Lynn Leith

Photograph of Lynn LeithThis is actually 'my story' rather than 'your story'. For years I've thought that I would share my story with you in the last issue of the DAISY Planet that I publish. Well, the December 2014 DAISY Planet is that very issue, and this, my dear friends, is my story. Get comfortable, this is going to be a long one! I do hope it doesn't bore you to tears.

Long ago, and far away, well, not really that far away, but certainly long ago, I was hired to fill the position of "Studio Supervisor" at the headquarters of the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) in Toronto, Canada. It was late 1979. Little did I know that my life was about to change completely, that I would find in this work an emotional stimulant – a commitment – that many times would take over my life…ask my husband or children; I have no doubt that they would agree completely.

Those Tape Days

Lynn and team member, CNIB Montreal A to D Conversion area Books were recorded onto open reel tapes by volunteer, hundreds of them. I still stay in touch with Helen Perry, my first 'CNIB boss'. When the time came to lead a workshop for more than 50 people, my first 'public speaking' experience, my heart raced, my hands shook. It was terrifying, but it seems it was a success. Helen soon had me involved with the National Braille Association. I served on the NBA board of directors as chair of the tape recording committee for two terms, giving workshops across North America. Eventually I was also given responsibility for the CNIB studios in Montreal and then Winnipeg, as well as for the duplication and talking book repair operations in Toronto. But, no matter what was done, tape was still tape; for someone who could not read print, reading a book on cassette was linear. As Kjell Hansson, one of the Three DAISY Musketeers once said, it was like trying to read a book on a roll of toilet paper. Try to get to the middle of that roll quickly – you'll see how impossible it is to navigate. On top of everything else, tape was getting harder and harder to find and incredibly expensive. What was the solution? (You all know!)

The DAISY Seed was Sown

Photograph of a small group of people at the 1995 meeting in Toronto, Canada; Lynn is seated in the background. April 1995 was exceptionally cold and wet, but it was nonetheless the best April I can remember. A small number of organizations, including Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in the USA, the CNIB met every other year to discuss issues and the future of library services for their clients. One of the key topics for the meeting in 1995 was if, when and how to transition to digital talking books. Organizations around the world heard about the meeting and it was not long before what was to have been a small group became a very large international meeting.

I was incredibly fortunate to be able attend that conference as an observer and to witness the 'seed of DAISY' being sown. Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt, who the following year would become the first President of the DAISY Consortium, met with representatives from a small number organizations interested in what she had proposed at the meeting: that organizations work together to make digital talking books a reality. These organizations became the six founding members of the DAISY Consortium.

It was at a conference 'side event' that I saw a DAISY player prototype demonstrated by none other than the aforementioned Kjell Hansson and one of the other 'musketeers', Lars Sönnebo. It was difficult to contain my excitement – it was remarkable, incredible. The system was already called "DAISY", the moniker given by Lars (you can read his story to find out how this came to pass). That was the first time I heard the 'toilet paper' analogy, which I know has been used by many people in many places in years since. I was convinced, certain, that this was the answer. That first taste of "DAISY" changed my life, and in time it would improve the lives of so many people around the world who for the first time would be able to read as efficiently and easily as those who used print.

But, Really, What Did End Users Need & Want?

If memory serves me right it was later in 1995 that I received an unexpected invitation to speak at a meeting focused on the user requirements for the "Next Generation of Talking Books". I'll never forget Stephen King speaking to me on my way to the podium: "Speak slowly, remember there are lots of translators here". (Stephen was the chair of the EBU working group which was tasked with the report.) It was a very large group and indeed, many of the delegates were accompanied by a translator. That was the first time I spoke in front of an international audience. Little did I know that it would be far from the last.

In early 1996, the European Blind Union published Reaching Forward to the 21st Century: User Requirements for the Next Generation of Talking Books which is one of several historical documents at the bottom of the "History" page on the DAISY website. Most of the requirements as outlined in that report were met by the evolving DAISY Standards.

