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Reading options for persons with print disabilities

Posted by Radha Rao at Sep 24, 2009 09:20 AM |
An article by Mr.Dipendra Manocha (Regional co-ordinator for developing countries of the Daisy Consortium and president DFI) on the reading options which are available for the blind.

Most of the publications reach us in form of printed books. There are many people who cannot read these due to various reasons such as: persons with blindness or low vision, persons with dyslexia, Persons who cannot use both their hands to hold the book, People who cannot read due to illiteracy, etc. The printed text need to be converted into different format to enable such persons to acquire the knowledge hidden in these books. These formats are:

  1. Braille: A tactile script used world over by persons with blindness.

  2. Talking Books: Books recorded in Human Voice or computer voice distributed on Audio Cassettes or CDs.

  3. e-text books which are in form of computer document which can be read on a computer or on special portable players

  4. Large print books which are useful for persons with low vision.

The digital technology provide multiple ways of producing or reading books in the above mentioned formats. This creates confusion in the minds of end users and leaders of organizations serving persons with blindness or low vision. Below are some options which will try to provide some clarity in these matters.

In the digital world, it is possible that when you get a book in one format, you could convert it into another format. For example, we could get a talking book on a CD. This talking book could also be downloaded from the internet. How ever, it would take a long time to download this book in the audio recorded format. The alternative is that the same book could be downloaded in the e-text format and the reading device would convert text into audio at the time of reading the book itself. Thus, for a user it would make no difference between an audio book recorded in computer voice or a book which is being read by the device from the e-text version of the book. Difference between the time required to download the audio recorded book and the e-text book which is read by the special e-text reading device would be a lot. To provide clarity in the confusing world of Digital information systems, DAISY is trying to bring in some clarity. DAISY means Digital Accessible Information system. It deals with all the formats of accessible books including Braille, Talking Book, E-text books and large print books. There are various organizations which provide books to read in accessible format. Below are some such services. Which services would be useful to you will depend on what kind of reading device do you have with you. Thus, I am going to classify these services and reading options on some devices. Categories of reading devices are:

  1. Computer

  2. Mobile phone

  3. DAISY Book Reader with TTS

  4. DAISY Book Reader without TTS

  5. CD player

  6. Audio Cassette player

  7. nothing

 1. Reading Options for People who have computer with screen reading software:

    1. Scan your book: Attach a scanner to your computer and you can start reading any printed book in English medium. This option is not available in any Indian language.

    2. The Bookshare India Project: is a online library for persons with print disabilities. Members of this library can download a book and read them on the computer. A special software is provided to all members of the library for reading their books. The books are in DAISY Text only format and provide navigation facility while reading the book. Current collection is in English but soon Indian language books are going to be introduced in this library. There is a collection of about 7000 books in this library and the collection is growing extremely fast here. Persons with print disability can become members of this library by paying annual membership fee of Rs. 400.

    3. Web sites with e-text book collections: There are several web sites from where text of the books can be downloaded. You can read these books using the screen reading software. There are several web sites such as the web site of Project Gutenburg, Universal Digital Library etc. which provide thousands of books which can be downloaded. Most of these books are those which are out of copy right restrictions. How ever, online books resources such as does provide copy righted books free of cost to persons with print disabilities. There are some subscription based databases of books and research articles. Universities provide access to such collections free of cost to their students and faculty members free of cost. J-Store and Ebrary are two such examples.  There are no such online resources for books in Indian languages which are accessible to a screen reader user. National Institute for Visually Handicapped is planning to change this by introducing an online Braille library for Indian language books required by University Students.

    4. Talking Book and Braille Book Libraries part of DAISY Forum of India: This is one resource which would provide books in Indian languages. 72 organisations from all round the country are part of DAISY Forum of India. These organizations provide talking books, Braille books or e-text books to persons with blindness or low vision. Any user can become a member of one of these 72 organisations and get access to all the books produced by any of the 72 organisations. One user need to become member of only one organization in this network.  Your library can get a book for you from any other library of DAISY Forum of India.

    5. The RSS Feed: This is an excellent way of reading news papers, magazines and text which is provided from time to time. A RSS Feed software provides an extremely convenient way of displaying list of articles from a news paper or a magazine such as frontline etc. If you have a screen reader in Indian language, you can read Indian language materials using this system.

    6. Text packages for encyclopedia, dictionary telephone directories etc: There are several software packages sold on a CD which have collection of content. All these CD packages are not readable with screen reading software due to bad design of their user interface. How ever, lot of these are accessible and provide an excellent resource of reading materials.

    7. Braille Books: All books that are described above can be read in Braille if a refreshable Braille display is attached to a computer. If you do not have access to this expensive device, then also you can get the computer text printed into Braille using computerized Braille embossers and many organisations provide such Braille printing facilities.

2. Mobile Phones
There is a category of mobile phones on which screen reading software and the DAISY player can be installed. These mobile phones are capable of not just a medium of audio and text communication, but also are personal organizers. Adding Screen reading software to them into book reader and these phones provide access to internet and e-mails. The DAISY Book Reader software of the phone turns this phone into a Audio and Text book reader. This phone is a mini computer and is extremely portable. All the materials that are available on the computer using any of the above mentioned resources can be transferred on to the mobile phone as text files or in form of DAISY digital talking books for reading.

3. DAISY Book reader with TTS
These are devices designed specially for persons with blindness or low vision. These are capable of playing audio books and also read computer files using text to speech software. These are very easy to use. All books available on the computers or from the talking book and e-text libraries can be transferred on this device for reading. These devices are very portable and can fit in the pocket.
4. DAISY Players without TTS
These are similar to the DAISY Players with TTS but do not capability to read text files in computer voice. All digital talking books available from talking book libraries can be transferred on these devices for reading. Text files can be converted into digital talking books using computer voice before transferring them to these players. In this way even the text files gathered on computer using any of off line and online resources can be read on these players also.
5. CD Players:
CD players are available at a very low cost. These CD players can provide access to Digital talking books recorded as DAISY Books or as MP3 talking books. These players are designed for listening to music. There fore these players lack some of the features required for reading books such as navigating to pages or next or previous sentences etc. In these players even the DAISY Books are played as MP3 books. You will not be able to resume the book from where you last left reading it.
6. Audio Cassette Player
This would give access only to talking books available from talking book libraries on audio cassettes. Text files and computer voice recorded books produced as talking books from text files cannot be copied on audio cassettes. Thus, only those books which have been produced on audio cassettes only can be made available in this format. These cannot be transformed into any other format such as Braille etc. These cannot be transferred to other reading devices also.
7. Nothing:
Braille books printed on hard copy paper do not need any device. How ever, printing of Braille books is very expensive and heavy subsidy is required to produce Braille books. There fore, nothing beyond basic text books are being produced in Braille book format.

By far, computer is the most versatile reading device as it provides access to content which is produced for every one and content need not be converted into a specialized format to read it. Besides being a reading device, computer is also a writing device which is a huge advantage over any other reading options. Computers themselves are becoming portable. How ever, a combination of a portable device such as a Mobile phone or a DAISY Book reader along with a computer provides best reading options. Refreshable Braille devices can be provided at the institutional level and text books could also be provided in paper Braille format. There cannot be any comparison between the amount of books that can be made available on computers or mobile phones or the DAISY reading devices than on special format such as Braille. Millions of books and publications become accessible to persons with blindness if hey have access to a computer. Where as, on an average only about 5 to 10 braille books can be made available to a person with blindness or low vision.