DAISY, DAISY Give me your answer do

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do
I’m half crazy, all for the love of you
It won’t be a stylish marriage
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’ll look sweet
Upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.

“Daisy Bell”, by Harry Dacre, 1892
First computer to sing: IBM 7094, 1961

(Computer “voice” begins at 1:05)


As I was reading about planning, I was struck by one small detail in the #uklibchat article, about the Library Live and on Tour (Green, 2012). The library bookmobile carried not just books, but included many other products and services that the library provides. What a great way to update the image of the library to people who don’t know what it does! Some of the items included in this updated bookmobile were DAISY readers. (I wrote my LIBR 200 term paper about library services to patrons with print disabilities. The presentation about the paper is here, although some of the information is now dated, particularly the copyright information, following the Marrakesh Treaty of 2013.)

DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System, and is an open standard for digital audio books for people with print disabilities. It is based on MP3 and XML (the XML tags promote accessible navigation of the audio file). The DAISY reader allows people with no vision or low vision to navigate and listen to the DAISY book. Many libraries and other services for the blind loan free DAISY readers to their patrons.

DAISY reader


DAISY readers are not “stylish”–they look positively clunky by our current standards of streamlined, sleek devices. But the clunkiness is by design. The buttons are large and easy to see for those with low vision, easy to distinguish by touch for those with no vision. The buttons are identified with Braille but also have distinctive shapes, so that people who lose vision late in life (and are unlikely to learn Braille) can navigate the buttons by shape. The bright colors also help those with low vision.

Here is a demonstration of the DAISY reader at the San Francisco Public Library, Library for the Blind and Print Disabled. Notice the audio feedback  letting the user know that he or she has performed the intended action (“volume up”, “forward 20 seconds” and so on).

Technology is a double-edged sword

According to the Network World article we read, “By Cisco’s count, 91% of Internet data in 2015 will be video” (Bort, 2011). What does that mean for people with visual impairments? That’s a staggering amount of inaccessible information. It’s uncomfortably close to an old statistic, the “95 Percent Gap“–the estimate among researchers that blind people have only had access to about 5 percent of the world’s conventionally published material (Epp, 2006).

The potential of tablet and mobile phone use and game-based learning seems cool, but how do you make those things accessible to people with visual impairments? The ability of tablets to zoom text and images can help people with low vision, but they are useless to those with none. Many mobile phones have very poor accessibility, and the modifications that make them accessible (or ‘accessible-ish’) can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of the devices.

Games and gamification? Are the games accessible to people with visual impairments?

Technology has the potential to help people with print disabilities so much, but it also has the potential to exclude them even further. I became curious and investigated ways that latest or coming technology might have the potential to help people with vision issues.

3D Printing

3D printers are being used to create learning objects for all types of students, so that they can physically interact with a model of a molecule, or a complex mathematical object (Schaffhauser, 2013). Imagine trying to learn about a molecule or physical structure that you cannot see. Kinesthetic learning is useful to many, but critical to people who have difficulty seeing standard print illustrations.  Scientists have used 3D printing of space objects to let people with visual impairments experience pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope (Fecht, 2014). Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Halla Sigridur Margretardottir Haugen has developed 3D textbooks to help visually impaired children learn about the human body (Haugen, 2013).

 Wearable Technology

Some very cool wearable technology has the potential to help people with visual impairments enjoy a greater independence and quality of life, as well as access to information. Gerard Medioni, a professor at the University of Southern California, is working to develop a vest and glasses combination that can help users navigate the world (Brigida, 2013). They are even experimenting with the use of computer facial recognition technology to help communicate nonverbal information from others to those who cannot see it.

The OrCam is another wearable device, a set of glasses that can see what the wearer is pointing at and provide audio information to the user (Euronews, 2013). The OrCam can read text–in a book, on a grocery store item, on a menu. The OrCam can also read bus numbers, street signs, and other information needed to navigate the world.

