Scientific Journals Go DAISY

ViewPlus is collaborating with the American Physical Society (APS), DAISY, and several other companies and agencies to enable APS to publish its scientific journals in the highly accessible DAISY XML format. All text, math, and figures will be accessible to everybody, including people with print disabilities. The first experimental APS DAISY publications are targeted for 2010. All APS journals will eventually be published in DAISY form, and other scholarly publishers are expected to follow suit.

The DAISY mission is given on the DAISY home page as, “The DAISY Consortium envisions a world where people with print disabilities have equal access to infor-mation and knowledge without delay or additional expense.” This mission will be achieved when mainstream publications are published in automatically accessible formats. The American Physical Society (APS) has committed to be the first ma-jor publisher to reach this goal by publishing its scientific journals in DAISY XML format. APS had converted its publishing methodology years ago to an XML (eX-tensible Markup Language) work flow in order to permit straightforward re-purposing of its content. After APS and ViewPlus collaborated on a research pro-ject in 2008 to demonstrate the feasibility of repurposing APS XML to DAISY XML, APS realized that DAISY XML could be far more useful to everybody than APS’ present paper and PDF publications. In 2009 APS, ViewPlus, and several other agencies and companies joined to form the Enhanced Reading Group that would develop software and infrastructure to enable APS and other publishers to create rich, highly-accessible DAISY XML content (Gardner et al 2009). This is not charity for the blind. APS will publish DAISY XML articles because DAISY XML provides much more value for money to all subscribers.

This paper briefly describes the technical developments that make scientific DAISY publishing possible. It also discusses the challenges that must be met to enable publication of reasonably rich and accessible scientific articles today and even richer and more accessible articles in the future.

The DAISY accessible XML format was originally developed to permit text to be published in a form that would be universally usable by everybody, including people who are blind or people with other print disabilities. A DAISY Math Working Group developed an extension for MathML (Math Markup Language) that was adopted in 2007, making it possible to publish accessible math as well. One of the authors of this paper (JAG) was a member of this MathML Working Group and is also a member of a current DAISY SVG Working Group tasked with devel-oping guidelines and extensions to SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics markup lan-guage) that enable DAISY books to have highly accessible graphics as well. The DAISY SVG standard is still a work in progress, but much is already well accepted. In practice, the Enhanced Reading Group and the DAISY SVG Working Group are developing the standards together. The DAISY Working Group proposes accessibility concepts, and the Enhanced Reading Group makes the software and content that tests and refines the SVG concepts.

In principle, MathML should be fully accessible. MathML publications almost uni-versally use the presentation form of MathML that describes the positioning of elements as they would be published. Good math braille codes permit all of this structure to be represented in braille, giving the blind user exactly the same in-formation as the sighted reader has. Interpreting math braille is often more cumbersome for a blind person than for a sighted person reading the same equation, because math braille is linear. Visual math is two dimensional because this presentation is generally easier to assimilate than the same equation would be in a linear (e.g. Latex, C, Fortran) format. One author (JAG) has developed a method of representing tactile equations in standard 2D format by using DotsPlus braille (Gardner 1998, Gardner 2003), a combination of braille and graphics that he developed for this specific purpose. DotsPlus equations can be created by the MathType editor used with MS Word and by the MathPlayer plug-in to Internet Explorer. Although DotsPlus braille’s learning curve requires only reading one page of braille text, it has seen only very limited use to this point.

Making presentation MathML audio accessible is less straightforward, because one commonly uses more than presentational features when speaking math. For example, f(x) is usually a function and is spoken “function of x”. However, it could be f multiplied by x, in which case it would be spoken as “f times x”. A sighted person should know from context which is the right interpretation, but computers are not so clever. So the automatic audio form given typically by sev-eral audio MathML readers would be, “f left-parenthesis x right-parenthesis”. This is entirely correct for any case, but is distracting to a listener. Another problem is that there are many symbols that have very different purposes but that look similar. For example there are several distinct math symbols that are versions of < and >. If authors were using them correctly, the audio rendition could be con-siderably better, but generally authors do not use them consistently, so that au-dio rendering of x surrounded by those brackets would be something like “left angle bracket x right angle bracket”. Again, correct but distracting. Publications could be much more informational and consequently much more audio-accessible if all symbols were used correctly and if there were a way to distinguish important common cases, such as functions.

MathML also has a content form, used by computational applications such as Mathematica and Maple. Because content MathML is absolutely unambiguous, it could be made fully audio-accessible, but there are presently no easily-available math audio formatters that do this, probably because content MathML is used only in specialized applications. It is allowable to mix content and presentational MathML, so an author or editor could improve math by replacing some of the ambiguous constructions by proper content MathML, resolving the problems noted above. Such possibilities are being studied by the Enhanced Reading Group.

