American Association of the Deaf-Blind

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National Library Services for the
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Services from a Deaf-Blind Perspective Part II

By: Scott Davert

In the previous article, Web Braille was discussed. It is usable by many deaf-blind patrons, and most anyone who can browse the internet and knows how to download files should be able to operate the service with little difficulty. This time, however, we look at a much less deaf-blind user friendly service and one that may not necessarily need to be that way. This service is the new Digital Talking Book (DTB) program. This article will cover a brief history of the DTB program, the technology behind this service, and how many deaf-blind patrons may be unnecessarily left out. A few possible solutions are also given.

The DTB program was originally launched as a beta service in September of 2006. One hundred participants tested the service, and it met with great success. In 2007, NLS opened up the program to anyone in the US who was eligible for NLS services and owned a device that supported the audio content they offered. They finally discontinued the pilot project on April 30, 2009 and officially launched the website housing the DTB collection.

Many deaf-blind patrons may say that this service is for talking books, and at present they are right; however, technology now exists which allows for text synchronization with the audio. Thus, if NLS would develop it, the ability to utilize these materials through a Braille display or with screen magnification software is at hand. While cassettes would not work for those without enough residual hearing, this new technology is another story entirely.

The new DTB program runs off a file structure known as Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY). DAISY content ranges widely and there are several different types. Some have audio only, some have text only, and some contain text synchronized with audio. Also, the place markers can define the type of DAISY structure. Some books are marked up in such a way that one can easily navigate between chapters, sections, and even in some cases, by paragraph. Others have very few markers. Either way, NLS has not made any effort as far as I can tell to include text with audio.

When I first joined the DTB pilot program last summer, I raised the issue of the provision of textual content within these books with the NLS technical support team. I also asked if they would be offering a software package which would allow for reading of the DTB materials on a computer. Jennifer Sutton responded with the following:

Certainly, text could be included, and NLS is quite well aware of the benefits that could acrew to all of its patrons if text were to be added. But created full text full audio content is extremely resource intensive, so it's not something NLS can implement, especially during the next while as it seems to roll out the program to its over 700,000 patrons. Hopefully, over time, acquiring textual representations of the content that would be easy to synchronize with human narration will become less cost prohibitive. At this time, for security reasons, NLS does not support reading of its content using software playback options.

Interestingly, NLS's counterpart in Canada (CNIB) does have all of its content available with both audio and text. Another distributor in the US of DAISY content is bookshare.org. This site allows those with a qualifying reading disability to download text only books. Both NLS and bookshare.org follow the same daisy standards developed by the National Information Standards Organization in 2005. My question is, if security is not a concern in terms of Bookshare providing both software and textual content, why should it be for NLS? Both providers must conform to the same copyright laws and are both legally able to distribute their materials freely to qualifying individuals.

Another provider of DAISY content in the US is the Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). RFB&D does offer its content as both audio and textual. Again, these organizations all abide by the same copyright laws and produce their content under the same set of standards, but NLS will not invest in its deaf-blind patrons. RFB&D also has a software playback option which will read DAISY content on a computer. Returning to the issue of security as it pertains to copyright violations, any device with a headphone jack can very easily be hooked up to a computer's soundcard. The content from the device in question, for example, a victor stream, can then be recorded on the computer's hard drive with free software. In my opinion, this renders the security issue invalid.

The sooner the problem is addressed instead of avoided, the easier it will be to fix. As the deaf-blind population continues to expand with more and more senior citizens losing both vision and hearing, it would seem that avoidance will only make matters worse. I researched most of what I have just written after my email last summer to Ms. Sutton. So I again contacted NLS for some answers. My email was passed around and finally found its way to the director, Frank Kurt Cylke, who indicated he would like to discuss this with me directly. Despite my waiting over a week for his reply, and resending my email, I never received a response.

If NLS does not wish to synchronize text with their audio in the DTB program, there are a few alternative solutions that I can think of. One of them is to make all materials available in the DTB program also available on Web Braille. Another would be to pay for subscriptions to bookshare.org for deaf-blind patrons who cannot access the audio, since Bookshare has many of the same materials available that are on the DTB download site. While patrons who are blind can freely access the audio content, those who do not have the ability to do so should not have to pay for access to the same materials. A third possible solution would be to team up with Bookshare, as they already have the text of many of the audio books in question, which would help to cut synchronization costs. If NLS's slogan is "That all may read" they should act on it, and not deny some of their patrons access to materials. The fact that they are busy launching the program to over 700,000 patrons, should not, in my opinion, give them the right to leave the deaf-blind population behind.

For more information about the NLS Digital Talking Book Program, you can go to https://nlsbard.loc.gov

In the next article, I will discuss some of the few benefits of the DTB program as they relate to the hard of hearing population, and also discuss in more detail the service itself.

Part 3 of NLS and the Deaf-Blind

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About Scott Davert

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Scott Davert is a graduate student at Western Michigan University seeking dual masters' degrees in rehabilitation teaching and vocational rehabilitation counseling. Mr. Davert has previously taught deaf-blind consumers on assistive technology while doing internships at HKNC in 2006 and 2008. He will return to HKNC this summer to do another internship in the assistive technology and communications learning departments. He is also the Vice President and webmaster of SHI-M=DB, a consumer organization for people with combined vision and hearing loss in Michigan.