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NLS Press Release

Library of Congress launches Web-Braille on the Internet for blind and visually impaired library users

For Immediate Release:
August 24, 1999
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or [email protected]

Braille readers can now read their books on the Internet thanks to a historic technological breakthrough by The Library of Congress called Web-Braille.

Readers now have access to more than 2,700 electronic braille books recently placed on the Internet for the use of eligible braille readers by the Library's National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Each year many hundreds of new titles will be added.

Braille, a system of raised dots that is read with the fingers, has historically been embossed on paper. The system was invented by Louis Braille of France in the early 1800s. As a result of new computer technology, braille readers may now access Web-Braille digital braille book files with a computer and a refreshable braille display (electronic device that raises or lowers an array of pins to create a line of braille characters) or a braille embosser. These 2,700 braille book titles are available on the Internet for download or online use by eligible individuals, libraries, and schools with a computer and a braille output device. About 40 new titles per month are released in braille and immediately available online to users.

Dr. Judith Dixon, consumer relations officer at the Library of Congress stated; "It occurred to us several years ago that the computer files used to emboss braille books on paper might be able to be placed online for Internet access," she said. After a pilot project to determine that the Web-Braille concept would work, NLS began placing current book titles on the Internet. The new service began August 24, 1999 when an American citizen, and NLS patron living in Vienna, Austria, made the first acccess on Web-Braille.

Library users of the national reading program for blind and physically handicapped individuals access Web-Braille on the Internet using an individual user ID and password. Web-Braille materials can be made available only to eligible users who are residents of the U.S. or American citizens living abroad.

The Library of Congress also produces braille versions of many national magazines, and is now exploring the feasibility of adding these magazines to Web-Braille for its users.

"This is the first massive effort internationally to make braille book collections accessible on the Internet," says Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of NLS. This achievement reflects the Library of Congress commitment to make its collections more usable and accessible to eligible users. It also reflects the first initiative by NLS to distribute its collections of books and magazines in digital formats to its borrowers. NLS is also developing a digital talking book for its users, continuing its historic national leadership in creating new recorded and braille products for America's blind and physically handicapped individuals," he said.

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Posted on 2011-01-10