DAISY to the Rescue

Ingar Beckman Hirschfeld speaking at the DAISY 15th Anniversary dinner, Helsinki, 2011 As you may already know the DAISY Consortium was established in 1996. Ingar, our first President, sent letters on behalf of the newly establish consortium to organizations around the world inviting them to become 'Full Members' or 'Associate Members'. The CNIB, where I was still working, chose to join as an Associate Member (that would change later when the CNIB would join as a Full Member as the lead of the Canadian DAISY Consortium). Rosemary Kavanagh was the Executive Director of the CNIB Library at the time. She saw a future in the Consortium even though a conference call with a senior engineer with a powerful reputation suggested that the "DAISY" format would disappear without a whisper. He was wrong, and Rosemary and I were right…the future of DAISY was not only bright; it would become the format most adopted around the world for accessible information.

Diving into DAISY Head First

In 1996-1997 I headed up Canada's participation in the international DAISY field trials which were conducted in 32 countries. To this day I still remember the expressions on people's faces as they used the prototype DAISY player developed by Shinano Kenshi Co., Ltd. (Plextor). Joy and amazement are the words that best describe those reactions.

The ABC Bug

About that same time we started trying to produce DAISY books in the CNIB studios. It was with very early software and the output was "DAISY 1". Through this involvement I got to know people in other countries who were trying to use that same program – some just gave up because it was so buggy. Blair Stainton, one of our studio staff, worked tirelessly trying to produce a book called "Aligoté to Zinfandel". It was heavily structured and included the index. I documented and reported any and all issues, bugs and suggestions to the software developer, Labyrinten Data AB in Sweden. The weirdest bug we found became known as the "ABC Bug" – it only occurred when a main structure heading started with the letters A, B, or C, and if that heading contained more than 79 navigation points. I swear, I remember this like it was yesterday. Miraculously the project was completed, and, that book was used as a demonstration book at conferences, meetings and demonstrations by at least one of the two companies that were developing DAISY players: Plextor and VisuAide (now HumanWare).

"I Could Do That"

Edmar Schut and Lynn Leith at a DAISY 15th Anniversary event in Helsinki, Finland 2011 Everything ramped up rather quickly for me from this point. I was spending almost as much time on DAISY related activities as I was on anything dealing with CNIB operations. One day on a conference call with George Kerscher (then the DAISY Consortium's Project Manager, now the Secretary General) he told me that there was so much to do he and Edmar Schut (the only two on the DAISY staff team at that point) were having trouble keeping up. They needed a hand with training and technical support for DAISY Members. My response was simply "I could do that." The next thing I knew there was a contract between the DAISY Consortium and the CNIB for 50% of my time. I was officially on the DAISY team!

Covering a Lot in a Little Space

In light of how long it has taken me to get this far in 'my story' I think I'd best just summarize some of the highlights of the next 15 or so years…after all, this is not supposed to be a book!

Training & Technical Support (T&TS)

Moving forward with DAISY implementation meant that a couple of things had to happen. We needed a standard that was open and based on existing open standards, and, we needed a production tool that would enable our Members to actually create valid content to that standard. Heated meetings were held, with each representative asking for more features from the software to be developed. Edmar and I worked closely with the tool developer to ensure that the program would meet those needs. I coordinated the software testing being done in numerous countries for years before it was ready. The result was LpStudio/Pro which was finally released to our Members in 2003. Although it has not been developed for many years, it is still in use by at least a couple of organizations.

Group meeting introducing DAISY in Greece, 2007 My position title was "International Training & Technical Support Coordinator", and in this role I organized and lead courses for DAISY Member organizations and also "introduced" DAISY in a number of countries. At least a couple of these sessions were attended by people from more than one language group. Almost all included participants with a visual disability. Other members of the T&TS team also led and assisted with DAISY courses. One of these people in particular stands out as a "torch bearer" for DAISY in Australia and New Zealand. Andrew Furlong advocated for the DAISY Standard and for the benefits DAISY brought to both end users and producers. Early on he almost singlehandedly persuaded the lead organizations producing accessible publications in the region to adopt DAISY.

