Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New resources for accessible college textbooks

Its been crazy with summer vacation and all that fun stuff, but school’s back in now and that means back to some more regular blogging here.

As a former blind college student, I know the value of, and appreciate, having accessible textbooks. If my books were not available in an accessible format from RFB&D, which was often the case with each progressive year of college, , I would scanned my texts into accessible documents myself using Kurzweil. It meant several hours per book, but once scanned in, I could access and read the book just as well as any other student. It took extra time and effort for me, but at that time, getting something in an accessible format from the publishers was akin to squeezing blood from a stone. It wasn’t happening.

With this in mind, I’m glad to share the latest news regarding accessible textbooks. With the two new services, its good to see the options for gaining accessible textbooks vastly improving.

The AccessText Network
Is now running in beta mode.
The AccessText Network facilitates and supports the national delivery of alternative electronic textbooks to higher education institutions for students with documented disabilities.

That statement is a short and concise definition, but perhaps a little clearer version of the program’s mission is offered in an August 19, 2009 article in
The Wired Campus.

While the program is in its beta stage until next year, 367 offices are testing it free of charge, and eight publishers that are part of the association are footing the bill. When AccessText goes live in July 2010, members will pay between $375 and $500, on a sliding scale based on the institution’s size. At that point, Mr. Hildebrand hopes that colleges will be able to share materials with other approved institutions, with permission, instead of several schools duplicating efforts by scanning books that another member may already have.

This is similar to the service which has already been offered for several years by the
Texas Text Exchange (TTE),
Hosted by Texas A&M University.

While the TTE is similar to AccessText, as it is open to all colleges and universities, it is different in that there is no interaction from the TTE site with textbook publishers. The e-texts hosted on the TTE servers are scanned and produced by participating consortium members and shared with other participating entities.

And, one more big difference is that the TTE does not charge schools to participate. You might want to go back and see what AccessText is proposing once it out of beta.

As for the AccessText Network making texts available directly from publishers, I don’t see that as quite the big plus its made out to be, except perhaps for the largest universities. In my experience, direct interaction with the textbook publishers from the campus Disability Service Office was usually quite quick and easy using the online request forms provided by publishers such as Pearson and the like. They were very happy to overnight the CDs with accessible files to my office, too.

Those two are not a school’s only options for accessible textbooks, though.
The other new method I want to share with you is that
Has also created an alliance with the textbook publishers to make their works accessible.

Bookshare is a web-based digital library that gives people with print disabilities the same ease of access to books and periodicals enjoyed by those without disabilities. Bookshare allows a book to be scanned once and then shared with many qualified individuals who require digital formats that are easy to download, search and navigate.

Fruchterman told the attending members of the press about how the new Bookshare University Partnership Program is uniting universities throughout the country to increase the number of accessible post-secondary textbooks to students with print disabilities. These disabilities include blindness, low vision, physical disabilities and severe learning disabilities.

The final decision for which method to use is up to the various colleges and universities in need of accessible textbooks. My job is just to share the latest news here. Good luck on your decision making.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cars for the blind? The proof of concept is already here

I've previously thought about a world where cars were all fully computer-driven and fully interactive. Wouldn't it be easy if cars were automated, completely taking the human factor out of driving. Cars could communicate with signs and markers along the roadways, making turns to arrive at their destination, as well as communicating with other cars so that all cars stay proper distances from one another. It might make driving boring for sighted drivers who want to prove they can handle the challenges of the road, but it would be a much safer road for all. I truly believe this could be achieved with today's technology.

Apparently, according to this
article in The Atlantic,
I'm not alone in that idea. As a matter of fact, the article takes this idea to the next level where a driver can be blind using today's technology. Better yet, the other cars on the road don't have to be automated!

Don't laugh; apparently its already been proven if what is reported there is true.

The only problem with the whole idea is the other drivers on the road. If one of them suddenly cuts in front of the automated vehicle, requiring a quick, evasive action, one has to wonder what will happen. Again, it is that human interaction that makes driving dangerous, not the automated car, even when the driver was blind. If all the cars were automated, then the poor decisions of the other drivers wouldn't be a factor.

Then again, what if the computer of the automated vehicle failed in the middle of a trip, while motoring down the road. That would result in a real crash, not just a system crash. How do you reboot from one of those?