May 16, 2006

Braille Readers Petition for Return of Web-Braille Site

See update, below, for explanation from NLS.

Web Braille offers access to thousands of electronic braille books for downloading. It's a service provided by the Library of Congress's "National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped."

Last Thursday, subscribers to the service found this announcement when they logged in:

"Because of technical and security difficulties, Web Braille will be unavailable in the near future. NLS regrets the inconvenience and will provide further information as soon as possible."

No further explanation.

"imagine going to your favorite library or bookstore and finding it closed until further notice with no warning given beforehand," says a reader. "Further, imagine you live in a small town and your favorite source of reading material is almost your only source."

Earlene Hughes over at the blog Earlene's Audio Paradise is talking up the petition drive.

Braille readers have started a petition to be sent to Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service, urging the service be "restored immediately." As of this writing, nearly 600 people had signed the petiton.

It's unclear at this time why the site was shut or what the "technical and security difficulties" were.

Like most programs "for the blind and handicapped," Web Braille, while free, is available only to "eligible" people -- blind readers -- who must register for the service through their local library affiliate of the NLS. It is almost impossible to learn about the existence of the Web Braille service from their site; it seems, as with many government programs for blind and disabled people, there's an effort to keep the user base small.

Finally, after poking about, one can find the Web Braille Factsheet, which provides no way to access the Web Braille site itself. "The Web-Braille site is password-protected, and all files are in an electronic form of contracted braille, requiring the use of special equipment for access," says the Factsheet page.

The petition.

Sign the "Restore Web Braille" petition.

Discuss the petition at Earlene's Audio Paradise.

UPDATE: Sources forwarded to us a letter sent by National Federation of the Blind President Marc Maurer to his board.

The letter reads, in part,

I have today talked with Mr. Cylke, the director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. He has assured me that the program will be reinstated within a reasonably short time - certainly within the next ten business days. The reason the program has been taken offline is that technical corrections and repairs are required to insure the continued excellent performance and viability of the program. Mr. Cylke assured me that the delay in reinstatement will be as brief as possible. I provide this information to you so that you will have the most up-to-date facts on the matter. . . .

You'd think the NLS could have put that additional information on the log-in page for its subscribers, no? In our view, it still doesn't explain the lack of information and the way groups like the NFB and ACB had to contact the NLS to get any kind of an explanation at all.

Such as it is.

Posted by MJ on 5/17/06

Posted on May 16, 2006