In March 2001 the 1st International DAISY Technical Conference called "End-to-End Solutions for DAISY DTB" took place in California immediately preceding CSUN. It was a memorable event, an event where we all learned something new and where we had an opportunity to meet many people face-to-face for the first time. Apart from this DAISY Conference, CSUN, the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference was always a wonderful event for the DAISY Community. Although I haven't attended for a number of years now, I will always remember those conferences fondly.

Along with George and Edmar I co-authored the "DAISY Basic Training Manual" which for years was the primary resource used by organizations implementing DAISY production. Another major DAISY Consortium publication in which I was involved as co-author and editor was the DAISY Structure Guidelines. Brandon Nelson, who was with the CNIB at the time, worked closely with me this project.

In 2006 I was asked by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, the largest UK body representing information development professionals, to write a two-part article for their publication "The Communicator". Both Part 1 Reading the DAISY Way and Part 2 Inside DAISY are available on the DAISY website.

Full-Time DAISY

At the close of 2006 I retired from the CNIB after 26 years and took a full-time position with the DAISY Consortium. Responsibilities that were formally added were communications, and support for the DAISY Board of Directors.

I'd been involved with the content development and 'look and feel' of the DAISY website early on and had become known to many within our membership. At a 2007 staff meeting in Missoula Montana we decided that we needed to reach out to our membership more actively, and the DAISY Planet newsletter was born. I would love to take credit for the name, but cannot; that credit goes to George Kerscher who came up with it as we brainstormed for titles. With the exception of one issue since the first in August 2007, I have produced, edited and published every issue. The Planet has been my way of sharing with you everything that I've thought would be meaningful and/or helpful to our community. Since 2008 I have followed and shared information about the development of the WIPO Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled and I will personally continue to follow the progress toward ratification.

Group photograph taken at the meeting in Bogota, Columbia In 2007 the Consortium was asked to meet with organizations from South America to discuss the possibility of DAISY Full Membership. The meeting was to be held in Bogota Columbia, and the language of the meeting was to be Spanish. Francisco Martinéz, our Board representative for ONCE (Spanish National Organisation of the Blind), and I met with a large group of people representing multiple organizations. The outcome of that meeting was the formation of DAISY Latino, a membership of organizations of/for the Blind in Latin America. The worldwide economic crash in 2008 negatively affected many of these organizations. DAISY Latino was as a result disbanded, however Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, one of the original DAISY Latino members, has continued as a Full Member.

Totally Unexpected

Grace Worts Award ceremony, 2008; from left to right: Margaret McGrory, Lynn Leith, Karen Taylor, Susan Ewing Karen Taylor, surely the most wonderful 'boss' in the world, nominated me for a CNIB award. I reported to Karen in my final 10 or so years with CNIB. She nominated me for the highest award given by CNIB to present or past employees. I was selected as the 2008 winner of that award. Robert Elton, Chair, Grace Worts Staff Service Committee notified me and wrote: "Our committee felt that you were most deserving as through your work you have had a profound impact on the lives of blind and visually impaired persons, both in Canada and abroad." I was utterly astonished.

An Honour & a Privilege

I have been blessed in my career, over and over again. Perhaps "blessed" is not quite the right word, but it's close. Over the years I've met some truly wonderful and amazing people. It is these people and the organizations or companies they work for who have made accessible information into more than a dream. If I begin to name these incredible people, I know I will miss at least a few of you, so it's probably best not to try. Some I've come to know through working with you on your "stories"; others I've met in person many times. You can read about some of these amazing folks on the DAISY Stories page. Working with the Consortium has allowed me to travel to meetings, conferences and training programs in many countries around the world, and to meet so many of you. If someone had told me 35 years ago that my life would unfold as it has, I would not have believed them.

I truly believe that if it were not for the work of the DAISY Consortium we would not today have accessibility features built into EPUB 3, the international mainstream publishing specification. Decades ago I said that I was 'working toward working myself out of a job' … that day would come when all information was accessible to everyone, everywhere. We are getting there.

It has been an honour and a privilege to have been a part of this process, a part of the DAISY community from the beginning. In June 2016 the DAISY Consortium will celebrate its 20th anniversary in Stockholm, Sweden. I will be there…in fact, I wouldn't miss it for the world.