The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has recently adopted a national standard for the Digital Talking Book (DTB), a collection of electronic files arranged to present information to the blind and physically handicapped reader through alternative media.
The five-year effort to develop the NISO DTB standard (ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002) was coordinated by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in the Library of Congress in partnership with an international committee. The NISO DTB standard will make electronic resources presented in DTB format more accessible to print-disabled readers worldwide.
"This single standard addresses the requirements of a range of agencies serving users with a wide variety of reading needs," said NLS Director Frank Kurt Cylke. "It is truly a universal standard that will benefit the blind community for generations to come."
Although the most common medium for DTBs will be human speech, a DTB produced in accordance with the new standard can include a file containing the contents of the document in text form, thereby permitting output through synthetic speech, refreshable braille display devices, or visual display in large print.
"The effort to develop a DTB standard was completed by an international committee representing a broad range of stakeholders dedicated to providing alternative-format materials to print-disabled readers," said Patricia Harris, NISO Executive Director. "During the development process, the full committee met 11 times across the United States and Canada, and smaller working groups met countless times in person and via conference calls and e-mail."
Partners include the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (of the American Library Association); American Council of the Blind; American Foundation for the Blind; American Printing House for the Blind; Blinded Veterans Association; Canadian National Institute for the Blind; the DAISY Consortium; Hadley School for the Blind; Assistive Devices Industry Office-Industry Canada; IsSound Corporation; National Federation of the Blind; Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic; Talking Book Publishers Inc.; Telex Communications Inc.; VisuAide Inc.; and the World Blind Union.
The ANSI/NISO DTB standard was built on existing standards and specifications to make use of programming skills and software tools that were originally developed for other purposes. The standard was also based on specifications formulated by blind and visually impaired users who were included in the development effort.
The standards project was coordinated by Michael M. Moodie, NLS Research and Development Officer, who chaired and organized the NISO Digital Talking Book Committee's meetings and work groups from its inception in 1997 through the final approval of the standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on March 6, 2002.
"This standard will facilitate the efficient presentation of information through a variety of alternative media and will make it easier for readers to navigate the digital world," said Moodie. "It provides a framework under which a person or agency can create DTBs for works ranging from a very simple novel to a complex textbook."
The standard gives users great flexibility in how they "read" DTBs, according to Moodie. Some want a straight, linear reading experience, while others prefer to use sophisticated functions that provide random access to sections of the DTB, the ability to activate certain options (e.g., footnotes), or set bookmarks, highlight portions of text, or perform keyword searches.
NISO is the only U.S. group accredited by ANSI to develop and promote voluntary technical standards for use in information delivery services for libraries, publishers and related information technology organizations. NISO standards are developed by consensus under the guidance of experts and practitioners in the field to meet the needs of both the information user and the producer. For its work on the DTB standard, NISO was one of the recipients of the 2001 Collaboration and Coordination Award presented by the International Coalition of Access Engineers and Specialists. For information about NISO's current activities or to download NISO standards, including the NISO DTB standard, visit the NISO Web site at www.niso.org.