Texas and Illinois libraries honored for service to blind and disabled readers

Photo of Karen Keninger, Ava Smith and Peggy Rudd hold large award plaque.
NLS director Karen Keninger (center) presents Texas Talking Book Program librarian Ava Smith (left) and Texas State Library and Archives Commission director Peggy Rudd with the Network Library of the Year Award.

“In recent years, the transition from analog cassette technology to digital cartridge and download services has presented both challenges and rewards for our readers,” said Peggy D. Rudd, director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. “Through planning, innovation, and hard work, the Texas Talking Book Program staff has made the transition as seamless as possible, while generating great excitement among readers who continue to marvel at the digital talking-book machine and who cannot wait for new books to appear on BARD.”

Rudd’s remarks were addressed to attendees of a June 1, 2012, luncheon in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., during which NLS presented Rudd the Network Library of the Year Award recognizing the Texas Talking Book Program, a division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, for its outstanding service to blind and disabled readers.

The annual award, in its eighth year, carries a $1,000 cash prize. The Chicago Public Library Talking Book Center, a subregional library of the Illinois Network of Talking Book and Braille Libraries, received the sixth annual Network Subregional Library of the Year Award, which also carries a $1,000 prize.       

“These are challenging times for all government agencies, but the Texas and Chicago libraries have continued to meet the needs of the blind and disabled readers they serve in creative and innovative ways,” said NLS director Karen Keninger. “They are outstanding representatives of the more than 100 cooperating NLS libraries across the United States.” 

The Texas Talking Book Program, which is headquartered in Austin, served nearly 16,000 individual readers and institutions and circulated 891,662 books and magazines in 2011. That’s in addition to the more than 143,000 books and magazines that Texas readers accessed online through the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service.

Texas was one of eight libraries that helped NLS test digital books and playback equipment in 2009, before production was implemented for the entire network. In 2011 the program’s staff made BARD support and training a top priority.

The Texas Talking Book Program also scores high in customer satisfaction, according to the library’s nomination application. Every two years, 2,000 randomly selected readers are asked to participate in a customer-satisfaction survey. The library conducted its latest survey in October 2011, and according to those who responded:

  • 90 percent said they “strongly or totally agreed” that the program consistently handled requests correctly the first time.
  • 91 percent said they “strongly or totally agreed” that staff could be counted on to assist them with a problem.
  • 93 percent said they “strongly or totally agreed” that staff provided high-quality service.
  • 81 percent said they “strongly or totally agreed” that the program’s resources met their reading needs.

“I cannot thank you enough for your service through all these years,” the daughter of a reader in Greenville, Texas, told the Talking Book Program staff. “Your staff could give lessons in service to others.”

NLS Network Division chief Carolyn Sung said the Texas program also excels in providing service in Spanish; maintaining a toll-free information line that includes audio versions of its quarterly newsletters; and offering public awareness, education, and outreach activities across Texas, including “BARD parties” where readers can learn how to use the download service. Library staff automated the process for inspecting digital talking-book players before distributing them to readers and also established a special unit to answer questions on disability and health issues.

Subregional Library Award winner

Photo of Sharon Ruda, Deborah Taylor and Carolyn Sung with array of plaques.
Left to right: Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service director Sharon Ruda, Chicago Public Library Talking Book Center director Deborah Taylor, and NLS Network Services Division chief Carolyn Sung with the Network Subregional Library of the Year Award perpetual plaques.

The winner of the 2011 Network Subregional Library Award, the Chicago Public Library Talking Book Center, provided service to 2,921 readers and circulated 128,447 books and other materials, according to director Deborah Taylor.

The Talking Book Center, located in the Harold Washington Library Center, works closely with the Chicago Public Library to ensure readers with disabilities can participate fully in library services and programs.

Headshot of Roberta Shaffer
Roberta Shaffer, Library of Congress associate librarian for Library Services, addresses attendees during the award ceremony.

In addition to a monthly book discussion, the library hosts an annual poetry program; diversity celebrations, including African American Heritage Month and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; and popular winter and summer adult reading programs. In 2011 the center hosted its first online and in-person (fully accessible) book discussion for adults with the winter reading program. In collaboration with the Illinois Network of Talking Book and Braille Libraries, the Talking Book Center staff plan and moderate discussions for online accessible Bookbreak sessions, which are open to reader advisors and staff from the entire NLS network of libraries.

