Articles

Free Microsoft Tools for Non-Profit Organizations

Microsoft 365 application icons
In almost all sectors around the world, commercial, educational, government, and non-profit, people use Microsoft tools in their daily work. From an accessibility perspective this makes perfect sense with all of the major Microsoft Office applications now offering integrated accessibility checking, as well as supporting conversion between different document formats and, through plugins and third-party applications, conversion to specialist accessible formats, making accessible document creation significantly easier than just a few years ago. To benefit most from these developments, users require the latest version of the Microsoft applications, yet through support discussions and delivery of training we’re aware that many non-profit organizations are still using older versions of Microsoft Office applications, and it’s quite common for these to be many generations out of date. We’re happy to share that Microsoft 365 Grants can provide free access to the latest Microsoft 365 applications through one of a portfolio of grants available to registered non-profit organizations. Please note that eligibility varies between countries so you will need to check the Microsoft website for details. The grant can provide 10 licences for Microsoft 365 Business Premium, giving full access to all the common Microsoft Office applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, and many others to be installed locally. The grant also includes cloud storage for personal and shared files, email hosting and access to web-based versions of the tools, all free of charge. A further non-profit grant provides up to 300 free E1 licences which gives users access to email, cloud storage, as well as online access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Teams. This doesn’t include any installed versions of the applications, but instead requires an internet connection to use the web versions in a browser window. We’re told that applications for some organizations take around 10 minutes to process, but this is likely to vary depending on your region and type of organization. You can learn more about the Microsoft Non-Profit Grants and eligibility on their website. Read More

ICEVI Africa Region 2023 Event Report

ICEVI Africa Conference Logo

ICEVI Africa Conference LogoICEVI Africa Region organised a 3 day conference from 10-12, October 2023 in Nairobi Kenya. Several international development organisations such as ICEVI Global, Deaf-Blind International, DAISY Consortium, Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Foundation, Light For The World, CBM, ABC, Benetech and Sight Savers also participated in the conference.

DAISY Consortium was represented by the CEO – Richard Orme and Director Developing Countries Program – Dipendra Manocha in the event. Richard chaired the international program committee for the event and addressed the participants in the inauguration and valedictory sessions.

The Consortium conducted 2 workshops and DAISY was part of 2 workshops conducted by ABC and LFTW. These workshops covered presentations and hands on experience sessions on:

  • Creation of accessible books in simple steps using free of cost tools and reading them on variety of affordable devices
  • Using Android device with hard Bluetooth keyboard as reading and writing tool as low-cost alternative to laptop.
  • How to apply for ABC capacity building grant for 2024-25
  • Technology solutions for inclusive education

DAISY Consortium provided a Bluetooth keyboard to all the participants of the workshop on using the keyboard with Android device. Thus, all participants not only learnt about this wonderful development, but also went back with working solution in their hands.

During the workshop on production of accessible books, we introduced the conversion of digital text to audio books using Microsoft cloud voices using very high-quality Kenyan and Tanzanian English voices.

Kenyan English Voice Sample:

Tanzanian English Voice Sample:

These voices were the first exposure of synthetic speech in local accents these variants to the participants. The response was euphoric and extremely exciting.

These converted audio books could be played on very basic devices such as MP3 player speakers, solar powered MP3 players, basic feature mobile phones, etc. in addition to playing them on smart phones and DAISY players. These technologies and conversions opens up huge collection of global libraries such as the ABC Global Book Service and Bookshare to users from the low resource regions of the developing countries.

The event brought together various stake holders from Africa after very long gap due to covid. Events like this help DAISY to work more closely with ICEVI, WBU and DBI to make progress in implementation of the Visionary Learning through ICT program.

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The Marrakesh Treaty in Action

photo of the main reading room at the Library of Congress

photo of the main reading room at the Library of Congress, an open circular room with reading desks and bookcases in connecting roomsConverting printed material to an accessible formats like braille or audio takes time, money, and expertise. The amount of resources required will vary depending on the type of content and the destination format, but it is rarely a simple process.

Technology has made document conversion considerably easier for those with access to it, but the optimum solutions remain obtaining a well-made accessible publication from the publisher, or obtaining an accessible format file that someone else has already created.

Specialist libraries around the world have for many years invested in accessible format conversion, building collections for their members, but for a long time had limited options when it came to exchanging titles with other libraries.

