[tex4ht] Could LaTeX Be Used to Format Braille Documents?

Susan Jolly easjolly at ix.netcom.com
Tue Oct 25 18:30:55 CEST 2011


I am the person who originally interested Eitan Gurari in working with 
braille.  He had at the time of his unfortunate passing apparently gotten 
quite far in building some sort of braille capability on top of LaTeX. 
However, it has turned out not to be possible to recover that work.

Meanwhile there are at present no good open source tools for formatting 
braille documents and just this morning someone asked me if it would be 
possible to use LaTeX.  I had for the reason explained below given up on 
this idea some time back but thought I might as well post the problem here 
just in case something has changed.

Formatting braille is quite similar to formatting plain text using a single 
fixed-width or monospace font where the line lengths and page sizes and 
other measures are specified in terms of the maximum number of braille 
characters (usually called braille cells) that can fit on a line or page. (A 
typical page size is 25 lines of 40 characters per line including empty 
characters for margins.)

One major requirement for braille formatting that LaTeX cannot to my 
knowledge handle is the option to include body text in headers and footers 
along with information such as page numbers. (This is done to save space due 
to the natural bulk of embossed braille.) I suppose one could argue that 
this approach is somewhat anachronistic but, in practical terms, braille 
transcribing organizations, who must follow the official rules of braille 
authorities, would never accept a solution that does not support this 

[You can download an example of a properly formatted braille file by 
downloading the brf format copy of the currrent Braille Forum magazine via 
the link on the left side of this page: http://www.acb.org/node/627
The braille characters are represented via an ASCII transliteration so if 
you display the file in a simple text editor it will be semi-readable.]

Several years ago I discussed this unusual formatting requirement with Karl 
Berry and he kindly explained why it would not be feasible to implement it 
into LaTeX and his explanation made sense to me.  My guess is that Eitan had 
not tried to address this requirement.

Anyway, if anyone on this list has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. 
I know that the TeX formatter has some mechanism that allows it to insert 
correct page and equation number references although if this is handled 
without the need to repaginate the entire document then it is obviously 
simpler than the problem of including body text in headers and footers.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Susan Jolly

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