BT technology creates ‘talking’ books, magazines and newspapers by automating the process of turning words into audio files
BT has given electronic accessible books a new voice, creating a prototype synthetic voice application that works with EasePublisher from Dolphin Computer Access and speeding up the production of electronic accessible books enjoyed by thousands of people in the UK with a visual impairment.
By enabling software called Laureate to run on EasePublisher – an application that turns text into navigable electronic books – the amount of publications that are made available to visually impaired people is significantly increased.
Automation of the process involving the two applications means that many more kinds of publications can be converted than ever before, including periodicals and magazines.
Traditionally, accessible books have required high quality production streams such as the vocal skills of a professional actor for novels in the genre of Harry Potter or Bridget Jones. This level of production is not always required for the audio production of more workaday reading matter, for which Laureate’s own male or female voices are sufficiently capable of adding intonation and making them right for the purpose.
BT has been working closely with the National Library for the Blind (NLB) and Dolphin Computer Access for several months during development of the prototype, with full support from the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB). BT has also worked with the RNIB on many past technology collaborations within the remit of its award-winning Age and Disability Unit.
To develop the application, BT technologists have worked alongside Dolphin Computer Access, a company that specialises in developing software that turns text into an industry-standard audio mark-up language called DAISY. By using the DAISY format, text files, audio and images can be combined and synchronised as a Digital Talking Book, whereby the text is highlighted in time with the spoken word. This allows listeners to navigate and search the entire contents of the book, as well as add bookmarks (both text and audio), access footnotes and customise the size of the on-screen text. By adding Laureate to the DAISY format, the earliest computer-generated accessible book is made real.
A trial started in December 2004 involving more than 400 regular users of accessible PCs is underway at NLB. Trialists are listening to various DAISY books in a variety of voices, of which Laureate is one, and providing opinions on the quality of the voices and how suitable they are for the books chosen. Early feedback from individuals on the quality of the computer-generated matter is said to be “very encouraging”.
Mike Carr, director, research and venturing, BT said: “BT is committed to creating accessible products and services that provide the means to deliver information to all, whoever and wherever they may be – by broadband or over the mobile network. This demonstrates how good technology, plus a strong working partnership, has the potential to deliver a vastly increased library to literally anyone.”
BT is one of the world’s leading providers of communications solutions serving customers in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific. Its principal activities include IT and networking services, local, national and international telecommunications services, and higher-value broadband and internet products and services.
BT consists principally of three lines of business:
· BT Retail, providing a comprehensive range of communications and related services to more than 20m UK consumers and businesses.
· BT Wholesale, providing network services and solutions within the UK to more than 600 fixed and mobile operators and service providers including the provision of broadband and private circuits.
· BT Global Services, providing IT and networking services to meet the needs of multi-site organisations globally. BT Global Services operates in more than 130 countries and also offers international carrier services.
In the year ended 31 March 2004, BT Group’s turnover was £18,519 million with profit before goodwill amortisation, exceptional items and taxation of £2,013 million.
BT Group plc is listed on stock exchanges in London and New York. British Telecommunications plc (BT) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group.
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