2008 Conference Report
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The altformat 'circus' rolled into town for the third year running. In fact it rolled into four towns - Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Leeds and Belfast. The event sponsored by Dolphin re-iterated the annual message with a fresh twist. 'There is a fundamental problem out there affecting over twenty percent of the population and it needs to be solved with something more than binding twine'.
Rory Cobb gave the RNIB's perspective in both Milton Keynes and Leeds. When we ventured into non English territories Rory passed the baton to Nicola Crewes in Cardiff and David Mann in Belfast. All three of the RNIB representatives spoke engagingly about the 'Where's My Book' Report, the fascinating insight given by the report of the same name alluding to the absence of accessible material for people with print disabilities, noting in particular that as little as 4% of hard copy books were accessible.
View Rory's PowerPoint Presentation (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
View Nicola's PowerPoint Presentation (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
Steve O Brien from the Adult Dyslexia Association raised the specter of disaffected young men. Some of the statistics presented by Steve begged the question of government's real commitment to this area.
According to Steve, dyslexics account for:
- 80% of truants
- 70% of young offenders
- 50% of the prison population
- 45% of unemployed
View Steve's PowerPoint Presentation (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
The Milton Keynes delegates were lucky to hear Open University's Doug Blane and Miriam Waller. Doug spoke about the altformat activities of the OU. The OU is one of the outstanding centre's of excellence in the UK for altformat and we hope soon to be able to have an exemplar of their activities on the altformat website. The OU currently cater for 180,000 students worldwide - of these 10,000 have a registered disability. Much of their content is internally generated. Doug is part of a team that has developed highly efficient work flows to resolve the scale problems required to deliver accessible materials to the print disabled students.
View Doug's PowerPoint Presentation (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
Listen to Doug's Presentation Audio (MP3 file), (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
Watch a video interview with Susan, a student at the Open University who uses the DAISY format to help her with her studies.
Miriam Waller deals with a younger group and her challenges tend to be somewhat different. Miriam and her team tend to focus their energies on getting good quality materials to the more needy young students. Production flows are hampered by the absence of electronic files. Most of Miriam's raw files are derived from scanning.
View Miriam's PowerPoint Presentation (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
In Leeds, Adrian Farnsworth gave an enlightening professional’s perspective, talking in some detail about the tools he uses daily to achieve good quality alt formats.
Adrian's insights on materials preparation were warmly received by the local audience and is worth a closer look.
Read Adrian's Conference Notes (MS Word Document), do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
Ron Stewart, one of the leading exponents of altformat in the world, gave a roller-coaster talk that rattled through all the big issues, many of which we didn't appreciate were big issues. If anyone was in doubt about the efficacy of altformat as a discipline - Ron dispelled it. His knowledge horse power and command of the altformat vocabulary, which for many of us was as new and exciting as our early exposure to PCs or the Internet, was breathtaking.
View Ron's PowerPoint Presentation (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
Noel Duffy reminded everyone about why the current altformat model is unsustainable. Noel set out a vision, supported by the activities in the US, built on the twin premise of unified file types and electronic libraries. With files delivered to the schools as DAISY text files and read using a DAISY reader with a built in synthesiser, the print impaired students can have materials in accessible formats. By using tools locally such as EasyConverter, these electronic files can be re-purposed to other alternative formats such as large print and Braille, enabling the schools to provide accessible materials to their low vision students.
View Noel's PowerPoint Presentation (do a right click and 'Save Target As' to download).
If we learnt anything from last year’s event, it was feed the delegates earlier. By 12.15 on most days, everyone’s head was in a nose bag, creating a calmer more affable group. Lunch time conversations were centered on products and policy and whether the UK environment was ever going to aim at the levels of scale being aspired to in the States and elsewhere.
After lunch it was down to the detail. Ron showed some of the work flows he takes groups through in the States, using EasyConverter as the central hub of an altformat suite of tools, that included a PC, printer, scanner, Braille embosser and guillotine. Rachel Bagust from Dolphin and Alan, Dave and Lucy from HumanWare gave some altformat product insights from their respective companies.
The Altformat Conference Circus is one of this speakers favourite events of the year. There are always good insights to be had from the other speakers, but equally good are the valuable insights we get from speaking to the delegates.