient braille users than others.  All upcoming on our podcast for March of 2022.

Hello, everybody.  Glen Gordon with you for another edition of the podcast.  Had you asked me a month ago I would never have dreamed that I would be beginning this episode as I’m about to.  At the beginning of March, on the 2nd, our two dogs got into a fight.  This was actually their second fight in two years.  My wife was upstairs with them.  I began to hear their barking and realized that something was wrong.  I ran upstairs on automatic pilot, even though I knew in my mind it was very clear what you’re supposed to do because I studied this after their first fight, which is you’re supposed to grab a dog by its hind legs and pull that dog away from the other one because you want to keep your hands and face and all other body parts as far away from their mouths as possible.

But I apparently was completely on automatic pilot.  And although I knew I had to get upstairs really fast, I had given no thought to what I was going to do once I got there.  As a result, I did I think what I kind of do automatically as a blind person, which is my hands go where the sound is.

I know that sounds just completely ridiculous, and why would you ever do that, knowing that dogs were growling and biting at one another.  But none of that went through my mind, and I got bit.  I got bit on both hands.  And as it turns out, I have two metacarpal fractures, very symmetrical, on the ring fingers of my left and right hand.  They are splinted much of the day, fortunately not when typing, and I am able to type, coming back to speed a little bit slowly.  So I’m limiting how much time I’m spending editing podcasts.  As luck would have it, my interview with Robert Englebretson got recorded about a month ago, and I edited it in advance, something I almost never do.  But for whatever reason, it was a fortuitous occasion.

I tell you the story that I did, not because I’m wanting your sympathy or profound concern, but really to stress an understanding that I have now that I never had before, which is why people do emergency preparedness.  Because you really need to know what to do in unexpected circumstances because otherwise you’re going to just sort of do something subconscious, and that may not be the most effective thing for you or for the other people around you.  So sad as I am that I got injured here, it was a very useful lesson, and I have no idea if that lesson will be useful to me in the future.  But I can’t help but think that it’s always worth spending a couple of extra seconds thinking about what your plan is before you dash in, trying to save the day.

So enough about me.  On to the real purpose of this podcast.  I want to mention the 37th Annual CSUN Technology Conference.  That happened the earlier part of March.  Our own Matt Ater was keynote speaker.  Many of us from both Freedom Scientific and TPGI were there in force and very happy to see many of you for the first time in a couple of years.  A great conference overall, and we look forward to the next one in 2023.

A little sooner than that will be our April product updates, which will hit the streets, or a computer near you, the third week in April.  It features the usual array of fixes and changes.  Unless you’ve done something special, you’ll get offered the update the next time you start JAWS, Fusion, or ZoomText after it releases, and all you need to do is allow it to install, and you’ll have the latest and greatest version.  If for some reason automatic updates isn’t enabled for you, all you need to do is go to freedomscientific.com/downloads and get the latest version of the product you’re using.

Assuming you’re listening to this at the very end of March or after, we have just released a new on-demand webinar having to do with navigating Facebook.  So if you’re a Facebook user and want some additional tips, that’s the latest offering from our training department, available from freedomscientific.com/training.

JAWS Power Tip

GLEN:  Time now for this month’s Power Tip.  And it’s one of the few Power Tips in my memory that I’ve gotten twice within the course of a month.  Daniel Garcia was the first to send it in.  Unfortunately, Amit’s submission was about three weeks later.  So Daniel takes the prize.  And it has to do with inserting characters that aren’t easily available on your keyboard.  He mentions one way of doing this, which is by pressing JAWS Key+4 on the number row.  That brings up a list of symbols where you can simply arrow down or use first-letter navigation to pick the name of the symbol you care about, press ENTER, and it’ll be inserted into your document.  So that’s a great way of inserting characters, if the one you’re interested in actually happens to be on the list.  And after looking at that list, I realize that there are a bunch of others we could probably add pretty easily.

