Wednesday, August 31, 2011

JVIB 2012 Special Issue on Technology: Today's Game Changer

I'm very excited to be a guest editor with the awesome Donna McNear on next year's special technology issue of the Journal of Vision Impairment and Blindness. JVIB is the peer-reviewed journal of record in the field of vision loss, and a past tech issue in 2003 featured my article, In the Palm of Your Hand, a vision of what mobile devices would mean for blind people in the future (a future that has already happened, of course!).

Donna and I are looking for forward looking articles that will inform the field of what might happen in the future. Technology is advancing at such a pace that so many topics are possible, but to just name a few:
  • Mobile (what might happen next!?)
  • Web infrastructure and accessibility of/through the cloud
  • The power of free
  • New technology for giving blind people the ability to tackle tasks that used to require vision
  • Convergence between mainstream technology and assistive technology
  • Novel and/or innovative applications of technology for teaching and education
  • Novel and/or innovative applications of technology in the workplace
  • What technology advances mean for the future of Braille
  • And so many other possibilities!
Of course, this is a peer reviewed journal and being guest editors doesn't give us the power to decide what does and doesn't get published. But, we would so very much like technology innovators in the field of vision loss and blindness to propose exciting articles that will help the field move forward to maximize results for the people we all serve!

The deadline for submissions is in January 31, 2012,and the call for papers is here. Help us make this a terrific issue!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I just attended two days of meetings in Washington DC on the first year of the DIAGRAM Center, held at the Office of Special Education Programs in the Department of Education. The goal of the DIAGRAM R&D Center is to greatly improve access to graphical information for students with print disabilities (for example, helping blind students get access to important graphics inside textbooks). This is becoming crucially important as the problem of delivering access to text is increasingly solved by the move to ebook publishing and solutions like our Bookshare library. Of course, just as we're solving the text problem, more and more content is moving to richer, more visual forms like graphics, simulations and flash!

The first exciting part of our work has been delivered by the National Center on Accessible Media, one of our two key partners in DIAGRAM (along with the DAISY Consortium). The initial part of the project was to do a detailed survey of existing assistive technology products, to get a baseline for current support for accessible graphics. But, it’s turned out to be one of the best surveys of assistive technology we’ve ever seen. Should be a huge resource for the field: check out the product matrices in the Research and Development section of the DIAGRAM web site.

We are also building a content model for making images more accessible. The intention is to define an XML content model which will make it easier to present alternatives to the original graphical content for persons who are blind or print disabled. We are using the modular approach of the DAISY Authoring and Interchange Framework, which defines modules and profiles for the representation of books, journals, etc. Using this modular approach, HTML and EPUB documents would have graphical elements linked to specific instances of descriptions or image alternatives that use the content model. So, a blind student looking at a complex scientific diagram for their high school science course would be able to hear a detailed description of the main elements in that diagram. The goal is to be able to gain access to the same learning a sighted student would get from that diagram.

I saw an initial demonstration of a web-based image description tool, called Poet. This makes it possible for people describing graphics (publisher production people, illustrators, alternative media producers like Benetech, and volunteers) to work from a standard web browser and interactively add image descriptions to DAISY books. The described book can then be re-published and made available to users who wish to have image descriptions voiced by digital talking book software tools or players, or have the descriptions in Braille.

We’ve also engaged in a major technical standards issue. The main tool for image description in the current version of HTML has been the LONGDESC attribute. It can be attached to a graphic, and many assistive technology products (like screen readers for the blind) know how to alert the user to the existence of a long description and how to read it aloud (or provide it in refreshable Braille). There had been a recommendation in the HTML 5 standards process to drop LONGDESC, that was greatly concerning to us. We're hearing a startling lack of sensitivity to accessibility in this process. With some of the other top leaders working on DIAGRAM, we need to inform the disability activists of this issue before it's too late!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bookshare Users Downloading Long-Awaited Apple e-Book App

Benetech got a call recently from an excited Bookshare member who had been waiting to download our new Read2Go accessible e-book application for Apple devices. Graduate student Maria Georgakarakou, who is blind, gave us a rave review for the Read2Go app which allows those with print disabilities to listen to books in the DAISY audio format.

Maria was especially excited about Read2Go’s navigation features that allow her to search and download accessible e-books from our Bookshare library directly to her iPad and iPhone. In addition to being a Bookshare member, Maria is a book scanner and volunteer proofreader. She predicted that the usability of Read2Go will encourage Bookshare members to read more books in the DAISY audio format.

Maria also noted that students like herself are finding more scholarly books on Bookshare which expands her ability to research. Maria is a historical musicologist who is pursuing her PhD at Boston University. She studies secular songs and theater music from the English Baroque period of the 1600’s. According to Maria, books in the DAISY format have the same page numbering as the text which is a big benefit to scholars who need precise citations.

The Read2Go application was developed by Bookshare’s parent nonprofit Benetech in partnership with Shinano Kenshi Co., Ltd which is known for its PLEXTALK® brand of digital talking book players. Read2Go offers word-by-word highlighting with simultaneous text to speech that supports multi-modal reading. Our Bookshare members will also get access to additional features such as study tools, images and multiple languages as the application develops.