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Key Issues and Opportunities

     Total Experience of Finding, Selecting, Downloading, Transferring, and
     Reading Content

           Many of the volunteer tested lamented that in most instances within this
           set of field tests they were not easily allowed to try the total experience of
           finding, selecting, downloading, transferring, and reading digital audio
           content on these devices and systems. The logistics of circulating so few
           devices to many volunteer testers in a relatively short period of time
           necessitated that most of the devices be sent with content preloaded,
           batteries installed and ready to charge, etc. Asking the volunteers to start
           from scratch and install transfer software on their computers would have
           been difficult to accomplish, and it would have greatly increased the risk
           that users would experience general computing problems and unwanted
           conditions on their principal computers. In the real world of accessible
           digital audio books, however, the accessibility issues related to finding,
           selecting, downloading, and transferring content are as important as the
           accessibility issues during playback.

           The distinction made between services and devices in the body of this
           report should not be interpreted as hard and absolute. In most instances
           an ongoing user of any portable playback device also must interact with
           one or more content services. Ongoing users must download the content
           and perhaps transfer it to the portable playback device of their choice.

     DAISY Mark-Up

           One goal of this field test was to get a better sense of the processes,
           costs, and value to the end-user of having content that has been marked
           up in the DAISY format. Marking up digital audio books in the DAISY
           format is one way to achieve accessible nonlinear navigation through
           digital books. Accessible nonlinear navigation clearly is a highly valued
           functionality among this group of volunteer testers. Unfortunately,
           throughout the year the project team was not able to make much progress
           in understanding the costs and benefits of DAISY content.

           Here are one tester’s thoughts and recommendations about the future of
           DAISY: “I believe that any final implementation of the daisy standard must
           be hardware and software platform independant. It is unlikely that NLS
           will use CDroms as Daisy book distribution media because they are easy
           to damage. I think some sort of download system will provide the best
           option for most users. For those without internet access i believe a solid
           state flash or other memory cartridge system will be the answer.”

Nonlinear Navigation

      Some respondents said nonlinear navigation would be good for
      instructional or work-related reading, but not essential for pleasure
      reading. “I usually read a book straight through from beginning to end.
      However when doing research, it would be easier to navigate chapter by
      chapter or heading by heading.”

      Other volunteers, however, want nonlinear navigation for all types of
      books and reading situations.

      Many users reported that the value of nonlinear navigation depended on
      the nature of the book being read. For a standard novel, the value of
      nonlinear navigation is low. For a nonfiction work, the value of nonlinear
      navigation can be high, especially if the book is being read for school or
      work-related purposes.

      Nonlinear navigation also is very useful when interacting with reference
      books of all types, including cookbooks.

      “In moving from one story to another or one essay to another that are
      stored in the same file, nonlinear navigation is very important. Hopefully by
      now Book Courier's table of contents function is included. I also wish
      pages were numbered and there was a feature to go to a specific page.”

      “It is important for me to jump to various chapters and pages of books, and
      it is especially important to mark books so that I can resume reading
      without going around Robin Hood's barn to find the last place where I was

Variable Speed Playback

      For decades print-impaired users have appreciated and used (whenever
      possible) the ability to vary the speed of the playback of digital audio
      books. Most users want to speed up the playback to faster than normal
      speed. One potential benefit of the transition from analog to digital audio
      books is the ability to speedup playback without experiencing the
      chipmunk effect. Unfortunately, many of the devices field tested in this
      study—especially the devices designed for the general consumer
      market—did not provide variable speed playback.

Headphones, Ear Buds, Internal Speakers, External Speakers

      Most volunteers preferred either internal speakers or external speakers to
      either headphones or ear buds. Issues of comfort, sound quality, and

      overall portability are involved.

      Many users reported that they would prefer not having to use ear buds.
      During extended listening sessions they can become annoying. Also,
      most makes and models of ear buds are designed so that one size
      purportedly fits all. This often means that they don’t fit anyone really well.

Button Design

      For the portable playback devices tested during this study, the design of
      the buttons may be the most important aspect of accessibility of the
      overall design of these playback devices.


      The portability of the devices tested was very important to the volunteers.
      Portability involves more than size and weight. A built-in handle can
      enhance the portability of a device, as well as a build-in speaker, because
      then the user does not need to worry about headphones or earbuds and
      the associated cords. The shape and surface of the device also can affect
      one’s overall sense of its portability.