But in the meanwhile there is another way of entering special symbols, especially if you’re using Word, Outlook, WordPad, or any other app that uses the “rich edit” component.  And that is with a little trick using ALT+X.  And that trick involves knowing the hex digits that comprise the number representing the character you want to insert.  Now, hex is Base16, which means it uses 0 through 9 and A through F for 0 through 15.  And a combination of those hex digits can represent any character that you’d ever want to insert.  So, for example, F6 is what you’d type to insert an O with the umlaut on it.  Press ALT+X, and lo and behold, it converts that into the equivalent Unicode character, in this case O umlaut.

You may ask how do I happen do know the hex digits associated with the character I want to insert.  And the answer to that is you don’t until you make a small change by going into Settings Center.  You do that by pressing JAWS Key+6 on the number row.  Once in Settings Center, press CTRL+SHIFT+D to make sure you’re working in the default file.  And the setting you’re looking for is “Speak character value in hex.”  And so searching for hex, H E X, will get you to that option.  By default, it is not checked.  So if that’s the case on your system, press SPACE to check it, do ALT+F4, say yes to save, and now whenever you’re on a character where you want to know its hex value, you simply press the Say Character key three times, and you’ll hear what the hex value for that character is.

And if you have certain characters that you like inserting a lot, I find this ALT+X trick in Word, Outlook, and WordPad to be really efficient.  It looks back as far as it can to find characters that are either A through F or 0 through 9, and it converts that number of characters into a single Unicode character.  This means that if you have some letters that aren’t intended to be part of the numbers for the symbol that you’re inserting, best bet is to leave a space, type in the hex digits for the symbol, press ALT+X, which will insert it, and then go remove the leading space.  Interestingly, the converse also works, which means that if you’re one past the symbol where you want to know its hex value, you can press ALT+X, and it converts the symbol into its hex characters in the document.  So it’s kind of a toggle from hex characters to symbol and from symbol to hex characters.

So there you have it, two ways of inserting special characters, either the JAWS Key+4 on the number row to pick from the list that we offer, or the ALT+X technique if you’re in Outlook, Word, or WordPad.  For sending in his Power Tip, Daniel gets a year added onto his JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion license.  If you have something that most people probably don’t know about, and you want to share it with us, by all means, send in your Power Tip to fscast@vispero.com.  That’s the same address to communicate with me on any variety of topics.  As I have said before, nothing thrills me more than to hear from you, and I do my best to answer your mail.  If for some reason a week or two has gone by, and you haven’t heard from me, I would not be at all offended if you write again.  I will respond and do my best to help.

Interview with Dr. Robert Englebretson

GLEN:  Dr. Robert Englebretson is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Linguistics at Rice University.  I actually first stumbled upon his name a couple of years ago when a linguistics student contacted me wanting to know how to read out the IPA – International Phonetic Alphabet – symbols with JAWS, and also how to insert them, in a manner similar to what I just talked about on the Power Tip.  Fortunately, I was able to find all of that information on Dr. Englebretson’s site, and I actually quickly came up with a dialog box where she could insert those special IPA symbols.

But since then, Dr. Englebretson’s name has come up again because of his ongoing research about braille and how proficient braille users read and how braille is taught.  So I figured no time like now to have him on the podcast.  He’s my captive guest for the next little while.  Robert, welcome to FSCast.

DR. ROBERT ENGLEBRETSON:  Well, thank you, Glen.  It’s great to be here.  I really appreciate the chance to talk about all of these things.  So we’ll see how far we get.

GLEN:  To ask a boneheaded question, I think of linguistics and language, but I don’t really know what it encompasses.  And I’m thinking that might be a good place to start.

ROBERT:  Sure.  Well, the answer to that takes about a semester.  So by the time we get done with that, there won’t be anything left to talk about.  But the short version is linguistics is the study of language.  Not necessarily of a specific language, but of language in general, how the human vocal apparatus works, how the neurological system of human beings support and enable language.  So language and the brain, language and society, how different groups within a society use even the same language differently, so language variation or multilingualism.

