National Library Services for the
Blind and Physically Handicapped:
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Services from a Deaf-Blind Perspective part 1
By: Scott Davert
Along with the descriptive video service and books on tape (soon to be replaced by digital talking books,) the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) offers a service called Web Braille. Web Braille offers all of the materials produced in braille for NLS in digital braille format (Brf) for download. This is starting with all books produced in 1992 and onward, with over one-thousand older titles also available. All eligible patrons of NLS services can contact their local provider to obtain a user name and password to access the system. Upon receiving this information by email, the patron can begin downloading materials immediately.
The web Braille collection is comprised of well over fifteen thousand books at present and new content is added frequently. The best thing about Web Braille is that it is free to those who qualify for NLS services. The materials offered through Web Braille include magazines, all braille books, and sports schedules. Any consumer who has basic knowledge of navigating websites, downloading files from the internet, and being able to conduct a simple internet search should be able to easily locate and download materials independently. This, however, is where speaking in general terms ends, and where specifics begin.
Before getting into these specifics, it may be a good idea to explain what BRF files are. BRF, or digitally contracted braille files, are just what the name implies. And just like any other digital file format, BRF files need a special program to handle them just like, for example, doc files require Microsoft Word.
After downloading the material, the next thing you want to do is read it. Unless you own a piece of software that supports BRF files such as OpenBook, Kurzweil, or Duxbury, these files are not readily readable on a standard PC with either a screen reader or the screen itself. However, if the consumer own one of the above mentioned pieces of software, he or she can convert the BRF files to a format which is readable using screen reading technology. If the consumer does not own any such program, but has a braille display, he or she can read the downloaded content by opening it using Notepad. Alternatively, the consumer can transfer these BRF files from their computer to a notetaker or download them directly on to the notetaker if it has internet access. The inability for PCs to read the material seems to be the only drawback to the service. However, in order to make the content available, under copyright law (http://www.afb.org/info_document_view.asp?documentid=1704 see USC 17, section 121), the material must be in a specialized format such as BRF.
Not only does downloading the material from the internet make it much more manageable than several braille volumes of a book, but the materials are delivered in a much more timely manor. This is because, for example, NLS says that magazines are posted to Web Braille within one working day of their being shipped to subscribers. The other benefit specific to magazines is the convenience of not having to subscribe or unsubscribe. NLS asks patrons to allow six to eight weeks for any changes to take effect regarding subscriptions, but if the individual uses Web Braille, they can download any of the magazines offered without having to subscribe or unsubscribe. Web braille can also be used while the hardcopy of the magazines will still be delivered. Also, if an author makes reference to another article in a different issue of a particular magazine, it is possible that you can get the other article if you want it. Most magazines began being produced for Web Braille in 2001, as such, an archive of most of the magazines goes back this far.
In terms of books, Web Braille is beneficial in many of the same respects magazines are. You can download and instantly have access to the material and there are no hassles with the mail. Another nice thing about this service is that all issues of "The Braille book Review" beginning with 1999 are available with direct links to the books featured in this magazine. Further, you can store many books on a hard drive or memory card for easy access and portability.
There are many benefits of using Web Braille. Most consumers will find its ease of use, time of delivery, and manageability worthwhile. More information regarding Web Braille is available on NLS'S website which is located at: http://www.loc.gov/nls.
In my next article, we will take a look at another service offered by NLS and how those who are deaf-blind can or can not access it. In part 2 of this series, will explore the new Digital Talking Book Program.