Print Disability and New Reading Formats

This project offers the first broad history of electronic reading technologies for blind and print-disabled people, and their co-evolution with mainstream reading practices. Beyond the introduction of new formats such as audiobooks and electronic books, print access efforts in the twentieth century gave rise to numerous technical innovations that transferred to other branches of electroacoustics and computing. Innovations in long-playing records, pitch-shifting with magnetic tape, scanning, optical character recognition (OCR), and synthetic speech ultimately retooled reading for both humans and machines.

In addition to a monograph, the project will result in a website, hosted by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, that will preserve and make publicly-available examples from several historical reading formats (e.g. Talking Books, text-to-tone, and text-to-speech systems). The website will model best practices of electronic accessibility. With funding from a National Science Foundation Scholars Award (#1354297), the preservation and digital transfer of dozens of historical and obsolete-format sound recordings is currently underway.

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