Contact: Guy Lamolinara, Public Affairs (202) 707-9217; Robert Fistick, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (202) 707-9279

October 4, 1999

Library of Congress Launches Web-Braille on the Internet for Blind and Visually Impaired Library Users

Braille readers can now read books on the Internet, thanks to a historic technological breakthrough by the Library of Congress called Web-Braille.

Web-Braille offers access to more than 2,700 electronic braille books on the Internet for the use of eligible braille readers by the Library's National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Each year many hundreds of new titles will be added.

Braille, a system of raised dots that is read with the fingers, has historically been embossed on paper. The system was invented by Louis Braille of France in the early 1800s. As a result of new computer technology, braille readers may now access Web-Braille digital braille book files with a computer and a refreshable braille display (electronic device that raises or lowers an array of pins to create a line of braille characters) or a braille embosser. These 2,700 braille book titles are available on the Internet for download or on-line use by eligible individuals, libraries and schools with a computer and a braille-output device. About 40 new titles per month are released in braille and immediately available on-line to users.

"It occurred to us several years ago that the computer files used to emboss braille books on paper might be able to be placed on-line for Internet access," said Judith Dixon, consumer relations officer at the Library of Congress. After a pilot project to determine that the Web-Braille concept would work, NLS began placing current book titles on the Internet.

Library users of the national reading program for blind and physically handicapped individuals access Web-Braille on the Internet using an individual user ID and password. Web-Braille materials can be made available only to eligible users who are residents of the United States or American citizens living abroad.

The Library of Congress also produces braille versions of many national magazines and is now exploring the feasibility of adding these magazines to Web-Braille for its users.

"This is the first massive effort internationally to make braille book collections accessible on the Internet," says Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of NLS. "This achievement reflects the Library of Congress's commitment to make its collections more usable and accessible to eligible users. It also reflects the first initiative by NLS to distribute its collections of books and magazines in digital formats to its borrowers. NLS is also developing a digital talking book for its users, continuing its historic national leadership in creating new recorded and braille products for America's blind and physically handicapped individuals," he said.

For further information contact: Robert E. Fistick, Head, Publications and Media Section, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, 1291 Taylor St. N.W., Washington, DC 20542; telephone: (202) 707-9279; e-mail: rfis@loc.gov.

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PR 99-147
10/4/99
ISSN 0731-3527

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