So it’s a very broad field that ranges from everything from neuroscience and vocal physiology to psychology and anthropology and sociology.  So it’s kind of one of those wonderful fields that is by its very nature, because language is in everything, right, it is very interdisciplinary.  So when I teach the intro course, we bring a lot of things in from neighboring disciplines like psychology and anthropology and such.

GLEN:  Why did you as a young student gravitate towards this?

ROBERT:  I’ve always been fascinated by the way that different people talk, whether it’s different languages that people speak or the same language spoken by different people in different ways.  I grew up on Air Force bases.  My father was in the military.  So all of our neighbors were from different places or different ethnic and social backgrounds.  And I just remember as a small child kind of thinking, wow, this person says that word one way, and this other person says it this way.  And why is that?

And when I was in high school I started studying German and Spanish and spent some time living in Germany when I was in high school with a host family.  And went off to college, wanted to study German, which I did, but along the way I picked up a second major of linguistics.  Intro to Linguistics was the first course that I signed up for, my first day on campus, way back in 1988 as a freshman.  That dates me right there.  But I just found it really fascinating.  And my second year in college I took a course that looked at grammar from a cross-linguistic perspective, how the morphology, the way that languages around the world put their words together, and syntax, the way that languages around the world put their sentences together, how that happens in a variety of languages.  And that just blew me away.  It was such a fascinating course.

And both the Intro to Linguistics and that course I’ve taught now, as a professor I’ve taught dozens of times.  But that was sort of what got me into linguistics is this idea of variation and diversity and how just sort of wonderful this human faculty is that we have that people use in such very different ways, but is used to communicate and to share information and basically a large part of what makes us human.  So that’s the non-one semester answer to why I got into linguistics.

GLEN:  At what point did you realize that braille was something that could overlap with your interest in linguistics?  Was that just sort of an obvious thing, or did it take a while?

ROBERT:  So I’ve always been a braille reader and writer.  And when I started my study of linguistics, and the first day of class one of the first things that you learn in an Intro to Linguistics class is the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA.  So the IPA is not just a beer, but it is the writing system that we use in the language sciences and that other fields use, as well.  So vocal pedagogy uses the IPA.  Actors often use it for dialect coaching.  It’s used in any field of study that needs a representation of the way people speak that’s independent of the writing system.

And I realized early on, I wondered is there a way to represent the IPA in braille, and did a bit of research into that, and turned out there was.  There was a braille IPA system that was developed in – it was published in 1934 in the United Kingdom.  And the first author of that system was a guy named W. Percy Merrick, M E R R I C K, who was a blind ethnomusicologist in the early 20th Century.  I haven’t been able to find out very much about him, but I would love to be able to learn more about him and his work.  But he compiled a number of folk song arrangements.

And he found that in his work, in his travels, he wanted to use the IPA in braille, and it wasn’t available.  So he got together with another person, last name of Potthoff.  I don’t know Potthoff’s first name.  He was a Ph.D. linguist.  And they worked with a phonetician named Daniel Jones at the University College, London, who is one of the most preeminent phoneticians in the early 20th Century, and developed a braille representation of the IPA.  So that was published in 1932 by RNIB.  Most of us doing linguistics ended up basing what we were doing on that version of the braille IPA, but we had to innovate a lot of our own symbols and kind of make up stuff for our work as we needed it because the braille version of the IPA had not kept up with what was happening over the course of the 20th Century with the print version.

There was another little wrinkle in that in 1997.  The Braille Authority of North America published a completely different unrelated version of IPA symbols that I’m still not sure where they came from.  But so that ended up leading to the situation where the braille International Phonetic Alphabet wasn’t at all international.  So in 2005 I was invited to take part as a member of the International Council on English Braille’s Linguistics and Foreign Languages Committee.  And one of the charges of that committee was to unify the disparate versions of the braille IPA.

So we basically went back to the 1932 Merrick and Potthoff system, updated it based on the revisions to the IPA over the 20th Century, updated it, making it essentially Unicode-compatible, as the print IPA is, so that it could be used by blind students in linguistics; that it could be typed on a regular keyboard; that Duxbury Braille Translator incorporated it early on into its tables so you can actually type in braille IPA in Duxbury and translate it to print and print it out for your professors or whoever, and vice versa; right?  You can type in print IPA and translate it to the braille.

