Specify That Language

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

In my work as a Hebrew scholar, I access a great deal of Hebrew and Greek material online. Because I am visually impaired, I rely on text to speech software to either read it out loud or send it to my braille display device. A growing number of people are in the same position that I am in.

Perhaps this is new information for you and, like a number of people I meet, you were unaware that a person who is blind could learn biblical languages at all. I want to tell you that it can be done and, in fact, we can teach the languages. The limitation we have occurs when people post text using graphics or do not identify the language in the code of their document. In the first case, our software skips over the text as if it is a picture. In the second case, it misidentifies the text as if it is part of the surrounding language, sometimes not pronouncing it at all.

On the other hand, a foreign language can be displayed very wrongly on a braille display if it is in a Latin-based alphabet and is not marked correctly. I once encountered a site that is written in Italian and English… English braille uses a sort of shorthand so that words are contracted to take up less space. For example, on my display, I read in English:

I [com]e [to][ch]ur[ch] & see [people] [wh]om I love & [ch][er]i[sh].
[Letters in brackets are represented by single symbols in braille.

When working with non-English texts, these shorthand signs are not used, and screen readers will not feed them to braille displays as long as there are codes in the markup to tell the software that “this is Italian text,” etc.

So, in non-techie-speak, always make sure your Spanish text is selected as Spanish, not just that it looks like Spanish.

Here is how to do it. You will need to edit the HTML code for your post–WordPress and other blogging platforms have means to do this. At the beginning of your language text, insert <q dir=”rtl” lang=”he”>Hebrew text goes here</q> for Hebrew text. You can look up the appropriate codes for other languages in the HTML ISO Language Reference.

For more extensive technical discussion, See W3C.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *