TORONTO, Canada, August 20, 2002 — The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), in conjunction with the World Blind Union, is tonight presenting the Louis Braille Gold Medal to Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, in recognition of Microsoft Canada’s contribution to helping develop a digital library system for the CNIB. The medal is awarded to individuals who have made an exemplary commitment to advancing the rights and freedoms of blind people around the world.
The medal has only been awarded on two other occasions, and this is the first time it has been presented to an individual or company involved in developing technology to help the blind and visually impaired realize their potential.
The CNIB digital library system is the most advanced program of its kind in the world and a model that will be closely watched by an international community of 175 libraries producing alternative format information. Microsoft Canada is helping develop the platform architecture to manage the digital library, combining some of the world’s most complex and advanced digital access and storage systems. The system in development is called the Integrated Digital Library System (IDLS).
Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates talks to student Timothy Peters, age 10 of Toronto before the Canadian National Institute of the Blind’s award ceremony, in Toronto, August 20, 2002.
A key component to the digital library is the Children’s Discovery Portal, the world’s first Internet portal for children who are blind or visually impaired. Working with the CNIB, Microsoft Canada provided project management, expertise and technical architecture.
PressPass spoke with Jim Sanders, CEO and president of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and Frank Clegg, president of Microsoft Canada, about the digital library, its value to the blind community, and some of the Microsoft technology being used to build it.
PressPass: What does this library mean for someone who is blind?
Sanders: The new digital library will be an equalizer. Currently only 3 percent of all published materials are available in alternative formats that people who are blind or visually impaired can use. This puts some children at a huge disadvantage and at serious risk of falling behind their peers. The digital library and the CNIB Children’s Discovery Portal means that children who are blind or visually impaired can have improved tools to access the same information at the same time as the rest of the world.
It also means that people who are blind or print-disabled can read a daily newspaper every morning, at the same time as everyone else. Such everyday occurrences are taken for granted in the sighted world, but immediate access to published material hasn’t been a possibility for everyone until now.
PressPass: What is the library like now?
Sanders: The CNIB Library is a recognized leader among libraries for the blind. It’s one of the largest producers of materials in accessible formats in the world, and circulates more than 1 million items each year. Its ever-growing collection includes an increasing array of electronic and digital materials, braille books, and talking books, which can be heard on audio-playback machines. Unfortunately, these machines are becoming obsolete, as are some of the library’s production facilities. If we are to continue to serve our clients we required new technology and funding.
Clegg: And luckily that’s where we at Microsoft Canada could help. Our technology has the ability to empower people, whether they have sight or not. Once the digital library is complete, a user will be able to log on, and search and order a book. Lots of books, in fact, as by digitalizing the information, the collection will increase from 60,000 to 120,000 titles, including 35,000 new electronic titles, over 40 newspapers and hundreds of magazines.
PressPass: What does this initiative mean to the blind community?
Sanders: I’ve been telling people that this era of convergence is as important to the blind community as the invention of braille or the white cane. All of these inventions have been a result of innovative thinking and have empowered people around the world. Now, these new technologies, such as the Microsoft technologies being used in the digital library, will also empower people who are blind and visually impaired by helping to provide equal access to information.
PressPass: What is Microsoft’s involvement with the CNIB?
Clegg: I initially got involved with the CNIB on behalf of Microsoft Canada as a volunteer fundraising chair for the digital library campaign. It quickly became apparent that we could play a bigger role.
At Microsoft Canada we believe we have a responsibility to contribute to the community we do business in, and we’re committed to helping Canadian children and youth to realize their full potential. The CNIB Digital Library System and Children’s Discovery Portal in every way map to our community focus and we know these initiatives will make an immeasurable difference in people’s lives.
PressPass: What Microsoft technology is being used for this initiative?
Clegg: The library will be built on a secure, standards-based, highly scalable technical infrastructure based on Microsoft .NET tools, services and platform technologies. We’ve used a wide range of technologies in developing both the portal and the library database, integrating with a variety of existing legacy systems, and implementing desktop productivity tools for the library staff.
In addition to XML Web services, some of the Microsoft products and standards-based technologies to be used in the design will include Windows .NET Server, SQL Server 2000, Exchange 2000, Internet Information Server, Windows XP Professional, Visual Studio .NET, the .NET Framework, ,C#, Windows Network Load Balancing, and Windows .NET Server Cluster.
PressPass: Was Bill Gates given the Louis Braille Gold medal just for the work you’ve mentioned above?
Clegg: In large part yes. However, as co-founder of Microsoft, Bill founded an organization dedicated to improving people’s lives through great software. In his current role of chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, he continues to foster a culture of research and development. It’s because of such commitment to innovation that we at Microsoft Canada have been focused on making sure that together with the CNIB and our industry partners we deliver the best technology solution possible – one that improves people’s lives and helps them realize their potential.
PressPass: What will children be able to do with the Portal?
Sanders: A lot of firsts! The CNIB Children’s Discovery Portal is an online community where children and youth who are blind and visually impaired can interact in an informative and safe learning environment. The portal will consist of four sections: the CNIB library, accessible games, a community area and a news section. Through audible and voice technology, children will be able to search the library database and download materials rather than wait weeks for the materials to arrive in the mail. They will also be able to play games with other visually impaired and sighted children. We’re certain they will love the community area where they can communicate with peers around the world through bulletin boards, chat and post articles they have written.
PressPass: When will the portal be up and running?
Clegg: Development will begin on the digital library system in October, and we hope to be fully functional within a year.