Braille Monitor                                                 November 2012

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The Daisy Consortium Global Partnership:
Working with the NFB to End the Book Famine

by Stephen King

Stephen KingFrom the Editor: On Wednesday afternoon, July 4, 2012, Jim Gashel was asked to come to the national convention podium to introduce Stephen King, the president of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium. The NFB is a member of this group, dedicated to getting more books for the blind to read with our fingers, ears, or eyes. Here is what Mr. King has to say about the book famine in the U.S. and the U.K.:

Good afternoon, friends. It's great to be here in Dallas. This is my first visit to Texas, so it's fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Maurer and Jim for inviting me. What I am going to do in fifteen minutes, because I promised Dr. Maurer I shan’t be any more than fifteen minutes, is to tell you who the DAISY Consortium are. I want to bring you some good news about the book famine and tell you there's light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not a train; it's some ebooks, and it's going to load Braille on that train too. I also want to tell you about our gift to the world.

Do you remember the fountain pen? Do you remember the typewriter? Do you remember optical character recognition that Ray Kurzweil brought us? Well the ebook, the great navigable ebook, is also our gift to the world, and I want to tell you about the way the DAISY Consortium wants to make sure that Braille readers are not left behind in the ebook revolution as well. [Applause] Last, I want to tell you your support underscores your leadership team, who have been fantastic, and we really need that to continue, and thank you for your continued support.

I don't have to tell you about the reality of the book famine. Fewer than 5 percent of books are available in any sort of accessible format. Here in the U.S. that finding was based on some studies in 2004 and similar in the UK. You heard Maryanne Diamond, president of the World Blind Union, tell us we're really well off here; it's much worse elsewhere. That means that the World Blind Union set out something called the Right to Read Campaign, and here in the U.S. I believe that's called the Reading Rights Coalition. We want the right to read the same book at the same time and at the same price as everybody else. [Applause] That's what we want. [Applause]

Who are the DAISY Consortium, and what's our role in making that a reality? We're the consortium of not-for-profit organizations serving people with disabilities and their friends, and the technology companies, and increasingly the publishing companies as well. We've got worldwide membership. We have fifty countries involved in our consortium from the U.S., Latin America, the EU, China, Africa, and Asia. We've got all continents, barring Antarctica. But we do have Iceland. We're looking at Antarctica; there must be some blind people there too, but all we find is penguins at the moment. [Laughter]

Here in the U.S. the National Library Service, Learning Ally, Bookshare, the National Federation of the Blind's NEWSLINE, lots of universities: they're all part of the DAISY Consortium, and they are all using the technology and the standards that we have developed to deliver a better way to read. A better way to read is solving only part of the problem. Actually we need a better way to publish. Publishers need a better way to publish, and that is what our vision is. So the vision of the DAISY Consortium is that people have equal access to the information and knowledge, regardless of their disability, and our job is to create the best way to read and publish for everybody in the twenty-first century by delivering a global partnership. That's the official vision and mission of the DAISY Consortium.

We started with transforming talking books services, but what we realized is that these assistive services are great, but we're never going to break that 5 or 10 percent of all books available. We've got to tackle the ninety percent that are not available. That means we've got to transform mainstream publishing, and that's what we do.

First we started, as we should, by asking people with print disabilities what they wanted, and they said very straightforward things—the things you know. I want to easily find publications I can read. I want far better availability of Braille and talking books. I want more publications I can read with accessibility built in. I want a great reading experience, whether I read with my eyes, ears, fingers, or any combination of all of those. Last I want affordable reading technologies. So this is the journey we are setting out to tackle, and I'm going to tell you there is good news on that journey.

We also talked to authors and publishers, and they said to us, "Actually we want to reach a wider audience. We want to reach everybody." We talked to my namesake, Stephen King. He doesn't want you guys not to be able to read his books. He wants you to be able to buy them and read them like everybody else. Publishers: they want to sell you books too. They want to profit from you just like they do from everybody else. They're good people too, but actually they don't know the way, so they asked us to give them a way to do this.

When we talked to governments, we got the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Governments want a solution to this, and they pass inclusive laws, but actually they struggle to find a way to deliver it. They also want effective use of their funds. So everybody wants an inclusive publishing model, but how do we do it?

