ATU240 – Comparing book services with Scott Davert, Top 10 Assistive Technology Stories of 2015


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Comparing book services with Scott Davert of AppleVis and HKNC | | @scottdavert
Top 10 stories on for 2015
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——-transcript follows ——


SCOTT DAVERT: From, I’m Scott Davert with this week’s — Oh, wait. From, this is Scott Davert welcoming you to this week’s assistive technology update.

WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Happy new year and welcome to episode number 241 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to released on New Year’s Day 2016.

Today my guest is Scott Debord with AppleVis and we are going to talk about the different kinds of books services are that are out there and also we are going to recap the top 10 stories that come across our website this year, the stuff you guys that was most interesting.

We hope you’ll check out our website at, call our listener line at 317-721-7124, or drop us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project.

As we ring out 2015 and ring in 2016, we thought it might be fun to go back and revisit the most popular content that we created this year. Here is the most popular stuff that came out of our shop this year.

The very first one was a story that happened just at the tail end of last year. It was during the holiday season and the title was 10 accessible gift ideas for friends or family who are blind or visually impaired.

The next one was something a little unusual for us. We don’t tend to spend a lot of time on medical devices, but we had a thing come out last year, and it appeared on our blog in May, called Airing, which is a CPAP device, continuous positive air pressure device, that helps people who have sleep apnea and related things to do better. People who use CPAP’s often complain about all the hoses and wires and discomfort related to that. Airing was a device that was really popular, people asking a lot of questions about, which gets rid of all of the hoses. It’s a self-contained castle power device that still provides the positive airway pressure but without all of the hoses. I’m going to pop a link to all of the stories in the show notes so that you can go back and check them out. The Airing CPAP device was also in our top 10.

Another popular story that came across our website happened in June, and the headline was the top five things to consider when designing an accessible kitchen for users of wheelchairs. This was a pretty cool blog post that was written by Nikol Prieto who is our outreach coordinator. Here are the things she said folks might want to consider when you are designing an accessible kitchen. The first one is the work surface and counter height to make sure that they are positioned in such a way that a wheelchair user can get access to them. She also talked about kitchen sinks and if you’re going to use the kitchen sink from a wheelchair, it’s really best if you have an open space beneath that sink so you have a place to put your chair and relax. She talked about kitchen wall cabinets and how, if they go all the way to the ceiling, there’s a lot of storage up there but it’s kind of hard to reach from the wheelchair, so making sure those kitchen wall cabinets are positioned in a way that they are easier to get access to. She talked about – and this is kind of a no-brainer – but doorways and hallways that need to be wide enough. In fact, 36 inches makes it accessible, but 42 inches is even more comfortable and gives you a lot more room to work with. She talked about the height of appliances and the fact that if appliances are too high up you can’t reach them. She talked about having appliances installed around 31 inches from the floor. She even has some photographs there of some of the equipment that’s been the start that way. And then the other extras that she had in the article were talking about placing electrical outlets lower but no lower than 15 inches off the floor so that you can still get access to those. She talked about thinking about glare when you’re doing lighting so that you create safe and pleasant environments. Also making sure that switches like light switches and thermostats are installed no higher than 48 inches off the floor. Tons of technical detail, lots of good stuff there in that one which was the top five things to consider when designing an accessible kitchen for wheelchair users.

The next one on our list of the most popular stories from 2015 was an episode of the show, in fact episode number 222 where I interviewed Mark Riker from the AFB about the 21st Century Communications and video accessibility act, or the CVAA. In addition to a lot of great news stories, we spent a lot of time talking about the impact of this important legislation that cover things like making sure that cell phones that have web browsers built in our accessible and also the increasing requirements to make sure that video content is described, so the visual elements in television and other video programming have an audio description for folks who are blind or visually impaired to get a better idea what’s happening on the screen.

In a similar vein, our number five story for 2015, thermostats for people with low vision. We have a whole list here of thermostats that work well for people who are having trouble seeing them. They talk about the Honeywell easy to see thermostat, the Kelvin talking thermostat, and the visually impaired programmable talking thermostat. We provide information in that story about where to buy them, how they work, and why are there more accessible. That one was written by Lauren Metcalf, came out back in April.

The next dory we kind of take a turn into a different direction. Back in July, Laura Metcalf who is our social media content specialist did a very popular story called stim-tastic, affordable toys for stimming behavior. In the first part of the article, she clarifies that people who have certain disabilities, often people on the autism spectrum, will do stimming, or self stimulating behavior. That’s one of those stereotypical behaviors where people with autism rock or spin or do hand flapping or repeat words and phrases and those kinds of things. She found a company called Stimtastic that has all kinds of affordable toys that work with those behaviors. She talks about a thing called magnetic thinking putty, which is a little bit like silly putty but is magnetic. She talks about regular thinking putty, which is one of those non-residue putties but doesn’t have the magnetic twist on it. Then she talks about a thing called the brain twist puzzle. It’s a fidget, one of those toys that allows you to fidget with your hands. In addition to being something to keep your hand busy, it’s also a puzzle that needs to be solved. She talks about spiral color in motion, infinite bubblewrap iPhone cases, infinite popping Edamame keychain charms, and even a handheld chewable elephant, which isn’t something you would eat for a snack but it is a food grade silicone that has no taste and no odor and is something that folks can chew on it that’s what they are stim behavior involves. She also talks about a thing called the Klixx Fidget, which is a colorful, going to the toy that allows you to move it around, we shape into different shapes, and it clicks are pops every time you move it around which provides that auditory as well as kinesthetic feedback. Interesting stuff there, Stimtastic toys for people who have that self stimulating need.

The next three stories on our list are all podcast episodes. They are all episodes of the show that include interviews. The first one was way back in February, and that’s when we interviewed Dan Hubble and Brett Humphrey from Microsoft. We had an extensive interview with them to talk about Windows 10 and the accessibility features that were going to come out with that. Then also in September we talked with David McNaughton from the RERC on AAC, which is the Rehab Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication. We talked about how that unit and research center which is held at Penn State really work to further the field of comedic Asian systems for people who have disabilities. Lastly in September we interviewed the CEO of Komodo who was Morizio Meza. Komodo is a company that creates a product called the Tecla and the Tecla Shield, which allows you to have kind of an interesting way to access an iPad or other similar devices with switch access. That also, by the way, was an interesting time of the year when iOS 9 was coming out, and we were starting to figure out some of the accessibility bugs related to the iOS 9 operating system.

The last one on our list for 2015 was written by Laura Metcalf back in March, back in the springtime, and the title was 10 apps for children with learning and attention issues. We had some apps really targeted towards people who have dyslexia, ADHD, aphasia, even things related to visual impairment or math.

Those are our top stories from 2015 based on the amount of traffic we got on our website. We really try to come through on our promise of making sure that the most recent assistive technology information and the most interesting assistive technology information comes out of our shop here. I would encourage you to spend a little time poking around our website, In the show notes for this episode, I will include links to those top 10 stories so that you can find out what the most popular stuff was in 2015.


WADE WINGLER: I’m excited today to have our good friend Scott Davert, who is with AppleVis and Helen Keller and knows a ton about all things accessible media, with us today. He is one of our regular contributors, and today we are going to talk about different kinds of book services. Before we jump into that, Scott, how are you?

SCOTT DAVERT: I’m great, Wade. How are you? It’s great to be back doing something other than the app worth mentioning.

WADE WINGLER: First of all, thank you for doing that on a regular basis. I always get a big kick out of your app segments and it’s good to have the information you share. We appreciate having you on other bases.

SCOTT DAVERT: Thank you for having me. It’s fun to do, definitely.

WADE WINGLER: Scott, I want to talk a little bit about some of the book services that are out there like Book Share and Learning Ally and NLS and things like Kindle and Nook and iBooks and those kinds of things. I know that you have a pretty regular chance to do with those and you know more about them than I do. I thought we might start a little bit of this conversation with white it is important to have accessible book services like these and then who uses them.

SCOTT DAVERT: Sure. I think probably the first thing we want to do is categorize them as sort of specialized services versus nonspecialized. You have things like iBooks and Nook and Kindle which are all accessible for the most part on iOS, but those are mainstream services. Anyone can use them and the process for buying books and reading them is really not all that much different than what your regular mainstream user would use. Then you have things like National Library Services for the Blind and the Book Share and Learning Ally which you also mentioned. Those are specialized services, but they are still needed for a lot of different reasons, one of the overall reasons being that not all technology is created equally. Not all content is created equally. When you have a service like — we will use Learning Ally as an example. They do a lot of the educational textbooks. They are now even doing synchronized text and audio in some cases. It’s great because it’s a standard, that as long as it’s a book that has both audio and text, the way that the book is organized is always going to be the same. These services are developed to work on a wide range of assistive technology devices, whereas the mainstream things like Kindle and iBooks and such may not work 100 percent. That’s one of the really nice things about having the specialized services. The other is that publishers aren’t always good about, let’s say for example you have some kind of a table or chart or picture that has a caption. The caption doesn’t always explain to you what the picture is or how it is relevant to the text, and things like Learning Ally, they have readers notes which allow the reader to say, oh, this is a picture of the United States. Highlighted is the West Coast of the United States which includes California, Oregon, and Washington. Having those specialized formats allows the narrator to convey information that the reader may not be able to get when they are using a mainstream service.

