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NLS Press Release

Blind Community Partners with NLS To Develop Digital Talking-Book Machine


For Immediate Release:
April 12, 2005
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or rfis@loc.gov

WASHINGTON, D.C.-The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has enlisted the expertise of the blind and physically handicapped community in a project to develop the new digital talking-book machine (DTBM).

"The direct involvement of blind and physically handicapped consumers in testing the new digital talking-book machine will ensure that it meets user accessibility requirements, providing our patrons a voice in shaping a technology that directly affects their lives," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. NLS plans to have 60,000 playback units and several hundred thousand copies of digital talking books ready for patron use by 2008.

Battelle, a leader in technology innovation, has been contracted to design and develop the DTBM with the support of three subcontractors, all experts in adaptive techniques. They include: HumanWare, formerly VisuAide, a leader in digital talking-book player development; the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest organization of blind persons in the United States; and the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a specialist in accessible technology for the disabled.

"NLS is especially pleased to be working with experts in accessible technology and have the benefit of their valuable insight as talking books undergo an exciting evolution," says Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director.

As lead subcontractor, HumanWare will manage NFB and the Trace Center's involvement as it pertains to identifying the accessibility needs of users. "It will be particularly important to test the player with various users to determine whether the prototype functions properly in multiple real-world scenarios," says Gilles Pepin of HumanWare.

A leader in assistive technology testing, NFB will play a central part in testing the DTBM with blind users who are also NLS patrons, library staff, and repair technicians. The Trace Center will coordinate testing for physically disabled users. A series of eight usability tests-comprising focus groups, fieldwork, and task-based activities-will directly inform prototype design.

"Talking books have helped many in the blind community realize their potential, so it's only natural that we as consumers want to help the new digital system fulfill its operational potential. We bring a fresh perspective that will aid engineers in designing a fully functional talking-book player," says Dr. Marc Maurer, NFB president.

More than 23 million copies of recorded and braille books and magazines were circulated to a readership of 799,718 in 2004. The international Union Catalog provides access to 423,500 titles (19 million copies). Audiobook readers borrow an average of 31 books and magazines a year. Braille readers average 20 books and magazines a year.

An overview of the NLS digital talking-book project may be found in Current Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems at www.loc.gov/nls/businessplan/index.html. For enrollment information, visit www.loc.gov/nls or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).


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Posted on 2011-01-10