Dominique Burger - Part 2
Dominique Burger's connection with and commitment to DAISY go back to the 1990's. In Part 1 of his story, he told us about how he became interested in accessible information and about a number of the projects and activities in which he was involved. In Part 2 of his story, Dominique moves into the period in his life with the DAISY Consortium and the DAISY Standard. He also shares his thoughts about the future and why he believes that attitudes toward accessible information should change.
(This is the second part of a two-part story)
PART 2: My story with DAISY
My first memory about DAISY is a panel presentation of the International Committee for Accessible Document Design (ICADD) at the World Congress on Technology in Washington, December 1991. In fact, at that time, DAISY actually did not yet exist. But a few forward-thinking speakers, among them a certain George Kerscher, were claiming that computer-based publishing, through adaptive computer technology for persons with disabilities, was offering the potential to make printed information accessible simultaneously and at no greater cost. DAISY was to be launched some years later, but this was already incredibly exciting!
In 1996 when the DAISY Consortium was formed in Stockholm, I was particularly impressed by their objective to establish a standard for digital books for people who have a print disability and to develop appropriate tools to support that standard. Since then the work done by DAISY has structured much of my work, particularly in promoting universal access to reading, which is one of the goals of BrailleNet.
From the Hélène Server to the Hélène Library
From 1998 to 2000 I took part in the European project SEDODEL (Secure Document Delivery). The objective was to explore affordable solutions for distributing accessible electronic copyrighted books. In 1999, Bruno Marmol from INRIA – Institut National de la Recherche en Informatique et Automatique (the National Institute of Research in Informatics and Automatics) joined BrailleNet to help us launch our first digital library of accessible books in text formats. At first we distributed only books from the public domain over the Internet in HTML format.
We were keen to be able to offer recent titles that readers wanted. As France had no legal exception for people with a print disability (and many other countries at that time did) the only authorized approach was to contract with publishers. This is what we did, though it was not a straightforward process. We had to convince publishers one by one. We received our first authorizations to distribute copyrighted books, but only to organizations producing braille or large print versions of books. That was in 2000. We called this service the Hélène Server.
At BrailleNet we were also researching more solid solutions based on XML, making it possible to structure complex contents and to produce various output formats, including HTML, Braille, and possibly audio. We therefore greeted the publication of the DAISY 3.0 Standard in 2002 with great enthusiasm; we immediately adopted DTBook (DAISY XML) to store and produce the different formats available to our users. BrailleNet joined the DAISY Consortium as an Associate Member that same year.
Since then we have continued to develop the Hélène Server and the tools that allow us to convert files into DTBook XML, along with the methods used to protect and distribute books in collaboration with the DAISY Consortium.
In 2005 the confidence of publishers in our solutions had grown significantly. We had contracts with most major French publishers. It was then much easier to convince them that electronic distribution to readers who were visually impaired was possible using secured distribution standards, and that it was not a threat to their interests. A secure exchange protocol was developed and implemented on the IRIS Braille device with the company EuroBraille as part of the Vickie European project. We also had many organizations in the project producing accessible books, and some of them were very active in 'feeding' the server. This made it possible to open the Hélène Library early in 2006.
The French legal framework since 2006
There were only a few hundred titles available in the first Hélène Library and only one reading platform. Nonetheless, at that time, this achievement had a real impact on the discussions that had taken place between disability organizations, publishers and public authorities about a modification of the copyright legislation that would be more favorable to people with print disabilities.
This happened mid 2006 when the new legislation granting exemption from copyright for recognized disability organizations producing accessible books was introduced. Under this new law, recognized organizations could request digital files used by publishers in the production of books from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (the French national library). As a result publishers would be legally obliged to provide digital files within two months for all books published after 2006 (ultimately this will be extended to ten years after publication).
This came into real effect following the publication of the application decree in June 2010. BrailleNet was the first organization to be recognized as part of this scheme. We still use the production chain developed originally for the Hélène Server and Library, (although it is regularly updated). We have also developed automatic converters producing DAISY XML from XML files provided by publishers. These converters reduce the amount of time and effort required to produce a large number of DAISY XML books, even books that are highly structured, to almost nothing. In 2011 we developed DAISY XML to audio converters based on Text-To-Speech, so that all of our titles are now also available as DAISY 3 digital talking books.
Sadly, no format is specified for the provision of files by publishers. As a result only 20 to 30% of files received are in XML and most are in PDF format which we process by optical character recognition (OCR). When a book has been published before 2006 or if digital files are not available, the files are created by scanning the paper publications.
In 2011, with these processes in place and with the equivalent of 1.5 persons per year creating the content, BrailleNet produced approximately 1,500 adapted books in DAISY XML.
Promoting DAISY in France
Over all of these years, BrailleNet has played an active role in promoting DAISY in France. For example, during Markus Gylling's visit to France to participate in our annual conference in April 2003, we organized an information session with a number of organizations responsible for producing accessible books. BrailleNet has also organized several seminars promoting DAISY. In 2009 we focused efforts on the creation of a single body of DAISY-France organizations. And in 2010 Valentin Haüy Association, the Fédération des Aveugles de France, Sesame, the Groupement des Intellectuels Aveugles et Amblyopes, and BrailleNet formed DAISY France, and became a new Full Member of the DAISY Consortium.
Directions for the future
Mainstream accessible books in EPUB 3.0
Over the years and as a result of the rehabilitation engineering projects I've been involved in, I have come to realize that the issues related to print accessibility are not dissimilar to those related to the accessibility of multimedia content. The close cooperation between DAISY and the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum, and the recent release of EPUB 3.0 in October 2011 make it even more obvious. That specification includes the necessary elements for accessibility.
Like many, I am convinced that there are no more significant technical reasons why publishers shouldn't be able to publish a significant number of titles in such a way that they are accessible from the outset. I believe that this also creates the conditions for a complete paradigm change and that many of our attitudes will need to change.
All of the 'players' should rethink what access to information by people who have a print disability really means. Publishers should be inclined to consider this community as potential customers rather than outsiders or possibly abusers of copyright holders' rights. Organizations which, over decades, have built their reputation on producing adapted versions of books should realize that they may need to redefine their mission. They should determine how they can develop their expertise to add accessibility features to existing commercial content, rather than redesigning that content from scratch. They could also provide technical and commercial assistance to publishers to create and market their publications which are accessible to everyone. Finally, public authorities should encourage this evolution by appropriate measures such as legislation, public procurement, and financial support for the development of best practices, for example.
At BrailleNet, we are at the intersection between these 'players'. We are in discussions with all of them, and are ready to help them realize the incredible potential these changes can bring.
Through the Hélène project, BrailleNet has been in contact with many French-speaking organizations, researching ways for greater sharing of DAISY resources. The question of cross-border exchange between organizations ruled by different copyright legislations is of great importance to us. This is why BrailleNet decided to participate in the TIGAR project which is the result of close collaboration between the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and organizations representing people with a print disability, authors and publishers.
I believe there is still a great deal to explore to find out how not-for-profit organizations and publishers can cooperate in order to significantly reduce the book famine on this earth, especially in countries where the ICT is still emerging. I'll be happy to continue to modestly contribute to this work.
The next European eAccessibility Forum conference (eAccessibility at the core of information systems) will take place March 26, in Paris. Markus Gylling, CTO for the DAISY Consortium and for the IDPF, will be one of the speakers.