Braille Monitor                                                 February 2011

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DAISY: What Is it and Why Use it?

by Greg Kearney

Greg KearneyFrom the Editor: For a while now we’ve offered Monitor readers an audio copy of the magazine that can be downloaded from the Internet. The files can be read directly from the computer or downloaded to a favorite listening device, but they lack the flexibility blind people have become accustomed to with the navigational capabilities in DAISY books from the National Library Service, Bookshare, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and other providers of audio books and publications. Converting our audio to the DAISY format allows readers to move easily from article to article and, when the material lends itself to navigation by smaller units, by sections within an article.

The Monitor will be available in the DAISY format beginning with this issue. To whet your appetite for the new format, here is an article from Greg Kearney in which he discusses the advantages of placing audio recordings and text in this format.

Greg is the manager for accessible media at the Association for the Blind of Western Australia in Perth, Australia. A native of the state of Maine, he was educated at Landmark School in Massachusetts, which he believes to be the leading school for dyslexics in the United States, and graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor of fine arts in design. As a profound dyslexic he is a user of Talking Books as well as a professional producer of them. The library for which he works offers over seventy-thousand titles to the blind of Australia and the world. Greg is married to Tamara Johnson Kearney, who served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Wyoming before moving to Australia. Here is what Greg has to say:

DAISY (the Digital Accessible Information System) is the emerging world standard for digital talking books for people who are blind or have a print disability. This format has been under development for over ten years, with most of the world's talking book libraries now employing some form of the standard. Work to improve and promote the adoption of the format is directed by the DAISY Consortium (<>). DAISY attempts to give the talking book reader the same flexibility that readers of standard print enjoy: navigation by chapter, section, subsection, and page. Readers can read or skip footnotes, sidebars, or information added specifically for users of the audio version.

There are three types of DAISY books. One is audio-only DAISY, which is the most common. This is the kind of book that the National Library Service in the US produces. This format provides minimal text content and a set of recordings that the reader hears when the book is played. Audio only is commonly used for recreational reading employing live human narration.

Text-only DAISY books have no audio recording but provide the text of the book itself. These books are read with either text-to-speech systems or Braille displays. produces text-only DAISY books. Their chief advantage is their very small file size as compared to books with audio files. The disadvantage is that these books require a text-to-speech system in the playback device, which means they cannot be played using the NLS player and that users must be willing and able to read tactilely or tolerate less than human-sounding speech.

The Cadillac in DAISY books is found in the full-text, full-audio DAISY book. In this kind of book both the text and the audio are present and can be synchronized so the reader can listen to human narration and hear the text-to-speech voice at will to determine spelling, punctuation, and other information that may not be clearly conveyed through the narrated audio. These books work in players that do not support text-only books, and, while it is possible to have a human-narrated book, it is also possible to use quite human-sounding voices that are generally not found in products available to the individual blind user but that are used by producers of materials for the blind.

Three DAISY format standards are in use today, the oldest of which is the most common worldwide and is referred to as DAISY 2.02. The National Library Service uses DAISY / NISO 2002, which, as the name implies, was released in 2002. Work is ongoing to create the next version of the standard, DAISY 4, which will add support for multimedia and test administration tools.

A DAISY book can provide as much or as little navigation as the producer decides to incorporate. Minimal markup includes a marker at the start and the end of the book. A little more work on the part of the producer gives the reader the ability to move by page, section, and chapter. It is even possible for DAISY books to include images because DAISY is designed to serve everyone from the blind Braille reader with no sight at all to a person who is dyslexic with perfect vision but a limited ability to read. The amount of navigation is decided by the book's producer. Recreational reading may have limited navigation (by chapter or even by original tape side when the title was converted from tape), while textbooks require more complex navigation.

DAISY books that do not carry digital rights management can be played on a wide range of devices, from dedicated talking book players to devices such as the iPod. The vision of DAISY's creators and those who work for its improvement and adoption is that the standard will be adopted worldwide and that everyone's books will play on everyone's devices. At the Association for the Blind of Western Australia, we have books in our collection from New Zealand, Canada, India, and Sri Lanka. All of these books will play on every DAISY player because they meet the DAISY standard. Sharing books means we reduce the cost of books by eliminating the duplication that occurs when each country has to produce the book for its citizens.

DAISY marks a significant advancement in the production of talking books for people who are blind or have a print disability. The standard and the new technology provide a better reading experience and have the potential to bring many more books to the ears and fingertips of the blind.

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