Volume III Number 1, March 1996

Research Note: The Braille 'n Speak As A Laboratory Tool for Blind Students

David Lunney
Margaret M. Gemperline
Angelo Sonnesso
David Wohlers
East Carolina University

Many instruments used today in educational science laboratories provide data in digital format. Frequently these instruments have an RS-232 serial port which allows digitized data to be easily transferred to a computer in ASCII format for automatic data logging. Many of these instruments can be externally controlled by sending ASCII commands entered on a keyboard or computer connected to the instrument's RS-232 port. The Braille 'n Speak, a "personal data assistant" (1) for blind people, manufactured by Blazie Engineering, can be used by blind students as a means of independent access to the instrumental data and as a means of controlling the instrument in such a case. This report details the success we have had in obtaining 2-way RS-232 communication between the Braille 'n Speak and the laboratory instruments listed below.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the Braille 'n Speak, it is a truly portable device which contains a speech synthesizer, a Braille keyboard, serial (RS-232) port for interfacing capabilities, and memory. Text entered on the Braille keyboard can be sent out the RS-232 port in standard ASCII format. ASCII text coming in through the RS-232 port can be immediately spoken by the Braille 'n Speak. The Braille 'n Speak has long been used by blind students and professionals as a note-taking device, and more currently, as a speech synthesizer for a computer.

Although our interfacing experience only extends to the Braille 'n Speak, other Blazie Engineering products, namely the Type 'n Speak and the Braille Lite, which are capable of 2-way RS-232 communication using standard ASCII code, also seem to be suitable for this task. Besides the Blazie Engineering products mentioned here, we are also aware of Braille note-taking devices from other manufacturers which have serial RS-232 ports and which should also be capable of being interfaced to laboratory instruments. The list is too long to include here. (2)

In addition to the instruments listed below, the Braille 'n Speak has also been interfaced to a Fluke digital multimeter equipped with a serial RS-232 port. (3) Certainly that application is also useful to blind science students. One of us (Wohlers) hopes soon to extend the list below to include a digital pH meter. If successful, that information will be the subject of a future report.

We have achieved 2-way RS-232 serial communication using the Braille 'n Speak with the following laboratory instruments:


Ohaus CT200 top-loading balance, centigram accuracy (Gemperline & Sonnesso)

Ohaus TP200 Precision Plus balance, milligram accuracy (Gemperline & Sonnesso)

Fisher Scientific XT-400 DR balance, milligram accuracy (Wohlers) Sartorius Analytical A 200 S balance, tenth of a milligram accuracy (Wohlers)

Mettler PE3600 top-loading balance, milligram accuracy (Wohlers) UV-VISIBLE SPECTROPHOTOMETERS Spectronic 2OD Spectrophotometer, manufactured by Spectronic Instruments, Inc. (Gemperline & Sonnesso)


Perkin Elmer model 1600 Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectrophotometer (Gemperline & Sonnesso)

In order to use the Braille 'n Speak with this equipment you must turn on the serial port (chord-34 & F), and use the Braille 'n Speak as a dumb terminal. For specific interfacing information, please contact authors Gemperline, Sonnesso, and Wohlers at the addresses listed below.

This work was supported in part by National Science Foundation Grant #DUE-9254330, David Lunney, Principal Investigator.


1. Blazie Engineering Catalog of Products for Blind and Visually
Impaired People, Fall '94, p.7.

2. Dan Mackison, North Carolina Assistive Technology Project,
Greenville, NC office, personal communication.

3. T. V. Cranmer, "Accessing the Fluke PM2525/623 Multimeter,"
Smith-Kettlewell Technical File, Vol. 10, No. 4, Fall 1989.


Margaret M. Gemperline, MS
Research Associate
Department of Chemistry
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858-4353
(919) 328-1648 (voice)
(919) 328-6210 (fax)

Angelo Sonnesso, Rehabilitation Counselor
Services for the Blind
404 St. Andrew Drive
Greenville, NC 27834
(919) 355-9016 (voice)
(919) 355-9019 (fax)

Dr. David Wohlers, Professor
Division of Science
Northeast Missouri State University
Kirksville, MO 63501
(816) 785-4625 (voice)
(816) 785-4045 (fax)

Dr. David Lunney, Professor
Department of Chemistry
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858-4353
(919) 328-1648 (voice)
(919) 328-6210 (fax)

Lunney, D., Gemperline, M. M., Sonnesso, A., & Wohlers, D. (1996). Research note: The Braille 'n Speak as a laboratory tool for blind students. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 3(1).