NLS created the Network Library Award in 2004 to recognize outstanding accomplishments of libraries serving blind and disabled individuals across the country and in U.S. territories. A committee of librarians and consumer organization representatives chose finalists from among the nominated libraries based on mission support (defined by the American Library Association Revised Standards and Guidelines for Service), creativity and innovation in providing service, and record of reader satisfaction. The four NLS network regional conference chairs recommended the final selections to the NLS director.

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NLS patron Christine Ha takes top prize on MasterChef

Picture of Ha wearing apron
Christine Ha
(Photo courtesy of John Suh)

For 20 episodes she cried, she cursed, but most of all, she cooked. And on June 10, 2012, NLS patron Christine Ha was crowned the winner of the Fox TV reality show’s season three.

The 33-year-old Houston native, MasterChef’s first blind contestant, beat 100 other chefs to take home the top prize of $250,000, a trophy, and the opportunity to write her own cookbook. Her finale meal—three courses of Vietnamese comfort food—edged out final competitor Josh Mark’s lobster grits, rack of lamb, and bacon pecan pie.

MasterChef has been the craziest, most stressful, most intense, yet most amazing experience of my life thus far. I can’t believe I’ve cooked for [judges] Graham Elliot, Joe Bastianich, and Gordon Ramsey. I can’t believe I’ve cried so much on national television,” Ha wrote in her blog. “I also cursed about 500 times more than they’ve allowed on TV.”

It was her blog, theblindcook.com,external link that brought Ha to the attention of the show’s producers and ultimately led to her November 2011 audition in Austin and on to the June 4 and 5 premiere of the show’s third season. She put her studies at the University of Houston, where she is working on a master of fine arts in writing, on hold to take part in the competition.

“I know there will be many people who do not think I deserve the title, that I am a gimmick for TV ratings, that it’s unfair that I had a helper,” said Ha. “The truth is, I love food and I love to create food.” She also pointed out that Cindy, her aide during the series, was hired by the producers to “level the playing field,” and Ha had to ask specific questions before Cindy was allowed to help. “When I needed a food processor or a mixer, I had to step back from my kitchen station and not touch a single thing while Cindy was getting my requested appliance.” Cindy also was not allowed to cut or taste the food Ha prepared. “There were a few attorneys from the Fox legal department on site every day watching to make sure Cindy and I followed the rules.”

Like the other contestants, Ha faced time constraints, stress, and criticism from the judges. “I could never see how my competitors handled their knives, what sort of techniques they employed, how they plated their finished dishes. All I could do was focus on what I was doing, taste my own food, adjust my own seasonings, and do the best I could do with what I was given.”

Ha lost her vision five years ago, after being diagnosed in 2003 with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an auto-immune disorder that affects the optic nerves. “NMO is still a very real part of my life,” she said. “I go through routine rounds of chemo just to keep it in check.”

A former software consultant, Ha has no professional culinary training. She first began cooking in college “so I wouldn’t starve. My mother was a very good cook. She passed away when I was 14 and left me no recipes. I’ve been trying to recreate her recipes ever since.”

As the MasterChef winner, Ha has begun work on her cookbook, which is scheduled for release in spring 2013. She is also working on her thesis and hopes some day to open her own ice cream shop and a pub.

“I came to MasterChef with a lot of self-doubt. I still have a lot of self-doubt. But I’ve made progress. Throughout the weeks of nearly impossible challenges, I learned that I didn’t give myself enough credit—that I should trust my instincts,” said Ha. “I’ve received mail from people wanting to share their stories with me: parents of a child with vision or hearing impairment or paraplegia who now believe their child can achieve something great in life, the 12-year-old who wants to pursue culinary school despite others telling her there is no way she can do it because she is autistic or blind. All these people have reached out to tell me that my story has given them some sort of hope. I’m overwhelmed with such inexplicable joy and humility.”

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DAISY Consortium Board focuses on making e-books mainstream

DAISY is going mainstream.

That was one of the takeaways from the June 6–7, 2012, semi-annual board meeting of the DAISY Consortium, held at the Library of Congress. And for this meeting, the 20 members of the DAISY board were outnumbered by observers—25 of them, from Asia, Europe, and the United States.

“The Library of Congress was delighted to host the DAISY Board,” said Michael Katzmann, chief of the NLS Materials Development Division and the NLS representative to DAISY. “The keen interest in the activities of DAISY is evidenced by the large number of observers.”

