Tactile Learning: Italian and US Experiences

from left to right: Claude Almansi, Frank B. Withrow and Tiziana Castorinaby Claude Almansi, Frank B. Withrow, and Tiziana Castorina

[Note: I started writing about the project of Liceo Artistico De Fabris, then I asked for feedback from Frank B. Withrow, because he has written about his experience in enabling tactile learning in “Technology Can Help Deaf-Blind Infants” and from Roberta Ranzani, with whom I have collaborated in several subtitling and educational projects. Frank sent the text about tactile books and the American Printing House for the Blind. Roberta mentioned a tactile astronomy workshop for the blind that took place in Venice. A friend of hers, Tiziana Castorina, had attended, and Roberta asked her for a description. Thanks to Tizana and Frank for allowing me to post their texts here, and to Roberta for her suggestion and for the introduction to Tiziana – CA]

Claude Almansi: Tactile books — Liceo Artistico De Fabris

On June 29, 2011,  Roberto Ellero sent me the URL of a video he made about a project by Prof. Adriana Sasso and her students at the Liceo Artistico “De Fabris” (Nove, Vicenza, Italy — liceo means secondary school): creating tactile books for blind and sight-impaired children.

From the video, it seemed that this project could be relevant to previous discussions here about project-based  learning: for example, see “Project Based vs Problem Based Learning” by Jan Schwartz (June 26, 2011), in reply to Jim Shimabukuro’s “A Quick and Dirty Look at Project-Based Learning” (May 20, 2011). So I asked Roberto if it would be alright to subtitle it in English (well, in Italian and French too). He agreed, so here goes:

(LIBRI TATTILI – Liceo Artistico di Nove (Vicenza). Uploaded by rellero, June 29, 2011. More information, in Italian, about the project: LIBRI TATTILI – Creazione di una favola tattile per bambini non vedenti e ipovedenti.)

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Call for Chapters: Classroom Experiences with Tech

By Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues
ETCJ Associate Administrator

Note:  the Call for Chapters below comes from the teachers of La Scuola che Funziona. About them, see Italy: Teachers’ Manifesto, (English translation of their Manifesto degli insegnanti) on this blog.

Call for Chapter Proposals

Proposal Submission Deadline: April 30, 2011

Didactic Strategies and Technologies for Education Incorporating Advancements
Paolo M. Pumilia-Gnarini, Elena Favaron and Luigi Guerra  Editors

A project promoted by  http://lascuolachefunziona.it,  with the scientific support of the Educational Technologies Research Group, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Bologna.
To be published by  http://www.igi-global.com

Further information: https://sites.google.com/site/yourdropintheocean/
Contact: dropsintheocean.info.edu@gmail.com

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Italy: Teachers’ Manifesto

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

The Italian teachers of the la scuola che funziona (the school that works)  project have launched the Manifesto degli insegnanti (Teachers’ manifesto), which converges interestingly with Marc Prensky‘s Simple Changes in Current Practices May Save Our Schools.

Licenza Creative Commons BY-NC-ND
The original Italian manifesto is published under a Creative Commons License. It is translated here by permission of the authors, who can be contacted via la scuola che funziona. Here is its English translation by Luciana Guido:): Continue reading

Online Multimedia: Italian Imperialism

Accessibility 4 All by Claude Almansi

Italian bill on multimedia services

The Italian parliament is presently examining a government proposal of a decree that would modify the law on TV and radio towards the implementation of  “Directive 2007/65/EC [Webcite archived version] of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities.”

The human-readable “schede di lettura” (reading notes) of the Camera dei deputati (Lower House) are available online [Webcite archived version]. The actual bill in legalese has not been officially published online, but an unofficial scan of a fax version is available from several sites, e.g., mcreporter.info/documenti/ac169.pdf (3.7 MB).

Online video = television

While the EU directive’s purpose is to take into account new on demand television offers, the definition of multimedia services in article 4 of the Italian bill also equates Web sites/platforms that offer online video to multimedia services subject to the same obligations stipulated by the bill as television broadcasters, unless their use of video is merely “incidental.” Among these obligations: editorial control, which means – in the case of web sites/platform offering videos – provider’s liability.


