2010 Conference: i-access ® newspapers before everyone else does-Accessible Information on the day it is published by Tony Iezzi

This paper was presented at the 2010 conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities. You can read the full paper below, download the Word version, flip through the slides or listen to an audio recording of the presentation.

Download this presentation

Word version of full paper

Audio recording of Tony Iezzi’s presentation (MP3, 55.2 MB)

Presenter’s bio

Tony Iezzi presenting about accessible library services
Tony Iezzi is the Manager Vision Australia Information Library Service (VAILS)

Tony has worked in libraries since the early 1980’s and performed many and varied roles including:

  • Dressing up as “Spot The Dog” for children’s activities
  • Seven years as 2IC of an inner city library service
  • Managing small service point branch libraries including a Book Mobile service
  • Media library management has complemented the work with accessibility of information and the i-access suite of projects currently being implemented by Vision Australia.

Tony has been responsible for a number of major projects at Vision Australia (VA), including: a national trial and rollout of DAISY technologies, implementation of a certified QMS for the library, development of the VAILS online services. These developments provide the basis for fruitful partnerships and collaborations with the wider library network, which is Tony’s current focus.

Tony regularly presents on the benefits of DAISY technologies, implementation projects and VAILS services.  Previous experience as production co-ordinator at VA has given Tony a unique understanding of library services to community and how downstream production considerations impact on service.

Abstract

It is the lack of information that is cited as the biggest barrier for the print disability community to participate more fully in life, in the wider community and in having more options and excising a greater range of choices.

The breadth of news coverage and the depth of analysis available makes this service a key contributor to making current information immediately available and in an accessible form.

The presentation provides a practical demonstration of the value of the service, of how easy it is to use, the range of other library content included on the site, and future implications for partnerships and service delivery at a local community level.

Slides

Slide 1

i-access ® newspapers before everyone else does J

Tony Iezzi, Manager

Vision Australia Information Library Service (VAILS)

tony.iezzi@visionaustralia.org, 0407 061056

Slide 2

Vision Australia

  • Over 600 years of experience combining 7 major blindness organizations
  • Largest provider of Blindness, Low Vision and Print Disabled Services to 46,000+ clients across Australia
  • A national library service to 18,000+ Library members
  • Primary source of accessible material to people with a print disability

Slide 3

The challenge:

  • The biggest barrier to full participation: Lack of access to information
  • Only 5% of printed information is accessible

Slide 4

The challenge:

  • Up to 4 million Australians are affected by a print disability
  • 63% of people who are blind or have low vision are unemployed
  • Number of people who are blind or have low vision will double in the next decade
  • – The Digital Revolution has largely ignored the needs of people with a print disability

Slide 5

2004 Today’s News Now: Picture of a red telephone

Slide 6

Online Concept: BookPort

Picture of a BookPort with the following list:

  • Daily Newspapers, Books & Mags
  • Full DAISY text Capability
  • TTS Functions
  • Fast & Portable
  • Navigable Books
  • Documentation & help Desk
  • No web site access – widget only

Slide 7

2006 – News On The Go web based service

  • Browser accessible but not required.

Picture of the BookPort and a screen dump of a typical response to user logging onto the service. It reads:

Message “Download Summary” from i-access ® at 05:49 on 14 January.

You have 6 newspapers with a total size of 1.3MB, and 1 bookwith a total size of 325.2MB, and 1 magazine with a total size of 29.9MBawaiting download. Click the Download button to start or Website button to manage your selections. For assistance call 1800 005 965 during business hoursor email i-access ®.online@visionaustralia.org

Slide 8

Online Trial 2005 / 06

Of the 100 people surveyed:

  • 60% used the BookPort daily
  • Over half said they accessed more information than prior to using the BookPort
  • 85% satisfaction with the service
  • 91% wish to continue service

People used the device for:

  • Listening to music
  • Accessing other files from web
  • Accessing newspapers
  • The alarm clock
  • Note-taking and storing files
  • Braille features

Slide 9

2007 i-access ® Online Service

Screen shot of the i-access ® online logon screen welcome.

Slide 10

2007 – i-access ® updated: More Content

Screen shot of the i-access ® online logon screen welcome.

