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Before the advent of digital publishing, most books and other media were extremely difficult for people with low vision, blindness or dyslexia to access. People with print disabilities mostly relied on third parties and charitable organizations for Braille, audio books, and other accessible formats. But advances in consumer technology, coupled with new programming and publishing standards like HTML5 and ePub3, could soon usher in a new era of accessibility. We talk with two innovators in the field of publishing and accessible technology.
- Jim Fruchterman President & CEO, Benetech; Founder and CEO, Bookshare
- George Kerscher Secretary General, DAISY Consortium; Senior Officer, Accessible Technology Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D); Chair, Steering Council Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), W3C; President, International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)
Making Books Truly Accessible
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, country of origin labeling and the murky global trade in honey. But first, the challenge of making books and other media truly accessible to people with disabilities.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's the beginning of the e-book era with a click of a mouse or a tap of a finger. Anyone can download the classics of Shakespeare or the latest trashy beach novel. For most readers, advances in publishing technology promise more convenience and better selection. For blind readers, it could revolutionize access.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITraditionally, a new novel or textbook would come out in print and blind and severely dyslexic readers would have to wait months or years for someone to record it and repackage it as an audio book or sit down and try and transcribe it into Braille. Today new apps and software can convert text to voice in a fraction of that time. Specialized online libraries are making hundreds of thousands of books available in accessible formats.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut disability advocates have their sights set on a bigger target, building new standards to make virtually every new book and new website accessible. Joining us to discuss this is George Kerscher, Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium, an international association that works to ensure equal access to information for people who cannot read the printed page, including the blind and severely dyslexic.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's also President of the International Digital Publishing forum and chair of web accessibility initiative at W3C, the World Wide Web consortium. He created the first e-books in 1987. George Kerscher, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. GEORGE KERSCHERThank you very much. I'm glad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Jim Fruchterman. He is the President and CEO of Benetech, a firm that specializes in utilizing technology to serve social causes. He's also founder and President of Bookshare, the largest online library for people with print disabilities. He was a 2006 recipient of the McArthur Fellowship, also known as the Genius Grant. Jim Fruchterman, thank you for joining us.
MR. JIM FRUCHTERMANThanks a lot, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd you, too, can join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you use assistive technologies to access media? How has technology, in that regard, improved for you over the years, 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. George, before we started, it makes sense for us to define terms and it turns out that you were the person credited with coining the term Print Disabled. What is a print disability?
KERSCHERSo a print disability is a person who has a functional difficulty reading standard print. Obviously, people who are blind and cannot read standard print, people that are dyslexic also fall into that category. But when I was trying to define that, I was trying to capture functionally all the different disability groups that cannot read print.
KERSCHERSo, for example, a person who's a para -- quadriplegic would not have the ability to turn pages and here too, assistive technology and digital publishing is just wonderful for that disability group. Intellectually disabled people as well can benefit from having text to speech present information at the same time so you can see it and hear it at the same time. So print disabled is a whole gamut of people with disabilities that cannot read standard print and now, also, cannot read material that's on a screen, still falls into that same category.
NNAMDIWell, over the last few years, e-readers and tablet computers, like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad have helped to create a huge market for e-books. And most publishers seem to think this is the future of their industry. But the idea of an e-book has a pretty interesting pedigree. You actually created the first e-book back in 1987, 24 years ago. How has this idea of e-books and the broader industry evolved since then?
KERSCHERIn the end of '87 and '88, I started a company called Computerized Books for the Blind as a non-profit. And then we added, in that same year, and Print Disabled, Computerized Books for the Blind and Print Disabled. And I created these titles for myself. I was in a master's program in computer science at the University of Montana and I didn't have any books.
KERSCHERAnd so I wrote to publishers and asked them for the files that drove their printing presses and essentially figured out how to convert that and create the first e-books. And in the disability community, the word traveled at -- worldwide, and, boy, within a short time I started a non-profit organization and that merged with recording for the blind and dyslexic which is now Learning Ally. And, you know, we've been going every since.
