I saw Hebrew on my braille display today! I don't know whether it rendered correctly or not. Tomorrow I will compare it with a written passage. It will not be an easy task to do this; but I will figure it out.
For the sake of keeping a record of what was necessary to make all this technology work together, I want to outline what actually happened in the process of making JAWS work. This is the kind of information I have had to piece together. Perhaps it will be easier for someone else if I lay it out in plain English. This is something I plan to do in an official publication at some point once I have mastered a fair bit of Hebrew study. For now, I am just keeping track of my doings.
I am running JAWS on machines with Windows XP Pro, which is an upgrade to NT. This is important. I had seen a notation in the new features announcement for JAWS 6.1 regarding NT that said that JAWS would recognize Hebrew in Unicode. This told me that JAWS 7.1 should do the same and that it should work in XP Pro.
- First, I verified that Word supported Unicode. It does.
- I enabled enhanced edit mode in the text processing dialogue of the JAWS configuration manager.
- My professor provided me a Hebrew passage, which I loaded in Word. JAWS displayed gibberish.
- The professor checked to see if the screen was displaying properly. It was not.
- We installed the cardo font. This fixed the visual display but not the braille.
- I realized that I had not turned off the braille translator. This fixed the braille display. I had what appeared to be beautiful braille Hebrew!
Upon coming home, I unpacked my boxes of JBI material. I have the 20-volume Hebrew Bible, produced in 1974. I also have a one-volume book entitled Hebrew Braille: A Manual for Hebrew Braille and Basic Hebrew by Eliezer Katz, printed in Israel in 1957. This looks useful; but all of these resources provide differing information about braille code usage. I am not yet able to reliably determine which symbol is which due to differences, errors, etc. I am inclined to rely heavily on the Katz volume; but many changes can take place in the braille code over a fifty-year period.
The materials I'm working with from JBI were transcribed 30 years ago and may not reflect changes in the Hebrew braille code that have been made recently. Even inLambdin and the Hebrew Bible, which were only transcribed a few years apart, I am finding inconsistencies regarding which sign is used for which letter and how the letters are to be pronounced. I don't understand the differences yet. What is intentional, and what is error? I will figure it out in time. If I was just doing this to pass a class, I could stick with one source and struggle through it. However, that is not, has never been, and never will be my point in taking this on. If I'm going to learn Hebrew, I'm going to learn it for the long haul. I will encounter it again and again, and that means that I may or may not be using materials produced by JBI--and those may or may not have been produced 30 years ago. I don't have the luxury of assuming that everything will be transcribed the way that the Lambdin book is or that the Hebrew Bible is. accessing Hebrew with JAWS on a braille display is quite different. Based on my memory, the display version of Genesis 1:1-5 and the JBI version do not quite match up. I wish I had a translation table for Hebrew braille on the computer!
I can pronounce the Hebrew alphabet and read some of it. I cannot read it all yet. I do understand certain concepts about Hebrew notation in print. This is important to me. Even though I will be reading in braille, I appreciate knowing how things are written in print. I grew up learning both English notation systems, and I still relate to them both when I read aurally. Also, if I will someday be teaching sighted university students, it will be important for me to have some working knowledge of print notation, even if I am working with a teaching assistant (as I would be if I taught any language courses).
I am very tired from all this extra work; but I am feeling something stirring inside me. If I can just find the missing pieces that need to fit together, I feel like I could fly. I always loved languages, and I was bored with standard language courses. They moved too slowly and didn't give me much opportunity to use what I was learning. The extra work, even though it is tiring, is actually kind of invigorating. It is a unique challenge, and I feel like perhaps there could be a place for me to use some of my specialized knowledge within the wide seminary community. I was angry at the suggestion that I seek out some university that had an accessible Hebrew course; but if one had existed it would have made perfect sense for me to take advantage of it. None did exist, and I wonder if I might be able to create such a thing somewhere. Would any university open their doors to blind students coming in to study biblical languages and truly model welcome?