Global standards help visually-impaired researchers

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Jim Russell reveals how a project is helping print-disabled researchers gain access to the books they need in formats they can use

There is much talk about improving access to scholarly materials for researchers around the world but what happens when the access challenges go beyond a researcher’s library not subscribing to a particular resource? What happens when the resource, whether subscribed to or not, is not in a format that the researcher can use because they have a visual impairment?

Over recent decades, the majority of accessible versions of books have been produced by charitable organisations (or “trusted intermediaries”) that provide library membership services to people with visual impairments. Generally, these were narrated audio books on tape or CD, or hard-copy Braille or large print books produced using national copyright exceptions or licences.

However, the digital era is now enabling great advances in how resources can be produced and distributed in electronic accessible formats. Playing an important role in this is the TIGAR project. This three-year pilot project (2011-2013) is establishing new, global solutions that should help people with print impairments find and access published books, including scholarly works, in formats they can use.

TIGAR is establishing a virtual online catalogue of books produced in accessible formats and in different languages along with other technical and copyright solutions to enable these books to be shared electronically across national borders.

And the effects are already starting to be felt by researchers, as Kari Kummeneje of The Norwegian Library of Talking Books and Braille, explained: ’A research student in Norway needed an accessible version of a scientific book called Essential Cell Biology for her studies. It didn’t exist in Norway but, through the TIGAR project, a DAISY audiobook was found in the collection of Learning Ally in the USA and supplied, with the support of CRC Press, through the WIPO technology solution. This demonstrates the real impact TIGAR can have on the lives of print-impaired people.’

The project is managed by and receives funding from trusted intermediaries, publishing organisations including the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Participating publishers and trusted intermediaries sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that sets out a copyright solution for the cross-border exchange of electronic, accessible books. As an initial pilot solution, the MoU requires permissions to be granted by rightsholders on a title-by-title basis. Once cleared, accessible versions of books can be exchanged between trusted intermediaries in different countries via a central ICT solution provided by WIPO. In some countries, a collective management society has signed the MOU on behalf of their publishing membership. This collective licensing model is likely to be extended in the future,  removing the need for much of the title-by-title permissions clearance.


WIPO is providing the ICT solution to meet requirements that have been specified by a group including representatives of participating organisations. The first release of software is providing a central catalogue of accessible DAISY(a standard for accessible digital talking books that includes navigation and synchronised text with audio to make books and other resources accessible to print impaired people) and Braille books held in the existing collections of participating trusted intermediaries. The system will start by taking data feeds from each trusted intermediary to build the catalogue but this will evolve to utilise data harvesting solutions.

This will enable users within trusted intermediaries to search the whole catalogue, select books, request permissions clearance and ultimately download the books so they can be made available to print disabled users in their territory.

The delivery of the ICT solution is being phased. The first delivery will make the search and discovery function available to users within trusted intermediaries who can find books that their members ask for or would be interested in. They can search on various parameters and filters including author, title, format, language and availability. In due course, the aim is to enable individual members of trusted intermediaries to be able to search the catalogue. We envisage that this will be achievable without librarian support, although this element of the system has yet to be designed.

The system is being designed with accessibility built in for any user. As the project continues, further technology solutions will be developed, supported by appropriate licensing frameworks. These solutions will support the provision and use of electronic files by publishers. Publisher XML files can be converted using automated routines to create accessible versions including Braille and synthesised audio. This will significantly reduce the costs of production for trusted intermediaries and expand their capacity to deliver accessible resources.

In addition, further developments will support search and discovery of ‘commercial’ accessible versions. With the advent of EPUB 3, it is increasingly possible for mainstream products to have accessibility ‘built-in’ as standard. More and more products can be expected to become available and the technology will be developed so that commercial accessible products can be found and accessed by print-impaired people around the world. ‘Best Practice Guidelines for Publishers’ have been produced by the WIPO-funded Enabling Technologies Framework Project to explain how publishers can make their products accessible.

So far, trusted intermediaries in the USA, Canada, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, New Zealand, Western Australia, Brazil, Jamaica, Namibia and Tanzania have signed up to TIGAR.

Over 30 publishing organisations are also participating. These include Elsevier, SAGE, Oxford University Press, Taylor and Francis, Cambridge University Press and Wiley as well trade publishers like HarperCollins, Hachette Livre and Bloomsbury.

Organisations are expected to continue to join TIGAR at a steady rate, thereby increasing the ‘pool’ of accessible versions available which will be of particular benefit for print-impaired people in developing countries. Any organisations interested in joining TIGAR may submit an enquiry to

Beyond the pilot

Although the end date for the pilot project is December 2013, work is already underway to establish an on-going, sustainable service supported by continued development of licensing and technology solutions. This will include solutions to allow end users to gain access to TIGAR via their trusted intermediary service. Research students with print impairments, for example, would then be able to search the global catalogue for accessible versions of scholarly works and download them.

Jim Russell is an independent consultant working on the TIGAR Project Management Team with responsibility for co-ordinating rights holder aspects of the project