IMPLEMENTING INTERNET BOOK DELIVERY
FOR VISUALLY IMPAIRED READERS
FINDINGS OF THE SEDODEL PROJECT
Dominique Burger, Emmanuel Schwarz
INSERM U483 – Inova
9, quai Saint-Bernard, 75252 – Paris cedex 05
Digital techniques have created new and stimulating conditions to provide visually impaired people (VIP) with alternative solutions for accessing written, printed, computerised information. The development of a world-wide communication network (Internet), as well as the standardisation of formats (PDF, SGML, HTML, XML, …), and the invention of alternative access technologies (refreshable Braille displays, text-to-speech synthesisers, screen reading software programmes, non visual browsers,…) is an important progress for giving VIP access to information.
This paper argues that the combination of these techniques can lead to new approaches for delivering adapted books to VIP. It proposes a general scheme capable of adapting easily to a great diversity of needs expressed by the visually impaired community. This scheme is currently implemented in France, as a result of the SEDODEL European project, in co-operation with associations for/of VIP and publishing companies. Extensions of this services with European partners are expected.
SEDODEL (Secure Document Delivery for Blind and Partially Sighted People) addressed the information needs of blind and partially sighted people and explored solutions proposed by new technologies to produce and distribute accessible documents. It created, verified, and demonstrated a pilot secure document delivery service for visually impaired readers and proved it could efficiently guarantee the rights and obligations of actors in the publishing chain.
This was achieved by integrating two key technologies: Electronic Copyright Management Systems (ECMS) and accessible electronic documents. SEDODEL established contacts with publishers in France and United Kingdom to improve their confidence to distribute electronic copies of their publications to organisations of and for the blind and partially sighted, and to blind and partially sighted people directly. This two year project, completed in March 2000, was part funded by DGXIII of the European Commission under the Disabled and Elderly Sector of the Telematics Applications Programme (Project DE4001). The members of the SEDODEL Consortium were: University of Bradford, Coordinator (United Kingdom), British Library (United Kingdom), EURITIS SA (France), INSERM (France), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), Open University (United Kingdom), Royal National Institute for the Blind (United Kingdom).
Two studies conducted by the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) in France, in co-operation with the BrailleNet project  and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in United Kingdom identified the needs expressed by blind and partially sighted people concerning the access to electronic information services. Both studies evidenced a great diversity of needs in terms of presentations, technical platforms and services. It is well known that traditional production and distribution techniques can hardly match the totality of these needs, at an affordable cost. As a matter of fact, blind and partially sighted people, have almost no access to the vast range of information the general population takes for granted, despite efforts made to provide them with adapted publications. This situation is observed at school and university levels as well, which constitutes a serious barrier to the social integration of VIP in the society.
This section summarises the various needs that VIP pay have concerning information.
Visual handicap may have different reasons linked to a great variety of visual deficiencies, among them the loss of acuity, the difficulty to distinguish colours, photophobia, loss of central or peripheral vision, … Thus the magnification of the documents is not necessarily the most suited answer to the difficulties encountered by VIP. Most of the time, a better reading comfort is obtained in tuning finely size, colours, contrasts. Each individual will need a combination that may vary in time, with personal or external conditions. Visual presentation of documents can be on paper or on screen.
Braille documents can be either embossed or displayed on a refreshable Braille display.
Braille can also use abbreviating rules.
Using the auditory channel to present information has some advantages if compared to the tactile modality. Spoken information can be received in parallel to other sources of information. Information can be conveyed rapidly. Messages can be received on the fly, without preliminary training. Thus speech can enrich the Braille presentation of data. The combination of speech and Braille can alleviate the mental load in complex interfaces. Spoken information can be pre-recorded or produced by a speech synthesiser.
To be able to use a computer workstation a visually impaired user has to augment it with an appropriate access technology consisting of software and/or hardware. Examples of assistive technologies are magnification software, screen reader software, Braille display , speech synthesiser. Several manufactures over the world produce such technologies and no standard has been established yet. For instance, Braille devices from different Braille manufacturers may have quite different numbers of cells and function keys. Also the rules for producing Braille from text vary from one language to the other. Even worse, concurrent rules can be used by different groups for the same language. Text-to-speech transformation obeys to language related rules.
From the original source of a document, different services can be proposed :
Different actors have to co-operate to address the diversity of needs expressed by visually handicapped persons: Content providers are the owners of the source documents. They can be publishers or directly authors (for instance teachers delivering course material). Adaptation specialists have the ability to transform the original documents for the special needs of the VIP. They can be transcription centres, special schools, associations. Finally, Access technology manufacturers provide the necessary equipment for reading the document.
