[Blindmath] LaTeX to braille

Michael Whapples mwhapples at aim.com
Fri Apr 16 15:57:54 UTC 2010

Firstly great to see you considering this before the student starts.

I note from your email you are in the UK, this possibly raises other 
issues as quite a bit of work which is done in this area happens over in 
the US and so is targeted for the US. Let me explain a bit more.

Braille is not a universal system, although its based on the same ideas, 
different countries do have different codes and sometimes students used 
to one code may have difficulty understanding another Braille code. One 
Braille code I know has been mentioned already in response to your 
question is Nemeth which is the North American maths Braille code. Here 
in the UK we have a different code known as BAUK. Although BAUK may be 
the British code, some in the UK do learn the Nemeth code because of 
being able to read material produced in the US.

This leads to the question, which Braille code does the student read?

If I proceed answering assuming that the student reads UK Braille, your 
options may be a bit more limited. Some have suggested Duxbury, which 
some seem to suggest works for Nemeth, but my personal experience whilst 
studying Physics was not good for using it to produce UK Braille maths.

Another alternative, although it will mean converting to word format or 
mathml, is to either use liblouisxml (its on google code, or a google 
search will find it), or use one of the Tiger systems (the Tiger 
software suite can either translate to British Braille or dots plus). I 
don't know for sure, but I suspect that the Tiger Software suite uses 
liblouisxml for the translation, and I haven't given it significant 
testing for reliability (however liblouisxml is opensource so those with 
an interest can improve it). Dotsplus on the other hand, while not being 
standard Braille (it breaks from the six dot standard and uses tactile 
graphical symbols and 2d layout), is meant to be easy to learn 
(particularly for those who have used print in the past as the tactile 
symbols are based on the print characters) and should be reliable as its 
a simple font substitution. On the down side, dotsplus does need an 
embosser capable of dotsplus (tiger printers are the main one suggested) 
and the student probably will have to get used to the system (on 
reflection I think may be I should have spent time learning another 
system when going to university, may it have been reading dotsplus or 
Nemeth, at the time there really wasn't good enough British Braille 

Another alternative would be make the LaTeX very simplified (IE. strip 
out as many commands not needed for the meaning and try and make it as 
human readable as possible) and may be the student could learn some 
LaTeX (it is likely LaTeX could be useful to them for writing documents 
anyway. I have to say that reading LaTeX is not something I generally 
recommend except as a last resort. Also the simplification of the LaTeX 
I feel is quite important as when reading a document the thing the 
student should be doing is understanding the content of the document, 
not understanding what the LaTeX means.

Hope that gives you some ideas.

Michael Whapples
On 04/15/2010 08:45 AM, Calvin James Smith wrote:
> Dear all,
> does anyone know of a means of converting tex (LaTeX) files into a braille output? A blind student will be joining the University soon to study Mathematics and I need a means of ensuring access to our materials for them.
> Many thanks in advance.
> Best,
> Calvin
> Dr Calvin James Smith
> Teaching Fellow
> Department of Mathematics
> University of Reading
> Whiteknights, PO Box 220
> Reading, RG6 6AX
> Tel:  +44 (0)118 378 5013
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