ViewPlus pioneered accessible SVG graphics with its IVEO technology, first intro-duced in 2005 (Gardner et al 2005). IVEO Creator authoring tools are used to import scanned documents or electronic files made by any Windows graphics authoring application. One can identify graphical objects and fill in the Title and Description fields that are a standard part of SVG. IVEO files are saved as SVG and may be viewed using any SVG viewer application. However, accessibility is possible only by using the ViewPlus IVEO Viewer, a free application downloadable from the ViewPlus web site ( IVEO Viewer is also bundled with the Dolphin ( EasyReader, the GH (http://www. Reader, and will be bundled with other math and graphics-aware DAISY readers of the future.

A blind user can open an accessible SVG file in IVEO Viewer and create a tactile copy by printing to any ViewPlus embosser. That tactile copy can then be read by placing the tactile copy on a touchpad connected to the computer. Other hard-ware devices are currently under development at ViewPlus that can be used in-stead of the touchpad, including a digital pen. No matter which hardware is used, the viewer can access the information by selecting a graphical object or a text string and then hear the information spoken by the computer. If a graphical ob-ject is selected, its title is spoken. The user can then request to hear the descrip-tion field as well. Spoken information is also displayed in a status bar that can be viewed with an on-line braille display. The status line is also helpful to people who understand better when information can be both seen and heard.

The DAISY Accessible SVG Working Group is moving in several directions that can improve the accessibility of standard SVG and also extend SVG to make even better access possible. Several ViewPlus scientists are part of that group and in-tend to expand IVEO in concert with the DAISY Working Group recommenda-tions. Beta versions of future IVEO Viewers will be used by the Working Group to refine recommendations. Consequently, there should be little delay be-tween adoption of DAISY SVG recommendations and their availability with View-Plus authoring and display software.

Authoring guidelines and new DAISY attributes can considerably improve the usefulness and accessibility of standard SVG. DAISY attributes will control fea-tures such as the visibility of SVG elements. These attributes in particular are used to define elements that will not be displayed on screen but that will be em-bossed by tactile graphics embossers. Important flexibility in displaying visually complex graphics but embossing simple representations is permitted via the abil-ity to define certain graphical elements to be 1) visible and not embossable, and 2) invisible but embossable.

SVG expansions include additional description fields as well as easy use of audio clips to play human voice recordings and/or other non-speech audio. Other im-portant new extensions include fields to hold quantitative data. These fields are of particular interest to scientific authors and publishers. Good authoring applica-tions of the future will be able to save quantitative data in these expanded SVG fields so that a SVG figure can be its own data archive. This is possibly the most important new feature in the view of APS and other publishers. The presence of quantitative data in the image file also permits better access by blind people. Not only can any individual data point be accessible, but the viewing application can also provide semi-quantitative information in non-speech audio. One simple method, already used in the ViewPlus Audio Graphing Calculator, is an audio tone plot of a graph. The pitch increases when the data are becoming more positive (or less negative) and the pitch decreases when data become more negative (or less positive). Even more sophisticated audio information can provide an excel-lent semi-quantitative overview of many kinds of one and two-dimensional data in a future IVEO Viewer.

DAISY fields will also make it possible to include more information about text, and in particular, about equations. SVG text usually groups things like sub- and superscripts as separate text strings, so one can select the x or the 2 of the math expression x squared, but it will never be spoken as x squared or even x with superscript 2. The new DAISY fields permit the entire equation to be identified. The Infty group, a member of the Enhanced Reading Group, and ViewPlus are working together to develop software that can identify math expressions in images and insert the MathML equivalent to that expression into the SVG file. When a math expression is selected in these new documents, the correct expression can now be spoken.

Several common errors introduced by many authoring applications can be re-paired during this processing as well. A common problem is incorrect grouping of characters into SVG strings. For example, the word “disability” might appear cor-rectly on screen but be composed of several SVG strings, e.g. {di}{sabil}{ity}. Depending on which point is touched, one can hear any of the parts but not the word disability. The corrected version will have semantically meaningful text in-formation properly grouped. This SVG processing software is under development and will be used to assure that SVG in APS DAISY publications is of high quality.