Screen shot of the new layout / selections options for newspapers

Slide 11

2010 i-access ® Developments:

  • No software required – Mac allowed (smiley face)
  • Introduced Braille music
  • Larger range of books
  • Small selection of in-house podcasts
  • Subscription for magazines
  • Service improvements to Downloader

Slide 12

i-access ® the future:

  • 15,000+ titles on our server
  • Gateway to 8,000+ online periodicals
  • Growing range of net content
  • National Repository of accessible content

Slide 13

i-access ® Service:

  • Easy to use and accessible anywhere
  • Delivers books, newspapers, magazines, Braille music, text and a small selection of in-house podcasts
  • Makes better use of databases & web content
  • Supports open access concepts
  • Sensitive to client technical capabilities
  • Key support to independence

[end of slides]

Full paper: i-access ® newspapers before everyone else does-Accessible Information on the day it is published

Introduction

The world is defined and designed by the sighted majority and the reality that is created comes from this perspective. In fact, only 3-5% of all print based material is accessible to the vision impaired community.

It is the lack of information that is cited as the biggest barrier for the print disability[1] community to participate more fully in life, in the wider community and in having more options and excising a greater range of choices. A person who is print disabled doesn’t get to read the newspapers, magazines, books and other printed materials that sighted people take for granted everyday. For many, the only way to be informed is by listening to selected news stories being broadcast. There are many more articles published each day than one hears through the broadcast media.

Vision Australia (VA) is working to make print based information accessible to people with a print disability. By using the i-access Online Service, members can access audio books and magazines, Braille books, newspapers and other publications. This collection offers mainly DAISY formatted titles allowing greater accessibility for readers. The breadth of news coverage and the depth of analysis available make this service a key contributor to making current information immediately available and in an accessible form.

The challenge is to work towards a time when all content is made accessible at the original point of production, a time when agencies such as Vision Australia Information Library Service (VAILS) won’t need to exist, to make information readily accessible.

The main focus of this paper is to discuss the development of the i-access Online Service delivering accessible newspapers. This service is one step towards meeting the challenge. Developed by VAILS, newspapers, books and magazines in an accessible format called DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) are downloaded and accessed on a range of devices. Most library content is in this format.

Blind and vision-impaired people say that the biggest barrier to greater independent participation in society is a lack of accessible information. It is also difficult to envisage informed participation in political and social spheres of life without access to everyday news and current information from daily publications. So equally, it is important to place this service within a wider context of community and service providers, technologies and accessibility.

Context

Who is the community

Statistics show that around 292,700 Australians are blind or vision impaired (2004). This figure is set to increase to 421,600 by 2021 as ‘baby boomers’ reach retirement age. (Source: ABS: Ausstats, 2004.) The print disabled community is significantly greater, estimated at 1.7 million. This group is underrepresented within the library community. Print disability includes those who have difficulty holding or manipulating books or have a perceptual disability. As a result, people with a whole range of conditions not related to sight may be included as print disabled. There is no ‘typical’ client served by VA.

About Vision Australia (VA)

VA was formed in July 2004 through the merger of the Royal Blind Society (RBS), the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB), Vision Australia Foundation (VAF) and the National Information Library Service (NILS). Our service provision and reach was expanded further with the amalgamation of the Royal Blind Foundation Queensland (RBFQ) in 2006, and Seeing Eye Dog Australia in 2008. Since 2008 VA has worked closely with Guide Dogs Tasmania. VA is a member of the DAISY Consortium and the World Blind Union (WBU).

VA provides a wide array of services designed to meet needs that will present themselves over the course of a lifetime; beginning with children’s services and ranging to employment, independent living, information, sports and recreation, adaptive software and equipment, ophthalmological, orientation and mobility, and a range of other vital services. We are the leading provider of blindness and low vision services in Australia, enabling more than 41,000 children and adult clients to live the life they choose. Half of our clients are 79 years of age or over and 64% of all clients are female. Over 4000 volunteers assist our 930 staff in providing programs across the country.

About Vision Australia Information Library Service (VAILS)

The Information Library Service is a flagship service of Vision Australia. The Service provides information and reading materials in accessible formats for people with a print disability. VAILS is part of the library network across Australia. Most Australian libraries have print disabled members as one of a range of client groups that comprise the client base. For VAILS this group is our only focus. Developments in service provision to this group will increase the service models available in the library field and will have implications for service provision at a local level.

We currently provide library services to approximately 18,000 clients across Australia from two locations that supply specialised alternative format information in Braille, Audio, e-text and Large Print. Approximately 17,000 clients have a DAISY CD player and over 900 have handheld online DAISY players. The library holds approximately 24,000 titles that cover a broad range of subjects and caters to adults, teenagers and children. Over 15,000 of these titles are in a DAISY format. The library also provides a magazine and newspaper service. Material is available in a variety of formats including audiotapes, CD’s, DAISY CD’s, Braille and audio described videos.

