Creating Tactile Graphics with Firebird Software

I’ll never forget the time I superglued my hand to my desk. 

I was attempting to make a tactile map and, having run out of Wikki Stix, I was using yarn or something similar and Elmer’s just wasn’t up to the challenge.  

I learned several things that day.  Superglue is really hard to detect tactally at room temperature, it takes two to three days for your skin to regrow after you’ve ripped it off, and TVIs should hoard the Wikki Stix like there’s gonna be a zombie apocalypse in the imminent future.   

Pretty sure no one was happier than I was when technology evolved to the point where no one had to play tug of war with the last pack of Wikki Stix (not that any of us were undignified enough to do that, but you catch my drift).

There are lots of low tech and high tech ways to create tactile graphics.  Some ways are more costly than others. But I can guarantee they are all less painful than yanking your hand off of a surface to which it has been superglued.  

Firebird Software

Firebird is a free download from Enabling Technologies.  It can be used with the Romeo 60, Juliet 120, and Phoenix embossers. if you are interested please see my previous post on the Juliet 120 embosser

Screenshot of Firebird Graphics Editor with arrows indicated blank area to upload the image and then Edit button allows you to modify the tactile file.

Screen Layout

When you first open Firebird, you will see this screen.  

Menu Bar: This is a standard menu bar with drop-down menus.  As with most programs, you can access this toolbar by using the Alt key.  Within these menus, you can adjust page size, access image tools and filters, and 

Uploaded Image Area: Once you upload an image, Firebird will display it in the large area on the left side of the screen

Page Image Area: Once you’ve opened an image file, an approximation of how that image will display in tactile graphic form will appear on the right side of the screen.  Don’t worry if your image is missing dots, has extra dots, or even does not show up at all. This can be fixed with image filters that we will cover later.

Edit Button: Located in the upper left corner of the Page Image Area (or about the middle of the top of the screen) is an edit button.  That button will open the Braille Editor. This editor allows you to fine-tune your image. Again, we will cover this more in depth later.  

Image Controls: Although not specifically labeled in the above diagram, this section on the lower left portion of the screen shows the embosser settings.  

Uploading an Image

Uploading an image is relatively easy, but there are a few basic guidelines that will assist you in producing higher quality graphics that require less editing.  I could list them, but basically they all come down to keeping the image simple and uncluttered as possible. This may not always be realistic, especially if you have to reproduce an image from a textbook, but there are times you have more control than others.  

Firebird is able to import PNG and JPG files.  I chose a simple graph to upload and demonstrate.

Screenshot of Firebird Graphics Editor with File selected, Open select and Image File.

After you’ve saved the image on your PC, open the file menu, select open, and choose “image file”.  As you can see from the image, you can also perform this same task using the keyboard shortcut Control+O

Once your image is loaded, it will display on the left side of the screen and the approximation of the tactile graphic will appear on the right.  

Applying Filters and Effects

Once your image is uploaded, you may notice that the right side of the screen looks significantly different than the left.  Don’t panic! Applying effects and filters to the original image will help change the way it displays in the Page View Window.  

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. You can apply a filter more than once.  For example, if your image does not appear in the page view window at all or is missing various parts, you can apply the “sharpen” effect more than once.  You may find that applying this effect too many times will produce the opposite effect, so if you apply it one too many times, Control+Z will undo your last edit
  2. Sometimes the imported image needs to be blurred a bit to prevent extraneous lines from transferring to the tactile image.  
  3. If possible, experiment with several images and filters to familiarize yourself with which ones will work the best in different situations.  

Below, I’ve included a graphic that shows the evolution of an image I uploaded.  As you can see, the original uploaded image does not appear accurately in the preview window on the right.  However, after I applied the sharpen effect a couple times, it was significantly better and would be easier to edit.  Remember, you can layer effects and apply them more than once. And as always, Control+Z is your friend.

You may notice that I did not apply any filters on this image.  Those were not necessary, but I highly suggest you experiment with them.  There are some filters, such as invert, that may be particularly useful. 

Screenshot of Firebird with uploaded line chart, original image. Left side shows the line chart but the right Edit side does not. Image 2 shows  Image Tools menu. Image 3 shows Image Tools Selected and Sharpen Selected; Line chart now appears on the right side of the screen.

The Braille Editor

Once your image looks as clear as you can get it, it’s time to edit it in the Braille Edit Display window.  This window opens separately from the screen we were previously working in, so you can go back and look at how the original image appeared if needed. 

Screenshot of Braille Edit Display window with insert options. Line chart from previous Edit screen - with broken gaps in the line -  is also on the screen.

When this window opens, the first thing you will probably notice is the toolbar at the left.  As you can see from the diagram, all of the buttons have a specific purpose and are generally self-explanatory. For those of you who cannot access the image, there are the buttons in the order in which they appear

  • Insert Line: Allows user to draw a line to insert with the mouse
  • Insert Circle: Inserts a perfect circle with the mouse
  • Insert Square: User may draw a rectangular or square object using the mouse
  • Insert Oval: User may draw an oval using the mouse 
  • Insert Irregular Object: By inserting lines that connect with the left mouse button, the user can insert an irregularly shaped object.  To complete insertion, use the right mouse button.  
  • Insert Curved LIne: The user may insert a curve at any location using the mouse.
  • Insert One Dot: The user may insert (or erase) one dot at a time.  This is useful for detailed work and not advisable on a large scale
  • Select and Erase: Using a rectangular select tool, 
  • Irregular Select and Erase: By drawing lines that connect with the left mouse button, the user can select an irregularly shaped area to erase.  To complete enclosure and erase the contents, use the right mouse button. 
  • Select Fill Pattern: this tool allows the user to select which fill pattern to apply to an object he/she has inserted
  • Select Line Thickness: choose the line thickness of the images or lines inserted
  • Insert Braille Text: opens a dialogue box allowing the user to insert text in either six key entry or by simply typing it in

A Progression Example

Below is an image and notes on how the uploaded image can be edited so that content can be added, erased, or modified.  

3 Screenshots of Progression of Edited Image. 1 Use "insert Line' tool to connect the lines in the graph. 2. Use 'Insert text' tool to inser the numbers along the horizontal axis. Type number in the box, then click where you want to place it in the image. 3. Use the 'Erase' Tool to eliminate the clutter from the image. Insert numbers on the vertical axis.

NOTE: There is no substitute for trial and error, so practicing on an image that is “disposable” is certainly advisable to help you learn the ins and outs of the program as well as what it is and is not capable of.  

Helpful Resources

Need more help with using Firebird?  Here are a few helpful resources. 

Note: There may be more specific information that applies to your specific embosser in  the user guide.  Embossing Graphics will be covered in the next installment in this series

  • Humanware Webinar: Using Firebird V29.  Though the current version is 30.1, this webinar is still quite useful.  Please note that this webinar is just over one hour long,
  • Enabling Technologies has a couple good shorter videos.  This introduction to Firebird is divided into Part One and Part Two.

In a future post, we will look at embossing tactile graphics and some strategies using the Julie t120 embosser. 

 

 

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