Tag Archives: accessibility

Open Library for Language Learners

By Guyrandy Jean-Gilles 2020-07-21

A quick browse through the App Store and aspiring language learners will find themselves swimming in useful programs.

But for experienced linguaphiles, the never-ending challenge is finding enough raw content and media to consume in their adopted tongue. Open Library can help.

Earlier this year, Open Library added reading levels to their catalog for more than three thousand books. The ability to search by reading level, combined with filtering by language, provides the savvy patron a convenient way to find, read, and listen to handfuls of elementary books in their desired language.

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Time travel through millions of historic Open Library images

The BBC has an article about Kalev Leetaru’s project to extract images from millions of Open Library pages.

You can read about how it works…

The Internet Archive had used an optical character recognition (OCR) program to analyse each of its 600 million scanned pages in order to convert the image of each word into searchable text. As part of the process, the software recognised which parts of a page were pictures in order to discard them.

Mr Leetaru’s code used this information to go back to the original scans, extract the regions the OCR program had ignored, and then save each one as a separate file in the Jpeg picture format. The software also copied the caption for each image and the text from the paragraphs immediately preceding and following it in the book. Each Jpeg and its associated text was then posted to a new Flickr page, allowing the public to hunt through the vast catalogue using the site’s search tool.

“I think one of the greatest things people will do is time travel through the images,” Mr Leetaru said.

… or just check out some of the results. Images plus citations plus metadata! We couldn’t be happier. Free to use with no restrictions.

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Upgrading ‘Accessible’ to ‘Fully Accessible’

The Internet Archive wants to grant universal access to all knowledge. It’s important to note that ‘universal’ and ‘all’ in that sentence aren’t generalities. When we say ‘universal,’ we mean for everybody, and when we say ‘all,’ we mean everything. To that end, Open Library has been conducting ongoing testing with one of our most important audiences in order to create a website that allows blind and visually impaired visitors access to all available resources, and particularly to downloadable books.

Last Thursday, October 7th, George Oates (Open Library’s lead designer), Mike McCabe (our resident DAISY file specialist) and I visited LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired here in San Francisco and sat down with three extremely patient and helpful volunteers to observe while they used our new site to find and download books to their book readers.

According to Lisamaria Martinez, one of our volunteers, blind and visually impaired readers generally read several times the number of books that sighted readers do, yet have access to only a small fraction of them. Newer titles in particular are hard to find in accessible formats – and these are the titles we’re starting to make available as “protected” DAISY files which can be loaded onto a variety of book reading devices like the Victor Stream or BookSense readers. It’s vitally important that we make them easy to find, easy to download and easy to use.

As a front-end coder and visual designer, I’ve often made assumptions about visitors to websites I’m designing or coding, but have rarely taken the time to consider those who can’t see the pages until now. How do you navigate without vision? How can we convey the same kind of visual codes about the page’s contents (headlines, colors, white space, keylines, and so on) to blind and visually impaired visitors?

We went in without any formal test plans because we wanted to watch as the testers – who hadn’t used the site at all – first encountered it and used its search features to find titles they wanted to read or find out more about. If you’re trying to make your site more accessible, here’s a few of the lessons I learned from just a few hours of observation and that we’ll be implementing in the coming weeks.

  • First, and foremost, code to web standards. This seems obvious and is just good practice, but if you’re ever tempted to cheat a little bit and use tags or elements for unintended purposes, resist that urge or find another solution. Just because a page “looks right” doesn’t mean it is.
  • Headers (H1, H2, etc.) are often used as page navigation in screen readers. Use them! Don’t fall back on resizing text and bolding text to mimic headers visually. Sprinkle them about liberally so visitors can skip down your pages to important parts.
  • Try to set font sizes at relative (em) measurements via style sheets. Visually impaired visitors often want to enlarge text for easier reading, and some browsers refuse to re-size fonts set to absolute pixel (px) sizes.
  • Page headers or sections are often implied by color or placement and don’t always have explanatory text to describe what the information is. For example, on our search results page, we provide search filter lists along the right side of the page with labels like “Authors” and “Subjects” but didn’t implicitly explain what they do. Adding a simple header with a line of explanation about their usage, with a link for search syntax, helps.
  • We often try to compress labels to as few words as possible, believing that the accompanying information was obvious – except if you can’t see the accompanying text and you’re navigating by header. We’re using more explanatory copy in our labels now.
  • As you probably already know, titles and image alternate text (the ALT element in the IMG tag) are extremely important when you can’t see the images – like book covers. We were inserting the book titles as alternate text, but that really didn’t explain that they were covers of the books. Think about what the image is, rather than what it conveys visually.
  • If we’re missing information about a work or one of its editions, we either don’t show the field at all or leave it blank. That’s usually okay, but in one special circumstance it caused some confusion. Editions of a work are originally presented by date of publication – which would be great, except that places editions with no known publication date first. Simply noting those cases by adding in “Published date unknown” rather than no text at all adds meaning.
  • Navigation between pages was sometimes problematic. In particular, in order to download a DAISY file to read the book, we move the site visitor to a dedicated page that provides some necessary explanations about protected DAISYs because anyone can download one, but you need a special license to actually open it. But the page was missing one key feature: a search field. This turns out to be the primary way in which visually impaired visitors (as well as sighted visitors) explore a site. We provide a search field on every page except the DAISY download page, which isn’t obvious if you can’t see it. Adding a link to the search page brought back a sense of comfort to our testers.

We still have some gaps and holes to fill in, and we’ll keep testing the site both formally and informally to further enhance accessibility for every visitor. If you’re in the business of building sites, I heartily recommend that you contact an organization for the blind and visually impaired in your own city or town and give it a run-through with an audience that is often neglected, if not ignored. I’ll bet they’ll be overjoyed to help you out and you’ll wind up with a better site in the end.

Over 1 Million Digital Books Now Available Free to the Print-Disabled

More than doubling the number of books available to print disabled people of all ages, today the Internet Archive launched a new service that brings free access to more than 1 million books – from classic 19th Century fiction and current novels to technical guides and research materials – now available in the specially designed format to support those who are blind, dyslexic or otherwise visually impaired.

Read the full press release on archive.org

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