Thursday, July 17, 2008

Austria conference on access technology

I just got back from a terrific week in Austria at the International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs conference. This is an academic conference on access technology, full of researchers trying out new things that will help people with disabilities.

My first day was hanging out at the Young Researchers seminar, which was organized by Professors Paul Blenkhorn (the UK's first professor of access tech) and the ICCHP host Klaus Miesenberger. It was fun to hear students and fresh Ph.Ds talking about their research.

I gave the opening keynote, on my main new theme, Raising the Floor. The goal is to get more people working to make this happen: getting access tech to every person in the world who needs it. People from all over Europe talked to me about their dreams for improved accessibility. And, there were many projects that definitely fell under the RTF umbrella. I met the developer behind WebVisum, which is getting much attention from blind people for its ability to make CAPTCHAs (those annoying squiggly words you have to type to access many websites) accessible. I met a professor from Portugal who had a student who developed EasyVoice, software that makes it possible for someone who cannot speak to use Voice over IP via Skype to talk to people using a voice synthesizer. And that's just two examples.

I spread the word that Bookshare.org is now available to people outside the United States, albeit with only 3,000 copyrighted books today instead of 35,000, because we need to get permission from publishers and authors to share their books outside the U.S. I'm hoping to have new Bookshare.org users from many new countries as a result of my visit there.

I got into a spirited debate with a Norwegian researcher about a paper entitled something like "Is DAISY Universally Designed?" Her conclusion was no, and her research was well done. But, I felt like her conclusion was really that the way that DAISY solutions are implemented in Norway (and just about everyplace else today) are not universally designed, not that the DAISY standard itself was the problem. The main issue she identified was that people with disabilities like dyslexia are not well served by the current generation of DAISY players, and she is completely correct. But, the DAISY Consortium doesn't design the players. We're working with assistive tech vendors to make a better player for dyslexic students, and we expect the DAISY standard to work great for these students as part of Bookshare for Education.

I took tons of pictures at the conference and at the post-conference visit to the villages, ice-caves and mountains of the region around Linz: the Dachstein. I posted these on my Flickr site with creative commons licenses (of course)!

5 comments:

hkawa3 said...

Hi Jim:

Thank you very much for your interesting report in particular for your discussion with a Norwegian researcher is probably the same person whom I met and dicussed in Oslo last month.
What I understood from our discussion was exactly the same as you say that current design of players is the issue and not the standard itself.
Her point was now that DAISY is established accessibility standard in Norway, DAISY applications must address the requirements of people who are dyslexic.
Her research goes beyond people with print disabilities. She outreached to "non-print-disabled students" to see the DAISY acceptance of the general public.
I do believe that her organization is developing an IT Center in Bhutan and very keen to introduce DAISY there.
We may see some collaboration point with her organization in Buhtan soon.

Best

Hiroshi in Pretoria

Jim Fruchterman said...

Note to readers: Hiroshi Kawamura is the current Chairman of the DAISY Consortium. Thanks for commenting, Hiroshi!

rgm2007 said...

Jim, Hiroshi,

DAISY is not universally designed, as I understand the term. For it to be so, it would need a much stronger visual component, and that is simply not what it was meant for. It is a specialized format designed for a specific audience.

Is this the best approach? I dont know, but here is an interesting comment from Bill Gates when he addressed the Microsoft Summit on Libraries for the Blind a few years ago:

[Transcribed from audio]

I don’t think that having the mainstream and DAISY be two separate things makes sense, to be honest, and so I think there must be an approach where you take whatever’s good about DAISY and have it be done through XML markup, that’s just a fundamental piece. DAISY apparently has certain types of tagging or approaches that are interesting.

The kind of navigation you want to get across these text materials shouldn’t be unique, so we need to really look at DAISY and look at what the mainstream publishing standards are and see if we can’t bridge that, to the point where, should DAISY have to exist as a thing of itself, or is it just a flavor of mainstream standards?

I think DAISY is a good thing but I don’t see it, if it just exists by itself, creating the right dynamic that we need here.

Jim Fruchterman said...

The DAISY Consortium does see its standard as being universally designed, and being a better way to read for everyone.

The DAISY standard does support visual content (such as images) and has many features that support visual access. One of the reasons that DAISY was chosen as the basis of the U.S. National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) was because DAISY was much better suited for disability access (including visual presentation for students with learning disabilities).

The point I took away from the conference presentation was the weakness of the complete system as implemented, especially the players that supported playing the DAISY content. Again, this is a weakness in players, not the standard.

Bob Martinengo said...

Jim - what's with all the music and singing at this conference? Going by your pix, it looks a little more like a folk festival... (hmmm, I bet CSUN would be more fun with music! Those Europeans may be on to something...)