      “Any device made for use by visually impared persons should not be
      slippery or made without handels unless it is a desktop model. I had to use
      this one as though it were made for the desktop.”

Sound Quality

      Actually, sound quality is notable as a non-issue during these tests.
      Although many testers noticed little flaws and shortcomings in the sound
      quality of the devices and services they tested, most of them generally
      were satisfied to mildly impressed with the sound quality of these digital
      audio books.

Audible Clues

      Most of the volunteer testers expressed an interest in receiving audible
      clues when a button is pressed or a function is invoked in some way. The
      audible clue could be a beep, another noise, or a prerecorded or synthetic
      voice. However, many volunteers expressed the desire to be able to
      establish personal preferences concerning when an audible clue is

Keystroke Alternatives

      Providing keystroke alternatives to at least the essential—if not all—

     commands related to finding, checking out or purchasing (if necessary),
     downloading, transferring, and playing back digital audio books.

Narrated and/or Text-to-Speech Audiobooks

     Some of the volunteers want only narrated digital audio books, while
     others are willing to try the systems that perform artificial text-to-speech.
     Some of the volunteers who tried one of the devices or systems capable
     of producing text-to-speech reported that they missed the natural inflection
     of a narrated audiobook. Much TTS software appears to be at least
     minimally acceptable and accessible, and is highly dependent on personal
     preferences. Generally, male TTS voices tended to be preferred to female
     TTS voices.

Tip Sheets

     Many of the devices and systems offered online user guides, usually in
     HTML format. Whenever we knew that such a guide existed, we brought
     that to the attention of the volunteers. Nevertheless, there seemed to be
     demand for and value in developing shorter tip sheets, based on real use,
     that explained how to become oriented toward the device or system.
     Offering audiorecordings of these tips sheets proved to be useful, too.

     “Without the "tip sheet" provided by a MIDTB volunteer, the manual found
     on the manufacturere's web site would be nearly useless to a blind user.
     This users manual referrs to the LED and to visual labels which are not
     discernable tactally.”

General Consumer vs. Specially Designed Hardware, Software, and

     Both devices designed for the general consumer market and devices
     purportedly designed for use specifically for the visually impaired were
     included in this study. No attempt was made to distinguish between the
     two when volunteers were deciding which devices they wished to try.

     As expected the devices and systems specifically designed to be
     accessible to the print-impaired were more accessible in general than
     systems designed for the general consumer market, but one has to
     wonder if the cost-benefit ratio of these specially designed systems makes
     them the compelling choice. They tend to be much more expensive than
     similar general consumer devices. Both categories of devices would
     benefit from further design work in certain essential areas, such as buttons
     and audible clues.

From Testing to Purchasing

     Many of the volunteers in this study indicated that one motivation for
     participating was so that they could engage in extended testing of a
     variety of devices before making a purchase decision, which they already
     were contemplating before volunteering for this study. The purchasing
     potential of this large and growing segment of the general population
     should not be underestimated.

     ” I would like to investigate more portable digital devices and then plan to
     make a purchase in the future.”

     “I liked the MuVo so much that I subscribed to Audible and received the
     device in the mail”

     “I appreciate the opportunity to review these digital reading devices and
     intend to buy one this year.”

Tangible Outcomes

     The field tests undertaken as part of this study already have produced
     several tangible outcomes and encouraging new directions in the digital
     audio book marketplace.

           The Unabridged downloadable digital audio book service
            ( chose OverDrive for its platform and
            content. Unabridged currently is available to print-impaired
            individuals in five states: Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, New
            Hampshire, and Oregon. The service has been well-received by
            end-users and has grown steadily during the first ten months of

           More mainstream services and devices for the general consumer
            market, such as the new Playaway self-contained device, are
            offering variable speed playback as a functionality. This
            functionality was first appreciated and used heavily by print-
            impaired users.

           Some talking book centers and libraries for the blind and visually
            impaired have begun subscribing to one or more of the services
            tested. For example, the talking book centers in Illinois offer
            TumbleTalkingBooks, TumbleReadables, and the Tumble Book
            Library, which are appealing to younger print-impaired readers.