Well, for us the opportunity is in the ebook revolution. You may not know about it; it's happening all around us; it's happening particularly in the English-speaking countries as we speak, but, interestingly, more ebooks were sold this year than print books. So we've gotten to the stage that fifty percent of everything that's sold is already an ebook, and it's only just beginning.

Last year Dr. Maurer heard me say that in the U.K. people with print disabilities are increasingly able to enjoy the same book at the same price and place as everybody else. If you want to actually see some blind people talking about the revolution in their reading that ebooks has caused, then go and Google on YouTube, look for the terms “ebooks” and “RNIB,” and you'll find a video of them talking about their experience.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, because we've done some research. It is based in the U.K., but we're pretty similar to lots of other well-developed countries, particularly here in the U.S. That study said that the 5 percent of books that were available last year moved to 7 percent this year. But, when we looked at the top one-thousand books published in 2010, more than half were readable with your eyes, ears, or fingers. [Applause] I can tell you now that we reran that survey in January of this year, and nearly 70 percent of those top one-thousand bestsellers in 2011 you can read with your fingers. That's fantastic progress and evidence.

But there's loads more to do. There are huge problems still to solve, and that's what we're doing. The opportunity, though, is that the publishing industry is undergoing great change, massive change, a disruptive change--so now is the opportunity to help them shape their industry for the future. This includes all of us in this room, whether we read with our eyes, our ears, or our fingers. [Applause]

So we've got the attention of the publishing industry who say, "Yes, help us"; we've got the attention of governments. The really cool thing is that we've got great people in key positions in the consortium. We're led by George Kerscher, who is in this room, from Missoula, Montana. Many of you know him. He is the president of something called IDPF, International Digital Publishers Forum, and they're setting the standards for ebooks. Marcus Gylling, who is the technical director of the DAISY Consortium, is also the technical director of IDPF. We have Maryanne Diamond, whom you met this morning, who's working very hard at the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) reforming the copyright law.

We have great people in pole positions, and, last, we've got the technology that publishers need. You guys have been ebook readers for years; and you know about navigation, you know about multimedia, and you know what a great reading experience that can be. Actually the general public is beginning to wake up to that. Publishers are beginning to realize that they can deliver fantastic books with that technology.

So the fountain pen, the typewriter, the long-playing record, speech recognition, and speech synthesis--all developed for blind people--to this we can add navigable ebooks. I want to say to industry that we need to build in accessibility right now, but we need to ask the question, accessible to whom? Accessible to people who can use assistive technologies—that's great—but many people still struggle with assistive technologies, to use them and to afford them. We have to deliver accessibility to them.

I think we're still going to have what I call “customized books”: some Braille books, books with picture descriptions, books with narration—all are still going to be needed. We have to build that into our model. But we've got to put our own house in order too. We can't go on duplicating. The DAISY Consortium did a study on Harry Potter—you remember the Harry Potter books? [Yeah] Well, did you know that across the world we managed to transcribe the Harry Potter books seven times into English Braille and seven times into talking books. What a waste. We could have done it once and used all those resources to do more books. We have to solve that problem.

We also need a Braille code which faithfully translates ebooks both backwards and forwards. You heard a colleague over there say, "If I enter it in Braille, will it render properly into print?" We need a Braille code that works, and I know great leaders here are beginning to tackle that problem.

We need a low-cost Braille display that will allow people to read ebooks. [Applause] I salute the work that Deane Blazie and company have done to bring down the cost of Braille displays, but we need to bring that down from $2,500 to $3,000. [Applause] Today the Consortium is doing this as a major project, and to do that we're bringing in colleagues from developing countries as well because there are huge numbers of Braille readers in India in particular. They all speak English and use it in their education. So, by bringing them into the market and increasing the volume enormously, we think we can change the cost of Braille displays by creating a simple display, and that's our job. [Applause]

My job is to make sure that people can read what they want, when they want, and how they want, and I think it's deliverable. But the National Federation of the Blind's leadership role is vital. On the board we've got Jim Gashel, whom you heard, and I'm very grateful to Dr. Maurer and your colleagues for tackling publishers who don't think about people with print disabilities. We've got the support of George Kerscher, our secretary general, and we had Anne Taylor organizing a crucial publisher conference in New York just a couple of weeks ago. Thank you for that really steadfast support, and please help continue your support of the DAISY Consortium, because together we can actually end the book famine. [applause]

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