WADE WINGLER: When we talk about the people who are using these books through these specialized services, are we talking only about folks who are blind or visually impaired, or are we a little broader than that?

SCOTT DAVERT: We are a little broader than that. It also includes people who have dyslexia. I know that the National Library Service, and I believe Book Share as well, any sort of print disability that you have, it may be you struggle with reading or maybe in some cases you struggle with turning pages. That’s pretty much the groups of people we are talking about with the specialized services.

WADE WINGLER: Some of them have some eligibility requirements. You can’t just set up without documenting some stuff. Can you take me to school on that a little bit?

SCOTT DAVERT: Sure. All of them have fairly similar requirements and that you have to verify that you have a print disability. Let’s say, for example, you are blind. Obviously that’s a print disability. You would have to get either a doctor’s note or some sort of verification that you are in fact someone who has a vision impairment. The same with dyslexia. It has to be some sort of verification. Usually it’s a signature from a professional, and you can fax that over to whichever service it is that you are looking to join. That’s just part of the process. They have to do that because of the way the copyright laws are written.

WADE WINGLER: I can’t think of the name of the law of the top of my head, but there is a law that specifically allows copyright to work differently in situations like this.

SCOTT DAVERT: I think it’s 17 USC 121 —

WADE WINGLER: [laughter]

SCOTT DAVERT: Not that I’ve ever heard of it or anything.

WADE WINGLER: Yeah, right. When people are using services like National Library Service or Book Share or Learning Ally, those kinds of things, what is the hardware and software and fought for accessing those kinds of things? Obviously there is a device; there’s some software; there is a book. How does that stuff work?

SCOTT DAVERT: It really depends on the service in question. Why don’t we just take all of those three one at a time? We will start with NLS, and again that’s the National Library Service for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. NLS has a lot of different types of material available, audio only, braille only, braille music, of course they do magazines in both BRS, which is the digital braille format as well as audio. That requires a special player, or you can also use an android tablet or an iDevice. What has to happen is, when you get a player, let’s say for example you are using a specialized player. There are a lot of people who still prefer those. I even still have the need for one. Let’s say for example the Blaze, which is something that the company called Hims is producing. He also had the Victor Reader Stream from humanware. There are a lot of the notetakers you have on the market also that have the ability to play these files. You have to get a key installed on your device before you can actually play the content on those different products. This is for NLS as well as Learning Ally. The difference there is that NLS does not allow you to play content on a PC or a Mac. There are ways to get the digital braille files to show up on a braille display, but not the audio content. You can’t make it play unfortunately. They both say both NLS and Learning Ally, that it’s 22 copyright restrictions and risk of copyright infringement. That’s their policy on it. That’s kind of what they do. With Book Share, that is an entirely different animal altogether.

The reason why is that NLS and Learning Ally have a large part of their focus on audio, whereas Book Share focuses more on text. You can download a book on your PC or your Mac, or pretty much any device will work on Book Share. It’s just a matter of what device it is you are using. You can download the different formats and use them. As long as you have something that can handle a zip file, you can pretty much just open Book Share content as you please. You have a little clause at the top of each book that says this content is for the person who has downloaded it, and it says who you are just in case you forgot. You also have what they call digital watermarks so that if you did try to distribute it for whatever reason, they could figure out who you are if they really wanted to. As far as Book Share and Benetech — that’s the parent company of Book Share – is concerned, I’m not a representative of them, but that’s how they kind of look at it. Their requirements are a bit less strict than the other two services. The other thing I want to talk about since we touched on formats is that Book Share has a wide array of formats available. What you would choose might depend on the type of content that you want to access. Say, for example, you want to do leisure reading so you’re reading the latest James Patterson novel, the latest John Corey book, Nelson DeMille is the author, that’s going to be text in there really is no need for any sort of representation of images in that. It’s pretty much straight text. You have a lot of different formats you could choose to download from. What you will choose will depend on what you have for a device. They had a help thing on the Book Share website that tells you, well, if you want to do this, this is probably the format you want to use, and if you want to that, you want to use this other format. For example, if you wanted to download to a notetaker, you probably want to use digital braille format. If you’re downloading to your PC, you might want to download it as a daisy text file. They also have speech synthesizer generated content of that text available, so if you didn’t need or want that content and in audio form, you also have available.

