Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

Reid My Mind Radio: A Career Launched from Print Disability

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Happy New year! Hopefully you my favorite Reider (my name for any Reid My Mind Radio listener or reader of Reid My Mind.com) is well rested and revived following your holiday and hopefully time spent with loved ones.

Today on the podcast, an interview with George Kerscher the creator and founder of Computerized Books for the Blind and Print Disabled.

For those who weren’t around for this company before it became part of what is now known as Learning Ally, you’re probably familiar with DAISY books like those available from the National Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, E-Pub, or Bookshare. If you’re a person impacted by vision loss or some other print disability, Mr. Kerscher has directly impacted your access to information.

Plus, his practical advice taken from his own experience adjusting to vision loss is in itself worth the listen.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

GK:
Judy Dickson who works at the library of Congress she said if you like puzzles, if you like solving problems being blind is just great.

TR:
I’m pretty sure that this quote doesn’t refer to games but rather the life puzzles and challenges that come with living in a world with the dominant form of communication assumes you have a pair of perfectly functioning eyes. Today’s guest on the podcast has spent a career working to improve access to print for people with disabilities. Before we get into that, Happy New Year! Now you know we can’t start this show without the theme music.

[Reid my mind radio’s theme music plays]

TR:
Allow me to introduce you to George Kerscher. Mr. Kerscher has been a key figure in improving access to printed material for people with vision loss around the world. In fact, his role was significant enough that he was named the 1998 innovator of the year by USA News and World Report. His career in accessibility began with his own vision loss due to Retinitis pigmentosa.

GK:
I didn’t learn about it until I was 21 back in 1971. The prediction was that I be blind in 5 years. I ended up meeting my wife and we go out on the first date, I said “well you know I have a bad knee, I got a bad shoulder and oh by the way I am going to go blind”. It was full disclosure on the first day. After we got married, we took three months off and in 1974 we went all over Europe with the backpack and the Euro Pass. In 1977, I was declared legally blind. I was fired from my first job because of blindness. I was finishing furniture I worked for an antique store. I went to Social Rehabilitation Services and I said “Can you help me?” They arranged for an eye exam and I was declared legally blind.

TR:
George went back to school and became a teacher. Which is where he remained until he could no longer fulfill a promise he made to himself.

GK:
If my blindness ever prevented me from being the best teacher possible, I would quit. I don’t want to do anything that wasn’t really great.

TR:
George returned to school and this time pursues a master degree in computer science. He made use of magnification and until that proved to be limiting because of painful headaches. The only accessible textbook was produced by recordings for the blind; however, they didn’t produce any of the books he needed for his master level course work. He began using human readers to help complete his work.

GK:
It was at that time that I just met an author and he was doing a lecture. He said “Well you know, I don’t have the files. The publisher has the files”. I wrote letters to several publishers asking them for the files that drove the printing press. This was in 1987, I had a publisher that sent me 3 diskettes and I looked at them and it was all garbage. And, I threw them in the drawer and I finished my course work for that semester and over Christmas break I pulled those files out and I started to write software that could convert them to the first digital book. Took a couple of weeks to write the programs but by the beginning of 1988, I had three books. One on Word Perfect, Lotus 123, and D-Base. And I had brought these up on the screens and had the screen reader read them to me and I just said “Oh my god, this is just fabulous! This is absolutely amazing!” I got in touch with Microsoft and kind of asked them for the same kind of things. People at Microsoft and other places would say “you know blind people have been asking for this for a long time”. I wasn’t the first one to think of this, of course. They said “but we don’t have any place that we could go to, to provide these materials for people who were blind”. I contacted recordings for the blind and they said we don’t do that, we do audio recordings, we are not interested. So I wrote back into Microsoft and said “I just started a company that would provide this to blind people and I call it Computerized Books for the Blind”. They sent a contract with a copyright release for all of Microsoft Corp. and all of Microsoft Press to do all their materials, a blanket copyright release. This was 8 years before the Chafee Amendment and the copyright exceptions were passed but I had literally the right to produce any of the Microsoft documentation and get it out to people.

TR:
George’s reaction for not having access in comparison to his new improve method for reading course materials…

GK:
It was just torturous for not having access to the information.

TR:
In 1988, George began Computerized Books for the Blind under the University of Montana. As in often the case, accessibility accommodations prove to have benefits that extend to more than just to an originally targeted audience.

