The first computers filled whole rooms. The Kurzweil Reader cost one hundred thousand dollars when it was first produced. It was bigger than a large desk, and it sounded like Flash Gordon on steroids. Fifteen years later, when my student Jason was a sophomore in high school, the Saginaw Public Library bought a Kurzweil reader for five thousand dollars. It was the size of a computer printer.
In 1995, Lawrence Livermore laboratory announced that they had invented radar on a chip. Within months practical applications were developed for miniature radar, including a small stud finding device. As I write this, I know of no work being done to use tiny radar chips to help the blind; by the time you read this, expect that oversight to be corrected.
GPS stands for Global Positioning Satellites; a network of satellites designed to help ships navigate. A weekend sailor with a dingy can spend two hundred dollars, buy a device about the size of a TV remote, and link into the GPS. The sailor can tap a few keys, link into global positioning satellites, and determine the exact coordinates of his boat. He can find his exact spot on earth while drinking a beer on the deck out back of his house. The implications for the blind traveler are staggering.
Mobility workstations will someday be connected to the information superhighway. Every mobility teacher will have a web page, with hyperlink connections to other web sites. An individual's web site will be a unique electronic address, as well as a forum for the expression of the teacher's individual personality. Personal electronic books and curriculum specific to the teacher's region in the world will be stored. Electronic magazines will be available, as will teleconference capability, and listserve connections. If the teacher wants to, he or she can become a one person international agency. There will be access to an orientation and mobility core curriculum with expert system capability. There will be links to consumer groups, to university programs, to product providers, and to professional organizations. The creative doors are wide open.
Computer programs stored on the workstation or linked with other computers through the Internet will provide task specific software. There will be, for example, software for gait analysis, that accepts digital video recordings of a student's gait patterns, and then analyzes the data, offering suggestions. There will be software that does visual clinical assessment. Optometric and/or psychological tests will be available on disk for measuring contrast sensitivity, acuity, peripheral field studies, and perceptual tests.
The workstation will have speech output, and braille output so that blind students can be taught to use the Internet; to pull off data, and to join the world wide dialog about blindness and related issues. Braille maps or large print maps could be pulled off the Internet instantly. The workstation would be hooked to optical scanning technology so that text can be pulled off a printed page into the computer and out to braille or speech (or rerouted to the students laptop computer).
Educational and recreational computer games will be up or down loaded for students, books will come directly online from the Library of Congress, and isolated blind kids in rural areas will have access to all the other blind children in the world. A specially designed workstation (teleport) is a hugh new tool for both the blind rehabilitation professional and for blind students.
Print text books are going the way of radio. They will still be used and enjoyed, but they will be overshadowed by newer technology. Electronic books may be the future, since they are better suited to the communications age. Here are seven reasons why electronic books need to replace print texts.
The amount of knowledge available for review is growing exponentially. As soon as a print textbook comes off the press it is out of date. Electronic books hold the promise of staying up-to-date. At the least, they will evolve faster than print texts.
Knowledge is now available on the internet; a low cost, open all night, accessible from any where, global system. An electronic book can be accessed any time, any place, by any person. Virtual libraries never close. Electronic books also can talk. Access to the knowledge of the world is now available to blind individuals like never before in history. Another bonus is that Electronic books can now translate languages instantaneously. There will be no more translations of print textbooks.
Intelligent agents, software search engines, can locate and sort knowledge, and then automatically bring it to the electronic book for consideration. This is the machine equivalent of the college researcher who never eats, sleeps or takes a break.
A hugh number of people from a wide variety of disciplines can contribute to the development of an electronic book; the focus and expertise brought to a profession is broadened by global (on going) scrutiny. This is a new paradigm for the peer review process. Now peer review is thrown open to everyone, and it is on-going, never ending.
Electronic books are alive. They grow over time, becoming more comprehensive and sophisticated as months pass. They are also interactive allowing on-going discussion and debate about controversial issues.
Electronic books have hyperlinks. Topics can be probed in greater detail. Lesson plans can be accessed at a deeper level so that the book becomes a core curriculum. Expert system linkages will allow for artificial intelligence to help solve problems. Finally, hyperlinks connect to other electronic books and to a world of other data bases and reference materials.
There is a continual, controlled profit to be made selling hard copies of electronic books to a global customer base. People will still want print based books. They will be able to buy the most recent edition any time they feel like it. Microcash will also eventfully be attached to all e-books allowing for a trickle of funds to support web publishing.
Electronic books can be speculative. They can be full of "what if" statements. They can offer partially thought out ideas in a way that no self respecting print publisher could allow. Print is too "final"; every print book had better offer the best try at the truth. That's what the print-minded public is used to. Electronic books are different animals. They can float is a more speculative ether.
The second area where creativity (products) might be championed, is in the area of intelligent agents, mentioned above. It is the responsibility (and opportunity) of our profession to adopt an intelligent agent software system, and then to act as the editor (peer review profession?) for all in coming data pertaining to blind traveling. It is also the responsibility of the profession to establish the philosophical vision underlying each electronic book and electronic curriculum. These new creations need a guiding vision and an organizational backbone upon which to build a knowledge base that is easily accessible and easily expandable. It is our duty to create the visions, to write the outlines, and to establish relevant hyperlinks.
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