Technology has changed the way everyone lives their lives. Friends and colleagues all have personal data assistants (PDAs). Some people surf the web to do their shopping. Others are constantly checking their stock portfolios online.
People who are blind or visually impaired have a special relationship with technology. It has not just provided a new way of doing things, it has made it possible to live our lives more independently and spontaneously. It has opened doors to jobs that were not available before. We can exchange e-mail with colleagues and friends without special arrangements or the involvement of a reader. We can shop online privately and avoid the hassles of arranging traveling to stores and dealing with uncooperative salespeople.
The media love anti-technology stories. Almost daily you can read an article in which a commentator brags about how little he or she knows about computers or rhapsodizes about how he or she prefers to read, touch, and smell a book instead of squinting at the screen of an e-book player.
These commentators don't know how good they have it. They have never gotten lost using Windows with a screen reader or a screen magnifier. They have not had to wait a year until a book is recorded or transcribed into braille.
It is exciting when a new technology comes along that is accessible from the beginning and has huge potential to revolutionize yet another major life activity. This issue of AccessWorld brings you three articles on Digital Talking Books. Janina Sajka, Director of Information Systems Research at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), provides an overview of these books. She explains what they are, why you should care about this new format that most of you may not have even heard about yet, who is involved in their development, and when books will be available.
Richard Holborow, an intern who also updates and handles requests for searches of AFB's Careers and Technology Information Bank (CTIB), and I report the results of an evaluation of two stand-alone and one software-based Digital Talking Book players. This new format gives you much more control over how you read. The job for the manufacturers of these players is to give us some or all of the possible features without overwhelming us with buttons, knobs and switches, especially ones that are not marked tactilely.
You will all have the opportunity to try out this new format. Some time in the next month, all AccessWorld subscribers will receive a CD-ROM from us in the mail. On it, you will find this issue of AccessWorld recorded in Digital Talking Book format, along with a demonstration copy of a player on which to listen to it. A "read me" file on the CD will explain how to install the player and listen to the May AccessWorld. Let us know what you think.
Also in this issue, Deborah Kendrick interviews George Kerscher of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB and D), a pioneer of accessible, electronic books in the 1980s with computerized Books for the Blind and now a major force in the evolution of Digital Talking Books.
Mark M. Uslan and Kevin Dusling continue our series of articles searching for an inexpensive, off-the-shelf computer appliance that is usable by people with low vision. And, believe it or not, they have found the rose among the thorns—an Internet appliance that some of you will be able to use.
Many of you have written to us praising AccessWorld Extra—the e-mail version we send out in the six months in which AccessWorld is not published. You don't want to miss the June issue. The April issue was filled with breaking news that we brought home from the California State University at Northridge (CSUN) "Technology and Persons with Disabilities" conference which, because of deadlines for the print and braille versions, will not be reported on in-depth in AccessWorld until July. To be added to the AccessWorld Extra list, send an e-mail message to email@example.com with the word "subscribe" in the subject line and the name or account number to which your regular edition of AccessWorld is mailed in the body.
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