Presentation: Converging Standards in Electronic Books

Original Author(s): George Kerscher
Last revised January 21, 2000

This document attempts to bring together philosophically and practically developers of standards for electronic books. The goal is to have a single standard that meets the needs of all. This is not to say that there must be a single, massive XML DTD that addresses everything. This document does attempt to clarify universal design goals of the emerging XML standards for electronically published materials. The standards must incorporate "Universal Design" principles so people with disabilities and mainstream individuals can use the information enjoyably and effectively. This document attempts to seek buy-in from the key players. It is simply a commitment to work together to develop the standards.

PURPOSE

This document attempts to bring together philosophically and practically developers of standards for electronic books. The goal is to have a single standard that meets the needs of all. This is not to say that there must be a single, massive XML DTD that addresses everything. This document does attempt to clarify universal design goals of the emerging XML standards for electronically published materials. The standards must incorporate "Universal Design" principles so people with disabilities and mainstream individuals can use the information enjoyably and effectively. This document attempts to seek buy-in from the key players. It is simply a commitment to work together to develop the standards.

From the Disability Perspective

People with print disabilities have been disenfranchised from the mainstream of learning and employment, because of a lack of access to information. Braille and Talking Books have been produced to assist people with print disabilities, but these efforts are a constant battle to keep up with the growing number of print books published each year and these efforts have been only partially effective. Now, with the emergence of electronic books for the general populace, we have a tremendous opportunity to automatically give persons with disabilities access to the new age of electronic books.

From the Publishing Perspective

While the blind and print disabled population is small, there are many laws and regulations that place demands on publishers. In the United States, in elementary, high school, and most recently in college markets, publishers are required by a growing number of states to provide electronic files to be used in the production of accessible versions of their books. This need can be met by electronic books that are designed properly. In fact, these individuals would become a small portion of the market for the publisher.

The product that is universally designed meets the needs of the mainstream population better than a poor design. For example, people driving to work could choose to listen to an electronic book presented through speech during their commute. They could switch to a visual presentation at other times. It may prove that more and more people choose electronic books that are versatile and allow alternative access methods. In short, it is in the best interest of publishing to embrace universal design in the industry.

NISO Work on Digital Talking Books

A committee of the United States based National Information Standards Organization (NISO), in conjunction with the Internationally known DAISY Consortium, is working on a specification for Digital Talking Books. This will serve as the next generation of information technology for persons who are blind and print disabled. At the heart of this specification is an XML DTD that incorporates the elements of structure needed to provide access to information. The specification goes on to define how the textual information can be synchronized with digitally recorded human speech through Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), a recommendation of the W3C. The specification identifies six classes of books that have varying amounts of text mixed with audio. Most significantly, one class of book contains only text, with no recorded human speech. Access to the information would be through synthetic speech, refreshable braille or dynamically generated large print.

Open Electronic Book Initiative

On September 21, 1999 the Open Electronic Book (OEB) forum announced their 1.0 specification as a formal recommendation (standard) for electronic books. There was outstanding cooperation in this group with the disabled community and this XML implementation is a great first step toward a truly universally designed specification. However, ther are many differences between the OEB 1.0 recommendation and that which was developed in the NISO process mentioned above.

eBook Japan Initiative

A Japanese electronic publishing group consisting of publishers, printing industry representatives, and book stores launched a pilot project of multimedia electronic books supported by the Ministery of Trade and Industry of Japan. The pilot project aims to establish standards for electronic book publishing that will accommodate versatile scripts of Japanese and other languages. The pilot will be finished in March 2000. The Japanese eBook specification is based on XML and is being developed to meet the requirements of various user groups including people with disabilities. The pilot project will produce 5,000 titles available at the participating book stores. Dedicated hand-held viewers which do not have sound output at the moment are being distributed among participating consumers.

Converging Standard

The OEB has talked about the next specification that will be produced. There is recognition that the 1.0 specification is designed to make it easy for legacy documents to be converted. As publishers author their data with both electronic books and print books in mind, their markup requirements will be met by a more sophisticated markup scheme. The OEB 2.0 efforts, eBook Japan, and the NISO efforts for Digital Talking Books should meld into a single universal design specification for electronic books. We are asking for a commitment from interested participating parties to agree to work together on this goal.

What Should You Do?

If you agree that the standards for electronic books should converge, and if you agree that you will work toward the goal of universal design of electronic books, please ask to be put on the list of supporters of this activity. Simply send an email to George Kerscher and your name and organization will be placed on the list of supporters. We are looking for support from the key players in the industry.

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This page was last edited by DAISY1 on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 17:34
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