Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 15

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THE business community, as well as the general public, should be enthusiastic about electronic publishing if for no other reason than the benefits it brings to disabled readers and writers. The business community is being forced by legislation to offer more equal facilities for the disabled, and electronic publishing can be a big help in meeting these new requirements. Telecommuting and other applications of corporate paperless publishing almost invariably make it easier for a business to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act, often offering cost-efficient alternatives to converting offices or publishing employee documentation in other forms. We should become a better society as a whole as the information highways open up and the disabled can travel along them on equal terms with others.

Apart from these more altruistic aspects, in hard commercial terms, the disabled comprise a big market for electronic publishing products. There are an estimated three million people in the U.S. with impaired vision or other conditions, such as hand loss, that make it difficult for them to read print. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (800-424-9100) already does much to enrich these lives through audio books. Electronic publishing can do even more because every digitized text is a dynamic, flexible document that can be more easily converted to make it more accessible to those with different disabilities. In particular, the advances made in synthesizing speech from digital texts is amazing; every e-book can be a talking book.

To keep abreast of products and services for the visually handicapped, and perhaps find a market for your own creations, contact

The National Association for the Visually Handicapped
22 West 21st Street, Sixth Floor
New York, NY 10010

 

Visually handicapped people who have made the considerable effort to learn Braille, together with the business interests that serve them,

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will continue to champion this touch medium, despite the advances made in voice-activated computers and software that translate text into speech with increasing proficiency.

There is a case to be made for preserving Braille because the new computer technology that puts the emphasis on audio is resulting in significant increases in illiteracy among the visually handicapped in the U.S. Of course, if you define illiteracy as an inability to read text paper, that is a problem. If you think of illiteracy in terms of a general inability to obtain and communicate information, however, then paperless publishing is a wonderful development for blind people that, for these times, might be ranked with the significance of Dr. Braille's invention.

Of course, the two should happily coexist. It is now far easier and cheaper to create a Braille text from a digitized document than one that exists only in printed hardcopy, so far more publications should become more readily available to millions of blind people around the world for whom Braille is the most appropriate reading medium.

There are far more people globally with low vision than those actually classified as blind. The deficit in their ability to see interferes with their daily lives, but rarely results in blindness. For them, the ability to customize a digitized document to display at an enlarged size, with greater contrast, or in a clearer typeface, can be a blessing beyond the capacity of those with good vision to appreciate fully. Already, with library budgets under so much pressure, e-books are a welcome and economical addition to the provision of large-type books so appreciated by the growing numbers of elderly people with vision problems.

Visually impaired authors and readers need not despair that the move to graphical interfaces generally, and Windows in particular, will negate many of the advantages offered them by electronic publishing. Several companies are developing software that generates audio messages for the pull-down menus and icons that the blind cannot see, or enlarges graphical images as well as text for those with limited vision.

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The federal authorities are doing their best also, with the Clearing House on Computer Accommodation, run by the General Services Administration, offering a free tutorial on audiocassette to help visually impaired people use Windows programs. (Call the Clearing House at 202-501-4906 for details.)

If you are publishing to the visually handicapped market or have a personal or institutional need for detailed information about adaptive technology, the unique resource is Solutions, Access Technologies for People Who Are Blind, published by the National Braille Press (617-266-6160). Appropriately, it is available as an electronic book on disc, an audio book on cassette, in Braille, and as a conventional hardcopy.

 

Electronic publishing can be used also to help the hearing-impaired. The ability for deaf children and adults to interact at their own pace with stories and games that creatively use visuals and text offers many opportunities for learning in general, and specifically for training in such skills as lip-reading and speech.

If this field interests you, keep track of what Matsushita Electric of Japan (Panasonic is one of their famous brands) is doing with its CISTA (computer-integrated speech training aid) technology. Over 100 schools in Japan and several in the U.S. have been involved in developing this system in which hearing-impaired children teach themselves to speak. Sensors analyze key elements of a child's speech pattern and, if a word is spoken properly, the child is able to make things happen on the screen--score a basket in a basketball game, for example.

This is but one of many developments of basic games concepts not only helping disabled people, but also being incorporated in electronic publications with learning and entertainment objectives.

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