Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Digital books for print-disabled users

The Victoria University of Wellington Library now provides 1064 of the works available through the NZETC collection in a new format to support the needs of those with print-related disabilities.

One of the potentially positive results of digitisation is that electronic documents hold the promise of substantially increasing access to material for people who are blind or have limited vision.  Through a collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind we have now generated DAISY Books for the majority of titles in the NZETC collection. The work was funded through a grant from the Community Partnership Fund and the books are now freely available to download.  To try out a DAISY book click on the logo when you see it in the right hand tool bar for a text like this. You will also need a reader — here is a list of readers and here is a free one to download.

The DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) standard describes an open data format for the representation of interactive books that are accessible to those with print-related disabilities. Daisy books may have both a textual and an audio component and allow for an active reading experience. To read a Daisy book, a reader needs a hardware or software playback system. Unlike a book on a cassette tape that users typically listen to from start to finish, readers using a Daisy book player can easily move backward and forward in the book; they can move to chapters, sections, pages, or bookmarks they have created.

We worked with Brett Challacombe-King from the University Disability Support Services to understand how DAISY books would worked best for students. This was particularly important as some of the books now available in DAISY format are prescribed reading for courses. Examples include “Forest vines to snow tussocks : the story of New Zealand plants” (BIOL219) and “Everything is possible to will” (GEND409).  Brett advised that most students here have their own hardware with built in text-to-speech synthesizer which they will have adjusted to suit their particular needs and preferences. There was therefore no real advantage in providing our DAISY books with a generated audio component that would be little used and result in the books themselves being very large and time consuming to download.

We will monitor the use of the new format and if it proves popular extend the delivery to other titles in the collection. Tell us if you have other good ideas for improving the usability of digital content!