KERSCHERIt was '96 when the DAISY Consortium was formed to -- which is made up of libraries around the world serving people with disabilities, to work on standards and I joined that effort. And in '99, the e-book industry -- commercial started and there was a lot of hope, initially, and then there was the burst of the tech bubble. And, boy, in the last three or four years, e-books have been coming on, just like crazy.
KERSCHERAnd the industry has been growing at exponential rates and you're absolutely correct, the publishing industry is viewing digital publishing as the future. Print's going to be here for a long time but more and more of market share is going to go to digital products.
NNAMDIJim Fruchterman, as we mentioned earlier, you run a non-profit called Bookshare, the largest online library for people with print disabilities. Tell us about Bookshare, how does it work?
FRUCHTERMANBookshare is a totally online library where the content is essentially, like, text files and in the DAISY format that George helped invent. And by having them as text files, you can push a button and make them into Braille or you can push a button and make them into large print or you can make a computerized voice read it aloud or you can push another button and make it an mp3 file. So they're really flexible and Bookshare started off, as pretty much, created by the community.
FRUCHTERMANThe number one source of our books were blind people and disabled people scanning for each other. So a, sort of like, a crowd sourced library. And then the last pieces, we have technology that actually reads the book aloud. So if you have a PC or MAC, it will actually take the book, download it from our website and read it to you. And even cooler, is that it's actually legal for us, in the U.S., to scan any book that a disabled person needs.
FRUCHTERMANAnd so we get thousands of book requests from disabled students around the country, for I need to read this book for class, or This is my textbook. And so the whole idea is, by taking the technology community and now, increasingly, the e-book publishing industry, putting it together with, you know, the content, we can actually solve the problem for more and more people of getting an equal shot -- equal access to the information they need for education, employment or just being included in society.
NNAMDIYou operate under a copyright exception.
FRUCHTERMANThat's right. So, I think, people are kind of surprised when I say, well, you know, how did my book get in your library? You know, I didn't give you permission. It's like, well, actually there's, you know, there are copywriting exceptions that allow a non-profit that serves primarily people with print disabilities can scan just about any book or make it into Braille without getting permission or paying a royalty. And that's really made the sort of critical mass around Bookshare.
FRUCHTERMANBut even cooler is this coming e-book revolution. For the last two years, the major source of books for our library have been publishers voluntarily sending the same books they send to Amazon and Apple, they send them to us so that we can make them available in disability specific formats.
NNAMDIIndeed, let's talk about convergence for a while. Because assistive technology has already changed the way people with print disabilities access content, today you've got specialized devices that have expanded access. Earlier in your career, like you mentioned, you designed optical scanners that helped the blind read virtually any printed material. But most of these breakthroughs have happened because of activists and non-profits.
NNAMDIMainstream tech companies and book publishers have largely ignored blind and people with print disabilities as a potential customer base. But you think that can and will change.
FRUCHTERMANI do. I feel strongly that the way that people with disabilities should get books is the same way that everyone else should get books. You know, they should buy their books or if they're in K-12 school, the school should buy the textbook, but they should be an accessible version of that textbook. And so even though we're pretty much the largest online library for the print disabled and we're the primary source for books today for blind people that want digital books, we think that the real solution is going to be when we become a secondary source, just like public libraries are for other people.
FRUCHTERMANWhen you're not able to buy those books because you're not economically empowered or you're a student and you have to read 20 different books to get your report done and you don't want to buy 20 books so you want to go to the library. But we want people to be able to buy books off the shelf in these digital forms. And what's stopped that from happening has been sort of the fight against electronic piracy.
FRUCHTERMANBecause they can't, you know, the technology can't tell the difference of I need a copy of that book so I can make it in Braille or I want to put it on -- for free on the internet. But I think the publishers are getting sort of over of their fear of piracy. And I think by either working directly with the assistive technology or selling their books without protection, I think will put this within the power of the average person to go ahead and buy a book and be just like everybody else.