Back in 2012, the World Blind Union and other organizations representing users with print disabilities were reporting a book famine, indicating that 95% of books in developed countries, and 99% in the least developed world were never converted to accessible formats like audio, large print or braille.

This was one of many points discussed over several years that helped to establish the case for a global copyright treaty that would benefit all readers with print disabilities, highlighting that while the developing world had arguable to greatest need, there was also a significant lack of resources in higher income countries with established libraries and support systems.

Offering the potential to unlock existing resources held in libraries around the world was identified as one of the main ways to help address the book famine and reduce the duplication of effort taking place because libraries were not able to easily collaborate.

In 2013, the Marrakesh Treaty established a legal mechanism for participating countries to exchange accessible books for the benefit of people with print disabilities, specifically to: Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.

Ten years since it was established the Marrakesh Treaty has now been adopted by 93 member states, providing lots of evidence of authorized entities in developing countries gaining access to books they would otherwise not be able to provide to their patrons, and while there are fewer reports the same is true of library patrons in the developed world.

In the United States the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) at the Library of Congress have actively participated in the exchange of titles since the Treaty legal mechanism was implemented in the U.S. in 2020.

Primarily using the Global Book Service hosted by the Accessible Books Consortium, NLS have made 194,539 titles available through the free service to other authorized entities, with the vast majority of those titles (over 192,000) available as digital files for immediate download. At the time of reporting those NLS titles had been downloaded over 6,600 times by authorized entities in 48 different countries around the world.

Patrons of the library can access titles in the collection in the usual way, but they can also request access to books which are not currently available, and in some instances these publications can be sourced by NLS staff through Authorized Entities using the Marrakesh Treaty.

Since 2020 more than 5,500 titles have been added to the NLS collection using the Treaty, encompassing texts in 27 different languages, and being read by NLS patrons over 106,000 times.

After English, Spanish is the most common language spoken in the U.S. which is reflected in the titles requested, but many other languages have been fulfilled through the Treaty including French, Russian, Finnish, Somali etc.

Requests come from patrons with print disabilities who are developing or refreshing their language skills, often learned through family and community links, but many requests come from elderly U.S. residents wanting to read an audiobook in their native language.

This was true of one request for an elderly patron entering a hospice in Minnesota. Through the regional network library a request was made to NLS with the goal to obtain audiobooks in her native Finnish language for her final days. Just a few years ago this simply would not have been possible if a title was not already in the library collection, because of time and budgetary limitations it would not have been practical to create a recording in time.

Thanks to the Marrakesh Treaty it was possible for NLS to locate suitable audio books in Finnish very quickly, and for the patron to enjoy listening to quality recordings in her native language, recorded by a native speaker with local accent and correct pronunciation throughout.

Because the United States has a very large a diverse population, it’s no surprise that the patrons of NLS have reading preferences in a wide variety of languages.

Prior to the Marrakesh Treaty, a case study of early books in the Harry Potter series was used to illustrate the massive duplication of effort invested by specialist libraries all creating accessible versions of the same titles. On the day of publication libraries purchased print copies of the book and teams of people would rapidly convert it to accessible formats, making it available to patrons a few days later. This exact activity took place in multiple libraries around the world at the same time, often converting exactly the same book because there was no mechanism to obtain a copy of the accessible title.

Today, thanks to the Marrakesh Treaty, NLS are able to provide the complete Harry Potter series to their patrons in English, but also French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Finnish, and if a library patron were to request the books in another language there is a good chance it could be sourced through the network of trusted intermediaries.

Through the Marrakesh Treaty NLS has been able to expand their capacity in ways they would never have been otherwise able to, providing a level of service to library patrons which would have been unimaginable a few years ago.


Thanks to Alice O’Reilly and Kelsey Corlett-Rivera from NLS for their contributions to this article.

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Celebrating 10th Anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty (W)

Opening Slide-Celebrating 10th anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty

Opening Slide-Celebrating 10th anniversary of the Marrakesh TreatyIn this special webinar hosted by the IFLA section Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities in collaboration with the DAISY Consortium, we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty, and explore the impact and relevance  of the treaty after the first 10 years.

