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Darrell has more information
on the bill, which, as it now stands, would severely limit the funding to
the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
especially the talking book program.

There are upgrades that need to be made. These would get us away from using four track tapes and allow us to use electronic files which can be marked up to show headings, sections, pages etc... Right now, we have to count beeps as we fast forward. This is obviously not productive for a student, professional, person who cooks using recipes pulled from books or parent looking for something in a parenting book. Cassettes are notoriously good at getting eaten, and I'd guess that this actually costs the program more money, not to mention the person who waits six weeks for the book, only to find that the tape discintigrates just as they are about to find out "who done it"?

Electronic books could prevent much of this problem. Flash memory can get dropped, sat on, or even
washed, dunked in Coke and coffee and given to children.

This upgrade could make reading easier, more productive and more fun for countless people who can't see. Many blind people don't have access to the internet. They can't just download books from Audible, Bookshare or Web Braille. Many of them went blind later in life and weren't able to learn Braille, or weren't even given the chance as children. Audio can be sped up, read anywhere and avoids the bulk issues of Braille (my Braille Bible takes up several shelves). It's a reality that much of the time, audio is a more effective way to read, depending on what you want to do. I still strongly support Braille literacy, but also know how helpful audio books are.

Some people wonder why we need a specialized player. "Why can't you just use CD players or iPods?" The reality of CDS is that they scratch. The reality of the law is that if you're reproducing books specifically and freely for blind people, they have to be in a format that sighted people don't have access to. So, if we were to use ITunes format (don't get me started on the inaccessibility of that), as the new format, it would be breaking the law, and publishers would get ticked. Even if we could just use iPods, I challenge anyone who wants to try to access a book instantly while blindfolded, in a rush (like while in class), and with gloves on (to simulate diabetic neuropathy or arthritis or other forms of pain or sensory issues in the hand). If congressmen and congresswomen really want to know what this would mean, they need to either try that, or not read for even one day on the floor and in committee.

Visual impairments should never be the end of reading. This bill could actually cause this for those who don't have access to resources online, who can't afford a subscription to Audible or bookshare, who can't afford something which can read electronic Braille or audible books, or who are older and just want to read, without the fuss. Sighted people don't have to pay fifty dollars or more a year to read if they don't want to. You can go to your local library and pick up a book or two every weekk. That's, in effect, what this program provides. We need the upgrades, we need the money and we need to read. Go to the link to Darrell's entry on it, and write and call those on the committee. Then, when you're done, tell someone else. Blog it, write a letter to the editor about it, podcast it, but whatever you do, don't stand silently by and let talking books be taken away.

I'm open to questions about anything here, and if you need/want more personal reflections on this, let me know that too. This is vital stuff.


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Jun. 11th, 2007 12:34 am (UTC)
I'm part of the pilot program that is testing both the navigation of the new DTBs and the feasibility of online distribution.

The reality is that the old technology is becoming more and more expensive and difficult to maintain because many of the program's suppliers of parts are no longer selling their parts or have increased their prices. Machines with moving parts break much more frequently than solid-state machines. Cassettes wear out and break.

Let's not forget that NLS also serves physically and cognitively impaired people, in addition to blind people. Handling CDs can be very difficult for people with limited hand dexterity.

I think that the online distribution method (in addition to the traditional postal mail method using cartridges, for people who can't use the download site) will save the program a lot of time, money, and hassle in the long run. Think about how many man-hours go into processing returns of tapes, and sending out new ones. Yes, maintaining a website also takes some work, but significantly less than what's being done now. The regional libraries are already seeing the benefits of Web-Braille in this respect.
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