GLEN:  Is there an IPA primer for non-linguists?  If you want to know just enough so you can read a Wikipedia pronunciation key, is there a place to go to learn that?

ROBERT:  That’s a good question.  I would say that the 2008 publication on the ICEB website, I wrote that for an audience of people who didn’t know linguistics.  So that may be helpful.  There’s an index in the back.  There’s a forward there written by Martha Pamperin who, I don’t know if you know who she was, but she was blind.  She was a teacher of students with visual impairments in Yolo County, California.  And she was the chair of BANA’s Literary Braille Committee.  And she wrote a really nice forward to the braille IPA, talking about her experience in the early ‘60s and taking a linguistics course and deciding not to study it because she didn’t have a braille IPA system, and how important that is.

And to me this is really why I did this.  You know, it wasn’t just for me.  I mean, I had a system that worked for me.  But I wanted to make sure that anybody who wanted to study linguistics or anything in the speech sciences, or vocal music, or acting, or wherever they would need the International Phonetic Alphabet, that it would be available to them, and usable, and that people would know about it because it doesn’t do a lot of good to have a system out there that only a small handful of people know about if it’s not accessible to the wider community of people who need it.  So this is sort of a long story which leads into how did I start doing research on braille reading and writing.

Well, as part of my involvement with the ICEB at that point, it became really apparent to me that there was a pretty big disconnect between the reading sciences, right, cognitive sciences like linguistics, that know about reading and writing and what goes on in the brain and all of that, and the braille community.  I’m not saying there was a complete disconnect, but very few people who were working on braille at that point seemed to have much of a clue as to what cognitive sciences know about reading.  And I thought, this is really a shame.  We need to work to get people out of their silos and bring this together.  And at the same time within the reading sciences community there was very little interest in braille.  Like when I started doing this early on, in the late aughts, I guess we call them now?

GLEN:  Yes.

ROBERT:  I opened a book, essentially the handbook of the reading sciences, which is sort of like the compendium of everything that matters in reading sciences, and there wasn’t even a mention of braille.  And I thought, wow, this is really a problem because tactile reading and writing is just as much reading and writing as visual reading and writing.  And there is a strong focus on diversity of writing systems within the reading sciences.  So people reading Chinese character-based systems versus alphabet systems versus syllabic systems.  And I thought, we really need to get the reading sciences onboard with the fact that braille is super interesting, that braille has a lot to teach cognitive sciences about how the brain works, how writing systems work, what the human brain is capable of.

And so bringing those two ideas together, the idea that, yeah, there’s really – we need to have more knowledge in the braille pedagogy community about how reading and writing work.  And we need to have more knowledge and awareness in the reading sciences about braille.  And so that kind of became one of my goals, to work with people to kind of make that happen.  So that is the long answer to your question of how did I get into braille research.  I joke that it was at my fingertips the whole time, but I didn’t realize until I was in my late 30s that it was actually an area that would benefit from some really evidence-based focused research.

GLEN:  I have heard you talk about many people thinking that braille is way of reading print.  And your comment is braille is a way of reading.  I’m curious why this is different and why it matters.

ROBERT:  Braille is a writing system that enables people to read tactilely, and write tactilely.  So braille is literacy.  Braille is not something that’s there to enable blind people to access print.  And I think that matter of perspective oftentimes obscures what happens when people read braille.  A sited teacher or even a blind person who’s sort of really steeped in this ideology of braille enables blind people to read print will think of when you read braille you uncontract the contractions, and then you figure out what the words mean.  And that’s not how fluent reading happens.

So one of the hypotheses that my colleagues and I are working on in this large research grant that we have going on is this idea that one of the things that may be getting in the way of many people becoming highly fluent, highly proficient braille readers is this idea that they’re being taught braille through print, rather than being taught braille as braille.  There are interesting differences, of course, in the orthography, as we call it, so the spelling system of print.

