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Volume 2, No. 1, 2003
Welcome to Access Info, the bulletin of the Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians. Access Info is published irregularly in the following formats: e-text, large-print and Web, with Braille and audiotape on-demand. The bulletin highlights the Council's work and expands the network of support, expertise and development in the area of access to information for Canadians who are print disabled. To this end, articles can be copied for other purposes as long as acknowledgement is given. Additional information on the Council can be found on its Website www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/accessinfo/index-e.html.
Trevor Clayton, Staff Writer
Library and Archives Canada
The Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians welcomes two new members to its table, Neil Graham, IBM's leading developer for the new C++XML parser, and Jacqueline Hushion, Executive Director of the Canadian Publishers' Council (CPC).
Although Neil Graham and Jacqueline Hushion come from different professional backgrounds in providing information to consumers, their goals are united by the Council's priority of establishing a clearinghouse (or one reference point) for alternate-format materials for print-disabled Canadians.
To be able to create an alternate format in a timely fashion, an alternate-format producer must work from an electronic copy of the text.
"One of the complaints we most often hear is that it takes forever to negotiate arrangements and acquire the electronic copy," said Jacqueline Hushion. "In the case of a student, the course may be half over. We really want to expedite."
Jacqueline Hushion was on the original Book and Periodical Council task force within the publishing industry that did research on the feasibility of a clearinghouse to provide materials for the visually impaired. Neil Graham was chair of the CCD (Council of Canadians with Disabilities) Access to Information working group for a number of years and also participated on the original Book and Periodical Council study that helped to create the idea of the clearinghouse back in 1997-1998.
"The clearinghouse is about providing one central location that talks to publishers on the one hand to get standardized electronic text from them, probably in XML (extensible mark-up language - a way of structuring documents), and then alternate-format producers on the other hand that will take the XML files (or electronic files) and produce them as Braille, tape, large print, all those kinds of formats that we can use," said Neil Graham, who is himself visually impaired.
Along with a strong consumer perspective and a background in access to information issues, Neil Graham will bring technical skills to the proceedings when XML and its related technologies are discussed.
"XML is used in an unbelievable variety of applications, from electronic publishing to everything from how you get data from a Web server to a database, to bio-computational applications for the storage of information about genomes," explained Neil Graham. "Any possible application of data these days tends to involve XML in some respect."
Coming from an entirely different perspective to the establishment of a clearinghouse is Jacqueline Hushion, who will represent the publisher's need to secure copyright protection before texts are made electronically accessible.
"If you put something up there in cyberspace it goes 'poof,' and it's gone," she said. "When you lose something, you've really lost it. On the other hand, all the publishers agree that we collectively have to address this issue."
According to Jacqueline Hushion, publishers are more than determined to see as much information as possible made available to the print-disabled community without sacrificing copyright. Several of the publishers represented by CPC (which include Random House, HarperCollins and Canada Law Book) were involved in an intranet project that provided blind law students at the University of Ottawa with access to course content, and a number of them have produced large-print materials or otherwise demonstrated a capacity and capability for taking the initiative towards the creation of a single, alternate-format reference centre.
"I think the expectations of me are to build a bridge between the disabled who need access and producers and creators who obviously have concerns about protecting their copyright," she said.
Neil Graham is appreciative of the need for Jacqueline Hushion's representation and regards copyright as a significant issue, if not a progressive one.
"Being blind, of course I have a very strong interest in these things personally, but being a software developer, I'm certainly sensitive to publishers' needs to control their intellectual property," acknowledged Neil Graham. "For an electronic text to work, there have to be ways of incorporating effective digital rights-management schemes. I think that's true. On the other hand, I'd like information to be available as freely as possible, especially electronic information because I think electronic information not only benefits the print-disabled community but is a tremendous benefit for the general community as well."
Today, the variety of modalities for the print-disabled community to receive information is wide and broadening. There are synthesizers, which allow one to hear synthesized speech piped through a sound card; there are refreshable Braille displays and Braille pictures; and there are talking book readers that use digital input and XML-based standards rather than tapes.
Many of these technologies have been around for a very long time. Braille displays have been around for almost 25 years and synthesized speech for almost 20, but according to Neil Graham, the most exciting development related to the clearinghouse is the advent of things like XML, which make information interchange and information transformation so much easier.
As for the Council, both Neil Graham and Jacqueline Hushion are eager to face the challenges that lie ahead.
"I'm thrilled and feel privileged to be at the table because I represent the interests of a lot of producers of content. I'm glad to be part of the bridge between the producer/creator community and those who have access issues," said Jacqueline Hushion.
"This is my first year," said Neil Graham. "But I certainly plan to be here for a while, and obviously with the integration of the NLC [National Library of Canada] and the National Archives there's certainly lots of work to be done."
The development of a vision for a clearinghouse for print-disabled Canadians began in 1998 with the report to the Book and Periodical Council entitled Options for Making Published Materials More Accessible to the Visually Impaired.
In 2000, the Task Force on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians submitted the report Fulfilling the Promise: Report of the Task Force on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/accessinfo/005003-4300-e.html in which it recommended that the Government of Canada establish and fund a clearinghouse for e-text to which Canadian publishers must make their works available.
As a result of this recommendation, the Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians is engaged in the development of a pilot project for a clearinghouse for e-text through which Canadian publishers make their works available to alternate format producers. The Council is also involved in initiatives designed to facilitate interlibrary loans and encourage the sharing of materials in alternate formats. The aim is to have as much material as possible - in the appropriate format - in the hands of print-disabled Canadians in a timely and affordable manner.
The Clearinghouse Will
The full report Vision and Implementation Plan for a Clearinghouse for Print-Disabled Canadians can be found on the Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians' Website at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/accessinfo/005003-3000-05-2003-e.html.
Library and Archives Canada supports the work of the Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians and its efforts to ensure that access to information is a reality for all Canadians. For more information on the Council, contact:
Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians Secretariat:
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0N4
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