Article 2 of the Italian bill stipulates that media service providers – including sites/platforms hosting videos in a “non incidental” way, see above – situated in Italy are subject to Italian jurisdiction, i.e., to the bill. The bill’s definition of “situated in Italy” includes media service providers:

  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if editorial decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if service decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • who use an earth-satellite up-link based in Italy

Moreover, article 3, about cross-border broadcasting, of the Italian bill stipulates that Italy  can ask, at the request of EU members, for the block of broadcasts from non-EU countries for motives of:

  • public order
  • protection of public health
  • safeguard of public safety, including national defense
  • consumers’ and investors’ protection

and impose a fine of Euro 150.00 – 150’000.00 if the non-EU provider does not comply with the blocking demand.

Paradox of timing restrictions for adult (pornographic, violent) content

One of the paradoxes of considering sites/platforms that offer videos as televisions subject to the bill appears in its article 9, about the protection of minors. This article stipulates that adult (pornographic or violent) content cannot be broadcast between 7 am and 11 pm.

As to the absurdity of applying such a timing limitation to videos offered on the web, see Kine’s ironic remark in the discussion Decreto Romani – Stop ai film vietati in TV e sul Web [Webcite archived version] started Jan. 21, 2010: “Come sarebbe anche al WEB scusa? Non [l]i guardo i film su youjizz dalle 7 alle 23?” (“What, also on the WEB? Can’t I watch videos on youjizz from 7 am to 11 pm?”)

Threat to accessibility

The Italian bill creates a similar absurdity for accessibility: it keeps the EU directive’s audiodescription and  captioning requirements for TV, but it threatens the possibility to use Web sites / platforms offering videos by submitting them to the same  conditions as TV channels. And even if a text-only offering of information and knowledge will pass automated accessibility tests, multimedia is a very important part of real accessibility for all.

The paradox here is that Italy has probably the best legal tools for furthering computer accessibility in EU, and maybe in the world, and actually works at implementing them. See the accessibile.gov.it site of the official observatory for accessibility in the public administration, which recently published Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version]  (Accessibility and quality of audiovisual content).

This tutorial fully integrates a text part and a video provided with Italian and English subtitles:


In the text part, Roberto Ellero refers to several pages of www.webmultimediale.org, the main site of  Webmultimediale, a project he founded for the study of online multimedia, and in particular of how the accessibility requirements for online multimedia can be a stimulus for creativity and a great help in education because these requirements also cater to various learning styles.

Webmultimediale is among the projects directly threatened by the bill’s equating of online videos with TV offerings. Not only does its www.webmultimediale.org site make a “non incidental” use of video, but it also has an open video hosting part, www.webmultimediale.it, where people upload their videos with a time-coded transcript in order to caption them. No way either could be maintained if the bill passes. Which means that Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version], commissioned by the government’s Observatory of accessibility in the public administration, would be severely maimed.

I happen to participate in the Webmultimediale project. The jurisdiction conditions in the bill made me think of a discussion about Web accessibility Roberto and I animated at the end of last November. Roberto lives in Venice; I, in Geneva. The discussion venue was the Instructional Technology Forum mailing list, based at the University of Georgia (US) but with subscribers from all over the world, and how we all used variously hosted e-mail accounts. So where were “editorial” decisions made, in so far as there were any? Were they made, e.g., when I embedded a California-hosted YouTube video, made by Roberto in Venice, in the Florida-hosted wiki that we used for background material and, later, to gather the discussion threads? Under what jurisdiction did I do that?

Threat to education

Beyond the Webmultimediale example above, it is the use of multimedia in Italian education that is put at risk by the bill. If it becomes law, what teachers and educational institutions will dare offer a video podcast of lectures, scientific experiments, and use of video in teaching under the threat of being asked to comply with the administrative requirements imposed by the bill for TV broadcasters? Even if they try to upload the videos on a foreign platform and link to them, there would still be a risk that the foreign platform will be considered a television broadcaster and blocked in Italy.

Google Book Search Settlement Unfair to Non-US Authors

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Of Books and Vegetables

I first thought of calling this post “Of Books and Vegetables” because, when I half woke up the morning after I sent a letter of objection to the Google Book Search Settlement, I remembered Ms B. and the building site for a middle school in Cortona. The building activity had stopped just after the ground had been cleared, due to blocked funds. So for two years,  Ms B., who lived on the other side of the street, used it  to grow very tasty tomatoes and zucchini No one objected to this private exploitation of  the site: it would have been silly to waste its potential, and Ms B. generously shared her vegetables with friends and neighbours. When the funding issue was solved, the building started again and her vegetable patch was bulldozed.

