Friday, July 27, 2007

Digitizing college textbooks for disabled students

Although ebooks have not truly caught on, the ability to create an ebook can be the first step in making that book more assessable to disabled students. In "The Next Textbook? Finding—or Creating—Alternative Instructional Materials for College Students," Robert Martinengo wrote:
The most common use of e-text is the conversion of text to speech. This can be synchronized with the pages of a book, using a program such as Kurzweil 3000. Or the audio can be saved as wav or mp3 files, and played back on inexpensive consumer equipment. The quality of synthetic speech has improved dramatically in the last few years, and the proliferation of MP3 players makes this an attractive option for many students. New software such as eClipseReader and eClipseWriter lets users create their own navigable audio books, with links to page numbers and chapter headings.

Another use of electronic text is conversion to Braille...There are also methods to convert graphics in to raised line drawings.

Another quality of electronic text is its ability to be searched, highlighted, annotated, excerpted, etc. Vendors of assistive technology promote these features as powerful tools to aid students with disabilities with their studies.
As you can see, having the book in digital format allows other technologies to serve it to someone with a sight disability.

A recent article at the Daisy Consortium notes that Google is making its books more assessable.
The very special hidden link that is available from the full view now allows people who use access technology with their computers to read the text. Prior to this change, it was not possible, the views were images, not text. At the National Federation of the Blind's Annual Conference held on July 5, Dr. T.V. Raman, who is himself blind and who works for Google, said, "Consider this to be step zero of many steps that will benefit blind and print-disabled persons throughout the world." Indeed this is a significant step; having hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of books available to a population that thirsts for information, but which is blocked from using traditional mechanisms for reading, is without precedent and of extreme importance.
The author notes, however, that more needs to be done to make Google Books even more assessable to those with are blind or have a visual impairment.

Digitization is all about access. We tend to think of access to fragile materials or access to materials that are elsewhere in the world. We shouldn't forget that digitization allows people with disabilities to access materials that may have been in their community all along.


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3 comments:

Christine Condry said...

Hi Jill,

This post reminded me of all those copyright discussions we had in 677! I came across the following article in another class http://www.idpf.org/doc_library/informationaldocs/soundproof/soundproof.htm . It concerns the copyright conflict between these text-to-speech programs and professionally produced audiobooks. This feature is apparently turned off in many e-books. The article contains samples of synthetic speech vs. human narration to emphasize the difference between the two.

Buy College Textbooks said...

Jill, you have chosen a very good topic that will not only help disabled students but will also enable them to stand at par with other students. And you have also rightly pointed out, the digitization access should be enrolled as a necessity for disable people in near future at least.

EC said...

I totally agree that digital books will greatly benefit those that are disabled. Not only is it easier to carry around an e-reader, its also cost effective. However, we are probably still at least 5 years away from mainsteam adoption because the textbook industry resists change from their profitable business model. In the meantime, its best to do what we can to save money by using a book price engine like http://www.mycollegetextbooks.com.