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January 7, 2001 Sunday
Education Life Supplement
BLACKBOARD:
Help for the Blind and Dyslexic
By ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER

Technology will be enhancing the lives of the 90,000 members of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (www.rfbd.org) with digital talking books.

They are more than e-books, where text is downloaded onto something easier to handle than a computer. And they are more than a CD with someone reading aloud. They combine text and voice to give visually impaired and learning disabled people better access to the written word.

For 52 years Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, a Princeton-based nonprofit organization, has recruited volunteers to read books into microphones. Now the network of 33 studios scattered around the country is going digital. With the press of a button about once every paragraph readers synchronize their voices to the text, and both are burned onto a compact disk.

The technology adheres to an international standard for accessibility called Daisy, or Digital Audio-based Information Systems. It combines the ability to hear a voice reading with the capacity to search and access text in a nonlinear way.

In addition to individual clients, 3,300 schools and school districts around the country, including the Baltimore and Miami systems, have institutional memberships. They can request that titles be recorded and get help with training teachers to use the materials.

Last year some 5,500 volunteers contributed almost 430,000 hours of their time, adding 4,230 new titles to bring the group's collection up to 81,468 titles, including everything from children's literature to college texts.

 

GRAPHIC:

1948: Voices are recorded on Sound Scriber dictating machines and transferred to 6-inch vinylite disks holding up to 24 minutes of recorded material.

1957: Recordings are made on tape, then embossed onto 7-inch vinylite disks holding up to 60 minutes of material.

1967: Textbooks are distributed on cassette tapes holding up to four hours of recorded material.

1980: All titles are distributed on four-track cassettes.

1996: A pilot program for digital audio recording begins.

2001: A core library of 3,000 of the most requested titles will be available as digital talking books, each holding up to 45 hours of recorded material. (Source: Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic)

All articles © Eric Goldscheider

(413) 835-1248 - eric.goldscheider@gmail.com