GK:
I had a fair number of people with Dyslexia that had contacted me and asked if they can use these materials as well. And, I said well sure, no problem because I had a copyright release that allowed me to send to literally anyone with a disability, the copyright release was very broad. So I added the print disabled that coined the term ‘Print Disability’ which is a word that is commonly used today.

TR:
George put about 10,000 from his own savings into Computerized Books for the blind and Print Disabled. After hearing about the company’s impacted, Recordings for the blind later changed their opinions on digital books. They offered to absorb the company.

GK:
July 1, 1991was the first paycheck I got from 5 years. Boy that was great. Later they changed their name to Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Tell me how this became what we all know as DAISY.

GK:
The library serving the blind saw the writing on the wall about cassettes going away and going to a digital format was something that they were very interested in. So they formed a consortium in 1996 called the DAISY Consortium. Half a dozen aid companies in Canada, Europe and Japan that wanted to develop a digital format and they called it the Digital Audio Information System. A few years later it became, Digital Accessible Information System. They needed to figure out how to take analog recordings and digitalized them. I believed that if we were going to do something with digitalized audio books that you had to have the possibility to synchronize texts and audio. And, also have a navigation system that would allow you to move to headings and pages. There was a conference I attended in Sweden, I attended in ‘97. They were talking about this proprietary audio format. Mark Hanken, he is now with ETS, Educational Testing Service and I went to that meeting and we had this long prepared document about how this approach to proprietary system was wrong. And, we were like the 6th or 7th speaker and every one of the speakers who came before us said the same thing that we were going to say. So we just stood up and got to a white board and started explaining. In two months, I was hired as the first employee of the DAISY Consortium. We did such a good job on that, trying to get into the next generation with EPub is one of the barriers. People are saying “Why do we need anything else if we are making an audiobook, the DAISY format is just fine”. Now we are trying to move people more into the mainstream so that the mainstream products are accessible right out of the box.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What do you see in terms of the future for folks with print disabilities?

GK:
I think that we are real close to essentially having all textual contexts being access. We should be there; there is no reason that shouldn’t be access out of the box. Same thing with all textual contexts in textbook materials and websites and learning management systems. All of that stuff should be accessible. The hard parts like the data visualization, photographs, we are seeing a lot of good progress on facial recognition and photograph interpretation automatically. I think we have a long way to go there, I think it is going to be important for educators to identify the concepts that are being communicated in a particular visualization. Newton’s Law of Motion is in every physics book and each physics book has a different visualization but the underlining concept is the same. And, we should be able to identify that concept and the person should be able to go to like image share from book share from Benetech is an initiative where we are trying to get those concepts and if you want to learn that concept you can just go here and learn the same concept at image share that has been treated to be fully accessible. And address the needs of people with disabilities as this visualization of a pool table that is in the book. Log motion of pool table or marbles or planets it is all the same principle that I think we can refer people to. This is all with personalization of educational materials; I think that is going to be very important as we move forward.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
There has been a lot of improvement with people with print disabilities but there are still several challenges. PDF’s, are coming out of Enterprise programs, different companies, various different things. And, they are supposed to be accessible but often it’s not. Will DAISY end up being something that could help that?

GK:
Yes, absolutely. When PDF came about in the mid-90s, it was a printer driver format; PDF is the name, Printer Driver Format. The marketing people at Adobe changed it to a portal document format.
Fundamentally PDF is a huge problem. I would like to see PDF use for its intended purpose which is printing but you got something is intended for human’s consumption use a EPub. The mobile movement now is everyone reading on tablets and phones is the biggest reason for companies ditching PDF. Reason for going from PDF to EPub is that you can use it anywhere, any size device and it’s reflowable and it is just a much better way to go.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
If you can access a book downloaded in the EPub format, those are accessible?

GK:
iBook, Google Play, Kobo… All of these companies, the publisher wants a single file that they can distribute into their distribution markets. So the trade books… novels and things are pretty straight forward because they are usually just paragraphs and straight texts. You get into a textbook science and math, you get into another level of complexity and that’s really where we think the certification comes in so that the publisher takes that table and makes sure it is a real text table and not a picture of a table. so publishers will do that and that is wrong and it will fail the accessibility conformities that we put together because it is a table that you should be able to read with a screen reader, you can’t read pictures with a screen reader. The publisher industry is excited about it, the USA there is a lot of legal requirements in education that the school needs to purchase access materials and that is really important.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
You sort of mention infographics and I know that it is supposed to be some sort of a picture is I guess symbolic to something and it is taking information and making it easier to understand by using pictures but what other than that, why is it so popular in the internet and what are folks doing to make it accessible?