NNAMDIAnd George Kerscher, I'd like you to talk about why this is important. This is a technology issue, but in a way, it's also a civil rights issue, is it not?
KERSCHERIt absolutely is a civil rights issue. And what we've been saying is we want the same book at the same time for the same price. And I presented at the United Nations, several years ago, and started talking about the information age and in this age accessed information is what I consider a fundamental human right.
KERSCHERFor participation in society, for education, for entertainment, you need access to information and that's something that technologically, we can do at the same time without huge costs, as long as the information and the technologies are designed and architect-ed correctly. So that's why we've gotten into the standard side of things in order to ensure that the technology will work for everybody in our society.
NNAMDIAnd Jim Fruchterman, underscoring why you consider this a civil rights issue is because, if you make a book truly accessible, books in the final analysis, in your view, are the key to employment and education.
FRUCHTERMANAbsolutely. And, you know, everyone really needs that kind of access on an equal basis. And people need it the way they need it, right? So we don't say one size fits all. And it's not just people with disabilities, right? I mean, people who commute want to listen to audio books. What if that audio book hasn't yet been narrated by a human being? Well, what if I could just download it on my little device and listen to it?
FRUCHTERMANAnd so the sort of proliferation of mobile devices have made e-books, actually, within reach, not just to people with disabilities, but in the form that people want them. And I think that flexibility is part of the power that we get out of technology, to be able to use it in the most effective way. And I think that's really -- it's about achieving equality, but also, as George says, it's about entertainment, it's about social inclusion, it's being up to date on the political issues, religious issues that you really care about. And we think everyone should have that.
KERSCHERAnd we focus on books, but we really mean all publications. We mean journals, magazines, newspapers, all kinds of things that are published...
KERSCHER...are all need to be accessible right out of the box.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on technology and print accessibility for people who are print disabled. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you use assistive technologies to access media? And in your view, how has this technology improved over the years? 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Send us a tweet at kojoshow or e-mail to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on technology and print accessibility with George Kerscher, secretary general of the DAISY Consortium. He's also president of the International Digital Publishing Forum and chair of Web Accessibility Initiative at W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium. He created the first eBooks in 1987. Also with us, is Jim Fruchterman, president and CEO of Benetech, a firm that specializes in utilizing technology to serve social causes. He is also the founder and president of Bookshare, the largest online library for people with print disabilities, and the 2006 recipient of the McArthur Fellowship also known as the Genius Grant.
NNAMDIJim, we got this e-mail from Kent who says, "Is there any hope that more Kendall books will have the audio turned on by the publishers? I use a Kendall on PC to help me read books. I use large fonts with a white on black theme. I hope Open Library keeps going. I found several books there, both in audio and in print for free." Is there any hope, Kent would like to know, that Kendall books, more of them will have the audio turned on?
FRUCHTERMANWell, you know, printers say, well, people are sort of collateral damage in a rights battle going on between especially publishers and authors, right? And the authors -- when the Kendall came out, it had no accessibility and then eventually did get accessible and they had a new text to speech feature. And then the authors kinda raised their hand and said, wait a minute. We deserve more money 'cause we make more money off of audio rights. And so a lot of publishers have been turning it off.
FRUCHTERMANAnd that's kind of -- it's kind of sad and it's certainly something that the blind community has gotten very active about and they've actually protested outside the Authors Guild about this. And one of the benefits of the copyright exception is even if, you know, just because we don't pay a royalty, you know, a zero percent of whatever amount is still zero. So we can actually make all these books talk on Bookshare without worrying about whether or not it's turned off on the Kendall.
NNAMDIToday, many of the market-leading devices have been designed with accessibility in mind. How has the hardware evolved? I think you have one such device in your hand.
FRUCHTERMANThat's right. Well, I'm actually -- you know, I've got an iPad here and, of course, what we're going to do is just hit a button and play a little bit of "Harry Potter."