I chose a more conservative title because the analogy with Google scanning out-of-print works in libraries is imperfect: if a big canning industry, instead of Ms B., had started to grow vegetables on the building site,  the borough of Cortona would probably have tried to levy a rental for this use. But the principle remains: it is silly, even immoral, to waste potential revenue – especially if its exploitation will serve the public.

Challenging or objecting?

So I did not object to the Google Book Search Settlement for the same proprietary reasons as the eminent cultural personalities who signed the Heidelberg Appeal (English textGerman text with signatures):

Comic where someone says: Well, I'll be cross-eyed, Billy Goat! Cattle rustlers! This explains th' strange noises in th' ghost town above --- No wonder it was called Whispering Walls

Actually, I did not mean to object: at first I only challenged the Settlement Registry’s classifying as  “not commercially available” the Google scan of  Theatre of Sleep, an anthology my late husband Guido Almansi and I had edited and published with Pan Books in 1986 – and for which, after his death in 2001, I was the remaining mentioned copyright holder.

The physical book has indeed been out of print for years, but it contains many excerpts from in-copyright and commercially available works, which we had obtained permission to use in – and only in – the Pan Book version. Even if the Settlement foresees the possibility for right holders on such excerpts to claim them and forbid Google to display them, some right holders might not know about the Settlement, or not remember exclusive permissions granted decades ago; besides, the search engine of the Settlement registry often does not find the authors of such excerpts. Under our initial transactions for Theatre of Sleep, I am answerable to these right holders – no pact between parties who had nothing to do with these transactions can change this.

Another reason not to allow Google to display even the rest of the anthology under the Settlement’s conditions was the absolutely unacceptable digital restriction of what – paying – users would be able to print or copypaste from Google books. Such digital restriction measures just don’t work: in Copying from a Google Book, I show how easy it is to do so even with theoretically thus restricted works. And if users pay for an e-book, they should be able to do what they want with it for personal use. So I made an unprotected e-version of what was legally offerable in Theatre of Sleep, and uploaded it  in archive.org/details/TheatreOfSleep, an in-progress version because I will re-add in-copyright texts when I get permission again.

Foreign authors and the Settlement

I could have left things at that, without objecting to the Settlement. But Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive pointed out in an e-mail that many people who are hit by the Settlement and utterly dislike it do not object because it is too complex and they have no legal training. This is my situation too, so I included the excessive complexity of the Settlement in my objections.

Theatre of Sleep An anthology of literary dreams - Guido Almansi Claude BéguinThen there was another reason for objecting. Guido and I also did an adaptation of Theatre of Sleep for the Italian readership – Teatro del Sonno – which was published by Garzanti in 1988, is out of print, and has been scanned by Google. For that one we had ceded the copyright to Garzanti, mainly because we did not want to send the permission requests all over again and Garzanti could do that more easily.

But Garzanti has not yet claimed Teatro del Sonno under the Settlement. Its editorial director explained to me that Italian publishers have chosen to wait for the result of the Final Fairness Hearing about it, in case it results in its invalidation: due to the imprecision of the Registry’s search engine, checking what Google has and has not scanned is very time-consuming. Though they are very displeased with the Settlement, Italian publishers are not objecting either, apparently. Above all, they are not systematically informing their authors about the Settlement.

Considering what little info non-US media gave about the Settlement, we are left with the impression that it was a US-only affair. However, this lack of information puts non-US authors at risk. As Mary Minow explained in Google Book Settlement, orphan works, and foreign works (LibraryLaw Blog, April 21, 2009):

The largest group of non-active rights holders are likely to be foreign authors. In spite of Google’s efforts to publicize the settlement abroad, I suspect that most foreign rights owners of out-of-print books will fail to register with the Registry.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  For one, they may not know that their book is still protected by copyright in the US.  In addition, they may assume that international network of reproduction rights organizations would manage their royalties, and not understand the need to register separately. . . .

If there is an injustice being done in the settlement, it is with foreign authors.

Also, if foreign right-holders do not object to the Settlement, how is the US Court to know that they disapprove of it?

Letter of objections

Hence my letter of objections, below. Not because I think they are representative of non-US objections, but because I believe it is important that non-US right-holders object to the Settlement if they disapprove of it, even if their reasons are very different. The deadline for doing so is Sept. 4, 2009, and for the modalities, see 24. How can I object to the Settlement? in the Settlement’s FAQs.