This page contains:

Full Video of the Webinar

Speakers

  • Dipendra Manocha, The DAISY Consortium- host and chair
  • Monica Halil , WIPO Accessible Books Consortium
  • Marc Workman, World Blind Union
  • Richard Orme, DAISY Consortium
  • Stephen Wyber, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
  • Victoria Owen, IFLA
  • Siobhan Dennis, Vision Australia
  • Francisco Javier Martínez Calvo, ONCE
  • Bárbara Martín, European Blind Union
  • Yasmine Youssuf, Chair of IFLA Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities Section
  • Geert Ruebens IFLA LDP retired
  • Teresa Hackett, Electronic Information for Libraries

Session Overview

Host: Dipendra Manocha – DAISY Consortium

Dipendra Manocha from DAISY welcomed everyone to the webinar and opened the session with some background, offering a personal perspective and his experience of the Treaty, how India prepared local legislation, and how the Treaty continues to make a significant impact for people with print disabilities.

Monica Halil, Head of the Accessible Books Consortium, WIPO

Provided some background on the Marrakesh Treaty, highlighting that there are currently 93 contracting parties covering 119 countries. The Accessible Books Consortium exists to help implement the Marrakesh Treaty at a practical level. In June 2023 there are currently 127 authorized entities globally, with 70 from developing or least developed countries. A total of 840,000 title are available for exchange under the framework of the Marrakesh Treaty, covering 80 languages.
The ABC Global Book Service is available for authorized entities in countries which have both ratified and implemented the Marrakesh Treaty, noting that while many countries have ratified, but not all have implemented the treaty into law. Monica provided a range of statistics showing the growth of the Global Library Service both in terms of use and the availability of downloadable content.

Marc Workman – CEO, World Blind Union

Marc introduced the involvement of the World Blind Union which has been at the forefront of the journey, supporting the development of the treaty, and continuing to promote enactment of the treaty worldwide. Marc highlights that progress has been made, but many governments have yet to ratify the treaty restricting full enactment of the treaty worldwide. WBU are committed to continuing the journey, providing guidance for governments, organizations and individuals.

Richard Orme, CEO DAISY Consortium

Richard introduced the DAISY Consortium, the non-profit global authority on publishing and reading for people with print disabilities, whose team of international experts develop standards, tools, and best practices that are embraced by leading technology companies, publishers and library services. DAISY tools have facilitated the production of millions of accessible books, journals, newspapers and other documents, providing free tools helping organizations and publishers to create locally relevant accessible publications. In 2022 DAISY delivered technical training and capacity building support in 100 countries.
Several stories of individual experiences were shared, including of Naveen, a 13 year old boy in rural India who is blind and like others in his class had never read a book because there were no accessible books in his school. Following a DAISY project Naveen and his classmates can now read independently using simple solar powered audio players that were provided filled with accessible textbooks thanks to the Marrakesh Treaty.

Stephen Wyber, IFLA (SLIDES)

ILFA also played a key role in the adoption and implementation of the Treaty globally. Stephen presented some of the data confirming that 45% of the countries to have ratified the Treaty have not yet implemented legislation into national law. Also raising awareness of the different ways the Treaty has been implemented, with under 10% of implementations requiring additional fees to be paid, and 18% requiring time consuming and costly commercial availability checks.

Victoria Owen, IFLA LPD

IFLA LPD created a Getting Started Guide for librarians to support implementation which provides an easy-to-understand explanation of the Treaty, describing the requirements, services and options that can be used within the Treaty. That guide has been adapted by regionals to support librarians with advice on country specific requirements.
Victoria also spoke about activity in the US and Canada to assess barriers to research publications at all levels of academic study, highlighting challenges in exchanges between countries that have minor differences in the way that have implemented the Marrakesh Treaty, differences in library metadata usage, and in library systems and user records.
Perspectives on implementation of the treaty from a library perspective, supporting global libraries in using the treaty.

Siobhan Dennis, Vision Australia

Vision Australia were involved in the first cross border exchange of titles under the Marrakesh Treaty in 2016, exchanging with CNIB in Canada and utilizing the ABC catalogue. As a new process some technical difficulties were experienced, however three titles were exchanged on the day the treaty came into force on September 30 2016. Breaking new ground is always challenging, and thankfully over time the process of obtaining titles through ABC has become significantly easier.

Francisco Javier Martínez Calvo, ONCE

ONCE have a very large collection of titles in their accessible library, with 39,000 DAISY Format books, 31,000 braille titles and 3,000 music titles. The ABC Global Book Service has access to the DAISY Format and music titles, with braille titles currently in the process of being uploaded. This has enabled accessible Spanish language titles to be made available to readers with print disabilities around the world through the Marrakesh Treaty. Just by having access to the ABC catalogue, ONCE’s book collection has gone from 74,000 to nearly 800,000. Francisco was clear that the concept of the Treaty is working fine, but that things take time to be adopted, the Marrakesh Treaty is here to stay and we will see the full potential of the Treaty in time.

