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 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 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).
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