About Our Library Members

Similarly to the VA client, 70% of our 18,000 library members are over the age of 70 years and that the balance is mainly adults over the age of 35. The number of children and young adults using the service is quite low. Some clients are home bound or find it difficult to be mobile. In fact, of the total client base, 44% live alone or in supported care. It would be expected that those who live alone are less likely to have support, particularly for online service and are more likely to be financially disadvantaged.

The importance of the older demographic is that these clients are likely to be long-term clients who have social needs that the library fulfils over and above the loan of a book. For this client group the relationship established with the library is critical to their well being. The exchange of a physical item is affirmation of care and support. 69% of our clients are female. According to internal research conducted in 2007, over 70% of the client base stated that they prefer to receive their loans on a physical media. This group is also less likely to have access to, or the means to afford online services.

Why DAISY?

DAISY is the international standard adopted in 53 countries, including the libraries provided by blindness agencies in Denmark, the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand to name a few. The Global Library initiative involving these agencies could mean that the catalogues and information services of all these libraries may be shared in the future.

DAISY structuring in audio books or text books or newspapers enables people who are print disabled, to browse in the same way and have the same options a sighted person would have. For example, a blind person can navigate a book in the same way a sighted person might navigate around the hierarchy of an entire web site. All files within the DAISY standard are W3C compliant and include audio (WAVE and MP3) and text (HTML and XML). DAISY is a recognised ISO standard and the technology is freely available for anyone to produce and playback material in the DAISY format.

It is practical and user friendly. Previous audio books were very linear, requiring a tape to be fast-forwarded or rewound. DAISY structuring allows a reader to go directly to specific sections, chapters or pages, and place bookmarks. This ability to move around the book is not available with books on tape, CD or MP3 and is seen as one of the ways our clients can really ‘navigate’ around a book and liberate the clients’ reading proclivities.

When applied to newspapers the benefits are enormous. A reader can navigate directly from section to section of a newspaper, from subsection to subsection, headline to headline, from sentence to sentence, phrase to phrase, or word to word. Depending on the playback device, a reader could search for individual words in the newspaper. The other great advantage of the newspaper is that it required very little internet bandwidth to download because it is only a small text file.

Proof of Concept

A ‘proof-of-concept’ trial of the DAISY digital format was taken. Beginning in December 2005, the trial ran for six months involving approximately 1,000 people across Australia. The oldest participant was 104 years old. 98% of participants indicated that they would be happy to continue with DAISY material as their library service.

DAISY Players

Devices loaned to library members can access a wide range of files and formats. A client using a handheld online device can access any downloaded text based content information, and use the device for playing music, recording audio notes, accessing newspapers and more. A recent DAISY player on the market, the Plextalk PTX will play DAISY CD books, stream and download content from the library website, act as a web radio, link to your PC and to a USB stick as a backup drive. The device will also have Text To Speech Synthesis (TTS) and wireless capability avoiding the need to have a computer to access content. Flexibility is important as members are free to use the devices to access many different formats of information.

DAISY Players are accessible and user friendly. With audible navigation systems, they give prompts and describe the function of each button so there is no need to remember many instructions. There is also an increasing awareness of the benefits of this technology in dealing with the special learning needs of children in a school setting, for example, products like EasyProducer can speed up format shifting and lower costs for schools in supporting children with special needs. Software readers are available for both MAC and PC and a growing range of mobile phones. The PC version of a reader can be of particular benefit with dyslexia or partial vision where the text can be manipulated to suit some eye conditions and combined with the audio rendition of the file to reach higher levels of absorption by the person reading the title.

Bookmarks can be inserted for readers to return to at a later date and some allow the bookmarking of individual sentences. Audio features such as “Where am I?”, tell you where you are in the book. When you take a break in reading, the player will remember where you stopped, and resume playing at that same place when you start to read again.

DAISY formatted audio books or text books (including newspapers and magazines) can be downloaded and transferred to small portable devices, such as the BookPort, VictorReader Stream, or Plextalk Pocket, and retain all the navigational advantages DAISY technology has to offer. There are many types of devices used by people to access a wide range of information independent of any service offered by Vision Australia. The VictorReader Stream can also read downloaded Braille files.

In recent years VAILS has undertaken a number of projects and trials to develop an accessible information service focussing on current information such as newspapers and magazines and taking advantage of DAISY technology.