Bárbara Martín, President of EBU

The European Blind Union was another organization involved in the Marrakesh Treaty since in the early negotiations and continues to be active supporting implementation and use. One of the new countries using the treaty is Ukraine who ratified the treaty in March, enabling access to accessible titles for blind and partially sighted people who are in a very difficult situation.
EBU is now working with the EU who are evaluating the directive implementing the Treaty, developing a consultation to assess how it can be improved.
In 2025 the European Accessibility Act will be implemented, delivering accessible ebooks and ebook readers for all, which is good step forward, but not enough as it only relates to some formats, importantly not braille or audio. The Marrakesh Treaty will continue to be relevant, especially for back list and older titles.

Yasmine Youssuf, Chair of IFLA LPD

Yasmine shared details of accessibility and the Marrakesh Treaty adoption within the Arabic speaking countries. There are 22 Arabic speaking countries with a total of 400 million people forming a very large group. Only 6 Arab countries have ratified the Treaty so far, and of those only UAE have amended their copyright laws to implement the Treaty. Other countries like Egypt are working on ratification. Additional challenges are present for the Arabic language in accessible content creation tools, and reading solutions. Demand for accessible titles have increased especially for educational titles. IFLA LPD along with partners,  have assisted by coordinating a symposium in 2017 to encourage governments to ratify the Treaty. Subsequent changes in disability equality legislation, seen as an important step towards ratification. Additional projects have delivered more accessible titles and an authoring tool that supports Arabic.

Geert Ruebens IFLA LPD (retired)

Geert spoke about their personal experience of the treaty, representing IFLA LPD being present in negotiations and in Marrakesh for the signing of the Treaty. The treaty was the results of lengthy negotiations between representatives of rightsholders, governments, and beneficiaries. While this is the 10th anniversary, we should remember that it took almost 10 years of negotiations with contributions from many organizations prior to that point.

Teresa Hackett, EIFL – Electronic Information for Libraries

EIFL were also involved the treaty negotiations from the start, experiencing all the hard work many put into the discussion, and the joy when the agreement was reached in Marrakesh. The partners involved all knew that the Treaty had the potential to transform lives, and it had proven to deliver against that potential. It was clear from early on that librarians were going to play a key role in supporting the practical implementation of Treaty. EIFL have produced and contributed to number of resources for libraries to guide the use of the Marrakesh Treaty, and working with countries to adapt the guidance to support national legislation. The Marrakesh treaty was always about people not profit, and people will take this forward.

Related Resources

Organizations represented:

Resources mentioned:

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DAISY Board and AGM in Washington 2023

photo of Maarten Verboom President of the DAISY Consortium, at the Washington meeting

photo of Maarten Verboom President of the DAISY Consortium, at the Washington meetingIn May 2023 the board of the DAISY Consortium was generously hosted by the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The occasion also allowed for a visit to the library’s studios to meet with some of their team, learn about some of the latest technical developments and view the recording facilities.

For the first time since 2019 the Annual General Meeting was in person and online, featuring presentations to showcase some of the achievements of the DAISY team and DAISY members. A video of the 2023 showcase is available.

Group photo of 36 people participating in the joint BANA DAISY meeting

The DAISY meetings coincided with the Spring meetings of the Braille Authority of North America. After we had concluded our separate business we had an interesting morning sharing information of joint interest, including the DAISY Music Braille Project, product developments, ebraille specification, tactile graphics and the braille production activities of DAISY members.

photo of people engaging with the National Mall tactile map in the Capitol building

The time in Washington concluded with a touch tour of the U.S. Capitol building, including a visit to the room originally used as the Supreme Court, a tactile map of the area and wonderful audio-described tour of the building’s main areas. The US Capitol is well known for its many statues and blind tourists had special permission to explore by touch the pieces portraying Helen Keller, Jeanette Rankin, Ronald Reagan, and more.

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DAISY Consortium Showcase 2023

DAISY Consortium AGM Showcase 2023 title slide

DAISY Consortium AGM Showcase 2023 title slideA component of the 2023 DAISY AGM was a showcase presentation highlighting some of the work being conducted by DAISY and our member organizations around the world.

