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NLS Press Release

Collaboration Streamlines Access to Electronic Information by Blind and Physically Handicapped Readers


For Immediate Release:
March 11, 2002
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or rfis@loc.gov

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, announces collaboration with two telecommunications technology initiatives that will benefit eligible blind and physically handicapped readers: NFB-NEWSLINE, a service that provides audio versions of daily newspapers through a toll-free telephone number, and Bookshare.org, an online web service that allows individuals to download more than 8,000 books in braille or listen using synthetic speech software. Both new services are assisted by cooperative efforts with the Library of Congress.

"NLS is expanding its services to readers with cooperative technology initiatives, such as NFB-NEWSLINE and Bookshare.org, in recognition of the need for a national library to explore state-of-the-art media and to assume a broader leadership role," said NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke, in making the announcement. "Since 1999, NLS has offered Web-Braille, an Internet service that provides electronic versions of recent braille books, braille magazines, and musical scores. Currently more than 4,000 digital braille book files, twenty-five national magazines, 200 music scores, and five national sports schedules, are available through a free online braille program that provides a direct channel for individuals, schools, and libraries with Internet connections and braille output devices, such as braille embossers or refreshable braille displays, " Cylke notes.

NFB-NEWSLINE, a service of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and is free to anyone in the United States who is eligible to receive services from the Library of Congress. Blind and physically handicapped individuals can register for NFB-NEWSLINE by completing an addendum sheet to the NLS application. Current patrons should notify their service library that they would like to subscribe to NFB-NEWSLINE.

Daily newspapers provided on NFB-NEWSLINE include USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Readers are able to access these newspapers and dozens more, with an NFB-NEWSLINE goal of providing at least two newspapers from each state. The service will also offer other information through menu selections, including agency announcements and library newsletters from around the country.

Bookshare.org launched its online service in mid-February, with an initial electronic collection of synthesized speech and braille library materials of more than 8,000 books for use by blind and physically handicapped individuals. Developed by Benetech, a Palo Alto, California, nonprofit enterprise, Bookshare.org is "trying to make it no more difficult to get your hands on a book if you're a blind person than if you're a sighted person," says Jim Fruchterman, chief executive of Benetech.

To be eligible to use Bookshare.org, individuals must submit proof of disability. NLS patrons will be able to access the low-cost site with their prior registration data. According to Fruchterman, there is a set-up fee of $25 and an annual fee of $50. To prevent individuals from unauthorized sharing on the Internet, each book is encrypted and contains digital fingerprints.

The Association of American Publishers worked closely with Benetech in the site's development. Benetech has its own server and will add a few thousand books monthly to its database, Fruchterman said. Interested persons can find a demo of how Bookshare.org works at http://www.bookshare.org/demo.

For more information about Web-Braille, visit the NLS web site at www.loc.gov/nls or call (202) 707-5100; TDD: (202) 707-0744.

For more information about NFB-NEWSLINE, visit the NFB web site at www.nfb.org or call (410) 659-9314.

For more information about Bookshare.org, visit the Benetech web site at www.benetech.org or call (650) 475-5440.


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Posted on 2011-01-10