Formed by worldwide talking-book libraries in 1996 to lead the transition from analog to digital talking books, the international consortium develops, maintains, and promotes open international Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) standards. The consortium’s vision is that all published information be available in an accessible, feature-rich, navigable format at the same time as print—and at no greater cost.

High on the board’s agenda was a discussion of the growing retail support for the International Digital Publishing Forum’s EPUB 3 standard for electronic books (e-books), which includes accessible features found in DAISY books.

“DAISY is now bringing its technical expertise in e-books to the mainstream world by participating in formation of the latest EPUB standard,” Katzmann said. “Our hope is that mainstream e-books can be created by the publishers in an accessible form rather than having to be converted by libraries such as NLS.” 

Our hope is that mainstream e-books can be created by the publishers in an accessible form rather than having to be converted by libraries such as NLS. 

—Michael Katzmann, chief, NLS Materials and Development Division

Board members also received updates on ongoing projects, including the push by Raising the Floor–International—an organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, whose members include consumers, developers, researchers, vendors, and manufacturers of mainstream and assistive technology—to have accessibility software available “on the cloud,” where it can be downloaded and customized by anyone, anywhere. Members agreed to keep supporting efforts to develop low-cost refreshable braille displays, with the ultimate goal of making it as easy to get a book in braille as it is in DAISY audio. Katzmann reported that NLS had signed on to the Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources (TIGAR) pilot project, a close collaboration between the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and organizations representing visually impaired persons, authors, and publishers, including the DAISY Consortium, that is studying ways to make copyrighted books more easily available to blind readers across international borders.

Public relations efforts also were reviewed at the meeting. In a memo presented during the meeting, DAISY president Stephen King of England’s Royal National Institute of Blind People discussed DAISY’s goal, which he summarized as improving the quantity and quality of accessible publications, and improving the quality and timeliness—but reducing the need for—specially enhanced publications for blind readers. He proposed a redesign of DAISY’s website “to simplify how we tell our story.”

The DAISY board’s next meeting will be in Bangkok, Thailand, in November 2012.

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International briefs

Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB)—Scotland and Wales

In April 2011 RNIB Scotland, in partnership with Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, the Centre for Sensory Impaired People, and the coffee company Matthew Algie, opened Café Tiki, Scotland’s first accessible Internet café in Glasgow.

Staffed by visually and hearing disabled individuals, the Glasgow café has menus in braille and large print and fully accessible restrooms. The café also offers tools to help individuals find a job, including access to computers installed with screen-reading software and Internet capabilities. 

Café Tiki also features a small IT training section for people to develop their technological skills, and hosts a weekly work club that helps participants find employment within the wider Glasgow community.

“With such a difficult job market, it is extremely important that people with sensory disabilities have access to work experience and training to give them a better chance to compete in the mainstream labor market,” said Ann McKechin, a member of Parliament for Glasgow North.

Scotland is not the only country with an Internet café for individuals with a disability. Pakistan and India each have an Internet café for visually disabled individuals and several such clubs operate in various cities throughout the United States.

Photo of McGready and McIntyre holding cups and saucers.
Café Tiki patrons Ian McGready and Willie McIntyre. (Photo courtesy of thirdforcenews.org.uk)

Elsewhere in the UK, RNIB and text-to-speech software company IVONA, with funding from the government in Wales, teamed up to develop Welsh language text-to-speech software, which is available as a free download to blind and partially sighted native speakers and learners.

The MP3 files—featuring either “Geraint,” a male voice, or “Gwyneth,” a female voice—were developed to work with all standard screen-readers and on any Windows-based computer. They are available to both individuals and noncommercial organizations free of charge.

“I don’t live at home in Wales, so one of the reasons I’m so looking forward to using this new software is that it will allow me to keep in touch with family and friends through e-mails and Facebook in my mother tongue,” said 17-year-old student Elin Williams. “I work primarily on my laptop, so the new voice will make my studies more accessible and will make using the Internet for research in Welsh a lot easier as well.”

Ceri Jackson, director of RNIB Cymru, said, “I am so pleased that we have been able to work with IVONA and the government to create these voices and, even better, to be able to make them available for free. For the first time, Welsh language speakers will have equality of access with their English-speaking peers in relation to websites and electronic documents. With more and more individuals and organizations using the Internet to provide information and to communicate with each other, developments like these voices are critical to ensure that blind and partially sighted people have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

The MP3 files may be downloaded from http://welsh.ivona.com.external link IVONA also provides software installation instructions.