NARRATORMy dear professor, surely a sensible person like yourself can call him by his name. All this you-know-who nonsense...
FRUCHTERMANAnd so that's just, you know, one sentence. Now we can have an entire book do this. And more and more of these devices have this kind of voice built in from the start. So for example, Apple, whether it's an iPod or an iPad or an iPod Touch, you can actually turn on this stuff and it will talk to you and read things aloud to you. And it's built in. It's free. You don't pay an extra cent for that capability.
NNAMDIGeorge, what kind of gadgets and software do you currently use for...
KERSCHEROh, I use a screen reader to access my Windows-based PC. And then I also have an iPhone using voiceover and I just go turn that on and it reads me everything. And, of course, I have some DAISY players that have been specially designed for people with disability. And these DAISY players are used throughout the world. Library of Congress distributes a free player that uses the DAISY format and -- to people with disabilities in this country. And I use that as well.
KERSCHERAnd what's interesting is people with disabilities have been using digital books for longer than anybody else on the planet. We've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work. And the requirements, for example navigation, the ability to go to chapter, section, subsection and go to a print page number, something that a student in a classroom needs to do all the time. And so we've been able to experiment, to learn a whole lot in the standards development process.
NNAMDIThe classic early adopters here. You both believe that we are arriving at a point of convergence where everything can be accessible. We're going to have to get a little geeky here for a second and talk a little bit about publishing and programming standards. The International Digital Publishing Forum, IDPF, is about to release EPUB 3, a standard for digital publications and documents. It sounds like really wonky stuff, but it turns out that these new standards could have major real world impacts for people with disabilities. Can George -- can you please explain?
KERSCHERAbsolutely. So two pieces here. First of all, the DAISY Consortium is a member of the IDPF and we put in technical expertise into the development of that standard. And the International Digital Publishing Forum runs the standards for EPUB. EPUB 2 has been around for several years and has caused this explosion of eBook materials. But the -- everybody is saying, we could do more. We could do so much more and EPUB 3 is going to bring that to life, so inclusion of video in eBooks, animations, interactivity.
KERSCHERAnd a lot of the features that have been developed in the DAISY space are being brought into EPUB 3. Here we'll be able to have audio -- media overlays which could provide audio and text synchronization, word highlighting as it's being spoken, all kinds of cool things. I mean, hold onto your seats, folks 'cause the eBook revolution is going to get a huge boost as EPUB 3 comes online. And we expect the voting on that by the membership to happen over the next six weeks.
KERSCHERWe will have this standard and it'll start to be adopted on many of the devices. Some have already started to implement these. The iBook folks at Apple have already implemented media overlays and have books that can highlight and have audio synchronization right now. It's very exciting.
NNAMDIJim Fruchterman, we've been talking about the book like it's some static thing. But, in fact, new eBooks are beginning to move beyond static text, include animation, videos and interactivity. Now that we seem to have arrived at a time when text can be made accessible, what about all these images and moving images? How do we make a flash video accessible?
FRUCHTERMANThat's a tough one. But I think it's, you know, just as I think we've been able to solve the text problem, we're on the brink of sort of solving this. Now we can get these books at the same time that other people are getting them. And if we don't, if they're old books, we can scan them. Now suddenly, you know, they move -- you know, they move the cookie, you know. So now, you know, textbooks are getting richer and richer with images. And then when you go online, you know, now you've got these videos and all these things.
FRUCHTERMANSo a lot of us techies are working on making this accessible. George and I are working together on something called the Diagram Center, the idea of how to make describing images much more, you know, inexpensive so that more and more disabled people can get access to it. Not only the information that's in the text of the textbook, but also in the pictures. So -- 'cause, you know, let's say you want to -- let's say you're a disabled student and you want to take science or math. All right. That's really hard. And so we have to figure out ways to make, you know, triangles and algebra accessible so that all those students kind of get an equal shot.
