A brilliant young Greek postgraduate student Apostolos Garoufos, and his professor, Telemachus Goudas, have created a new, revolutionary software for the blind. Named “MinaDot”, the application may soon be available for free online everywhere in the world.
Speaking with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA), Garoufos described his new application as a computer program which automatically transcribes books into Braille. “You input the Greek or English text and it gives you the transcription (in Braille). Easy, plain, and without having to know Braille. It can make thousands of transcriptions in seconds,” he added proudly.
“So far I’m the only one using it because it needs a lot of tweaks to become easier to use,” but it is in working order now, he says.
Garoufos is from Tsotili in the area of Kozani, where he first studied Greek literature. He is now studying programming and communication technology for special education, and his aim is to help people with visual impairments whom he loves, he said in the interview.
In an attempt to understand how the blind manage their daily lives, Garoufos recently spent 24 hours blindfolded. “Time passed relatively easily, as I could use Braille to use the television and the computer, but I couldn’t do something which was of vital importance to me, to read literature by myself,” he said.
His love for literature, which was the focus of his first university degree, led him to experiment with different ways a book could be turned into a Braille text. Odysseas Elytis’ poem “Monogramma” was his first attempt at using the new Braille software.
“My idea to learn Braille came after I started my graduate degree in special education,” he tells AMNA. “As I learned the language in-depth — not just the Greek and English you are taught in, but all other languages (except those with special characters like the Chinese) — I wanted to feel the power of this computer code.”
Explaining the current situation in publications for blind people, the philologist-programmer said that while some texts and books are available in Braille, it is difficult to find books online, unless one requests a special order. This is doubly true for magazine articles.
“Education is the most important thing in this life. You open your wings, you rejoice in the love and smell of the actual pages of books. There should be a significant initiative to publish books for such people,” he added. This is what he said inspired him to take the path he is on now.
“Essentially, I wanted to have an online program that would be able to automatically transcribe texts from Greek or English, to start with, in order to get Braille texts as an initial step.
“The second phase is printing it,” Garoufos explained. “With the program I’ve created, you don’t need to know anything about transcriptions or Braille, it does it automatically. You just type in a regular text and it automatically transcribes it.”
Garoufos has uploaded transcriptions he has made of several texts for adults and children, including Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince, in Greek, on his Facebook page, which can be found under “MinaDot”.
Garoufos is currently offering his services online to whomever would like a book or a fairy tale transcribed for them. He anticipates however, that soon the software will be uploaded onto the internet, so everyone everywhere may access free Braille transcription.