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In memoriam

Dale Carter Cooper, talking-book narrator

Headshot of Dale Carter Cooper.

Dale Carter Cooper, who narrated talking-books at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) for nearly four decades, passed away on August 25, 2012. She was 94 years old.

“She was a voice from my childhood,” said NLS director Karen Keninger. “Her long and prolific service to NLS through her excellent recordings of everything from Dr. Seuss to Tolstoy has brought untold hours of pleasure to countless readers.”

Cooper was born on January 22, 1918, in Danville, Virginia. In 1935, she left Virginia for New York, where she studied acting and performed in summer theater productions.

She married Wray Thomas Cooper in 1940 and moved with her family to Louisville, Kentucky, eight years later. It was in Louisville that she began her career as a narrator at APH in 1952, reading consecutively for 39 years and recording more than 400 titles, including Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The American Foundation for the Blind presented her the Alexander Scourby Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2002.

Cooper returned to performing professionally in 1967, appearing in regional theaters around the United States, including Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, North Carolina; Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia; Alley Theater in Houston, Texas; and dinner theaters in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and her hometown. Her roles ranged from the mother in Barefoot in the Park to Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night.

She served on the board of directors of the Louisville Theatrical Association, the Louisville Children’s Theatre, the Women’s Endowment of Christ Church Cathedral, and the Kentucky Chapter of the English Speaking Union. In 1968 she became the first female lay reader in the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky.

Cooper is survived by her son Wray Cooper Jr. and daughter M. Austin Cooper, both of Louisville, four granddaughters, and two great-grandchildren.

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Braille International, Inc., longtime NLS braille producer, closes

After 33 years of producing braille books, magazines, guidebooks, menus, and ballots for the community of blind readers, Braille International, Inc., (BII) of Stuart, Florida, closed on July 31, 2012.

“The technology is moving away from braille and the economics of braille production are just not there,” said Jamie Redditt, president of the not-for-profit company. “Braille production is a small part of our competitors’ mission and they can produce the product below their costs. Braille is all we do here.”

BII was formed in 1978 under its parent company, Triformation Systems Inc., as a test facility for braille printers. In 1979, NLS requested that the test facility become a producer of braille books. BII continued to be a producer of NLS braille books and magazines until it closed in July.

Braille materials formerly assigned to BII will be dispersed to other braille producers.

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Perkins pays tribute to guide dogs and the U.S. Postal Service

Photo of Perkins librarians, postmaster and news anchor pose with easel bearing large reproduction of stamp.
Left to right: James Gleason, Perkins Library deputy director/special services librarian; Kim Charlson, director, Perkins Library; James Holland, Boston postmaster; and Randy Price, WCVB-TV EyeOpener News anchor pose with a poster of one of the four stamps in the Dogs at Work series.

Boston Postmaster James J. Holland unveiled the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) “Dogs at Work” series of stamps during a special February 14, 2012, ceremony honoring guide dogs and other service dogs, as well as the USPS delivers audio, braille, and large-print books to library patrons. The event, hosted by Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library, was held on the Perkins campus.

“Dogs at Work” is the subject of a set of four new 65-cent 2 oz. U.S. postage stamps that feature four types of working dogs: a guide dog, a therapy dog, a military tracking dog, and a search and rescue dog.

Randy Price, co-anchor of Boston WCVB-TV’s EyeOpener morning news program emceed the gathering. Price, a dog enthusiast and breeder, was delighted to see more than 20 service dogs in attendance.

Kim Charlson, director of the Perkins Library, organized this event in collaboration with the Worcester Talking Book Library and officials from the Boston Post Office. She presented Holland with a plaque recognizing “the exemplary service and commitment shown every day by all USPS employees. “The Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library has a long tradition of working with the U.S. Postal Service. Every day we send out 2,000 books to our patrons, and 2,000 books come back,” said Charlson.

Guest speakers included patron David Lynn, a U.S. Air Force veteran and his pilot dog Blazer; Carl Richardson, who coordinates accessibility for the Massachusetts Statehouse and his guide dog Kinley; patron Anne DeFeo and her guide dog Viv; and students and staff from Perkins School for the Blind.

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