GK:
Okay so first of all it’s a great question, we hear a lot about big data, data visualization, and infographics. I like data visualization, in the simplest forms if you think of a pie chart where you got some information about cars sold in the United States and how many Chevy, how many fords, how many Chevrolet, how many by Toyota and who got the biggest market share and say you have ten companies with their statistics and there is a ton of statistics that go to make up the pie chart and it is easy to see when you have this pie and there is this big chunk of the pie that says Ford and this small chunk of the pie that says Honda, it is easy to visual that this has the biggest market share. That is an example of data visualization, it’s automatically generated by things like excel and statistical packages, SAS and others will take the data that they got and create this visualization that makes it easy to see the trends in this data. Benetech book share is the company that does book share but they do other things as well. They have a grant from the department of education called the diagraph project to try and work on issues like this. That picture is generated by data and so we can go backwards and try to get the data and try to get the information about the data and have it presented directly to the person through text and speech. What is the meaning of these things and the scatter plot? I think that data visualization can potentially is one of the greatest benefits for people that are blind that is out there cause some much is presented visually but that data is there and can be presented in different ways than just visual. We heard about sonification, I saw Ed Summers from SAS did a presentation in …. Where he had this scatterplot divided into nine parts like a tic-tac-toe and he could press on each part of that tic-tac-toe and it will explain the data that is underneath it. And that was fabulous; he just unfolded that data visualization as texts and presented the underlying to me. It was great. I am concerned about the complexity of all of these things where I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all of the time. Most of the times I win but boy you know it is complicated and my concern is that these interfaces and how to use the technology gets to be so complicated that average people have a hard time using it.

TR:
Being concerned about the challenges that computers present the average person doesn’t stop George from getting his hands on the latest technology.

GK:
I use GPS apps and they are very good. But with the AIRA glasses it is actually a human being looking at the video of what is in front of you. Walking up to my son’s house that is a mile away, heading up there and I had the glasses on and of course there is road construction that blocked by path and we had a pretty significant detour if I just was using GPS, then I would have just abandon that trip.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Computerized Books for the blind and Print Impaired began with not only George’s need for access but much more importantly what sounds to me like a bit of self-advocacy.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What made you think that they would send you the disks in the first place?

GK:
Well, at this point in time, every publisher was using computers to format and publish and it was driving their printing processes. I knew that it existed and it was I am blind, I am a student, and I need these books, can you send them to me?

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
I am thinking about those people who can be listening that are new to vision loss and your life path some of it might been dictated by vision loss but I am wondering also the other way around in terms of the things you done. How have they impacted your adjustment?

GK:
[sighs], I was denying that I was going blind, I would do downhill skiing with guidance and two way radios but I would never put a vest on that said blind. I would put on visually impaired. I avoided the ‘b’ word; I didn’t use a cane for a while. Hopefully it is a fully incident where you get into a situation where someone knew if I was blind, it would have been a lot easier. I don’t know if you want to put this on the air but I was at a basketball game and went to the men’s room and there was this urinal with a clear plastic on it and a little sign up of above that says Out of Order. Well it was opened and I just walked up to it and the guy next to me was like 6’8” and weighed 300lbs and he was really mad at me. Well the next day, I started to carry a cane. It just helps. I have seen people who are blind and they are pretty good at accepting it but they are always hoping for a cure. It is great to hope for a cure but you should not build your life around it. You should charge forward with what you got right now and do the best you can. Solving problems all the time, listening to people who already solved the problems learn from them on how to get things done. Cane is super important, your navigation skills. You can’t get a guide dog at least from Guide Dogs for the Blind unless you got adequate mobility skills to get you around. A dog is wonderful, they are fast but you got to have those fundamental cane skills that come first. Don’t let yourself become sad over vision loss just say okay this is it and go forward.

TR:
Allow me to send a sincere thank you to anyone who has ever benefited from a digital book. All of those students who didn’t have to worry about finding people who could read their textbooks for them and subsequently probably had a better educational experience. Anyone who like myself after vision loss who yearned for a faster way of navigating through a book and all that comes from all that improved access. Let me echo Mr. Kerscher and encourage you all to go forward and subscribe to this podcast. It is called Reid My Mind radio and you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune in Radio, and of course Reidmymind.com. So hear me now, believe me later. This podcast is becoming more popular every day and I will tell you the secret.

GK:
Yeah, I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all the time. Most of the time, I win but boy you know it is complicated.

[Reid my mind Radio’s outro music plays]

TR:
Peace.

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