So when we teach phonics, and phonics is a crucial component of early literacy instruction, right, there have been so-called “reading wars” going on for a century about this.  And I think in the last decade the evidence is very clear that in terms of early reading instruction, phonics is super important in leading people to become fluent, good readers.

So in print phonics, we teach people about these vowel teams, like “ee.”  So the sequence “ee” makes the “e,” right, what some people call the “long e” sound, like in “seed” or “need.”  But in braille, in the words “seed” and “need,” what we see is the letter “e” followed by the dots 1246 symbol.  So that’s “eed” right there; right?  So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to a braille reader to say, you know, where’s the vowel team here?  Well, there isn’t one in braille.

So we’re interested in understanding the patterns that braille readers recognize on their way to becoming fluent readers.  And when we learn to read, most of what we learn comes about through reading a lot.  The brain is – this is a metaphor, but the brain is a statistical learning machine; right?  The brain learns to recognize patterns that it encounters over and over and over again.  And reading a lot and seeing these patterns essentially wires the neurological system to recognize these patterns.

So what are the patterns that braille readers have to recognize fluently and quickly?  They’re different from those in many respects that print readers have to recognize quickly in order to become a fluent reader.  I’m oversimplifying this a bit, but that’s basically the idea is we have to stop thinking about braille as a means of representing print and really focus on braille is literacy, braille itself is literacy.  And to develop good and fluent braille reading we have to teach braille as braille.

GLEN:  You have a really good talk from a tactile reading conference in 2017 up on YouTube, which I watched.

ROBERT:  Eek.  I feel like I’m being stalked now.

GLEN:  You are being stalked.  But hey, you know, all in the interest of a good interview.

ROBERT:  Sure, anything for a good interview.

GLEN:  You were talking there, and I think I may have learned something about the difference between UEB and traditional English Grade 2 Braille.  So let me see if I got this right.  So if you think of a word like “rerun” or “pandemic,” in Grade 2 as I learned it you would not use a contraction there.  You would spell it out, both “rerun” and “pandemic,” because the contractions crossed – I always heard it as it crossed a syllable boundary.  And you were talking about UEB where those contractions actually were used in cross-syllable boundaries.  So am I remembering wrong?  Or was this a UEB change?

ROBERT:  No, no.  You’re correct that – and I don’t want to talk about them in terms of syllable boundaries.  The role of syllable is a little problematic in writing systems.  What they cross is what we call a “morpheme boundary.”  So a morpheme is the basic unit of meaning of a word.  So you can have stems.  You can have prefixes.  You can have affixes.  And in a word like “rerun” or “redraw,” the stem is “run” or “draw,” and the prefix is “re.”  So what’s happening in those particular UEB contractions is the “ed” crosses the boundary between the prefix “re” and the stem “draw,” and it looks like “red raw”; right?  I joke with people it’s like that Stephen King, was it “The Shining,” right, “redrum,” except this is “red raw”; right?

But I want to be very clear that this is not just a UEB thing; right?  There were contractions in EBAE, right, English Braille American Edition, that also crossed morpheme boundaries, such as the .6y that is now deprecated, that’s not used anymore, right, the “ally” contraction.  If you think of a word like “really,” right, the stem is “real,” R E A L, and the suffix is “ly.”  So old EBAE, right, English Braille American Edition Grade 2, you contract that with the “ally” contraction which would also bridge the boundary between the stem and the suffix.  So I want to be clear that this is not a UEB thing.  I mean, there have been changes.  I joke that contractions are a lot more promiscuous now in many respects.  But there have also been contractions in EBAE which caused similar problems that are no longer used.

GLEN:  So this is a multiyear funded research study, right, about braille and learning?

ROBERT:  That’s correct.

GLEN:  What are sort of the broad things it encompasses?

