Some links: 77

Building on strengths

Annie Murphy Paul recaps recent research that indicates dyslexics enjoy certain perceptual and cognitive advantages over baseline members of the population.

Given that dyslexia is universally referred to as a “learning disability,” the latter experiment [by Matthew Schneps et al.] is especially remarkable: in some situations, it turns out, those with dyslexia are actually the superior learners.

Some links: 55

  • I was looking for packing material at my cousin’s place and came across a Saturday edition obit for Jerry Ragovoy; otherwise I would have missed it altogether. Ragovoy co-wrote “Piece of My Heart,” which was recorded in a wrenching live performance by Janis Joplin and later, more regrettably, by a country pop singer.
  • Linda Himelstein reports on research that looks at how dyslexics master syllable-based writing systems (and their languages) as opposed to character-based system.
  • Alan Feuer filed a fine report on the natural areas of Jamaica Bay, still the only National Wildlife Refuge that you can get to via subway. Mylan Cannon adds a great photograph of conservationist Don Riepe, an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on a ground-level nest, and a passenger jet in the background.

    Jamaica Bay’s conservationists — fishermen and firefighters, limousine drivers and owners of small boats — are not your typical tree-hugging types, not “Upper West Side, Park Slope, brownstone Brooklyn people,” as Mr. Riepe put it. They are people like Mr. Lewandowski from the canoe club, a transit official…


Via The Morning News, Howard Hill reports on a perhaps unexpected market for e-books on small screens like iPhone: dyslexics.

So why I had found it easier to read from my iPhone? First, an ordinary page of text is split into about four pages. The spacing seems generous and because of this I don’t get lost on the page. Second, the handset’s brightness makes it easier to take in words. “Many dyslexics have problems with ‘crowding’, where they’re distracted by the words surrounding the word they’re trying to read,” says John Stein, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University and chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust. “When reading text on a small phone, you’re reducing the crowding effect.”

More choices

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic has rolled out its AudioAccessSM program, which enables our borrowers to download recordings to a portable media player. The only catch is that the material is rights-managed, and hence Windows Media Player is required for playback. But it’s great that we’re offering another option to our students, one that doesn’t tie them to CDs in a proprietary format.

Princeton HQ

headquarters buildingInto the bus and over the Susquehanna and Delaware with a group of volunteers from the Washington Unit to visit the National Headquarters of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic in Princeton, N.J. The satellite radio in the bus kept kicking out as we passed under bridges (just as well, ’cause the vocal standards station that our driver chose had far too much Sinatra for my taste), and we spent a few minutes driving around an adjacent office park before we found our building, but getting anywhere in the Northeast Corridor in three hours is a blessing. The one-story building is between U.S. 1 (Brunswick Pike) and the main Amtrak line, on the other side of the Pike from the main university campus.

We were greeted by John Kelly, CEO, and Tom Butler Duncan (Thanks, Kathryn!) and then toured the facility, pretty much every place except the payroll department. John noted that vision-impaired borrowers continue to decline in proportionate numbers: 80% of new registrants are learning-disabled (in other words, somewhere along the broad continuum of characteristics known as dyslexia). The organization’s ambitious goal is to reach 1 million of the estimated 2 million Americans who could benefit from audio-assisted learning.

in Library ServicesThe textbooks that RFB&D records aren’t retained afterward, so the only books to be found were in this corner of Library Services, the acquisitions department, if you will. White stickers on the spines identify each book by a five-character shelf number. The org acquires two copies of each title, one for the reader and one for the director/quality monitor.

dwindling master tape libraryripping analog tape to digitalAll new recordings are direct to digital, but there is a sizable collection of legacy analog recordings. This storage room (left) was at one time filled with master tapes, but now it’s being cleared out as the tapes are converted to digital format in this area (right). What used to be a big room with analog tape duplication equipment is now largely empty, being backfilled with desks from staffers who had been located elsewhere. Alas, my snaps of the digital production facilities, including four CD duplication machines, are not release-worthy. The data center is onsite, and surprisingly small. But then again, audio doesn’t eat storage the way video does.

More chat back in the conference room before we hopped on the bus for home. The organization will soon be piloting a program of web-based distribution (to augment the current CD mailings) with the possibility of downloads to MP3 players: borrowers are clamoring for this. Volunteers, in the past only used for production, are now being sought for outreach as well. Teachers are especially wanted to help follow up with members to make sure they’re getting all they can out of the program. And I came away with an idea or two to perhaps follow up on.

Some numbers: 1

I hadn’t seen statistics from RFB&D on the number of borrowers for some time, so I was interested to see the breakdown in the 2006 annual report: the organization reckons the total number of student listeners in the past year to be 147,000, of which 118.6 thousand are served through institutions and 28.3 thousand as individuals. 76.5% of our students have learning disabilities (including dyslexia), while 19.2% are blind or otherwise visually impaired. The education level brackets are 40.0% elementary school; 34.3% high school; 19.4% undergraduate; 6.2% graduate school and other. The numbers for college and graduate school surprise me, because most of what we record in the D.C. unit is at the college level.

Volunteer hours for the period were 390,021, resulting in 140,300 hours of recorded material and 5,831 new books produced. This fits with my micro experience: in a two-hour session, I can produce about 60 minutes of recording, covering 10 to 30 book pages. The organization-wide ratio of 2.8 hours of volunteer time per hour of material is pulled up by sessions that use both a reader and a director, and by the overhead of checking and production. Another way to look at these numbers is to figure 66.9 hours of volunteer time to produce one book on CD. Plus paid staff time, of course.