Roland Galarneau and the Cypihot-Galarneau Corporation, 1960-1972

Image of Roland Galarneau, c.1970

Roland Galarneau, c.1970

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 in Canada and beyond. 

Galarneau was born in 1922 in Hull, Quebec. With only two percent vision, he was sent to L’Institut Nazareth for his primary education. This institute was one of the first in Canada to instruct students in braille since its founding in the mid-nineteenth century. Galarneau’s experience there undoubtedly influenced him. Upon graduating from the institute, and without the funds to pursue further studies, Galarneau operated a canteen at the Iron Steel Company in Hull. When the foundry closed after the Second World War, Galarneau gained employment as a janitor for the federal Department of Public Works. With a growing family and determined to continue his education, he began taking night courses in engineering through the University of Ottawa. Meanwhile he trained himself to perform mechanical work and was soon promoted to the position of machinist with Public Works. In 1952, he built one of the first of many inventions in his basement. A powerful microscope, which he called a “roloscope”, allowed him to read printed material. This gave him access to a far greater array of literature on electronics, which he read at length. Through this private study, he was eventually struck with an idea to develop a machine that would automatically transcribe written texts into Braille.[1]

In the early 1960s, Galarneau obtained several different models of braille printers from a Mrs. Fernande Tremblay of Montreal; devices which are now held with the collections of the Canadian Science and Technology Museum and featured within an earlier section of this exhibit. He carefully studied the design and functions of these braillewriters, even building one of his own.[2] He then used this knowledge to begin working on a device called the “Converto-Braille”—a machine that would quite literally transform braille production in the years to come.

Galarneau laboured to make his idea a reality in the basement of his home from 1966 onward. Meanwhile, Jeanne Cypihot, a women living in Montreal who was also blind, heard about Galarneau’s work. She generously invested in his design, offering $12, 000 to the project. Others soon followed suit, including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. In 1970, Cypihot-Galarneau Services was born.[3]

Roland Galarneau’s company initially dedicated itself to making educational materials more accessible to aspiring college and university students who were blind or partially sighted. When, in 1972, the company was awarded a Local Initiatives Grant, Galarneau hired twelve employees. Some converted textbooks into braille, while others recorded books onto cassettes in collaboration with the University of Ottawa, forming the first French-language tape library in Canada that would eventually carry as many as 3, 500 titles. At the same time, Galarneau laboured to perfect his machine.[4]

 



[1] “Converto-Braille History,” IEEE CANADA: Showcase of Canadian Engineering Achievement. http://www.ieee.ca/millennium/braille/braille_about.html.

[2] Galarneau Braillewriter, artifact no. 1987.0269.001, Collections Supplementary Report, Canadian Science and Technology Museum Corporation, Ottawa ON, Canada. http://techno-science.ca/en/collection-research/collection-item.php?id=1987.0269.001

[3] 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.

[4] “Converto-Braille History,” IEEE CANADA

 

Roland Galarneau and the Cypihot-Galarneau Corporation, 1960-1972