This page contains:

Full Video of the Showcase

Linked Resources

We have lots more information about the activities mentioned in the Showcase throughout the DAISY website. You can find further details about the content Links to DAISY activities mentioned in the recording:

DAISY Vision and Mission

Member Organizations

Microsoft Low-Cost Assitive Techbnology Project

Nordic Inclusive Publishing Initiative

Ebraille file formats project

London 2023 Accessible Publishing Conference and DAISY Technical Meetings

 

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Accessibility at a Mainstream Publishing Event

An aerial view of the main hall of the london book fair taken from the 1st floor mezzanine. The fair looks very busy with lots of stands in shot

An aerial view of the main hall of the london book fair taken from the 1st floor mezzanine. The fair looks very busy with lots of stands in shotThe London Book Fair was a vibrant and well-attended event this year and the publishing world was out in force. As ever, there were a number of sessions dedicated to accessibility and it was great to see so much interest in these focused seminars. Publishers had sent staff specifically to find out more about accessible publishing and it was encouraging to be able to welcome new faces to the discussions.

It’s true to say that the main focus of the fair still remains around print and this is likely to remain the case for the forseeable future – this is a rights fair and publishers are looking to sell and buy rights in both print and digital product but traditionally they are not there to talk about accessibility. Any in-roads that we can make are therefore significant and it was exciting to be able to attend back to back meetings to talk about inclusive publishing.

The Publishers Accessibility Action Group’s annual seminar, now in its 15th year ran a session entitled: Accessibility, Charting the Waters, focusing on the new PAAG Charter which asks publishers and other industry players to commit to accessible publishing via a set of 10 clear points on accessibility. The speakers spoke to a number of the points each, showing how they approach these areas within their own organizations and proving that the charter is an easy commitment for everyone. Attendance was high and questions lively.

Amnet systems also ran a seminar: Accessibility, Are We Nearly There Yet and DAISY were pleased to take part in this and the PAAG event.

Richard Orme talking to Oliver Gadsby on the Amnet panel

In March we reported on the renewed focus on accessibility at publishing events and LBF was no exception. Whilst it is always hard to divert attention from rights and acquisitions, there was no lack of enthusiasm for these events and the conversations that took place throughout the fair.

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New Options for Accessible Books for Readers in Low Resource Areas (W)

Lessons Learned in the Journey to Accessible Publishing title slide

Lessons Learned in the Journey to Accessible Publishing title slide

In our series of free weekly webinars March 29th saw a session focused on New Options for Accessible Books for Readers in Low Resource Areas. Most of the world’s people with blindess or low vision live in low- and middle-income countries where resources are scarce and accessible books aren’t commonly available. This webinar will study the work of The DAISY Consortium and others examining how this new focus has significantly changed the situation already.

This page contains:

Full Video of the Webinar

Speakers

  • Nafisa Baboo, Light for the World—host and chair
  • Richard Orme, The DAISY Consortium
  • Dipendra Manocha, The DAISY Consortium
  • Ioana Tanase, Microsoft
  • Masho Kidanemariam, SENEthiopia
  • Ashoka Bandula, DAISY Lanka Foundation

Session Overview

Richard Orme provided an overview of the webinar whetting our appetites for the exciting solutions and resources that will be discussed!

Challenges

  1. Dipendra Manocha described some of the very real and tough challenges experienced in developing countries, in particular the story of a 13 year old boy he met at a resource centre, 200 km from Delhi. Never having had access to accessible books, the main mode of learning for him was listening to his teachers with no direct access to reference books.
  2. The Global Smartphone Divide: highlighting around 75% of people in developed countries own a smartphone, whereas 75% in developing countries do not have smartphones.
  3. Technology Gaps: the least developed countries face additional technology inadequacies in addition to resource issues.

Opportunities

  • Tools to make accessible books: these are becoming easier and cheaper to use and include the audio tool, Obi and Microsoft word based methods to help create digital accessible content.
  • Help with training and technical support. These efforts include:
    • ABC capacity building project, helping to raise awareness about what can be achieved and to provide opportunities to learn
    • Partnering with NGOs for training has meant that there is now a large of body of materials which can be delivered both faster and cheaper
    • Webinars and online learning
  • Global sharing of existing accessible books. Thanks to the Marrakesh Treaty there is now a legal framework for the exchange of accessible books internationally. The opportunity to get books into the hands of readers with print disabilities, is now greater than ever.
  • A wide choice of more affordable reading devices with greater language support include:
    • DAISY format players and braille devices
    • Apps for laptops, tablets and smartphones
    • More affordable audio players