FRUCHTERMANAnd as techies, I mean, sometimes these formats are kinda geeky. But, you know, our job is really to make it simple, to make stuff just work. Who cares what's under the hood as long as, you know, I can access that video or, you know, access that book or that webpage. And so a lot of our time is spent sort of building in accessibility in the start and everyone benefits from those features.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again, here is Susan in Washington, D.C. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSANYes. First of all, thank you so much for your work. I really appreciate it. I wanted to let you know that what you do changes lives and changes relationships as well. The human side of the tech work you do is that when my son, who's very, very dyslexic, was in elementary and high school, I had to read his textbooks to him. I had to read his novels to him. And it altered our relationship. We were both aware of it, but nonetheless, you know, most moms and sons don't have to be up 'til 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning reading homework and textbooks to each other.
SUSANHe is now in college. He is an Honor Student and he uses a machine that scans his textbook and converts it into speech. And he's able to be an independent young adult and succeed because of this technology. So thank you, thank you, thank you. I was worried I was going to have to go to college and read to him but you saved him.
NNAMDIGeorge saved the day for you.
KERSCHERWell, we hope he won't have to use that scanner independently too much longer and those books will be available for his course work and he could read them just like all the other students. And more of that is becoming available.
SUSANYeah, getting the books from the publisher in a timely fashion has been a problem. If the publishers don't respond promptly or the professor doesn't issue the booklist promptly, we've gotten stuck a number of times. But nonetheless overall I just really wanted to let you know that helping people to be independent really changes that person's life and the life of that person's family and friends. Thank you.
NNAMDIYou're welcome, says both George and Jim. Jim Fruchterman, I saw a video in which you were talking to publishers about how, in fact, they might be missing a significant market here. And I got the impression that they were, well, listening.
FRUCHTERMANYes. I think whenever you talk to business people about making money they kinda perk up. And I think my main point to the publishers was under the copyright exception we serve people who are the most disabled, the one percent of the population who really can't deal effectively with a book. But we run into times all the time where we have someone say, hey, this kid's an English language learner. Could we get that book and have it read aloud to him? And we have to say, well, no, he doesn't fit the copyright exception.
FRUCHTERMANSo I think that's part of our push for making publishers sell accessible books. And we actually think there's a whole variety of people who have disabilities that don't necessarily effect reading but could actually benefit from having books read to them, or just kids who learn differently. Why even force someone to get a disability label if they could just get the book they wanted and just used it and didn't have to apologize.
FRUCHTERMANI think that's one of the great things about convergence, right, is that, you know, the iPad, the iPhone, the Android Phone, the PC, these are mass market products that now have all this accessibility built in. You don't have to be walking around with a label that says I'm disabled by the kind of equipment I use. You can use pretty much what everyone else is using. And that's -- making stuff cool is a lot about getting people to actually use it.
NNAMDIHere's Janice in Washington, D.C. Janice, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANICEOh, hi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
JANICEAnd thanks guys. I like the point that I think it was Jim made, or maybe both of you, that when it's digital you can have either print or Braille or audio. And it is very important that we do not dismiss the values of having things in Braille in the same way that you would like to see how to spell a word, how to spell (word?) or something like that.
JANICEA lot of us still carry fairly small note takers around that have our planners and our books and I have a hymnal in mine. And it's just imperative that we keep Braille as part of the discussion. That is one of the media that digital makes more possible. And, of course, nothing like six people who are blind reading a play together. And the way you do that, if they don't all have note takers, is you get that digital stuff and put it out into six Braille hardcopies. So...
KERSCHERSo the refreshable Braille is a very important piece of technology. It's not only text to speech, but the refreshable Braille devices that many people who are blind use. If you prefer Braille, then you can attach these to your PC or have a note taker that has it built in. And you could even connect it -- a refreshable Braille display to an iPhone or an iPad. That's working right now.
KERSCHERAnd that functionality, that capability is part of the design and the architecture of what we are building into EPUB 3. So you could listen to it and read it tactically at the same time. Very important that we design with Braille in mind.
