[Menvi-discuss] Accessible textbook formats

Marc Sabatella marc at outsideshore.com
Fri Dec 9 17:51:38 EST 2016

On Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 9:11 AM David Goldstein - Resource Center <
info2 at blindmusicstudent.org> wrote:

I'm not all that confident in assuming that big companies can solve
> problems like this, especially when none of the parties may have a clear
> idea of what they are.

Understood.  But, it seems *someone* must have some idea.  I mean, I have
next to no experinse here and I can see there is a problem and some
potential solutions.  MENVI is focused on music specifically; are there
similar organizations that carry some weight in the more general field of
education?  I know of RNIB in the UK.  The picture in the US is actually
less clear to me as it seems more fragmented.

Of course, it's not even *just* education - any book with graphical
information could benefit from alternative delivery systems.  Self-help
books with charts or worksheets to fill out, the maps in Tolkein's "Lord of
the Rings" - it seems there is a ton of information out there that *could*
potentially be presented in an accessible way if only people could agree on
how to do this.

  The challenges of presentation of information are not confined to
> textbooks alone or even books; often we get spreadsheets or even memos from
> our places of employment that are impossible to interpet interpret, or even
> email that isn't accessible, forms that cannot be filled in, and required
> company courses that cannot be completed without assistance.

Indeed, but now we're talking a bit more broad of a problem that probably
needs multiple technical solutions and I feel looking at all of this this
would defocus efforts to solve the somewhat more definable problem of
textbooks.  BTW, ironic how the distinction in this context between a
"book" a "textbook" is essentially that the latter contains *more* than
just text :-)

These days, a lot of emphasis is being put on preparing blind children,
> from pre-school on, to understand simple graphics.  I guess these make
> younger people more tactually aware, understanding pie charts and comparing
> one size to another, etc.  I don't know whether that's really something
> that works, or another instance where people who are sighted are thrilled
> because it's similar to what they like.

That seems a legitimate concern.  Which is one reason I'm trying to
understand what *does* work, although from what I'm hearing, the answer
seems to be, basically no one seems to bother trying and so we have no real
success stories to draw from.

How are you imagining that textbooks would be delivered?  On the cloud?
> Perhaps the link that you "click" on (and even that would be different for
> each device) there should be a universal web site, where transcribers
> prepare the images or examples.  For the geography book, there might be a
> choice of embossing the map on paper or other graphical means.

I can't say I have definitive answers, but these are definitely the types
of ideas I am thinking about.

HTML has built in to it the idea of helper applications for opening
external media.  Like, if I click on audio, it might open in itunes,
quicktime, windows media player, or some other program depending on what is
set up in the MIME type associations for the browser I am using (? I am
fuzzy on the details but I gather this is more or less how it works).  So
maybe I am proposing new MIME types and some sort of standardized formats
for helper applications to deal with.  If it's basically just MusicXML for
music, then  any number of programs could be configured as the reader, just
as currently the case for audio.  Or maybe it literally is the case that a
electronic version of a music textbook produced using Finale needs to
include a copy of an accessible version of Finale Notepad or whatever.
There are lots of ways this sort of thing *could* be structured.

Out of curiosity, you've said technology has come so far in other areas.  I
> know it has changed the landscape, but things have tended to work so
> inconsistently that my enthusiasm has dulled.  Where do you think it has
> had the farthest reach for good?

As I sighted person I don't know that I am in the best position to so what
has "had the farthest reach for good" - as you say, maybe we tend to be
more impressed by things that seem familiar to us but don't really work
that well for others.  However, when I said that, I had some pretty I'm
talking about about some things that would be pretty non-controversial:

- Braille output devices
- screenreaders and other text-to-speech technology
- Siri and other speech-to-text technology
- VoiceOver and other assistive technologies for touch
- the existence, if not universal use, of "alt" tags for images in HTML
- the existence, if not universal use, of keyboard alternatives for most UI
- crowdsourcing apps like "Be My Eyes" that use technology to enable people
to help each other

Not to mention things like navigation apps, ride sharing apps - heck,
mobile phones in general - things that are relied upon by sighted people
but I imagine might make an even bigger difference in the lives of the
visually impaired.

To me, it seems a logical step to address some of the remaining practical
issues that come repeatedly in education.  Textbook delivery is actually
just one part of what I have mind.  In my time working with a blind
student, I realized that not only did I need to make teaching materials
available to her, but I also needed to come up with a way for her to
complete assignments involving written music, for me to grade them, and for
her to see the feedback I give her (not just a general paragraph on the
whole assignment, but potentially feedback on individual notes within her
written work, like showing someone where there are parallel fifths in a
chorale-writing exercise.  There's an enormous amount of work to address
all of this, but much of it is music-specific and will probably never
interest Google.  Textbook delivery feels like something where my
contribution could more a "get the ball rolling" and find the right people
to take it from there.

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