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Access to E-Books: Beyond the Text Project

Access to E-Books: Beyond the Text Project

Editor: I’ve long been a fan of WGBH and their ongoing efforts to encourage accessible content for people with disabilities. Their latest effort is a study to evaluate ways to ensure that multimedia content in electronic books (e-books) is accessible. As always, designing accessibility in is way easier than adding it on. With the increasing interest in e-books, the results of the WGBH study must be incorporated soon.

Here’s the press release.


WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media Awarded Grant to Develop Access Solutions for Multimedia in E-Books

Boston, MA. The National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) at Boston public broadcaster WGBH has been awarded a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study ways to make multimedia (images, audio and video) used in electronic book formats (e-books) accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired.

E-books offer online and portable access to traditional print media- fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, professional journals and other content- via personal computer, laptop, library systems or personal digital assistants (PDAs). The use of e-books is steadily increasing, as is the amount of content publishers are making available in this format. Many e-book formats contain features such as audio and video playback, built-in dictionaries, easy-to-read type, highlighting, note-taking, bookmarking, text searches and direct Internet connections. All these features offer considerable learning resources for users, sophisticated tools for educators and an entirely new development and distribution model for publishers, particularly in the educational market.

These features could also enhance and improve access to information for users with disabilities. Accessible e-books promise learners who are blind or deaf equal access to trade, text or scholarly books, a major leap forward in leveling the playing field for people with disabilities at home, at work and at school.

The goal of the project, called “Beyond the Text,” is to enable deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind users to easily locate, activate and utilize accessible multimedia content within various e-book formats and hardware devices. Staff are currently evaluating e-book software and hardware for multimedia capability as well as for general accessibility to users with hearing or vision loss. Project activities will yield accessible prototypes and a set of recommended practices for those interested in creating multimedia that is usable regardless of hearing or visual acuity.

A comparison chart of e-book and digital talking book (DTB) hardware and software is now online, as is the project’s first prototype e-book with captioned multimedia. These and other resources, which will be updated throughout the project, can be found at http://ncam.wgbh.org/ebooks.

Beyond the Text builds on existing NCAM research initiatives such as the Access to Rich Media Project and Specifications for Accessible Learning Technologies/SALT (http://ncam.wgbh.org), as well as the work now underway in publishing and educational consortiums and standards organizations such as the DAISY Consortium (http://www.daisy.org), the Open eBook Forum (http://www.openebook.org), the World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3c.org) and the American Foundation for the Blind Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum (http://www.afb.org/education.asp).

The project grows out of WGBH’s three decades of experience pioneering and furthering access solutions to mass media for people with sensory disabilities. WGBH developed captioning for television in the early ’70s, brought video description (which describes on-screen action, settings, costumes and character expressions during pauses in dialogue) to television and videos in the late ’80s. Throughout the ’90s, these services were applied and integrated into other forms of mass media, including movie theaters (via WGBH’s “MoPix” technology and service), Web sites (via WGBH’s MAGpie, a free software tool that enables do-it-yourself captioning and description for digitized media) and classrooms (through projects which utilize captioning and description to increase literacy levels and foster inclusiveness for all students). Today, all of WGBH’s access initiatives are gathered in one division, the Media Access Group at WGBH.

Contact: Mary Watkins, Media Access Group at WGBH
617 300-3700 voice, 617 300-2489 TTY