Other Kinds of Scale

The potential positive effect of technology for people with visual impairments falls under Michael Edson’s other kinds of scale (Edson, 2013). The Z-axis scale of great emotional impact applies to the increased independence and access to knowledge. Only a small percentage of the population has visual impairments, but access to information, cultural enrichment and human connection affects them deeply. (Also, as the baby Boomer generation ages, this population will be growing). The zero to one scale applies to this group as well, since new technology can give them something where before they had nothing.  The ability to go where you want within your own town, read what you want, and learn what you want is something that many of us take for granted, but a person with visual impairments cannot. As Edson says, cultural impoverishment exists everywhere. For example, when I visited the San Francisco Library for the Blind and Print Disabled in September 2012, I found that the library had no materials in any language other than English–a lack of international copyright agreements was an insuperable obstacle to obtaining them (hopefully the Marrakesh Treaty will change this situation).

The hyperlinked library has huge potential either to include or to exclude people for whom print and visual media are a challenge. Technology can help increase their cultural enrichment or impoverish it further, depending on how thoughtfully we plan.


In closing, just to give you all a laugh, here is a non-computer, singing the same “Daisy Bell” song. 🙂



Bort, J. (2011, July 15). 10 technologies that will change the world in the next 10 years [Web log post]. Network World. Retrieved from http://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/071511-cisco-futurist.html?page=1

Brigida, A.K. (2013, October 1). New technology that can help the blind.  [Web log post] USC News. Retrieved from http://news.usc.edu/#!/article/55803/new-technology-that-can-help-the-blind/

Edson, M.P. [Michael Peter Edson]. (2013, August 28). “The age of scale” for 2013 hyperlinked library MOOC.[Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtYdic_st1M&list=UUvrNTuk_0cqwYlVyCMkOW1w

Epp, M.A. (2006). Closing the 95 percent gap: library resource sharing for people with print disabilities. Library Trends, 54(3), 411-429, 10.1353/lib.2006.0025 Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/lib/summary/v054/54.3epp.html

Euronews (2013, August 26). The device that could change life for the visually impaired. Euronews. Retrieved from http://www.euronews.com/2013/08/26/the-device-that-could-change-life-for-the-visually-impaired/

Fecht, S. (2014, January 8). 3D printing a star cluster: how the blind can feel Hubble space pictures. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved from http://www.popularmechanics.com/3d-printing-lets-the-blind-experience-gorgeous-hubble-pictures-16357847

Green, G. (2012, November 30). The innovative use of technology in libraries [Web log post]. #UKLIBCHAT. Retrieved from http://uklibchat.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/feature-01-innovative-use-of-technology-in-libraries/

Haugen, H.S.M. (2013). Discover the body: 3D printing and teaching materials for blind and visually impaired children. Future Reflections, 32(1). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr32/1/fr320105.htm

Knobloch, C. (2013, January 1). Tech trends for 2013 that will change the way you live [Web log post]. TODAY Tech. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/tech/tech-trends-2013-will-change-way-you-live-1C7791494?franchiseSlug=todaytechmain

O’Brien, Sharon. (2014). Vision loss rate expected to double as boomers age.  About.com Senior Living. Retrieved from http://seniorliving.about.com/od/visionproblems/a/vision_loss_stu.htm

Schaffhauser, D. (2013, December 4). Print your own 3D learning objects. Campus Technology. Retrieved from: http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/12/04/Print-Your-Own-3D-Learning-Objects.aspx



About mollificence

library student, writer, mom, Kindle addict View all posts by mollificence

11 responses to “DAISY, DAISY Give me your answer do

  • Wendy Derman

    Thanks for the great post Molly! You have a beautiful voice! That was really interesting to learn about DAISY. I never knew that the infamous HAL computer in the movie 2001 was singing a song that had an historical background to it.

    You asked if games are accessible to the visually impaired. The answer is yes! Some of them anyways. I used to play with a person in WoW who was legally blind (he did have some vision but severely reduced). He had to play with his face up against the screen, but despite this he was one of the most skilled players I ever played with. And more serendipitous synchronicity.. just last week WoW Insider posted an article about a person who is legally blind and plays: http://wow.joystiq.com/2014/03/02/kephas-demonstrates-how-to-play-wow-blind/. They also did an interview with another blind player last year: http://wow.joystiq.com/2013/03/07/blind-player-ben-shaw-on-raiding-and-wow-for-the-sightless/

    Of course, not every game will have these kinds of affordances, but hopefully more designers will build them in in the future.

    • Molly McKinney

      @wderman Thank you Wendy! 🙂 Yes, the HAL thing was a deliberate reference–I only found it out accidentally as I was doing my DAISY research.

