Israeli students assisting the blind with new software

JERUSALEM — Computer and mathematics students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have developed four software programs that allow the blind and visually impaired to easily use an ordinary computer word processor.

Student Dror Carmeli connected a braille machine to a personal computer via an electronic device that uses a program he developed. The software deciphers the braille text and transforms it into regular text, which appears on the computer screen, can be edited, stored in the memory and then printed out by a conventional printer.

Another project, by students Riki Benjo and David Elimelech, allows regular printed Hebrew to be "translated" into the raised dots of braille. Galia Kopelman and Ya'acov Kuperstein, in a third project, developed a word processor that allows the computer to "read" a typed Hebrew text aloud. Until now, this was possible only in English.

The fourth project produces a computerized "magnifying glass" for the visually impaired, which allows the user to greatly magnify the letters of a text to see them more easily.

These programs also allow sighted teachers and employers to supervise work by the blind without having to know braille.

The programs are already in use at Beersheva's Educational Center for Visual Disabilities, where 150 pupils study.

The projects resulted from direct contacts between professor Amos Altschuler, BGU's dean of technological sciences, and school director Aliza Keisari.

It was Keisari who told the dean of her pupils' difficulties in writing and reading texts using the old-fashioned manual braille machines.

Altschuler suggested that the faculty try to meet the challenge, and students worked on the programs for 18 months.