FRUCHTERMANAnd of course, all of our 120,000 books are available in digital Braille. And I remember the time where someone with, you know, a two-pound Braille display said, I've downloaded a thousand books. I'll never be able to read them all. That's equality.
NNAMDIJanice, thank you very much for your call. Here is Aneli (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Aneli, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANELIHi. I'm the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Washington Ear. We've been in business for almost 37 years. We're a free radio, reading and dial-in newspaper service for blind, visually impaired and physically disabled people who could not otherwise read print. And I...
NNAMDIUh-oh. Aneli, are you there? Aneli, I think we have temporarily lost the connection with you. I'm going to put you on hold and go to Michael in Silver Spring, Md. But, Aneli, I'm likely to come back to you. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYes, hi. My question has to do with people with small levels of disability, like a small amount of attention deficit disorder or whatnot. Can they pay a royal -- a reduced royalty on a sliding scale? So, you know, if you're ten on the disability scale you get the free material. If you're five on the sliding scale you pay half what the authors want to charge for the improved access and so on and so forth.
FRUCHTERMANYou know, I think this is one of the reasons we're pushing the publishers to sell accessible products so that people can get an equal shot at it. Sometimes the eBooks are less expensive than the print books and so there is kind of a discount built in. But I don't think we've talked about sliding scale. We're just trying to get them to sell the books so that anyone can use them. And if you're buying a standard book then you don't have to explain how much disability you have.
FRUCHTERMANAnd I know to a lot of disability advocates, you know, having to prove how disabled you are is something they actually would rather not, you know, have to do. So we're trying to give at least that level of equality and be able to borrow it for free from a library.
NNAMDIWell, this story...
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Michael.
MICHAEL...after they passed the law to have television sets display closed captioning, that seems to have benefited a lot of people beyond people who medically needed it.
FRUCHTERMANYeah, and I think the other movement that we're really supporting is called the Open Educational Resources or the Open Licensing Movement where people are publishing their books for free online or other content. Like the Con Academy who publishes all their videos for free that kids can use to learn things. And we think that the more basic free content we have, things, like Wikipedia, it's really kind of the level that gets risen for everybody.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Michael. Here is Wallace in Tucson, Ariz. Wallace, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WALLACEHi, Michael (sic). I was wondering if you had a resource for visually impaired people who need to access technical material. It's hard to find a lot of like database stuff or electronic stuff that -- for visually impaired people that they can read and educate themselves.
NNAMDIAre you talking about manuals for technology, that kinda thing?
WALLACEYeah, manuals for technology, exactly.
WALLACENot manuals, but -- I mean, it didn't have to necessarily be a manual. It could be a textbook.
KERSCHERRight. So the resources in the United States right now are primarily the Library of Congress for the Blind and the Physically Handicapped, Bookshare.org and Learning Ally. And all of those organizations have -- the Library of Congress is more on the leisure side and magazines, but there's a lot of materials at Bookshare and Learning Ally.
KERSCHERBut, you know, we need to get more and more of these things and we want to see the publishing industry and everybody, including manufacturers of software and manuals of all kinds to dual publish. To publish print, yes, that's great but we need a digital version at the same time. And unfortunately PDF normally doesn't work for people with disabilities, which is why we need a standard like EPUB 3 that supports re-flowable text that can put the information on any size screen and have it look good.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Thank you very much for your call, Wallace. George Kerscher, Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium. He's also President of the International Digital Publishing Forum, Chair of Web Accessibility Initiative at W3C. And he created the first eBooks in 1987. George Kerscher, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
NNAMDIJim Fruchterman is President and CEO of Benetech, a firm that specializes in using technology to serve social causes. He's also Founder and President of Bookshare, the largest online library for people with print disabilities. He was a 2006 recipient of the McArthur Fellowship also known as the Genius Grant. Jim Fruchterman, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
FRUCHTERMANThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, country of origin labeling and the murky global trade in honey. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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