Computers: Guide disc for the blind: Invaluable advice for visually impaired people has been put on computer format. Kevin Carey reports

There are more than a million blind and visually impaired people in the United Kingdom and one of their obvious problems is getting information about their condition, what it means, how they can be helped and help themselves. This information is also vital for an even larger potential market of family, friends, carers, colleagues and officials.

The authoritative publication in this field is the In Touch Handbook, an offshoot of the BBC Radio 4 programme. Until now, the book has come in three hard formats, each of which has its own limitations.

The printed version runs to 530 pages of standard type, which presents partially sighted readers with difficulties; the tape version is now much easier to get round but this has meant expanding it to 27 cassettes; and the Braille version, in seven volumes, occupies well over a cubic foot (the storage space for approximately 75 LPs) and weighs 16lb.

But this year, for the first time, each hard copy comes with two free computer disks containing all the text and, for an extra pounds 4.95, another six discs can be supplied which enormously expand the potential of the book. The whole package takes up 5MB and will run on a 286.

Pia, the Cardiff-based producers of the multi-media disk version were faced with some severe technical tests.

As Mike Joseph, its managing partner, said: 'We could have gone for CD-rom and Windows, which would have given us a superb product, but most of our potential market runs modest computers and Windows presents visually impaired computer users with problems. 'We just had to stretch Dos to the limits, and beyond, in order to produce the results we wanted.'

The basic text is easy to load and its most pleasing feature is the use of a 'link' mechanism to deal with cross referencing. The problem with ordinary searching tools is that you can only look for something if you strongly suspect it is there; you have to know your subject.

But with this system each sub-section signposts cross-references so that people suffering from a particular eye condition might be pointed towards special areas, for example in the self-administration of insulin or cricket clubs that cater for visually impaired people. These handy stepping-stones in the data lake are as easy to use with a voice synthesiser as they are on screen.

The simultaneous launch of four formats is a UK first but there are other ways in which this publication breaks new ground.

One of the additional disks contains Ferret software which allows clients and carers to calculate their state benefits rights. Another disk contains the stills from the book with sound picture captions for visually impaired people which use the ordinary PC speaker facility; yet another contains animations of the onset of various blinding conditions and another contains a video of a blind person tackling independent mobility problems. 'We could have done a lot more,' Mr Joseph explained, 'if we had not been limited to Dos.'

Perhaps the really important feature of the publication is the licence which allows users to print off sections of the book in Braille or large 14-point print. 'We recognise that there has always been informal photocopying by fully sighted people,' Mr Joseph said. 'We just wanted to put visually impaired people on an equal and legitimate footing.'

What started as the 'fourth force' may soon be primary. The handbook data is being continuously updated so disk versions soon supersede hard copies.

The day is not long off when the publishers will have to consider turning the publication into an updated information service paid for by subscription with hard copies published in Braille, large print or standard print to order.

These developments raise other issues, too. When is a book not a book but a broadcast? How important are sales compared with circulation when backers like the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Guide Dogs Association might be more interested in circulation than sales? In this world the intricacies of copyright and profit take on a new aspect.

Mr Joseph, who put the multi-media version together as an experiment, thinks that CD-rom could be just round the corner but he may not even reach the end of the street.

The idea needs long-term commitments from major backers but for all the rhetoric about the entrepreneurial spirit and the need to experiment, this project might be just too adventurous to attract support.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?