Braille Monitor                                                 November 2012

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Axis 360: Making Books Accessible at a Library Near You

by Michael Bills

From the Editor: Citizens can get books by purchasing them or borrowing them from a library. To have access similar to that enjoyed by the sighted, blind people must work on both fronts. Blio is software that works on many different machines and with many different operating systems to make books available to the book-buying public, and it is accessible by the blind. Now Blio is extending support to libraries. Here is what Michael Bills, director of sales, digital products, Baker and Taylor, has to say about the effort:

Michael BillsEver since the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450, the ability to see and read words printed with ink on paper has been essential for reading books unless the books have been modified or reproduced in an accessible large-type, audio, or Braille format. Therefore people who are blind or visually impaired have had few options for finding and enjoying books and have often been forced to wait many months or even years before an accessible version becomes available. But, with modern day production of books now in an historic transition from ink on paper to digital bits and bytes, that’s beginning to change. Now libraries across the country are expanding their circulating collections with electronic books and are using technology to make their digital material compatible with screen readers so people with visual impairments can enjoy reading the newest popular fiction and nonfiction titles.

In May Baker & Taylor, the world’s largest distributor of print and digital books, released a fully accessible version of its Axis 360 digital media library, making this important ebook service fully compatible with the leading screen-reader technologies such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, NVDA, and System Access to Go. This new service provides libraries with a complete solution for patrons that meets accessibility requirements in accordance with the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state laws. When combined with the free Blio eReading app--designed by Ray Kurzweil and K-NFB Reading Technology--patrons who are blind, or those with other reading disabilities, are able to navigate the Axis 360 website and explore their library’s digital collection, easily find and borrow items of interest, and have them read aloud using Blio running on Windows PCs or on Apple or Android mobile devices.

Issuing a statement to announce the new release of Axis 360, NFB President Marc Maurer said: “We are thrilled that the Axis 360 platform will enable libraries to open up the world of ebooks to the blind and to millions of other persons with reading disabilities throughout the United States. There is no other solution libraries can offer that provides the full spectrum of content choices, tools, and ease of use for people who have difficulty reading or people who cannot read ordinary print. We are eager to work with libraries across the country to ensure that they fully exploit what Axis 360 can uniquely offer.”

The availability of new content is important to people such as Lisamaria Martinez, thirty-one, who works at the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco. Like many blind people who enjoy books, Lisamaria receives digital editions of books from the National Library Service’s Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website. She listens to three to five books a week, mostly as she rides to and from work on the bus.

“My only issue is that they don’t always have books that I want to be reading,” she says. “I’m totally about popular fiction, while they’re uploading a lot of political books or biographies. For people who like those subjects, that’s great, but for people who don’t, I think, `Please download more popular fiction!’”

She hasn’t tried ebooks from her library, she says, because she suspects librarians would steer her toward ebooks for eReading devices that lack talking menus and accessible text. But she says she just stumbled across news about Axis 360 and Blio and plans to give it a try.

George Coe, president of Library & Education for Baker & Taylor, says developing technologies for the visually impaired helps libraries ensure that they are fulfilling their charter to serve every member of the community. “We all know that interest in ebooks is surging,” he says. “But we want to make sure no one who wants to take advantage of ebooks is left behind. Now visually-impaired individuals can share in the convenience, excitement, and enjoyment of the newest and best digital content.”

For more information about the free Blio eReading software and to establish a free Blio account for use on up to five PC or mobile devices, please visit <http://www.meetblio.com/>. For more information about Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 service for libraries, visit <http://www.baker-taylor.com/axis360/>. Above all, be sure to ask your public library about plans being made to offer ebooks through Axis 360.

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