ROBERT:  We’re essentially looking at three groups of people.  We’re interested in looking at proficient adult braille readers who kind of already have the system in place for reading and writing.  We are looking at children as they are becoming literate in braille.  And we are looking at teachers of students with visual impairments who teach braille, TVIs.  And we want to understand how each of these groups kind of represents braille, how the kinds of errors that each of these groups make teaches us about the structures that are represented in their cognitive systems, whether braille readers rely on morphemes and syllables in the same way that we would expect print readers to do based on the structure of English, questions like whether the perspective of most teachers of students with visual impairments – most of them are sighted.  There are a number of TVIs, of course, who are blind.

But for sighted teachers of students who have visual impairments, who maybe have had a semester or two of braille in their preparation courses, they’re going to think about braille, and they’re going to read braille, in very different ways than the students that they’re teaching should be or than adults who are proficient braille readers do.  So we are using various technologies, so finger-tracking technology to track the finger and hand movements of braille readers.  And we’re also going to be doing an eye-tracking technology component with TVIs.  Surprisingly, no one’s ever really done this before with TVIs to understand how are the way that TVIs read braille by eye different or similar to the way that they read print or the way that sighted people read print.

You know, it’s a very different question for many TVIs who don’t read braille kind of as their native writing system or really even in many instances fluently.  They’re doing a very different thing than kids who are learning braille as their first or second writing system, or adults who are already proficient in the writing system do.  And we want to understand how, in some ways subtle and some ways not so subtle, how the perspective of teachers often influences the way they teach braille to their students.  Like, again, as a means of accessing print rather than as a native writing system that’s parallel to print and equal to print and not inferior to print.

GLEN:  Prior to the study that you’re doing, how much research has been done broadly on braille – how people use it, how people learn it, what’s efficient, what isn’t.

ROBERT:  So I teach a course at Rice University, among other courses.  But one of the courses I teach is a course on braille research that looks at a lot of the literature that’s been published on braille reading and writing and from the perspective of cognitive sciences and linguistics.  And, gosh, that syllabus is available on my website, if you want to take a look at sort of the reading list of what I think is important to read in terms of the cognitive science of braille reading and writing over the last few decades.

GLEN:  I can’t think of very many collections of data that would help in research.  The one that comes to mind is the Braille Institute’s Braille Challenge.  Are they involved, either directly or indirectly, in your research?

ROBERT:  Yes.  So Dr. Holbrook, who is one of our research team, was one of the people who was on the board of the original Braille Challenge that first started in 2001, I believe 2001 or 2002, just in the Southern California area, and then regionally branched out from there.  So that is one of the things that we are analyzing for our project.  We currently have about five years of the contest that we are able to analyze in terms of the kinds of errors that students make, the kinds of longitudinal development that we might see over the years.

So I’m very glad that we’re able to incorporate that what we would call a “corpus,” right, a body of data into our work because it really is the only longitudinal corpus of students writing braille year after year after year where all of the students in the same grade levels do exactly the same thing; right?  Each year, well, not – the contest changes from year to year.  But, like, in 2019 all of the people in grades 7 and 8 wrote the same passage from dictation, so we can compare across all these people.  It’s a fantastic database to work from.

GLEN:  Whenever I’ve talked to people who have gone blind later in life and learned braille, at best they are slow braille readers.  Are you doing anything or are you thinking at all about how people who learn braille as a second reading system are impacted compared to those who learn it as the first?

ROBERT:  Yeah, that’s a really important question.  And it’s not something that in the current study we’re focusing on, but absolutely is something that needs a lot more work.  You know, there have been – I’m thinking of some work that has been done looking at the finger movements of braille readers who were former print readers as compared with the finger movements of braille readers who were not former print readers.  This was done by Dr. Susanna Millar in the United Kingdom who had done a lot of work on braille reading and writing.  And there are very clear differences.

There are things that you find former print readers doing with their fingers that – even 20, 30 years after they’ve learned braille – that proficient braille readers, adult braille readers who were not former print readers never do.  For example, scrubbing.  And scrubbing is where you move your finger up and down over a character, presumably to get the sense of its shape.  We find that former print readers do this, whereas people who are braille readers who were not former print readers don’t do this once they’ve become fluent braille readers.

