July 3, 2001 Industrial Design Students Compete to Develop Talking Book Machine

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Robert Fistick (202) 707-9279

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) will challenge student designers to create the next generation of digital talking book playback machines.

The student design competition, scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2002, could result in a unique product that will help thousands of visually impaired and otherwise disabled people enjoy books and magazines each year. Close to a million new machines will be produced in the first 10 years after their introduction.

"We need to move on to digital audio to take advantage of improved user features and lower costs," said NLS Director Frank Kurt Cylke. "The analog machines have served us well, but they are starting to move toward obsolescence. The upgrade to digital versions of not only the talking book playback machines but also the vast audio collection is the greatest challenge NLS has ever faced," he said.

NLS has approximately 730,000 cassette talking book playback machines in use worldwide today and maintains an inventory of more than 23 million copies of audio books and magazines. Under the U.S. copyright law, NLS is permitted to mail the recordings and the playback equipment free of charge to any U.S. citizen who qualifies.

The first talking book playback machines, dating back to 1933, played 33 1/3 rpm records, which were invented for the Library's talking book program. Analog cassette playback machines, which are still in use, made their appearance in the 1970s.

When NLS decided to adopt digital technology, the agency decided to include the playback equipment in the plan. The decision was then made to offer industrial design students the chance to compete for the winning design. IDSA, which had recently completed the Motorola student competition to design a wireless device for universal access, was selected to co-sponsor the competition with NLS.

The new digital playback equipment will be specifically tailored to the disabled, while adhering to the principles of universal design. The equipment must also be intuitive to use, have a tolerance for operator error, and require a low level of physical effort on the part of the user.

IDSA will offer information in its publications and on its Web site at www.idsa.org. IDSA will also distribute competition information kits to all 54 IDSA-affiliated schools. A jury assembled by NLS and IDSA will convene in June 2002 and awards in the amounts of $5,000 for first place, $2,000 for second place, and $1,000 for third place will be presented during the IDSA National Conference, July 20-23, 2002.

For more information about services provided by NLS, visit its Web site at www.loc.gov/nls.


PR 01-097
ISSN 0731-3527