Solutions

With so many opportunities now available Richard and Dipendra considered some practical options to get accessible books into the hands of people with print disabilities. With the support of some large organizations, work has started in earnest here. Ioana Tanse and Dipendra spoke to us about the work that Microsoft and DAISY have focused on – improving access to low-cost assistive technology to people in developing countries

  1. Extending digital braille: by adding support for Swahili and Chichewa (the language of Malawi), digital braille is now available to many many more readers
  2. Opening the treasure trove; the development of an app to convert books in existing resources has allowed greater access by bringing the “power of the DAISY pipeline” to the desktop. Masho Kidanemariam talked to us about using the app in conjunction with the solar audio player, MegaVoice in a war zone region of Ethiopia. Ashoka Bandula described how this project has helped to provide access to textbooks for students in some of Sri Lanka’s most challenging regions.
  3. Realizing the opportunities. In summary, Richard Orme urged us all to:
    • Use the free tools to create accessible books
    • Participate in international sharing of information
    • Convert books to reach more people
    • Get training and support from DAISY

Finally, Dipendra reminded us all that for many participants in this project, this was their first experience reading an accessible book and that this is life-changing work.

Related Resources

Tools mentioned:

Other links:

Discover the other webinars we’re running!

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The Impact of Low Cost Assistive Technology

A blind man in a brightly colored shirt reads a book on a basic electronic braille display

A blind man in a brightly colored shirt reads a book on a basic electronic braille displayAs we approach the conclusion of our Low-Cost Assistive Technology Project we have been able to reflect on the impact of our work and share lessons with the wider community.

Last year we asked for feedback on languages that did not have effective braille support. The response highlighted many languages in use around the world which are not supported, from which we were able to identify two Swahili and Chichewa to take forward in this project. Working with language braille experts the braille tables were created and integrated into the open-source braille translation tool which provides the foundation for many specialist and mainstream devices. Earlier this year the latest version of Liblouis was released with support for Swahili and Chichewa.

A further part of this project examined the availability of accessible books in low-resource regions, providing 50 low-cost devices to gain an understanding of the potential for this approach. As part of the trials, Mega Voice solar-powered players have been provided to students aged 14 to 16. These players are delivered pre-loaded with the complete set of textbooks for the grades they are studying. The players are specifically being given in the low-resource regions within low and lower-middle-income countries.

Through a base-line survey conducted at the time of handing over of the players to the students we discovered some interesting things, one of the key findings coming out of this survey was that at the age of 14-15 years, this is the first time that these students have access to the books that they can read for themselves. Before participating in the study, teachers delivering lectures in the classroom and someone reading a book out to them were the only ways for the students to gain access to any of the content of their syllabus.

Through this Microsoft-supported project, we have identified clear evidence that broadening support for playback tools directly and dramatically changes the educational potential for those concerned, providing access to books for people who did not previously have any meaningful access.

The outcomes of this project along with practical advice and information about new tools will be featured in a free webinar on March 29th at 14 UTC.

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MathML what has changed and why it matters?

MathML icon

MathML iconIn January the Chrome web browser was upgraded to support MathML, a specification for describing mathematical notation. Microsoft’s Edge browser is also built using the same Chrome technology, so it has also received the MathML upgrade. And the components that EPUB reading apps rely on are also being upgraded. This will have positive benefits for accessibility.

Whilst MathML has long been supported by Safari and Firefox, it has been missing from Chrome for around ten years. This meant that if websites wanted to include MathML, they needed to use the MathJax library so that mathematic expressions are displayed correctly. MathJax is very powerful and includes special accessibility features, but the additional requirement of making this library available meant that some websites would take the approach of just using images of math expressions instead.

When it comes to ebooks not all reading apps app included MathJax either, so publishers would also revert to math as images rather than MathML. We know that text as an image isn’t great for accessibility; the same is true for mathematical expressions.

Whilst math images can have alt text, there are several accessibility advantages to using MathML. For people that rely on visual adjustments, MathML expressions can be zoomed without them becoming fuzzy, and when a user chooses a color theme this will apply to the math as well. A screen reader user can listen to the math, and navigate the expression also, essential in anything other than the simplest expressions. With tools such as MathCAT (used with NVDA) the user can choose how the math is announced, choose to have math spoken slower than the regular text, and adjust the braille notation in use.

Now that MathML is natively supported in Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Edge, websites and publishers can confidently use MathML for math expressions, with the benefits this brings for accessibility.

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