Although these artifacts may not look as shiny and sleek as modern production line computers, the Galarneau Braille computer and printer were prototypes handmade by a blind engineer, Roland Galarneau. Visually impaired from birth and with just two percent vision, he taught himself to read using a homemade microscope. In 1970 he established Converto-Braille Cypihot-Galarneau, a non-profit corporation to produce books and print materials for the blind.
The 1972 version of his computer read and translated text punched on perforated tape, then embossed it on paper using a specially adapted braille typewriter. In 1976, the company produced its first braille books, free of charge, for visually impaired students.
The unique CPU on exhibit (940205) was completed in 1984. In this second generation unit, the instructions of the Converto-Braille programs were permanently etched onto computer chips. These convert alpha-numeric language to braille for output by a specialized Braille printer. In 1989, the program was updated and adapted by Jean Galarneau, Roland's son. The software, called Converto, was designed for users unfamiliar with braille and functions like a word processing program. It is available in French or English.
The grapho-Braille printer (940205) provides access to any data bank or file and can then print it in Braille format. In 1982, a U.S. firm, Telesensory System, purchased the rights to the Braille printer, distributing it worldwide under the name Versapoint. A second generation that prints on both sides of the page (940204) was developed in 1987. Galarneau's equipment, made in his basement, reveals great ingenuity and inventiveness. His perseverance allowed him to succeed where others had failed.
The company continues to adapt its products to the needs of the visually impaired. It has designed, converted and mass-produced printers, developed software to simplify and speed up text entry, and produced some of the most sophisticated optical readers. For contributions to assist the blind with innovative technology, Roland Galarneau received the Order of Canada in 1979.
Reprinted courtesy of the National Museum of Science and Technology