Visually Impaired Gain Greater Access to Digital Information with the Daisy Talking Book

Article ImageIn an age when most information is transmitted digitally and most digital information takes the form of words and letters projected on a computer monitor, the visually impaired may often feel hopelessly and helplessly left out in the cold. The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) is taking efforts to ameliorate this all-too-common problem by launching the DAISY Digital Talking Book, a centerpiece for a free, downloadable plug-in to provide feature-rich, structured information for individuals who are blind or print-disabled.

DAISY is an acronym for Digital Accessible Information SYstem. The original concept for DAISY was developed to address the need for an accessible audio format that could be used by individuals who are unable to read print as easily and efficiently as a sighted person uses a printed book. DAISY provides direct access to specific points, enabling readers to move from heading to heading, page to page, and word to word.

NISO develops a range of information-related standards, particularly related to the representation of information and metadata. The DAISY standard is the only standard that deals directly with accessibility. During the developmental process, it was determined that for DAISY to be a truly international standard, it had to go beyond accessible audio and facilitate the production of multiple formats, including Braille. NISO has taken the lead in working with DAISY to bring together publishers, system providers, and libraries as a way to forward accessibility solutions.

DAISY is an internationally recognized accessible multimedia publishing system, compatible with the World Wide Web. To develop the plug-in, the Microsoft Corp. worked in collaboration with the DAISY Consortium, which is the maintenance agency for the DAISY/NISO standard.

"We are talking with Microsoft about what the next steps will be in this developmental process with Microsoft Word," says George Kerscher, secretary general of the DAISY Consortium, which hopes to continue to develop the technology in order to make digital information more accessible to the visually impaired.

So far, the merging of Microsoft and the DAISY Consortium resulted in the "Save As DAISY" project, which converts Open XML-based word processing documents into DAISY XML, also known as DTBook. The DAISY Consortium has developed two validators, one for DAISY 2.02 and another for DAISY/NISO. Both are open source and are available on the DAISY website for individuals to download.

DAISY Digital Talking Books go far beyond the limits imposed by analog audio books or commercial digital audio books. In a DAISY book, the audio is synchronized with the textual content and images, providing an accessible and enriched multimedia reading and learning experience. Nearly all DAISY books fit onto a single CD. A DAISY book also supports multiple outputs, such as Braille and large print.

 "We hope that the ‘Save as DAISY’ project will significantly reduce the costs of creating audio versions of digital content and allow for greater distribution and access to texts for the visually impaired," says Todd Carpenter, managing director of NISO. "In addition, ‘Save as DAISY’ work will allow home users to create fully functional audio files without having to rely on commercially produced texts.

DAISY is now being saved as an XML file because the MP3 format was limiting its users’ access to the program. MP3 books do not enable readers to do more than move from one MP3 audio track to another. A commercial book on CD allows readers to skip from chapter to chapter by moving from one track to the next. However, a user cannot move by page or use the table of contents or index, whereas the DAISY standard provides a structure for all of these features, depending on the type of book. MP3 files generally lack the full metadata to allow linking to text location, annotation, and browsing. While these features are common in HTML, the interaction with the audio version is key to the DAISY standard.

The DAISY standard was developed in 1996 by a group of major world libraries that serve people with disabilities. Today more than 500,000 people use its program internationally.