Come discuss practical issues in accessibility and universal design for eBooks, possibilities conflicts and concerns. According to the 2005 U.S. census data, around 12% of people age 15 to 21 have some type of disability. At least a tird of this number have print disabilities (blind or low vision, learning disabilities, ADHD) that require the students to use alternative formats of instructional material (Braille, large print, highlighting, speech, or a combination). To these students the eBooks can represent the biggest revolution since the invention of the large printing press or Braille .. (only the latter is an actual technology). Instead of waiting for months while a hard working member of Disability Student Services painstakingly and manually encodes the text books into the appropriately accessible format, and then start catching up with their class mates two weeks before the final, they could purchase an eBook, load it onto their assistive hardware and player (or view it in their web browser) and start studying. Scanning has certainly replaced the manual work for many types of text books, but we still have no good solution for texts containing STEM material. Scanning and OCR software does not catch all the nuances inherent in the non-linear nature of math equations and formulas, and the only way to ensure accuracy is either to offer a non-graphical representation of the STEM information (such as using standards like MathML) which assistive technology can decode into user appropriate formats, or continue the slow and painstaking manual work, that has become so 20th century.
A vision of an exciting, digital and accessible future is achievable, but only if publishers, academic professionals, government and assistive technology providers get together and discuss file formats, copyright and DRM issues and other important matters. Those interested in these issues are encouraged to come sit down and have a discussion. I am hoping to see some important folks in the accessibility arena attend and I also plan to take notes that I could communicate back to the Department of Education as input into their work of standardization and legal framework of the future. I will have my laptop with my braille display and assistive technology loaded, so those who are wondering how blind students access STEM material can get a quick demo, time permitting.
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