Newspapers and i-access Online Service

Today registered users of the i-access ® Online Service may, at no cost, receive newspapers and magazines made available from Fairfax, News Limited, and other publishing houses. We convert the content to a DAISY format and make it available for allows members to download the content onto a small handheld device that recognises DAISY structuring. Example pictured below is the VictorReader Stream from HumanWare (http://www.humanware.com/en-australia/home). This is one of the devices loaned to library members at no cost.

Figure 1: VictorReader Stream (image of a VictorReader Stream)

The text is then converted to audio ‘on the fly’ by the device which has ‘Text To Speech’ capability using a synthetic voice. The service has evolved from the original phone based service.

i-access Pre History

From early 2004 Vision Australia has provided a phone based news service called Today’s News Now (TNN). In this early version of the service, an electronic newspaper feed from the publishers (Fairfax and News Ltd) was automatically converted into an access database which was accessible and searchable by phone. Library members could phone in and select a newspaper and then a synthetic voice would read the paper or the article to the caller. The only technology needed was a telephone.

Online Device Trial

In late 2005 the concept of downloadable accessible content was first trialed. One hundred members used handheld devices called BookPort™ as part of the News On The Go Trial. A BookPort connects to a member’s personal computer where they can download newspapers and magazines online through the i-access “News on the Go” service. This class of device also plays arrange of other common file types like MP3, WAVE, Text, Braille, etc. The devices also act as personal recorders for audio notes.

This service did not involve any surfing of the internet. A desktop widget or portal provided the means of entering a member number and password. The underlying program would connect to the site and the desktop portal would report the number of items ready for download.

For the News On The Go (BookPort) trial, 85% were satisfied with the services and 91% responded that they would like to continue receiving the service. Comments about the BookPort and software were also provided. Further feedback was gained from volunteer coaches and staff involved in the trial.

First phase of online accessible news content

In late 2006 VAILS launched the first model of a net based service with the ‘News On The Go’ (NOTG) – a download subscription service of national major newspapers. We began the service with 8 newspapers (and soon became 15) and a small number of users.

The service continued to require the user installation of a small program called the Downloader that listed a selection of fifteen newspapers. Typically the first time user would enter their registered name and password on a desktop widget and check boxes to establish their subscription choices. After this, each time the client wanted their daily newspapers, they would simply enter the name and password and click on the download button. As the download is only text, a significant amount of data can be downloaded on even very slow bandwidth.

Once downloaded, the paper is transferred to a device like the BookPort or Victor Stream, enabling the user full navigability of the DAISY structured newspaper. The user can go directly to a specific section, like sports and jump through the individual headlines until they find an article of interest. Amongst many other options, the Stream offers the ability to spell any word in the newspaper. The advantage of this service was that clients did not navigate the web or need to know anything about the internet. The desktop portal program or widget connected to a server and simply downloaded the content. In fact, there was no web site – just a direct connection to a server.

NOTG introduced a major advance with a bespoke automated markup system that receives the newspaper feeds every day, handles the metadata and tagging conversions into a mark-up protocol recognised by DAISY enabled devices all over the world. It is this “higher level indexing” that allows the navigability features described above. This automated system generates content in both DAISY 2.02 and DAISY 3 standard.

NOTG was decommissioned in November 2007, having established a solid foundation for the current version of the service: i-access ® Online.

The service then developed a second way to access the content. It maintained the “desktop portal” previously available but now also includes a web site where users can make changes to their profile and subscriptions. The site also includes a revolving “juke box” of approximately 25 narrated DAISY books for download, as well as all our narrated DAISY formatted magazines. The site also offers a number of plain text and Braille books, not surprising as the devices loaned to clients also read Braille and plain text. As a library serving the print disability community, we have many Braille books on file.

September 2008

The service had 28 newspapers in June 2008. Thanks to support form the two major Australian newspapers publishers’ the range of newspapers now includes 124 papers. These include all major Australian daily papers as well as many local, regional and country papers. This service will continue to grow as we are now receiving a number of magazines in text format.

Newspaper service includes newspapers from all capital cities in Australia, and boasts a significant growth in the range of community and regional papers. The service also includes text for a number of magazines. Due to the quick growth of content from NSW papers the site was redesigned. Over eighty papers are available and approximately 420 users are currently registered to use the service.

From March 2010

Today we have approximately 124 newspapers on the site. Another service redesign now allows the user to download using a hyperlink, thus avoiding the need to install the Windows downloader program. Users of Mac computers are now able to use the service. The service is also now portable as people can log in from any web browser and download the titles by using the hyperlink. This small service currently generates about 4,000 loans power month.

