American linguist develops braille alphabet for traditional dialect of the Ts’msyen people

Harris Mowbray has never been to Prince Rupert, B.C., but he has left his touch there.

Mowbray, an amateur linguist and software programmer based in California, in collaboration with Prince Rupert resident and Gitga’at Nation member Brendan Eshom, has created a braille alphabet for Sm’algyax, the traditional dialect of the Ts’msyen people of the north coast.

According to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, which works to preserve B.C. Indigenous languages, Sm’algyax is in serious decline and most speakers are over 70 years old. 

Eshom, in an effort to revitalize the language, has operated the Sm’algyax Word of the Day website and mobile app since 2019.

It was through Eshom’s website and app that Mowbray learned about the language in early 2021 and offered his services. 

Mowbray has previously created braille alphabets for the Chamorro and Carolinian languages of the Mariana Islands, the Kashubian and Silesian languages of Poland, and others and was looking for his next project.

“I think it’s really important that blind people, or people who are near-sighted or have some visual issues should be able to participate in languages as much as everyone else,” said Mowbray.

“The development of a braille alphabet for Sm’algyax increases the number of people who can experience the knowledge and heritage of B.C.’s North Coast — literally first-hand,” Eshom said in a statement.

“People with visual challenges who are fluent in braille will be able to learn the language as readily as those who have access to printed reference materials. I applaud Harris for his expertise and initiative, which have enabled an exciting cross-cultural collaboration.”

Read more: CBC/Radio-Canada

Instant Braille translator can fit in your hand

An all-woman team of six engineering undergraduate students at MIT has created an inexpensive, hand-held device prototype that provides real-time translation of printed text to Braille — which could greatly increase accessibility of written materials for the blind.

Team Tactile was one of the winners of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize this year for their creation, which translates printed text into the raised-dot language.

Here’s how it works: The device has an internal camera that takes photos of the printed text, which is then converted into digital text using optical character recognition software. Next, the text is translated into Braille, and a mechanical system raises and lowers pins on the surface of the Tactile that form the characters to be read by one’s fingertips.

Though the current version is limited in the number of characters it can translate and display, the team hopes to make the device capable of scanning an entire page at a time and displaying two lines of text at once.

Read more: New Scientist

MIT Student Engineers Invented a Real-Time Text-To-Braille Translator

With just a few hours left to build a groundbreaking gadget, things weren’t going as smoothly as planned.

Six young women, all undergrad engineering students at MIT, had established a lofty goal: to create the first-ever affordable device that immediately translates printed text into Braille. The idea could prove revolutionary for the blind community, transforming how they read while also creating sorely needed opportunities for children with low or no vision.

But throughout the hectic, 15-hour MakeMIT hackathon last February, the women — competing as Team 100% Enthusiasm — were running into snags. The lines for hackathon participants to use the 3D printers were taking forever. The team laser-cut the wrong material for the casing. And the optical recognition software they wanted to use — crucial for the device to actually work — wasn’t turning up accurate translations of text.

“It turned out to be a lot harder than we thought,” says Charlene Xia, one of the team members.

Read more: Mashable

Endangered Language: How Technology May Replace Braille and Sign

It’s hard to think about language as being endangered or replaceable. But as our culture and means of communication evolve, certain languages find their utility in decline. Braille and sign language are in just such a predicament.

Technological advancements such as Voice-to-text, digital audio, and the cochlear implant have steadily decreased the demand for these once revolutionary facilitators for the disabled. This hour, we’ll hear from members of the hearing and visually impaired communities about this controversial shift in their culture.

Read more: WNPR