So there are certain things that having been a print reader may lead you to focus on, such as wanting to focus on the shapes of things; whereas what proficient braille readers focus on is not character shape, but the what we call “dot sheer pattern.”  So the feel of the dots coming across the fingertips as a function of time, not character shape.  So that’s sort of one of the myths about braille reading is that we need to learn the shapes of the characters or that shape matters in braille reading.  Shape matters a lot in print reading because of the way the visual system works.  The visual system is attuned to edges and curves and lines, whereas the tactile system doesn’t focus so much on shape, but focuses on dot sheer pattern, so density.

I kind of, when I describe it to non-braille readers, I say, well, just imagine you’re running your fingers through a bowl of uncooked rice or through sand on a beach; right?  It’s when dots hit your fingertip over the course of time.  It’s not about the character shapes.  And there’s been a lot of fairly interesting research looking at this question of shape versus dot sheer patterns.  And so I think one of the things that former print readers do is still have this kind of innate focus on trying to convert this sense of shape into the tactile modality from what they had experienced as visual readers.

GLEN:  Anything else in particular that you want to mention?

ROBERT:  Part of what I would hope people would think about in terms of the IPA braille system and using braille and using braille as a linguist is there’s a lot of really cool things happening with braille right now that may be a little bit outside of what people generally know about.  So they may be a little bit niche, as they say, so people who use braille in linguistics, the IPA.  There’s a lot of other things going on, as well.

So one of the projects that I’m also aware of – it’s not my field, but I’m aware of this – is a few years ago there was a group of people that work on ancient languages, so biblical scholars, Ancient East scholars who developed braille systems for these ancient languages that had no braille system.  So Acadian, Syriac, and languages that were spoken and then not spoken thousands of years before braille even came about.  And so there are now these braille systems for those languages, as well.

And one of the people who developed that is Sarah LaRose, and there were a few others who were involved on that team, as well.  And they were awarded the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 for their work.  And I think that’s another example of just the really cool things that are happening with braille in various areas of scholarship and academia.  You know, people that want to learn Acadian or Syriac can now learn it in braille, which did not used to be the case. 

GLEN:  Well, Robert, thank you very much for joining me.  This was a nice surprise.  When I discovered you and found a couple of other places where you did some public speaking, I said this is someone I really want to have on the podcast.  So thank you.

ROBERT:  Well, thank you, Glen.  It’s been a real pleasure.  It’s really great to talk to you, and I hope that people will go out and learn about linguistics and the IPA because it’s really cool.

 IPA Resources

GLEN:  We’ll be adding support of the International Phonetic Alphabet, both in braille and with speech, to a future JAWS update.  But if you need it more immediately, you can either write to fscast@vispero.com, and I’ll send you what I put together based on Dr. Englebretson’s site, or you can get it directly from his web page.  And I have a link to that on our FSCast blog page, which is blog.freedomscientific.com/fscast.  You’ll find it and a couple of other links to things we discussed under Episode 213.  The same episode, might I add, that is just about over.

Signing Off on FSCast 213

GLEN:  I’m Glen Gordon.  Thank you very much for listening.  Before we go, I want to mention something that you may very well have already begun to hear buzz about.  It’s a benefit concert for Ukraine coming up on April 16th in the United States, being organized in large part by Jonathan Mosen.  But he’s getting help from blind musicians and others around the world, including the World Blind Union.  Here’s Jonathan’s announcement about that.

Benefit Concert “We’re With U”

JONATHAN MOSEN:  On April the 16th, at 2:00 p.m. North American Eastern Time, blind musicians from across the globe are getting together for an online benefit concert for Ukraine.  It’s called “We’re With U,” and all money raised goes to the World Blind Union’s Unity Fund for Ukraine.  To learn more, including how to listen and how to perform at “We’re With U,” visit mushroomfm.com/withyou.  That’s mushroomfm.com/withyou.


Transcript by elaine@edigitaltranscription.com







edigitaltranscription.com  •  03/29/2022  •  edigitaltranscription.com