By Elena Watts, Texas A&M University Marketing & Communications
With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Texas A&M Professor of Visualization Francis Quek has developed technology for talking books that allows people who are blind to access more literature with increased command over their reading experiences.
STAAR Description Format (SDF), the novel technology developed by Quek, converts any portable document format (PDF) to a version the blind can read on an iPad. The users scan the text with their fingers to hear the words, control the pace of their reading, keep their place on the page, refer back to text, highlight important information and take notes, much like the experience enjoyed by those who are sighted.
“None of us who are sighted who are studying for an exam use audio recordings because we want to be able to read at our own pace, keep our place on the page, and refer back to text,” Quek said. “I may want to read slower when I’m studying for an exam, while I read a newspaper more quickly.”
Before literacy was widespread, ancient writings were designed to be read aloud for aural consumption. Mnemonic aids were embedded in the language structure to guide conceptualization and help the hearers keep track of the information. For example, the Bible is repetitive in its use of language. Sequential passages in the beginning of the Book of Genesis all conclude with, “And the evening and the morning were,” punctuated by different days, “the first day,” “the second day,” “the third day,” until the text reaches the sixth day.
“It doesn’t make sense until you realize that a Levite had to read the text on a hill to a group of illiterate people,” Quek said. “Actually, the only place where structured spoken language is commonly used today is in churches where some ministers still use alliteration, rhyme and beat in their sermons.”