The conversion of Afrikaans text to braille – and vice versa – can now be done at the click of a mouse.
This is thanks to a program developed by a computer science student from Stellenbosch University (SU), De Pallier Gerber, as part of his final year project for the Pioneer School for the Blind in Worcester. Gerber was awarded his BScHons-degree in Computer Science during the December graduation ceremony this week.
According to Mr Hannes Byleveldt, vice-principal of The Pioneer School for the Blind in Worcester, the program will have an immediate impact on teaching at the school.
“At present the preparation of lesson material is a very time-consuming process. Everything we prepare for the learners, first needs to be converted via a program so that it can be printed in braille by a special printer, after which the material is distributed in class. The program that we are currently using is not 100% accurate and someone has to proof read everything. The learners then complete the exercise or test on an electronic braille writer. Then it has to be converted to text for the teacher to mark their work.
“This process is not only time-consuming, it also requires vast amounts of paper and hampers the learning process and interaction in class. Braille experts are also not always readily available, which causes a further delay," he adds.
With Gerber's program a teacher will be able to compare what the learner has written in braille with the Afrikaans equivalent on the same computer screen next to it and give feedback immediately.
“This means I will now be able to teach like any other teacher in a mainstream school," he emphasizes.
The program will also shorten the time that the school has to wait for new text books in Afrikaans to be converted to braille.
The program is also the first of its kind to make provision for different levels of contracted braille in the process of converting text between Afrikaans and braille.
Gerber explains: “I wrote the program in such a way that there are different levels of complexity between Grade 1 and Grade 2 braille. A teacher can now prepare text and then decide, with the click of the mouse, on which level they want to present it."
Another advantage is that the program can be adapted, by a teacher, to accommodate new language rules in Afrikaans or braille. It even takes into account complex rules of pronunciation, which influences the conversion of text to braille.
Mr Byleveldt says after the pilot phase the program will be installed on all their computers. They plan to start using the program in the class room in the first quarter of next year.
Prof Lynette van Zijl, a researcher in SU's Computer Science Division specializing in assistive technologies, says they will continue to support the school until the program runs smoothly. It will then be distributed to other institutions and schools.
Mr Paul Greyling, principal of The Pioneer School, says they are excited about the world of possibilities this program opens up for learners who want to complete their high school education in a main stream school: “We cannot offer all the subjects a learner needs to qualify for admission to university. This program opens up so many possibilities. We cannot wait to start using it."
Mr Hannes Byleveldt
Vice-principal: The Pioneer School for the Blind
T: 023 342 2313
Ms Tammy Watson
T. 023 342 2313
Mr. Paul Greyling
Principal: The Pioneer School for the Blind
T: 023 342 2313
Prof Lynette van Zijl
Division Computer Science, Department of Mathematical Sciences
T: 021 808 4232
De Pallier Gerber
On the photo, from left to right: Mr Paul Greyling and Mr Hannes Byleveldt from the Pioneer School for the Blind. In front sits De Pallier Gerber and at the back stands Prof Lynette van Zijl from SU's Computer Science Division. Photo: Wiida Fourie-Basson