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By Janina Sajka
The American Foundation for the Blind is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1921. It is best known to the public for its association with Helen Keller who represented AFB for 44 years-from 1924 until her death in 1968. AFB is the preeminent research and information resource for professionals and educators serving blind and low- vision people worldwide. It is the leading advocate for blind and low-vision people with government and the corporate sector. It is a publisher of curricula used in universities and pre-schools alike--and of "Talking Books" or recorded books for blind people" (which it pioneered in the 1920s on 78 RPM discs). AFB's mission is "to enable people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve equality of access and opportunity to ensure freedom of choice in their lives."
AFB has identified access to information as perhaps the most critical issue facing blind people today. AFB further recognizes that modern telecommunication and computer technology affords blind people heretofore undreamed of opportunity to participate as equals with their non-disabled fellows at work and at home. The accessible web is one such technology. Electronic publishing is another example of transformational opportunity [see our white paper Surpassing Gutenburg. E-commerce is a third example of technology which can transform lives. Yet suchan outcome is by nomeans guaranteed simply because networked computerswill grow ever morepowerful and affordable. AFB is determined, however, that this dream will be realized.
The fundamental fact about digital technology underpinning our dream is the unambiguous observation that bits and bytes do not discriminate on their own. It is only in the systems design choices imposed by technologists who organize bits and bytes into applications for ordinary mortals that discrimination or inclusion is determined. AFB believes it is in the best interests of all concerned that society choose and require inclusive technology of those who build technology. We are passionate on this point because we know that accessible technology profoundly transforms the lives of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We are also aware that technology intended to make the world accessible to people with disabilities can change the way all people live their lives. We applaud the achievments of the W3C's WAI in this regard. We come now to the table seeking to insure that those gains be preserved as we develop systems designed to protect intellectual and personal property from unauthorized use. Here too, in Digital Rights Management systems, we must purposefully include people with disabilities in our technologies so that we are not incidentally and unintentionally excluded.
In our work with the U.S. Library of Congress' National Library Service for the Blind and Physically handicapped's Digital Talking Book Initiative, and in our work with the Open Electronic Book Forum, we have learned that our goal of inclusion is achievable. Our white paper on Rights Management in Digital Talking Books sets out the foundation for just such a system--one which will be both effective and transparant to users who are using content as they are authorized to use it. We are pleased that the W3C is now embarking on developing general solutions for rights management on the web. We look forward to working with others in this effort to devise system frameworks and specific technologies that meet all stakeholders needs reasonably to the greater good of all society.