Completing the technical specifications and software that enable them is only one of several remaining challenges. The most immediate challenge is to develop the necessary refinements to the current publication process so that DAISY articles can be published at negligible additional cost. If publishers can inexpensively publish DAISY versions of their on-line publications that add value now, and in-creasingly in the future for a substantial number of their readers, they are likely to do so. Otherwise, they are not so likely. Fortunately, it does appear that the additional costs to publish DAISY XML versions of articles will be negligible, and that enhanced usability even at the beginning is sufficient to make it likely that APS and many scholarly publishers will begin publishing DAISY versions.

No human labor is required to transform APS text and math into DAISY XML. A computer can do it automatically. A straightforward XSLT (eXtensible Style Lan-guage Transform) transforms APS XML to DAISY format. During this transforma-tion, a utility made by Design Science, Inc. automatically adds an image of the math and a text description. The images and descriptive text are required in DAISY XML files for use by playback devices that are not fully MathML-aware.

The major unavoidable difficulty for APS in creating DAISY XML articles is the ne-cessity of converting PostScript figures to highly accessible SVG. The present printing technology requires that paper printing still be done from the PostScript files, so the SVG files must be made solely for the DAISY XML files. Fortunately, several composition vendor members of the Enhanced Reading Group have al-ready developed prototype conversion methodologies using some of their current graphics conversion software, to save SVG versions at very little additional labor cost. These SVG images can easily be added to a folder containing all other electronic information for a given article. In the end, a single computer application can process this folder to convert the APS XML to DAISY, insert appropriate links for the SVG, and process the SVG files, as discussed above, to assure that they are as rich and accessible as possible. The DAISY XML article that is created by this computerized procedure should require negligible additional human labor beyond what is presently required for creating and publishing APS articles, so it should meet the negligible additional cost requirement.

APS plans to distribute DAISY XML as an additional option to their present proce-dure for making PDF files available to APS journal subscribers. In addition to the choice of downloading a PDF or opening it in a PDF reader, the future subscriber can opt to download a DAISY XML article or read it in a DAISY Reader. An on-line DAISY Reader is to be built so that any APS subscriber can use any web browser, including mobile phones, to read articles. Blind readers can use a screen reader and a browser that supports MathML and SVG accessibility. Presently, only Inter-net Explorer with the Design Science MathPlayer plug-in and the ViewPlus IVEO plug-in is capable of providing full access to blind readers. It is anticipated that Firefox will eventually be usable in Windows, Linux, and MacIntosh operating systems, but that development is probably several years off.

Blind users can also download the APS DAISY XML file, which will not be subject to any digital rights software control, and read it in any modern scientific DAISY Reader, including the Dolphin EasyReader and the GH Reader mentioned previ-ously. Users can also read the downloaded article in Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer and IVEO plug-ins.

Initial publications, processed as described above, will use MathML as presently written by authors. Consequently, these publications will not have math content that is as rich in content or accessibility. Improving the MathML is one future goal, but it is presently not clear just how best to accomplish that goal. Some additional editing during composition to add content MathML is one possibility, but there are two serious problems with this approach. One problem is that it will definitely increase costs of composition. The other is that it is subject to errors, since editors do not always fully understand the intent of the author and might make a mistake in translating the semantics. Better MathML authoring software and inducements to authors to input their own semantic MathML content would be preferable. If content MathML were used by authors, then anybody could copy that equation and compute with it – a very desirable feature for both authors and readers.

Initial images will be accessible only if audio access to the visible text and math is sufficient. There will be no titles or descriptions for figures, because these cannot be inserted by a computer. No quantitative data will be present, because there is no practical means of introducing it. Future authoring applications that can save as DAISY SVG would be an excellent way to improve the richness and accessibility of figures. Generally these authoring applications could include all the data, the titles of data sets, titles of fitting lines, etc. Such figures would be highly desirable for all readers and can be extremely accessible. ViewPlus is presently creating software that could save such rich information from several applications including GIS and x-y data plots software.

The Enhanced Reading Group project is supported in part by a Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant from the National Eye Institute of the US Na-tional Institutes of Health.

Bulatov, Vladimir / Stowell, Holly / Gardner, John (2005): The ViewPlus IVEO Scalable Vector Graphics Technology for Universally Usable Complex Information (preprint). Presented at the 11th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction, Las Vegas, NV, July 22-27, 2005.
Gardner, John (1998): The DotsPlus Tactile Font Set. In: Journal of Visual Im-pairment and Blindness. December 1998, 836-840.
Gardner, John (2003): DotsPlus Braille Tutorial. Simplifying Communication Be-tween Sighted and Blind People. In: Proceedings of the 2003 CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, CA, March 19-22, 2003.
Gardner, John / Bulatov, Vladimir / Kelly, Robert (2009): Making Journals Acces-sible to the Visually-Impaired. The Future is Near. In Press.

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