      Good to know about WoW. As you say, they don’t all have affordances for that, and it’s something to think about if libraries or schools are going to “gamify” something, guiding what choices we make.

    • Molly McKinney

      also–not sure why it submitted your comment for moderation. I have the settings to allow comments if people are logged in, but every so often something goes to moderation anyway. It’s odd.

  • Michael Stephens

    Wow – thanks for sharing a bit of your singing with us. Lovely!

    You bring up some important points. I wonder if R&D for improving access for vision impaired folks is near the levels of the latex and greatest tech?

    One thought – could the approaching trend of “Virtual Assistants” make using a smartphone easier, maybe paired with adaptive apps that turn the calendar, for example, into a voice-activated mechanism?

    • Molly McKinney

      Absolutely. Apple’s accessibility for their products is fairly good, actually.

      There’s a lot of cool tech out there, of course as with any other tech there’s a problem of a digital divide–some people can afford it, some can’t. The OrCam is selling at $2500 for example (an introductory price). Refreshable Braille displays start at about 1500 but can go up to 10 grand for ones that display several lines of tech at once.

      As for R&D being the latest and greatest–it may not be. Some of the cool items like OrCam aside, the market is small. Mobile phones and e-readers are cheaper because companies expect to make a lot of money on apps, e-books, data services, and so on. The VIP market isn’t large enough to expect a return like that. Amazon sets the barrier to entrance moderately low for a Kindle because they expect to make money. For accessibility issues, there is just not a lot of money to be made (low scale, in the business sense).

      Not a new problem–Braille books, for example, have never been produced commercially by publishers, they are produced under copyright exception laws by government or charitable agencies or schools, not to make money, but as a matter of social justice, providing equal access.

      Digitization MAY be able to change that–in that digital files, tagged to enable navigation, are a lot easier to make accessible. The world getting smaller makes a difference too–international copyright agreements finally being possible.

      I find the possibilities exciting. As you say, virtual assistants, “read anywhere” digital books, all kinds of tech–holds out a lot of hope.

  • Bob Lucore

    My favorite line is in the second verse when Daisy answers:
    “For I’ll be switched,
    If I’ll get hitched,
    On a bicycle built for two.”

    • Molly McKinney


      I’ve also heard the version:

      “Harry, Harry, here is your answer true,
      I’m not crazy over the likes of you,
      If you can’t afford a carriage,
      Then there won’t be any marriage,
      For I’ll be damned, if I get crammed,
      On a bicycle built for two.”


  • Angela Johnson

    Lovely singing voice, Molly! I love the potential of technology for those with low vision. My mother has macular degeneration (both wet and dry versions somehow) and she is legally blind. She has always been an avid reader, and this is a challenge for her. Sometimes she can read short things by having it right up to her eyes. She has a CC TV to enlarge print otherwise. I am a fanatic for audio books – and have been trying to encourage her to do this. Regardless of sight issues – I think audio books are fantastic. She isn’t convinced, because she has trouble with downloading – and she can’t navigate through websites that require so many clicks and log-ins. I am trying to start her on the audiobook CDs – that Daisy player sounds great with the large buttons. I will have to ask her if she has heard of it.

    Have you heard of that app that gives you one word at a time, as a way to speed read? I wonder, if the font was large enough, if it would work for low-vision people…


    • Molly McKinney

      Thanks for the compliment Angela! @ilovebooks2

      Have you heard of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled? (http://www.loc.gov/nls/) When I was doing my paper on print disabilities, I found that our local public librarians did not know about it, even though it is a national service specifically to help people who have trouble with reading print books.

      From NLS, the DAISY readers and the books can be loaned for free, and circulated by mail. The older books are specialized cassettes, but increasingly the books are on thumb drive. There is a special free postage rate for this service. Doctors, nurses etc but also professional librarians can certify people as eligible for the service. The specialized books for people with print disabilities are designed with extra navigation that mass market audio books don’t have. It might be worth looking into–they are designed bearing in mind that navigation is harder for people with vision issues, and for older people (the vast majority of visual impairments in developed countries are age-related). You can also download books online, and the websites are generally designed to be more vision-impairment friendly.

      Spritz looks interesting–it might work really well! Ipads can be used too of course, to make fonts really big. You may have seen this since I’ve seen it make the rounds in a few LIS classes, but it is really touching:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: