Driving me dotty

In last week’s blog I explained how updating the operating system on my PC to Windows 10 caused all sorts of problems for the specialist software I use to run my braille transcription business.

In particular, I had to re-install JAWS, the text-to-speech program which I use to read aloud documents on my computer. After we’d finally sorted that out, I hoped that would be the end of my problems, but it wasn’t, because I soon realised that Duxbury wasn’t working properly either.

Duxbury is the program I use for braille translation. When all is working as it should, I open the document to be transcribed, usually a Word or text file, run it through Duxbury, and what comes up on my braille display is a pretty good braille document. Pretty good, but not perfect, so I carefully go through it and create the appropriate layout and correct any braille errors.

I can do this because the braille is coming up under my fingers on my braille display. This is a tablet which sits in front of the keyboard and produces what is known as refreshable braille. This is formed by tiny pins which can rise and fall to create braille symbols under my fingertips as the screen cursor is moved along the line of text and down the page. It is a brilliant piece of kit without which my job would be very difficult.

I can edit in braille on the computer because while in Duxbury, the home keys on my conventional QWERTY keyboard – that is to say, the letters S, D and F under my left hand, and J, K and L under my right – operate as a braille keyboard, allowing me to write in braille, just as if I were using my manual Perkins Brailler.

This kit is expensive, but when I first started my braille transcription business, there were no government grants or subsidies to help pay for this type of software and equipment. In those days, I had to create the document in an early word processor called Word Perfect. I would then run the Word Perfect file through a braille translation program, print it off in hard copy, read it, note any errors, and then go back into the Word Perfect file to make my corrections. After that, I had to run the corrected document through the braille translation program all over again, and finally print it off for the customer.

Looking back on that era, I think, “What a waste of time and paper!”

You can also see why I value Duxbury and why I was so keen to get it back up and running again after I installed Windows 10.

The first thing we needed to do was uninstall the previous installation of Duxbury. That’s where the fun started.

We couldn’t do it.

The installation process kept asking us for codes we didn’t have. We urgently needed to contact the manufacturer.

Two problems there.

Duxbury Systems, who make the braille translation software, are based in Westford, Massachusetts, in the USA. That means that they are four hours behind the UK at this time of year.

And the other problem? It was a Sunday.

On Monday, I allowed them time to wake up and then emailed Duxbury Systems. They emailed back that all would be well now.

It was evening by this point, so my brother in Leicester was back home from work and able to help me out. He used a program called TeamViewer to remotely access my computer and together we tackled the Duxbury installation process again.

We were soon asked for our licence number. This was printed on the side of the box the software came in, which is fine if you’re sighted, but left it absolutely inaccessible to me.

I used my mobile phone to contact my sister-in-law on Messenger (is this sounding familiar to regular readers?), and held the software box up in front of the camera on the phone so that she could read the number aloud to my brother, who was sitting next to her, operating his computer.

It took a lot of fiddling about with the phone camera and the box, but we got there in the end.

So, that was well, best beloved (a Kipling reference there), but then we were asked for a reference code. Fortunately, the good people of Massachusetts were still awake and at work, so I was able to email them. They wrote back and, guess what, we should have de-activated Duxbury before uninstalling it. No one I had spoken to had mentioned this before.

Oh dear… Return to Go, do not collect £200!

We did manage to get Duxbury back up and running eventually. Did everything else run smoothly after that? Hah! I’ll tell you the rest next week.