Stephen King - Part 2

Photograph of Stephen King speaking at the M-Enabling Summit, Washington, DC, December 2011Stephen King, President of the DAISY Consortium, concluded Part 1 of his story, My DAISY Journey: the Early Years, with these words: "it was resolved that the next generation of talking books should be developed by international co-operation ... The idea of the DAISY Consortium was born." In Part 2 Stephen continues his journey through the early days of DAISY, bringing us to today, to a world where information accessible to every one is closer than ever before.

(This is the second part of a two-part story)

PART 2: My DAISY Journey – En Route to Changing the World

The DAISY Consortium is Born

EBU Talking Book User Requirements Working Group, 1996 As well as interest amongst libraries about modernising talking book services, there was worldwide interest amongst organisations of and for blind people. 'Nothing about us without us' was an important principal, and there had been a number of reports on the subject amongst disability groups. John Wall, then President of the European Blind Union, commissioned a Work Group in an attempt to reach a unified voice; he asked me to chair that group. In early 1996 we published the "User Requirements for the Next Generation of Talking Books". That original agreement is available in the History section of the DAISY website. This became one of the guiding documents for the Consortium, and it is good to know that most of the stated requirements are delivered by the DAISY Digital Talking Books of today, and most of the rest will be delivered by the EPUB 3 books of tomorrow.

Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt, Helsinki, 2011 That same year, in early '96, after an informal dinner hosted by the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille (TPB) in Stockholm Sweden, I drafted the headings for an international agreement – on a restaurant napkin. We formalised the "DAISY Consortium" on May 7, 1996 in our founding agreement signed by libraries for the blind from six countries – Sweden, Japan, Spain, the UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. It was agreed that we would work together to develop and promote a worldwide standard for the next generation of talking books, and to share information and development costs.

Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt representing TPB was elected President, and the DAISY Consortium started its work. There were a few difficulties in those early days, but once we had recruited George Kerscher as the Consortium's Secretary General, I knew we could change the world; I've been an active member of the DAISY Board of Directors and a DAISY "evangelist" ever since.


First prototype Plextalk DAISY playerRNIB launched its DAISY Talking book service in 2002. After a number of years of decline, our customer base started to grow again as word got around about the benefits of this 'better way to read', much helped by our DAISY Friends who continued to innovate improved DAISY players for all types of users. Lead by Peter Osborne and Fazilet Hadi, it took us about 3 years to convert the majority of our customers from the old six track tapes to DAISY, and nearly 5 years before we finally abandoned all of our tape-based services. After this huge investment and change programme, RNIB was delivering 8,000 - 10,000 DAISY books and some 40,000 hours of reader pleasure to its customers every day, with great customer feedback.

Reading is a Right

Right To Read logo However we could still only deliver a small fraction of the books published in print. This inspired RNIB's "Right to Read" Campaign which was soon taken up worldwide by the World Blind Union and many of its members. In the mid 90's there had been talk amongst IFLA colleagues about the idea of a "World Library" to enable us to share resources, but one of the big impediments was the world copyright regime, or at least some people's interpretation of it.

Photograph of Stevie Wonder, Source WIPO Searching for a solution lead my colleague David Mann to WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) in Geneva in the late 90's. We were told there was no possibility of a change to the Berne Convention which some (not me) seemed to think prevents the export and import of Braille and Talking books produced under license or national copyright exceptions. Well, the World Blind Union (WBU) likes a challenge! And we set determined people onto the challenge: David Mann, Dan Pescod, Chris Friend and Maryanne Diamond to name but a few. They even brought in Stevie Wonder to help make the case. This is still unfinished business, but I'm quietly confident there is going to be a new copyright treaty that addresses access for people who have a print disability in the next couple of years, along with a whole new relationship with the publishing industry.

Accessible Cash, TV & Mobile Phones

Reading is not my only interest, nor is it the main interest of people who are blind or partially sighted. Being able to use money is crucial, which lead then President of EBU John Wall to have me chair an EU work group on the design of notes and coins to influence the design of the Euro currency introduced in 2002. I learned a great deal about international power politics, and though we did not get everything we wanted, the Euro notes and coins used millions of times a day are, in my opinion, the best in the world for everyday use – they are differentiated by strong colours, size and shape. And now, as well as e-books, e-money is a significant area of continued work for RNIB.

Research had shown us in the early 90's how important, but extremely frustrating watching TV was for people who are blind or partially sighted. And, our intuition had told us mobile phones were going to be vital for independence. Kevin Carey (now chair of RNIB) had long argued that far more people watched TV and used the phone than read, and that RNIB should be focusing as much on these media as it did on reading. The issues of simple independent access and navigation were exactly the same as we were tackling with DAISY.

Photograph of Kevin Carey, Chair of RNIB, December 2011, Source RNIB website The result was work sponsored by RNIB board members Kevin Carey and Mike Townsend with amazing far-sighted colleagues at RNIB such as John Gill, Fazilet Hadi, Steve Tyler and Richard Orme, supported by the WBU Technology Work Group. Through this we enabled the creation of talking mobile phones (now pretty ubiquitous) and audio description of TV programmes and films – 20% of all TV in the UK is now broadcast with audio description, as are most films and videos. The most recent endeavor is Smart Talk talking TV which enables people to navigate and manage their TV viewing independently. This feature is coming to a TV near you very soon. Our aim was to show that it could be done, and to persuade mainstream TV manufacturers to include the features – and they are doing so. These are all long stories in themselves.

Driven to Solve Challenges

My RNIB career has not just been about disruptive technology. I'm proud of how RNIB chair Colin Low and CEO Lesley-Anne Alexander and our leadership team turned RNIB into a mass membership organisation. We are driven to solve the challenges our members tell us about and we are not afraid to tackle the really big problems. Currently my RNIB role is to lead our work on prevention of blindness whilst continuing to support the management of our world class accessibility and innovation teams. My mission is to deliver the UK commitment to the WHO Vision 2020 programme to eliminate avoidable sight loss. But that's the next chapter of my story, and it's not written yet. Read all about it in 2020. And read about my life outside DAISY and RNIB (UK National Health Service, Sightsavers International) on my Linked-In profile.

Stephen King receiving the DAISY Consortium Culture of Sharing Award, Amsterdam, 2008 But the thing in my career I'm most proud of is the work of all the people around the world to deliver our shared DAISY vision – not just our original mission to deliver a better way to read for the many hundreds of thousands of talking book users worldwide. But also our commitment to tackle the root cause of print disability by developing and promoting the standards, tools and technologies needed for a better more inclusive way to publish – for all publishers worldwide. We are now on the verge of a revolution as e-books take the world by storm. As Hiroshi Kawamura says, the DAISY consortium's gift to the publishing world, EPUB 3, is the collected experience of people with print disabilities who've been e-book readers for more than a decade. We are in the right place at the right time with the best way to read and publish. By supporting the ever growing band of publishing industry and library colleagues worldwide who are committed to inclusion, we will change the world.

So we are in for some very exciting times. I'm really looking forward to working with all of you over the next 4 years as President of the DAISY Consortium.

Part 1 of Stephen King's story was published in the January issue of the DAISY Planet.

Photo sources:
• Photograph of Stevie Wonder: WIPO Magazine, December 2010 (WIPO Terms of Use/General Disclaimer)
• Photograph of Kevin Carey: RNIB website, Books of my life: Kevin Carey