Case Study - Oxford University
Oxford University is leading the way by piloting a new computer-aided technology
In this case study we learn how Oxford University Resources for the Blind is leading the way by piloting a new computer-aided technology which should make studying even easier.
University of Oxford become pioneer in the conversion of analogue to digital audio. Since the mid-1980s a dedicated service has been making the millions of tomes in the Bodleian Library more accessible to readers who are blind or partially sighted so they can work and study independently at Oxford.
Now, Oxford University Resources for the Blind is leading the way by piloting a new computer-aided technology which should make studying even easier. The University is one of the first centres in the country to explore the use of a Digital Audio Information System. 0
This allows blind and partially sighted students and academics to pinpoint the exact chapter, page or even reference they need -just as other readers take for granted. Entire books (up to 22 hours of recorded material) can be stored on just one CD-ROM which the user can navigate their way round at the click of a mouse button.
As well as producing high-quality sound, the new system will eventually enable digital material to be sent direct to the user electronically, or allow information to be sent down a telephone line to the University's Computing Service to be turned into Braille.
Resources for the Blind is now looking for computer-literate volunteers who can help edit and store the recordings on CD-ROM as this service expands. The Royal National Institute for the Blind is already interested in the advances being made at Oxford in this area, and will store the CD-ROMs at its national library for future use by scholars nationwide.
Kim Miller, Director of Resources for the Blind, said: 'Most blind students and academics use emails and computers every day. This technology will give them the freedom to navigate books, to pick and choose how much or little they listen to, making it a more useful resource and one which I'm sure will revolutionise the way they work.'
Resources for the Blind has been obtaining books on tape-either from existing stocks at the RNIB library or tailor-making new tapes-from its base in the New Bodleian for almost two decades. However, the cornerstone of its activities, the Recording Centre, recently moved to new accommodation at Ewert House, Summertown where three purpose-built recording suites have been installed (pictured).
The service, which produces around 80 hours worth of new recordings each week, would not be able to function without its dedicated team of over 90 volunteer readers. Kim said: 'Our volunteers tackle texts-whatever the subject, language, or however inaccessible they might appear-with amazing enthusiasm and commitment. Many of our readers are highly skilled in particular subject areas, or are former academics themselves. They bring a great deal of expertise to the service, and they do all this without payment, not even expenses.'
In addition to the eight regular users of the service across the University, Resources for the Blind is able to help around another 10 or more occasional users, and also provides-when resources allow-assistance for any holder of a current Bodleian Library card.
A recent sponsorship deal with Lincoln Financial Group means the Centre now has some of the latest hi-tech equipment on the market including two Kurzweil Readers (one an easy-to-use machine which scans text and reads it aloud to the listener, the other linked through a computer to provide either audio information or enlarged print on a monitor), and a colour closed circuit television for those with residual vision.