           Other vendors, software development teams, and device
            manufacturers have contacted to project team, expressing their
            interest in making their digital audio book systems more accessible

                 to, and generally usable by, everyone.

                The project team plans to continue field testing additional devices
                 and services. In particular, field tests of the forthcoming Playaway
                 self-contained portable digital audio book playback device will begin
                 in mid-November and run through March 2006. Also, more
                 extending testing of the BookShare service will begin later in 2005
                 and continue for several months. Final reports on these field tests
                 will be released later in 2006.

National Digital Audiobook Service from NLS

          Nearly all of the MIDTB volunteers were anxious to learn more about and
          try the national digital audio book service from the National Library Service
          for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, scheduled to launch in 2008.
          One volunteer succinctly stated the winning combination of a good
          playback device and a high-quality, large collection of spoken word
          content, “If a small & portable version of the Library of Congress' tape
          player machine were available, it would be my first choice as of now. Of
          course, the portable CD player that was described in the volunteer
          program, would be just as desireable as long as the books were available
          on CD from a source such as the NLS.”


          The total industry—both general consumer and adaptive technology firms-
          -that manufactures and distributes portable devices capable of playing
          digital audio books is large, diverse, evolving, and growing. This 12-
          month field test of a handful of portable audio playback devices provided a
          snapshot assessment. Like many projects, this project lacked sufficient
          funding to field test all of the devices we would have liked, such as the
          Apple iPod and the Plextalk PTN1. Other promising devices, such as the
          Victor Wave and the Playaway self-contained device, came to market too
          late for this study. We strongly recommend that some organization
          undertake this important work on an ongoing basis to test and evaluate
          the accessibility and general usability of these various devices.

Appendix A: Satisfaction Survey

     MIDTB Satisfaction Survey

     Thank you for trying one of the digital talking book systems being
     tested as part of the Mid-Illinois Digital Talking Book (MIDTB) Project
     ( Please take a few minutes to tell us what you
     liked and disliked about your experiences with the particular DTB
     system you recently tried. The questions below are grouped into
     categories: hardware, software, power source, and content. Please
     answer only those questions that pertain to the particular system you

     When you have completed this questionnaire, please return it to:

     Tom Peters
     1000 SW 23rd Street
     Blue Springs, MO 64015

  1. Please put an X in front of or behind the particular system you tried
     (each line lists one of the available devices or systems):

     Audio Navigator
     Book Courier
     Book Port
     Digisette Duo
     Soul Player
     Telex Scholar
     Tumble Readables (large print ebooks)
     Tumble Talking Books
     Victor Vibe
     Victor Classic Plus
     Other (Please specify):

  2. Overall, how would you describe your experience with this particular

   Very Satisfactory
   Somewhat Satisfactory
   Neither Satisfactory nor Unsatisfactory
   Somewhat Unsatisfactory
   Very Unsatisfactory

         About the Hardware

3. What is the primary quality, function, or feature of the hardware
   device that you would like to have changed or improved?

4. What was the most disappointing or annoying quality, function, or
   feature of the hardware device you tried?

5. What aspect of the hardware device did you like the most?

         About the Software

6. What aspect of the software did you like the most?

7. What was the most disappointing or annoying quality, function, or
   feature of the software you tried?

8. What is the primary quality, function, or feature of the software that
   you would like to have changed?

         About the Power Source

9. If you used a device that contained replaceable batteries or a battery
   pack, and if you had to replace the batteries, please describe your

10.     If you used a device that had rechargeable batteries and you
   recharged the device, please describe your experience.

        About the Content

11.     If you used a system that provided narrated content, how would
   you describe the overall quality of the narrated voice?

12.      If you used a system that utilized text-to-speech, which voice
   did you use?

13.      If you used a system that utilized text-to-speech, what did you
   like about the TTS engine?

14.     How important for you is non-linear navigation through a book?
   For example, do you review the table of contents then jump to the
   chapter of particular interest? Describe situations and types of books
   where non-linear navigation is particularly helpful for you.

15.     Any other comments or suggestions?

16.     Your Name (optional):

  (Please Note: None of the information you provide in your responses
  to these questions will be attributed to you directly in any reports or
  other communication emanating from this study.)

  Thank you for completing this questionnaire. Please return it to:
  Tom Peters
  1000 SW 23rd Street
  Blue Springs, MO 64015