Roland Galarneau and the Converto-Braille

Converto-Braille, CSTM artifact no. 1987.0272.001

Galarneau Converto-Braille, c.1972

Text adapted from "Envisioning Technologies: Historical Insights into Educational Technologies for People who are Blind or Partially Sighted in Canada, 1890-Present"


Roland Galarneau (1922-2011) was an important Canadian innovator in the computerized production of braille, as well as the founder of the Cypihot-Galarneau Corporation in 1970 – a not-for profit organization that would significantly influence the development of computer-based assistive technologies and applications in Canada and beyond. 

From the 1960s onward, Galarneau began developing an idea for a machine that would automatically transcribe text into braille. By 1972, the first “Converto-Braille” was finally complete and functioning. By that time, it had taken over 10, 000 hours of work to develop the 100, 000 connections required for the device.[1] The machine was essentially a computer linked to an electromechanical typeprinter—a device that was frequently used as an interface for early mainframe computers and could transmit typed messages through telephone relays. Galarneau acquired these telephone relays and a collection of other components with the help of Robert Dormer, an electrical engineer with Bell Canada, Ltd., and Jack Reid of the Northern Electric Co., Ltd., two enthusiastic supporters of Galarneau’s work. The teleprinter produced a perforated tape that provided the required memory for the computer, which could scan and translate texts into braille at approximately 100 words per minute.[2]

The device, pictured here, sits on a metal stand. Paper could be fed through the rollers near the top front of the grey-painted rectangular metal base. The machine was powered by a black cylindrical “Superior Electric” motor to the right-hand side of the machine. Above and towards the back end of the machine were a series of smaller cylinders through which the perforated tape was fed across a larger metal Northern Electric cylinder to the left of the device. This series of cylinders were, in turn, attached to a complicated set of relay boards at the rear of the machine.[3]

[1] Cypihot-Galarnea Services, “SCBCG: 1970-1990 Converto Braille” (pamphlet), Canadian Science and Technology Library, Ottawa, ON

[2] Heather Buchan, “Computerized Braille,” The Mirrored Spectrum: A Collection of Reports for the Non-Scientist and Non-Engineer about achievements in Canadian Science and Technology, (Ottawa, ON: Information Canada, 1973), 10-11.

[3] Galarneau Computerized Braille Printer (1972), artifact no. 1987.0272.001, Collections Supplementary Report, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa ON, Canada.


Roland Galarneau and the Converto-Braille