The following material is reprinted from NLS Flash, March 2005, volume 1, issue 4, a newsletter created to bring current information on NLS progress in digital technology to patrons, library staff, and other interested individuals.
Have you ever asked yourself why you must push a button marked "end" to turn on your cell phone? Or why a TV remote might have a control called "bypass" that appears to do exactly nothing?
The answer to these questions is disarmingly simple: often technology is designed by engineers for engineers. They sometimes do not consider the rest of us.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) understands this.
For the next generation of talking-book machines, NLS is emphasizing the usability of new technologies. "The digital talking-book player must be intuitive and easy to use by all patrons regardless of age, experience, and physical ability," says Frank Kurt Cylke, the director of NLS. The new device must also be easily maintained and repaired.
With these criteria in mind, NLS has selected the technical and design services of Battelle, a leading technology innovation firm, and a team of experts to develop the digital talking books (DTBs) and audio playback machines. A contract was signed on February 23, 2005.
Serving as subcontractors on the project are HumanWare, formerly VisuAide, a leader in digital talking-book technology; the National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of blind persons in the United States, with more than 50,000 members; and Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which makes information technology and telecommunications systems accessible by people with disabilities.
The completed system will include the digital talking- book machine (DTBM) and the flash memory cartridge that holds the talking book, as well as labeling and packaging. It's a tall order! The machines must be lightweight and portable, yet sturdy enough to survive postal delivery and years of heavy use.
Usability will be critical. "The player and cartridge together form the system with which users will read their talking books. That system will define the reading experience for future users, so it's critical that it be designed correctly," says Michael Moodie, deputy director of NLS. "If the job is done right, a user's focus will be on the book or magazine he or she is reading, and not on the player or the cartridge."
NLS patrons will reap the benefits of this design. By considering the purpose of the product up front and the ways in which patrons will put it to use, the final DTBM should function in a manner that all find satisfying.
More than 60 percent of NLS patrons are over the age of 60, more than 1,000 are over 100 years of age, and many are newly blind. Most read books in a linear fashion and have limited need for a sophisticated navigation system. In fact, this group would find a complex player frustrating and thus prefer a more basic player. Blind children and younger adults also use talking books and may wish DTBMs to have more capabilities--such as advanced navigation features. A user interface designed solely for one of these groups will not meet the wants and needs of all patrons.
"The DTBM will be designed with the blind and physically handicapped user in mind. Unlike audio players aimed at the general consumer, it will employ tactile features, color differences, and large-print labels to inform users with various levels of vision about its functions," says Cylke.
The user interface--the way a person interacts with a machine or a device--must be comfortable for people who are blind and/or physically handicapped.
Controls will be spaced so that it is easy to distinguish one from another. Because many talking-book readers like to read at higher-than-normal speeds, the DTBM will include a variable speed control. It will also include controls that allow users to quickly skip from chapter to chapter.
Usability studies will be conducted to ensure that patrons are able to easily and successfully run the player, that librarians are able to clearly explain the operation of the device, and that repair personnel are able to support and service the player.
The playback machine must meet a tough set of standards. It will employ current and new technologies and will comply with safety regulations. And most important, it will be a creative and imaginative product that wins the support of patrons.
Over the lifetime of the design, nearly one million copies of the player will be distributed. The design will need to be economically mass-produced.
Since the player will deliver spoken audio to readers, patrons need a machine with high-quality sound.
The machine design will consider support issues such as guiding patrons, librarians, and repair personnel.
Battelle and their associates HumanWare, the National Federation of the Blind, and the Trace Center will create training materials for the users of the playback device, including instructions for use in large print and braille that will be shipped with the player.
"NLS plans to facilitate training of librarians in the use of DTBMs through hands-on demonstrations, the provision of written directions, and instructional videos," says Judith Dixon, NLS consumer relations officer.
By 2008, NLS plans to have 60,000 playback units and 20,000 digital talking-book titles ready for use.
NLS has pulled together a team of developers and experts in the fields of technology and disability to ensure that the new digital talking-book machine (DTBM) will be just what patrons want. Not only will it be smartly designed, but the DTBM will be examined and tested at every turn for compatibility with blind and physically handicapped users. Here is the team that will make it happen.
Contractor. The firm has developed the technology behind some of the products we use everyday such as the copy machine, compact discs, and the bar code used by retailers for automated checkout and inventory control.
Subcontractor. A Canadian innovation firm and leader in digital talking-book technology, HumanWare produces the Victor Readers. They have also created the next generation of GPS-based orientation solutions for blind and physically handicapped individuals and the first mainstream accessible handheld P.C.
Subcontractor. The largest organization of blind persons in the U.S. and the world, NFB has more than 50,000 members who work to integrate the blind into society on a basis of equality by removing legal, economic, and social discriminations.
Subcontractor. A pioneer in the field of technology and disability, the Trace Center has developed widely used guidelines for the design of consumer products to make them accessible to persons with disabilities.
Start 1/12/04--Finish 10/1/08
The following ongoing projects, set to conclude in 2008, are shown with start dates in parentheses.
For information on the NLS digital project contact Jean M. Moss, Digital Projects Coordinator. E-mail: JEMO@LOC.GOV; fax: (202) 707-1690.
For the Strategic Business Plan online: www.loc.gov/nls/businessplan2003.html
The U.S. Department of Education now has available an updated audio recording on compact disc that provides information about federal student aid to students who are blind or visually impaired. The guide covers federal grants, loans, and work-study programs, as well as non- federal sources of aid. Students can request one or more copies of the free guide by contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center toll free at 1-800-433-3243. Students can also listen to the guide on the Web at www.studentaid.ed.gov/audioguide.
The following announcements may be of interest to readers. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped reserves the right to publish announcements selectively, as space permits. Items mentioned, however, are not part of the NLS program, and their listing does not imply endorsement.
The National Geographic Talking Tactile Atlas of the World has just become available from Touch Graphics, Inc. The atlas, which includes 43 raised-line and printed map sheets was developed through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and was created in collaboration with National Geographic Maps. Users can place one of the maps onto a Talking Tactile Tablet (TTT), a new, reasonably-priced touch-sensitive "viewer" for tactile graphics that connects to a computer's USB port. When the user presses on various cities, countries, landmarks and bodies of water on the map, a recorded human voice speaks the name of the place that was touched. Other functions include an alphabetical index to find any named location that appears on one of the map sheets; a distance calculator to determine how far it is between any pair of places; and facts and historical notes about every continent, country and U.S. state. By combining high-quality tactile graphic maps with the power of the computer to add audio information specific to each place the user touches, the Talking Tactile Atlas of the World offers an unprecedented level of access to geographical information. For further product information, visit www.touchgraphics.com. For information on price and how to order, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (212) 375-6341.
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