by Tony Swartz
Who among us doesn’t like to receive a unique, accessible gift? Be sure to read the entirety of this article to learn more regarding a gift to you from the AccessiDocs project, the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind’s fee-based service that converts printed materials into accessible audio documents. First, let’s address how AccessiDocs can impact your life.
Imagine that you’ve just been made eligible for paratransit service in your area. The letter notifying you of your eligibility is accompanied by a printed 40-page rider’s guide which details the service; how to request a ride, service hours, your rights and responsibilities as a rider, regulations and limitations of the service, and so on. If you have access to a scanner and optical recognition software, you might be able to capture a text file you could slog through. Another alternative is to ask a family member or friend to read the rider’s guide into your digital recorder. The problem with relying on these formats to access printed information arises when you try to retrieve specific details. To continue the example, six weeks go by and you are about to schedule your first shopping trip with your paratransit provider. Now, wasn’t there something mentioned about how many bags or packages the service would allow you to transport per trip? Back and forth you go through the recording or the scanned document, and about 20 minutes later you find within the section entitled “Limitations of the Service,” the restriction of three bags or packages per trip. You could have avoided all that hassle and tension if your transit provider had used AccessiDocs to make sure you had a fully navigable booklet.
Let’s rewind the scenario. You just received a letter notifying you of your paratransit eligibility. Accompanying the letter is a thumb drive that you slip into your NLS player. Immediately, the rider handbook begins playing. Just as with your audio books from the library, you move from heading to heading reading the contents. Hearing a detail you want to be able to quickly access later, you insert a bookmark in the recording. Six weeks later as you try to remember how many packages you are allowed during shopping trips, you skip through your headings and bookmarks to retrieve the information in less than a minute.
Navigating through a DAISY audio document offers you the same accessibility that a sighted person has when he skims through the headings of a print document and can highlight what he feels is important. Of course, the greater the complexity and length of the document, the greater the need for multi-level navigability. We in PCB believe that a true alternate audio format to the printed word is more than a simple recording of a document; instead, full accessibility is achieved through document navigability.
We’re all aware of the availability of printed resources, from patient handbooks to local social service agency newsletters, from paratransit guides to local government program brochures. While some are available through the Internet, they are often not fully accessible. And others might still only be available in hard-copy print. We’ve all had some form of the experience where, upon joining an organization, signing up for a service, or entering a medical care facility, we are handed the dreaded inaccessible printed booklet, brochure or handbook. If a document can impact your life, or that of a loved one, then it should be available to you in an accessible format. That is the mission of the AccessiDocs project.
You will personally benefit when you assist the AccessiDocs project to grow. When you are handed inaccessible documents, or learn of materials you wish could be made accessible, please inform the producing entity: agency, government bureau, medical provider, etc., of the AccessiDocs project. Also, consider encouraging companies that provide product guides, instruction manuals, recipe booklets, and the like, to provide them in a fully accessible version. Here’s the project contact information to share.
AccessiDocs, Document Conversion Service
Now what about that gift? Surely you have heard about NVDA, the free screen-reader software. Well, Joseph Lee, one of the developers, recently released a 13-hour series of lectures on the use of NVDA, from initial installation through the most advanced uses of the screen reader. He has graciously allowed the AccessiDocs project team to convert his lectures into a 9-chapter DAISY 3 book, each chapter broken down into topics and sub-topics. The DAISY 3 book is now available to everyone as a free download from the AccessiDocs project webpage, http://pcb1.org/accessidocs. Please take advantage of this gift, and please spread the word about its availability and the work of the AccessiDocs project.
A Gift to You from PCB’s AccessiDocs Project
by Tony Swartz