Digital techniques can greatly facilitate many of the transformations to be operated, the development of telecommunication networks can simplify the exchanges between these actors. So that the production and delivery of adapted documents could result from a co-operative process between these actors. Then the VIP could purchase from a generalised on-line catalogue books or other material such as courses, tactile diagrams. This would not be limited by geographic considerations but could be internationalised rather. Traditional costs would be reduced and the amount of documents available for the VIP would considerably increase. Moreover these scheme would be totally coherent with other document delivery services so that VIP would appear as no more than a particular group among the great variety of possible customers.
However, in spite of limited experiences conducted in different countries, like the BrailleSoft enterprise in France, the implementation of such a scheme encounters a major difficulty linked to the issues of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and copyright. These issues are affecting the development of the Information Society, in general as a background document on Electronic Commerce in the European Commissions’ Information Technology Programme explains:
‘The Internet is one gigantic copying machine. … The revenue generated by Intellectual Property is threatened by this new environment. ... Besides threats on existing or emerging market applications, new innovative applications, likely to generate new markets, could be created if IPR owners were confident that their property is appropriately protected against piracy and misuse. Such novel applications will start to shape the economy of the future’. Consequently, although the developing Information Society promises much for the VIP, its full realisation for them will not be possible without secure document delivery systems :
ECMS are used for the IPR management of electronic information. ECMS provide authors, publishers, and distributors of digital objects with tamper resistant mechanisms for identifying and tattooing copyrighted materials, and monitoring access to and usage of these materials in such a way that copyright holders can legitimately receive their royalties.
SEDODEL recognised that a technology only approach is not sufficient to make real progress in the integration of VIP in the information society. Therefore, in parallel with the development, evaluation and demonstration actions, SEDODEL produced recommendations for changes in European copyright legislation which could mirror that of the law in the United States .
SEDODEL implemented a complete demonstrator making possible the co-operation between the various actors involved in the publishing chain. The SEDODEL demonstrator is illustrated in Figure 2. The SEDODEL Pilot had three main components :
The Document Transformation System (DTS) transforms electronic documents from Content Providers into well structured, accessible HTML 4.0. The Content Providers do not all share the same document format. For uniformity and practical reasons it is necessary to have all SEDODEL documents stored in one single structured format. The DTS has been developed for this purpose. The DTS consists of an automatic translation, an optional manual translation, and an encryption process.
The Document Reader System (DRS) is a secure and accessible Web browser, which allows visually impaired users to download, access, and read encrypted SEDODEL Electronic Material (SEM), using their own access technology, such as screen readers, Braille displays and large print systems. The DRS uses the Microsoft WebBrowser control, which contains the browsing and navigational functionality of Internet Explorer (IE) 4.01. The DRS runs on Windows 95 or Windows 98 and uses access technology if required, a smart card reader and smart card. Many benefits were foreseen for this approach linked partly to the accessibility of IE, the level of security that can be built in by customisation and the advantages of using mainstream technology.
The electronic document is wrapped in a secure envelope by using the CopySMART  system. This secure envelope can include digital identification such as tattooing to ensure ownership, data integrity and traceability together with encryption for privacy.
The contractual conditions relating to the information are bound together with this securely wrapped information. These conditions are specific for a particular information distribution service and are developed by creating a business model which covers the roles of actors in the service.
The securely wrapped accessible information is distributed to the end user. This may involve the mediation of organisations of and for the blind and partially sighted, or may be direct from producer or publisher. The technical mechanisms for information delivery are independent of the CopySMART application; possibilities include physical media (for example CD-ROM) or open networks such as Internet and the World Wide Web.
The information is accessed by the end user on a CopySMART enabled PC running Windows. The end user’s access rights are encoded on a personal smart card which the application reads and interprets. The application unwraps the information and allows the user to access the information only in accordance with the specific user rights.
Usage of the information will be monitored by the CopySMART application which deals with access control, clearing of rights, traceability, audit files, proofs of usage and handling of payments.
Figure 3 : Sedodel
According to the very encouraging results obtained in SEDODEL, this scheme is currently applied in a challenging project in France. The INSERM, the University Pierre et Marie Curie, the BrailleNet association and the publishing company Editions 00h00  have put in place a project aiming at providing at least 2000 books by the end of year 2000. To achieve this goal the participation of other publishers is seeked. The project has been launched in December 1999, on the occasion of the Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, a major event in the publishing world in France.
In conclusion, the SEDODEL demonstration as well as its application in France clearly demonstrate that it is possible to implement documents delivery services on the Internet respecting the rights of publishers and authors. This can be greatly beneficial to the VIP.
Nevertheless, some problems are still to be solved :
These problems should easily find solutions are they are not specific to the needs of VIP. In fact they meet the need of complete solutions for reliable electronic commercial services.
SEDODEL, Project DE4001, is part funded by DGXIII of the European Commission under the Disabled and Elderly Sector of the Telematics Applications Programme.
 BrailleNet: http://www.braillenet.jussieu.fr
 United States Public Law 104-197, section 316
 SEDODEL : http://www.arttic.com/projects/sedodel/
 Editions 00h00: http://www.00h00.fr