Monday, February 27, 2023

John J. Boyer, RIP

James R. Hagerty:

John J. Boyer, raised on a Minnesota farm family with 12 children, was born blind and lost most of his hearing by the time he was 10 years old.

Kelly Meyerhofer (via Hacker News):

Boyer went on to develop a software program that converts written text into Braille, an invention fueled by childhood frustration over too few Braille textbooks to satisfy his scientific curiosity. His work dramatically expanded educational and employment access for the blind.


The National Foundation of the Blind supplied Boyer in college with a translator who took lecture notes and signed them into John’s hand. Boyer himself used no notes, relying completely on memory. His textbooks were transcribed into Braille, but there weren’t graphs of any kind, a challenge for a math major. Still, he graduated second in the college’s class of 1961.

Boyer struggled to find a job out of school. To expand his skillset, he designed his own hearing aid and trained a golden retriever, Sugar, to be his guide dog. He landed some computer programming jobs in Ohio and later at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.


Boyer developed Liblouis, which translates text into Braille, as a free, open-source software for anyone to use. He also helped develop BrailleBlaster, which translates maps, graphics and math formulas into a format accessible to blind people.


John and I were in graduate school together (computer science, U Wisconsin - Madison). He was indeed a remarkable person. He was blind and deaf. He carried around a little mechanical Braille typewriter. To talk with John, you would type, and he would extend his hand into the device and feel the Braille impressions of what you were typing.


Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Leave a Comment