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With a new technology called SDF, blind readers can now read PDF on an iPad

Francis Quek, a professor in the United States has developed a technology for talking books. The technology is called STAAR Description Format (SDF). It allows people who are blind and with low vision to access more literature.

SDF converts any portable document format (PDF) to a version the blind can read on an iPad. Blind and low vision users can scan the text with their fingers to hear the words. They can control the pace of their reading, keep their place on the page, and refer back to text. SDF also allows them to highlight important information and take notes. The experience is like the experience enjoyed by those who are sighted.

The blind have to maintain every single piece of information in short-term memory when they are listening to an audiobook. Audiobooks for the blind do not offer much flexibility either. The burden of memory on a blind and low vision person when it comes to learning is quite huge.

The SDF technology has software and a user interface. The blind can download this and read any PDF on an iPad. The software turns every word into audio. It formats the document, while a plastic overlay gives a tactile landmark grid on the iPad screen. This allows blind and low vision readers to keep their place spatially on the page.

With the overlay on the iPad screen, blind and low vision readers scan the text from left to right with their fingers. As they glide over the words, the system announces the words. The sound of crinkling paper alerts readers when they move outside the boundary of the sentence they are reading. A clicking noise alerts them when they move too quickly. There is 'ding' sound that lets them know when they reach the end of a line.

Dr Quek is refining SDF technology so that blind and low vision readers can highlight text and make notes.

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