As with newspapers, the site now includes a larger range of books which are divided into genre e.g. Romance, Crime, Children, Young Adult and so on, instead of being in one long list. The number of books that can be downloaded in one session has been increased from 1 to 3. A podcast page has been introduced which contains podcasts from a range of VA radio shows.

Magazines are also divided into genre groups, along with Christian Blind Mission (CBM), Children’s and Community Languages. The most exciting thing about the new magazine and podcast pages is that clients will be able to subscribe to a magazine title just as with newspapers. This means that a new edition of a subscribed title will automatically appear in a members download queue.

We have added a Braille Music page. We offer an increasing selection of electronic Braille music files (BRF) for download. These files can be chosen by selecting a category e.g. Piano Music, Brass, Vocal, Popular etc and then selecting a title.

With the new version of the downloader clients are now able to pause and resume downloads and there have been slight improvements in the speed of downloads as well. When downloaded, newspapers will now appear in individual folders within the day folders allowing more devices and software to more easily access individual titles. When downloads are completed, an alert sound now plays. Many of these improvements are incremental developments that are welcomed by regular users of the service.

The web site itself has been subjected to extensive testing to achieve an optimum combination of accessibility, usability and security. The simplicity of page layout is based on universal design principles promoting clear navigation.

Users are able to use the service with a range of devices. Some possess their own specialist devices like the Freedom Scientific range of devices called Pac Mate (http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/PACmate2.asp). These are essentially sophisticated Windows PC based devices with a keyboard and Braille display that can perform a multitude of functions including accessing DAISY content. The full version of FSReader comes with JAWS 11 and can be used to navigate DAISY newspapers and print magazines. The full version of FSReader can be downloaded from www.freedomscientific.com

The Future:

i-access ® Online will be redeveloped into a new web interface for the entire range of library services and include all the functionality and services one would expect in a modern online service. As well as books, magazines and newspapers, the catalogue search screen will also search over 8,000 online periodicals available via the consortia arrangement (Gulliver) with other Victorian public libraries. Clients with devices such as a VictorReader Stream, Plextalk Pocket, or any one of an ever growing range of software readers will tap into this existing information service making the content available in a more portable, accessible and flexible manner. We currently have over 15,000 DAISY audio books (and growing) that will become downloadable when the new web interface is able to connect to these holdings.

According to research conducted in 2002 by Market Equity, 4 million Australians are affected by a print disability or a condition that inhibits their ability to read standard print.” Lack of access to information is the main barrier to their full participation in society. It prohibits them from getting employment, it prevents them from study, and it makes them isolated because they are unable to engage socially with those around them. As our population ages, so too will the need for greater access to alternative formats other than print.

Being able to choose the latest Harry Potter novel, to having a recipe or a train timetable, access to information is a pillar to social inclusion and the most basic of human rights. This project is vital because people who have a print disability are already significantly disadvantaged when compared to their sighted colleagues, and unless they can keep pace with new technology, they could slip even further behind when it comes to the right of access to information.

Benefits of the service

As mentioned earlier, only 3-5% of all published information is available in alternative formats, and blind and vision-impaired people say that the biggest barrier to greater independent participation in society is a lack of accessible information. Through the smart use of technology, VA can implement an information access solution that will exponentially increase the the amount of information available to clients and directly impact on their day-to-day living needs. This solution will provide clients with a personalised choice of information, how they access it and how they receive it.

VAILS is uniquely designed for the print disability community; no other service of its kind exists in Australia. The model we are developing links into the existing information systems like the consortium database purchases involving Victorian and Australian and international libraries, like the internet, like daily, regional and community newspapers. The model will be of relevance to a significant and growing client base.

One day all information will be accessible to all from the moment it is produced. Until then, we need flexible options like the services described. The solutions we are implementing will see Vision Australia as a significant gateway to information, and one of the many possible providers of information, helping our library members to become more independent. It is not just about books, it’s about living. It is about empowerment and quality of life.


[1] [1] In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 Interpretation part 2. section 10, page 13 defines a person with a print disability as being:

(a) a person without sight; or

(b) a person whose sight is severely impaired; or

(c) a person unable to hold or manipulate books or to focus or move his or her eyes; or

(d) a person with a perceptual disability

In practice this includes examples such as:

  • people with severe arthritis may have difficulty holding a book or turning pages
  • people suffering from MS may have functional eyesight but may be unable to read due to severe shaking of head, hands etc
  • other physical disabilities or injuries that inhibit the easy use of reading materials such as books, magazines or newspapers
  • dyslexia is an example of a perceptual disability


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