London 02 November 2022: A landmark app has today been certified for use via Amazon Alexa smart speakers – a move that will dramatically increase accessibility to literature for people with visual and print disabilities.
The solution has been developed as a partnership between EDRLab – an international, non-profit association and development lab working on the deployment of an open, interoperable and accessible digital publishing ecosystem worldwide – and UK based conversational AI company, OpenDialog. It enables access to audio books for everybody with reading disabilities – from blindness to dyslexia – easily delivered to the listener via their Amazon Alexa smart speaker. Deployed from the Cloud, the solution works by connecting OpenDialog, Amazon and the catalogue of recordings available through EDRLab’s partner organisations, in order to simplify access to literature and provide a great listening experience.
This development replaces the outdated approach of individuals with visual disabilities needing to request audio recordings from publishers via CDs – a time consuming and labour intensive process. It also means that individuals can search for books using their Amazon Alexa smart speaker, which will also be able to provide recommendations on other books, authors and potentially interesting new releases.
“Engaging with literature today is a huge problem for visually impaired people”, said Laurent Le Meur, Director and CTO at EDRLab. “There are so many barriers people have to contend with to simply enjoy a book, which means accessibility is a huge issue – one we hope to address with this collaboration with Amazon and OpenDialog.”
At the moment, this technology will be deployed through association for the blind, notably CELA in Canada and AVH in France – both members of EDRLab. Each of these organisations handles around 60,000 audiobooks each year. However, as part of this project, OpenDialog and EDRLab have also created a standard protocol so that every association in the world, if they adopt these standards, can easily integrate its no-code platform, without the need for any developer input. The platform is fully scalable so it can be expanded as more books become available, and it can be deployed in any country and in any language supported by Amazon, which will massively accelerate the rate at which books can be delivered to blind people via smart speakers.
According to IAPB, there are around 43 million blind people globally and an additional 295 million people living with moderate to severe vision impairment. This vast group of people have access to only around 10% of the world’s production of books. Of the 10% of books that have been either converted to braille – something only around 10% of blind people are able to read fluently – or digitised, many are structured so that specialised devices can’t read the text properly. There are also challenges with rare languages, where text to speech and synthetic voice don’t work, and access to books in low income countries.
Commenting on the project, Terry Walby, co-founder and CEO of OpenDialog, said, “Using conversational AI, this partnership is making it possible for not-for-profit organisations working to support people with visual disabilities to create sophisticated conversational solutions that would have otherwise been outside of their means. Through democratising access to complex conversational AI, we are making books instantly available to their members in a way that has never been done before.”
Today’s announcement is the first of many steps to improve access to books for the visually impaired or disabled. It preempts the European Accessibility Act, which comes into force in 2025. This planned directive will impose that every book is accessible and clear enough in its digital version to be read by synthetic voice correctly.
Le Meur concluded, “OpenDialog brings the flexibility of the conversation without having to deploy code or rely on developers, opening a door for greatly improved access to audiobooks without any technical skill. It’s a move that means that we hope to reach 90% of the world’s blind population with literature in the next few years and massively increase the rate at which countries – and everybody involved in the production of books – create digestible, accessible and easy-to-consume books for the blind.”
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OpenDialog AI Ltd. (OpenDialog AI) is a conversational AI platform to design, develop and deploy smarter human-to-machine conversations. It enables enterprises of all sizes and across virtually every industry to have truly engaging interactions. It is a SaaS-based product so is extremely easy and quick to implement, while its no-code conversation designer which enables businesses to create amazing customer experiences that are immediately deployable. Its customers include BDO, Peppercorn Insurance and The Cyber Helpline