By creating a structured text file that is integrated with a narrated audio file it is possible for people accessing the information to examine digital books by page, section, chapter or through the table of contents or index. Daisy also permits an electronic text file to be synchronized with an audio file, electronic Braille files to be generated from electronic text and a digital text-only document to be read with a Daisy software player in combination with a Braille display or speech synthesizer.
"I've had a dual role in this project and worked with the general manager for business development who is responsible for library systems," says Bunker. One of the issues associated with running the library is managing the massive amounts of computer storage. At present Vision Australia has a 40-terabyte library that can be scaled to 100 terabytes. Ultimately the organization's goal is to have its library available as online downloads for its community. "The big impediment is copyright, but the general manager is working with the Attorney-General's [department] on that," says Bunker.
Besides meeting the information needs of its community, Bunker has to provide information systems for Vision Australia's own staff, 12 percent of whom are vision impaired. "This is the differentiating challenge," he explains. "The board said: 'The one thing we expect is that every application will be accessible'. So our mission really is that everything must be accessible."
Because of the board's directive, any upgrade — however minor — has to be assessed in terms of its impact on accessibility, which significantly reshapes traditional sourcing techniques. No longer are products selected purely on function and cost, but on accessibility.
"If we are selecting a financial application, the accessibility is the most important selection criterion. We have vision impaired accountants and the expectation is that they can do their job," Bunker says. "It creates a whole series of compromises between functionality and accessibility. There is a different dynamic with the vendors."
For some vendors the costs associated with making their products more accessible are just too great — so "we end up with the vendors who have a more philanthropic approach", Bunker says. Microsoft, for example, has been a key supporter, and although some smaller vendors have found the accessibility issues too challenging, Bunker says that some niche vendors, particularly those supplying library applications, have been "terrific".
As far as applications accessibility is concerned, most is provided via screen reader spoken output. This means screens have to be constructed in an appropriate way. "Assistive technology is quite an expert area," says Bunker. Vision Australia has its own assistive technology group, some of whom are blind themselves, which works for clients and also supports Bunker and his team.
One of the areas where accessibility is still a challenge is in its donor management system, where accessibility is a "work in progress". However, it is a priority as "we don't survive very well without donors", Bunker says.
"I was a bit naive. I'd read up on accessibility, but until you experience it you don't realize the difficulties involved." The challenges are compounded by the reach of the services provided by Vision Australia. "With the client services model we are very focused on delivering information out in the field, often to small regional towns, and we have to support them." This is one of the drivers for the library being developed so that it can be downloaded from the Internet at any time from anywhere. "Access to material and information is at the core of living — providing people with access to a train timetable, for example, that's the real area we want to work in."
Bunker has set himself the goal of being much more than an executor of ideas. He is working with the general manager for business development to explore how technology can be harnessed to make more information accessible to blind or partially sighted Australians. "That's where we want to push forward.
"I continue to believe that this is not just a charity but a business and we need to invest, and we won't get away with it running on the smell of an oily rag. The challenge is continually to get people back to thinking that this is not just a charity but a $70 million enterprise."
One of his particular challenges is finding the right people for his team. He has "an establishment of 25.6 and I supplement that with six or seven contractors". Bunker says he wants to expand the team but he struggles to get people, especially in the Sydney office. "We pay market rates, but at the lowest quartile; it's not unreasonable. "We do try to appeal to people who want to make a difference. But I'm not foolish enough to think that puts food on the table. I've got an ad out now for an operations team leader and I've had two applications." Once he does snare staff, however, he says it is easier to retain them because the work is interesting and diverse.
Bunker confirms that securing budgets for IT spending is very challenging in charities, "but my CEO and the board have been very supportive and have realized after a couple of presentations from me the mess we were in. We do okay but I could do with more people," he says, adding that in general he has been helped out by the fact that vendors have usually been "generous in their pricing structure".
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