WADE WINGLER: It sounds like there are lots of different content on different services. Remind me which ones are more academic and which ones are more leisure, or are the lines that simple?

SCOTT DAVERT: Book Share is all over the board. They have over 300,000 books in their collection. I think we are getting to 400,000 at this point, which is crazy. I remember when I joined back in 2003, they were boasting about having 12,000. They are all over the board. They have everything from the New York Times bestsellers list to Harlequin romance to pretty much any kind of leisure reading you would want to do. They also have periodicals, a lot of different newspapers and magazines. Say, for example, you live in a state where they had NFB Newsline, which is another service altogether, but if your local state that you are living in has that service available, you can download newspapers and magazines that are available on that service on Book Share as well. Book Share is all of the board.

Learning Ally is primarily going to be textbooks. That’s sort of their specialty. Some of the people listening to this podcast may actually have heard your podcast that you recorded a wild back with Learning Ally, so I want to go into too many details.

WADE WINGLER: Yeah, we talked mostly about their college success program in that interview.

SCOTT DAVERT: Okay. That’s what a lot of Learning Ally has. They have history things. They have some other than fiction. They have some literature things, but they are primarily focused on education and textbooks.

NLS, they are also kind of all over the board but to a lesser extent. They are more focused on leisure reading, but they do have a fair collection of academic text and technical journals and things like that. There is a little bit of everything everywhere, but you also have Learning Ally as more textbook oriented, Book Share as more leisure but they definitely have a significant number of textbooks, and then you have NLS which is a mishmash of everything because it’s a library.

WADE WINGLER: Sure. So hypothetically, if I were talking to someone who is new to assistive technology, maybe someone who has enjoyed leisure or academic reading for a lot of time Analysis of technology as part of their life, what advice do you have for a new user who is contemplating these services. We have kind of hinted around the things they might consider, but what questions should somebody ask themselves before they select a service like this?

SCOTT DAVERT: I guess that, like a lot of things in the field, it’s a contextual answer. For example, if you have someone who has a pressing need for college, and you want to probably get them signed up with Learning Ally if that’s the service that’s going to benefit them. The thing to remember about Learning Ally is, if you need to hear the text, they are going to have that covered, but they don’t have all of their audio content available also as textual content. So if you are working with somebody that hasn’t audio processing disorder or maybe someone with a hearing impairment, Learning Ally might be good for them to get their textbooks, but they might have them in a format that this person can really access. In fact, back when Learning Ally was RFB&D, recordings for the blind and dyslexic, and I was an undergrad, I had to fight with my local university to make them understand that, yes, the textbook I need is on RFB&D, but I don’t have enough hearing to be able to understand the tapes that they were providing at the time. It’s really going to depend on what it is that person needs. That said, I have found over the years that giving somebody something they want to read as opposed to something they are required to read is going to make them want to use the technology a lot more. I use myself as an example. I was a braille teacher for quite a while, and when I was a braille teacher, I found that, when I would either emboss or, as somebody got new technology on a braille display, load a book that interested the person or even a magazine, they were more likely to keep up on the reading. That of course means their speed of reading is going to increase, and they get more countable with the technology more readily because they are interacting with it and are engaged and they like what they are reading. I think in the context of that, Book Share is pretty much going to help anybody that has a print disability in the sense that it’s going to get them things that they made need, but it’s also going to get them things that they are going to be very interested in. If there is somebody that is not in school, they may like the content that Learning Ally has; I have no doubt about that, but you may want to get them more towards the national library services for the blind. Not only that, a lot of talking book libraries that are bigger have a lot of resources that you can also point them towards to help them learn to use more of that technology. Here in New York, we have a New York Public Library — well, as an example, one of the programs they have is that if you are a patron of the New York Talking Book Library or the New York Public Library, you can get free access to Book Share because is not always free for everyone.

WADE WINGLER: It seems like there is a lot of things to consider and a lot of different options there. Unfortunately, we are kind of out of time for today. I’m going to put a link to all of these services in the show notes so that if folks want to get to access Book Share or Learning Ally or NLS or some of those others, I’ll put those there. In the meantime, if people want to reach out to you and connect to you, what kind of information would you like to provide?

SCOTT DAVERT: If they would like to contact me, my email address is Or if you want to follow me on twitter, feel free to do that. My twitter users name is @ScottDavert.

WADE WINGLER: Scott Debord is a regular contributor here in our app segments. He is kind of a figure over at AppleVis and all-around great guy. Scott, thank you so much for helping us understand a little bit better about the book services today.

SCOTT DAVERT: Thank you, Wade. Happy new year.

Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Looking for show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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