"Out of the millions of books in the largest library in the country in 1977, the first successful blind student at the University of Tokyo couldn’t read a single one."
By Hiroshi Kawamura, Founder DAISY For ALL (DFA), President of the DAISY Consortium
Out of the millions of books in the largest library in the country in 1977, the first successful blind student at the University of Tokyo couldn’t read a single one. This fact inspired me to develop library and information services for blind students on campus thirty years ago.
As a librarian at the University of Tokyo, I conducted interviews with blind students at several other universities to explore the best library services. I learned that none of the significant services were being provided by Japanese university libraries at that time. This fact struck me and changed my life. My goal became the development of equitable information services for blind people and other disadvantaged people who were excluded from written human knowledge. Since then, Professor Jun Ishikawa, a sociologist, assistive technology developer, and the first blind student I met on campus, has been my best collaborator to develop information technology and services, including DAISY. He actually opened my eyes to the disability world.
Shortly thereafter, in 1981, the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons served as a springboard for my involvement in the international network of libraries serving the blind and other print handicapped people. Five years later, I planned and coordinated two international symposiums on digital audio technology and on promotion of library service for the blind in the developing world in conjunction with the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) General Conference in Tokyo. Looking back on it, I believe my commitment to digital technology and the developing world got started in earnest that year.
In 1990, while coordinating the IFLA Asian Seminar on Library Service for the Blind (SLB) to be held in Tokyo, I was appointed to the Chair of SLB. For five years, my duties as the Chair included holding seminars for developing countries in Asia and Latin America. The last official work I did as the Chair of the SLB Section of IFLA was to host an emergency meeting on the development of international standards for digital talking books during the IFLA General Council in Istanbul in 1995. The conclusion of this meeting was that the standard should be developed within two years.
I volunteered to take responsibility to implement the decision of the Istanbul meeting in collaboration with TPB (Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille) and RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People). Very fortunately, the Japanese Government funded international research of end users requirements in collaboration with IFLA to ensure international resource sharing. Six organizations, members of SLB, established the DAISY Consortium the following year. Our first task was to conduct international user requirements research in 30 countries around the world. In order to carry out the development of the international standard for the IFLA General Conference in Copenhagen in August 1997, I left government to work to take the position as the Interim Project Manager of the DAISY Consortium.
It was very fortunate that I was allowed to concentrate on DAISY development as the Director of the Information Center of the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (JSRPD) in April 1997. The functional specifications of the DAISY Standard represented by prototype players and production tools were successfully accepted by consumers who joined the worldwide DAISY trials. SLB acknowledged the result of the trial at its Standing Committee in Copenhagen; the decision of the Istanbul meeting was implemented in time.
The real challenge of the development of the Standard continued through the next year. In Sigtuna, a small town near Arlanda Airport in Sweden, the DAISY Consortium held an international technical meeting in 1997 which concluded that the DAISY file format specifications needed to be based on W3C Standards, such as HTML and SMIL. On behalf of the JSRPD, I had an opportunity to establish a contract for the development of SigtunaDAR, which is now a very widely used, free DAISY authoring tool.
The DAISY Consortium has been heavily involved in SMIL development in order to achieve the long term goal of synchronization of audio, text, and graphics based on widely accepted open, non-proprietary, and interoperable standards. It took more than one year after the Sigtuna meeting for SMIL to become a W3C standard, and the DAISY Consortium finalized the DAISY 2.0 Specifications shortly after. I learned a lot through this development process, and am very pleased to know that today the majority of library services for people with print disabilities utilize DAISY as the de facto standard.
I am very grateful to the kind and long standing support of the Nippon Foundation for the dissemination of DAISY technology in developing countries through the DAISY for All Project. This began with the Adaptive Multimedia Information System (AMIS) Project, a unique open source DAISY playback tool which has a great deal of flexibility to meet the requirements of a diversity of users. It was initiated by JSRPD. AMIS, which is one of the core activities of the DAISY for All Project, particularly in relation to developing countries, provides a language internationalization option. This is of primary importance where users should have a DAISY playback tool that "speaks" their own language. To date, there are at least nineteen languages available for AMIS, including Asian languages. I have been enjoying serving as the project manager of the DAISY for All Project to support DAISY initiatives in developing countries.
DAISY involvement in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as the Disability Focal Point is in line with the Vision and Mission of the DAISY Consortium, and is important in particular for me. It has been an exciting opportunity for me to co-host the Global Forum on Disability in the Information Society in both Geneva and Tunis in collaboration with colleagues in Switzerland and Tunisia.
We have identified that the right of access to information and knowledge is a fundamental human right, and set out the direction to tackle this issue through standard development with coordinated universal design concept and assistive technologies. The outcome of the WSIS was successfully transferred to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by WSIS active participants with disabilities.
Development of a global alliance for digital opportunities is another outcome of DAISY Consortium involvement with the WSIS. I have found a lot of global issues shared by the general public, including people with print disabilities who are waiting for global implementation of the DAISY Standard and worldwide availability of DAISY books.
Disaster preparedness through knowledge sharing has been picked up as the initial commitment to tackle global issues. The Phuket Conference on Tsunami Preparedness of Persons with Disabilities, held in January of this year, proved that DAISY is a powerful tool to promote disaster preparedness both for persons with various types of disabilities and the general public. Through the lessons we have learned so far, I believe that knowledge sharing is the key to successfully combating HIV/AIDS and even global warming.
Development of a human-centric information society by promoting digital opportunities is the globally agreed core concept of the WSIS outcome. The spirit of WSIS was successfully transferred to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As the organization developing accessible information standards for those who are excluded from current main stream knowledge sharing and eventually for everybody in the society, the DAISY Consortium will continue to commit itself to being actively involved in the implementation process of the WSIS Plan of Actions including the Internet Governance Forum to bridge the digital divide, and to implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I really wish to see a community in which everybody may read and understand accessible, feature-rich content at the same time, and without any additional cost, so that nobody is excluded from society, as described in the Vision of the DAISY Consortium. I am very happy to be a member of the DAISY community and to share such a beautiful dream.
Hiroshi Kawamura is currently serving as the President of the DAISY Consortium. He is based in Tokyo but travels around the world promoting DAISY.
We encourage other DAISY users to submit their story and get further involved.