Innovative publishing for people who have visual impairments

Jo Burges e1499272279165

It’s entirely possible that you won’t have heard of Calibre and yet this organisation is a key part of the publishing supply chain for thousands of adults and children in the UK and EU.

Nearly 2,000,000 people in the UK suffer from sight loss (either partial or complete) and of these over 25,000 are children. It is estimated that by 2050 the number will be nearing 4,000,000 or nearly 5% of the total population.* This huge rise is primarily the result of an ageing population but also comes about because of the increase in diabetes which often leads to sight problems – a vast group of people for whom access to traditional forms of reading is severely (if not completely) restricted.

I suspect that you, like me, take your sight and ability to read what you want, when and where you want, for granted – imagine a world in which this is not the case.

Who are Calibre?

Calibre Audio Library is a national charity providing unabridged, copyright-compliant audio books for the blind, partially-sighted and those with reading difficulties.

While audio books for people who struggle to read print have been available via CD or memory stick for some time these rely on a physical item (the CD/memory stick) being sent to and from organizations like Calibre, and inevitably requires help from someone other than the person who wants the book. We live in a world in which access to instant information and entertainment is a given – and Calibre set themselves the mission of extending that to their members as well.

What has been achieved?

CAlibre appWorking with a team of consultants and developers from i-Publishing Consultants CAL Download has been created – an app which will transform access to Calibre’s library of almost 10,000 spoken books.

Making access to audio books available as a download service, the app, with spoken audio prompts, puts control firmly in the hands of the user, giving them instant access, control and the valued independence that they have not previously had.

Furthermore, while the application doesn’t require any sight (because of the use of intuitive application-specific gesturing), it has been designed to also support those with macular degeneration (with limited and decreasing levels of sight), and other conditions where people have limited sight, providing the largest possible visual clues depending on the size of the device being used. For a disadvantaged community this is a hugely powerful and unique development.

Calibre take their relationships with, and responsibilities to, the publishing industry extremely seriously and are signatories to the Marrakesh Treaty, so it was crucial that the app included high levels of security and encryption. This presented a few challenges along the way but the end result ensures that the digital media is protected from unauthorised access.

Mark of success

Calibre and i-Publishing Consultants were recently presented with the 2017 Stationers’ Company Innovation Excellence Award for Social Development. This award recognises new communication programmes that enhance social development and which have a focus on community projects, education and the environment. The judges said they:

.. appreciated not only the use of developing technology but also recognised its importance in terms of the social good. This was seen as an app that has the potential to change people’s lives by utilising digital technology to make Calibre’s existing audio programme products more accessible to those with sight difficulties.

Jo Burges, from i-Publishing Consultants, commented:

It has been a privilege to be involved with this project – it’s not often in business that you get the sense that what you are doing will truly make a difference to people. As a team of independent consultants, with a broad range of skills, our aim is to enable organisations to profit (in the broadest possible sense) from creating new products, optimising their information management and engaging effectively with their communities of interest –    CAL Download epitomises these aims.

The coming months will see a soft launch of the app to existing Calibre members, with a more widespread launch planned for the end of the year. If you would like to know more about the project Jo Burges can be contacted on 07534090509 or via email [email protected]

* RNIB –

After 30 years in academic publishing (the final 13 years at board level) Jo now works alongside fellow directors Michael Collins and Robin Miles to run i-Publishing Consultants. The company specialises in working with publishers, cultural heritage organisations and the not-for-profit sector to help them make the very best use of technology and information management and to engage effectively with their customers and members.

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