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Braille transcription is a process through which ordinary text is converted to braille, a form of writing that uses tactile dots designed for the blind or vision-impaired. Transcription creates braille copies of books, leaflets, and other printed material. The most traditional method of carrying out braille transcription involves manual raising, often using a stylus, that punches thick braille paper up from the backside. More modern transcription makes use of special computer programs or transcription machines.
The process is known as transcription rather than braille translation in large part because no words are actually being translated — only re-written in a new form. Braille is a system of coding, but is not itself a distinct language. It involves a series of tactile dots, usually one for each letter, that people can “read” with their fingers. The braille system is used in many countries, and is adaptable to any language that uses the Roman alphabet.
Braille enables people with vision impairments to be able to enjoy books, navigate business paperwork, and interpret important documents like utility bills and bank statements without having to have someone on hand to read aloud. Creating braille copies of these printed materials is not always easy, and is rarely standard. Many communities support braille libraries, but their collections are usually very limited. Most of the time, transcribing braille is done on a demand basis.
Transcription services can usually be broken down into two main categories: those that translate on a non-profit basis and those that contract their services out to corporations. Non-profit services are generally responsible for transcribing books, magazines, and other entertainment, allowing those with vision impairment equal access to bestsellers and newsstand media. Some of these services will also provided transcription as needed for community members struggling with certain documents.
Many countries and localities throughout the world have access and discrimination laws that require companies to provide braille transcription for any customer that requests it. These laws are most commonly applied to utility companies, insurance firms, and others who issue direct correspondence to customers, but usually also cover any customer-facing organization. In order to stay in compliance with the law, many companies have a braille transcriber or team of transcribers on staff. Braille is rarely ever a default, but must nonetheless be available in most places.
Originally, braille transcription was done by hand, usually by punching each letter’s corresponding dot structure through the backside of a thick page. This was incredibly time consuming and took up many sheets of paper. More recent advancements have sped up the process exponentially.
Condensing and identifying three grades of braille was one of the early simplification measures. The first is the most simplistic: one dot pattern for each letter. Second came contractions and single symbols for common words, including “and,” “the,” and “it.” Grade three braille is essentially a form of shorthand, wherein entire phrases or short sentences can be captured in a single dot block. Most braille transcription centers on the second grade.
A braille typewriter was the first technological innovation in transcription services. This sort of typewriter is capable of directly imprinting different braille sequences in correspondence with user keystrokes. A refreshable braille display, a machine capable of embossing whole rows at at time, was the next step.
Most modern computers can be outfitted with a braille transcription system that can easily convert written text into the appropriate raised bumps. A specialized printer is usually required, as is some sort of informed oversight. In order to become a braille transcriber, a person must usually have at least some formal braille training. Operating the machines is not usually hard, but ensuring proper output and correct transcription requires a certain degree of knowledge and familiarity with the script.