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Digital library for China's visually challenged

07 December 2009

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China has introduced an online library for the visually impaired that will help them access e-books, music and online lectures. With specially designed screen software and shortcut keys to navigate websites, the library will aid them in searching documents on medicines and other subjects.

At a time when technology is dominating many aspects of society, visually impaired people in the community are now benefiting from the latest innovations in terms of reading.

Image credits: Xinhua/ A visually impaired man using the CDLVI system

Through a series of user-friendly interfaces, those who previously had limited access to books and information are being ushered into a world of knowledge where they can read and learn at will.

China Digital Library for Visual Impairment (CDLVI) is an online library, mainly accessible via the Internet. In combination with specially designed screen readers, software that reads out loud what is shown on the screen, CDLVI is enabling people who are blind and visually impaired to use shortcut keys to navigate websites divided into different areas.

The innovation was recently acknowledged by the Ministry of Culture for its unique role in benefiting the visually impaired.

Created by the National Library of China, China Disabled Persons' Federation and China Braille Publishing House, the library enables the visually impaired to listen to e-books, music and online lectures whenever they choose.

"The library has opened a new vision for the visual impaired and they are no longer being excluded from public culture facilities," commented Yang Jia, a frequent user of the Internet, who is also blind and serves as the vice chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"It is unfortunate for blind people not to see the world with their own eyes and during the present cyber age, they should not be left behind again," she added.

CDLVI began testing in October 2008 and has around 1,500 audio books in its library. Much of the current collection includes works on Chinese medicine and massage, which are popular among users.

"We constantly collect suggestions from the blind [about which books to include] and we will add to the library the books proposed by them first," director of CDLVI, Li Chunming, told the Global Times.

"Beginning from the end of December, the library will add 20 books each month and is expected to increase the volume as technology improves and more personnel come on board with the project in the future," Li added.

CDLVI follows the establishment of similar services worldwide, many countries have built digital libraries and several cities in China have created smaller-scale models.

"In countries such as South Korea and Paraguay, digital libraries for the blind are initiated and maintained by individual libraries, CDLVI has been set up by the government," Li explained.

Since opening over a year ago CDLVI has seen as many as 7 million visitors in total enjoy its collection. Li said that the current library has exceeded expectation. He emphasised that the main obstacle for future development would be technology and that as technology advances, CDLVI would be continually improved, updated and replicated.

"CSLVI has just served as a model and it is likely to set up similar libraries for the hearing impaired and for other people with disabilities in the future," he added.

"Being physically disabled is not disaster, it is only inconvenience," said Tai Lihua, art director of the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe. Tai, who is hearing impaired, said that people need to move toward a barrier free environment.

"I believe in the near future, the blind will have a clear vision, the deaf a sharp ear," Tai added.

Statistics released in 2008 revealed that at the time there were 83 million people with a disability in China and more than 10 million who were visually impaired.

24-hour library kiosks in Shenzhen

For those seeking to borrow or read a book at any place and at any time, a 24-hour library service in Shenzhen is providing continual access to such services.

In an effort to boost the economic city's cultural image, numerous kiosks dotted around Shenzhen are providing local people with an Internet service that is directly linked to the catalogue and reservation system of Shenzhen Library.

If at any time a reader feels the need to borrow a book, they simply have to visit a portal of the system, logon and register their request and the book will arrive at the kiosk within 24 hours, delivered by special distribution personnel.

Established in April 2008, the mobile library has become very popular. In June, almost 10 million readers had registered for a library card and the special kiosks accounted for almost half of all borrowings of books from the library.

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