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Blind Readers Benefit with Internet Archive's Text-to-Speech Effort

brailleWhile most of us continue to "ooh" and "ahh" over the flood of books that have been newly digitized for iPads and e-readers, blind bibliophiles are confined to the comparatively piddling collection of digitized books published in formats accessible to them. San Francisco's Internet Archive, however, has undertaken an ambitious digital archiving project to make sure that blind and dyslexic readers aren't left behind in the e-book bonanza. According to organization founder Brewster Kahle, the project will make a full million books available online to the visually impaired, thanks to a team that has already begun scanning thousands of titles into formats that can be read by most text-to-speech conversion programs.

As Yahoo! explains, most of the books that are digitized nowadays don't come in forms easily accessible to visually impaired readers, and those that are made for the blind are usually restricted to best-selling titles from recent years. If Kahle and his team are successful, blind readers will soon have fingertip access to a much deeper literary library, something that the blind community has been sorely missing. National Federation of the Blind president Marc Maurer estimates that only about 5-percent of all published books are currently available in a format that's readable for the visually impaired, and that even fewer are produced in Braille. With the Internet Archive's new free online library, Maurer remains confident that blind students will no longer have to rely upon having classmates read textbooks to them. "That has been the way most students have gotten through school," explains Maurer. "This kind of initiative by the Internet Archive will change that for many people."

For visually impaired readers, the major appeal of an expansive online library is simple and obvious: choice. Jessie Lorenz, an associate director at the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco, has been blind since birth. For as long as she can remember, the only books she's been able to read have been the select few that have been scanned by institutions or service groups. Now, however, she's eager to dive into the edgier, more controversial works in Kahle's library, which she calls "groundbreaking." Lorenz elaborates, "This project will enable people like me to choose what we read." And when she puts it that way, it's hard to think of a cause more noble than the one Kahle and his organization are spearheading. [From: Yahoo!]

Tags: accessibility, archive, blind, books, braille, brewster kahle, BrewsterKahle, dyslexia, e-book, e-reader, internet archive, InternetArchive, library, top, VisuallyImpaired, web