Direct download links: PDFODT


I have gathered / am gathering some bookmarks about the Settlement in diigo.com/user/calmansi/googlesettlement. Several of those, in particular about its repercussions outside US, come from the very useful Google Settlement Information, Documents, News &  Links page in Michael W. Perry’s Inkling Books.


By order of appearance:

Live Radio Captioning for the Deaf

claude80By Claude Almansi
Staff Writer

Thanks to:

  • Sylvia Monnat, director of captioning at Télévision Suisse Romande (French-speaking Swiss television www.tsr.ch) for the explanations she gave me by phone on live captioning through re-speaking.
  • Neal Stein, of Harris Corporation (www.harris.com), for the authorization to publish on YouTube the video excerpt shown below, and for his explanations on the US live radio captioning project.

Why Caption Radio?

Making radio accessible for deaf and hard of hearing persons is not commonly perceived as a priority. For instance, the new version of the Swiss law and ordinance on Radio and Television that came into force in 2007 does add several dispositions about accessibility for people with sight and hearing disabilities but does not mention captioning radio. See art. 7 [1] of the law and art. 7 [2] and 8 [3] of the ordinance (in French). According to most non-deaf people’s “common sense,” deaf persons don’t use radio – just as many non-blind people still believe that blind people can’t use computers.

Yet deaf persons are interested in accessing radio content through captioning, as Cheryl Heppner, Executive Director of NVRC [4], explains in this video:

The video is from the January 8, 2008, I-CART introductory press conference at CES 2008. The full video can be downloaded from www.i-cart.net. Transcript of the above excerpt:

I’m one of 31 million people in the United States who are deaf or hard of hearing. A number that continues to grow. NPR Labs and its partners are on the verge of making many of my dreams come true. Beyond having that really crucial emergency information, captioned radio could also open up a world I’ve never had, because I lost my hearing before my seventh birthday.

When I am stuck in Washington’s legendary Beltway gridlock, I could check the traffic report and find out why, what my best route would be. I could check the sports scores and follow the games for all my favorite teams. I could know why my husband is always laughing so uproariously when he listens to “Car Talk.” And I could annoy him by singing along badly to the lyrics of his favorite songs.

I can’t wait. Thank you.

NPR’s Live Captioned Broadcast of Presidential Election

The work by NPR Labs and its partners, mentioned by Cheryl Heppner in this January 2008 conference, led to the broadcasting of live captioned debates on NPR during the US election campaign a few months later. The assessment by deaf and hard of hearing people of this experiment was extremely positive. According to the press release “Deaf and Hard of Hearing Vote Yes on New Radio Technology During NPR’s Live Captioned Broadcast of Presidential Election” (Nov. 13, 2008) [5]:

  • 95% were happy with the level of captioning accuracy, a crucial aspect for readability and comprehension
  • 77% said they would be interested in purchasing a captioned radio display unit when it becomes available
  • 86% indicated they would be interested in purchasing a “dual-view” screen display for a car (which would enable a deaf passenger to see the captioned radio text while the driver listens to the radio).

How Are Radio Captions Transmitted?

A digital radio signal can be divided to transmit audio and text, and the text can be read on the radio display. In fact, text messages are already being sent micro4_serviceon car radio displays through Radio Data System (RDS). For instance, this is how the Swiss traffic information service Inforoutes updated drivers in real time – or almost – about the state of traffic jams due to work in the Glion tunnel in 2004. (See “Service,” in French, on page 4, in the May 2004 newsletter of Les Radios Francophones Publiques [6].)

The radio devices used in the experience conducted by NPR Labs and its partners that Cheryl Heppner mentions have a bigger display. For the exact technical explanation of how the captions work, see the presentations section of www.i-cart.net.

Stenocaptioning vs. Respeaking

The NPR experiment mentioned above used “stenocaptioned,” i.e., they were written with a stenotype [7] whose output gets translated into captions in normal English by computer software. Live stenocaptioning – whether for news broadcasts or for in-presence events in specially equipped venues – seems to be the preferred solution in countries such as the US and Italy that have a tradition of stenotyping court proceedings or parliamentary debates.

In most other European countries, according to Ms. Sylvia Monnat, director of captioning at Télévision Suisse Romande (French-speaking Swiss TV – www.tsr.ch), broadcasters tend to prefer “respeaking,” which works with speech-to-text technology: the software gets trained to recognize the voice of respeakers, and then converts what they repeat into captions.

Ms. Monnat further explained that, on the one hand, the advantages of respeaking involves training. In fact, countries without a stenotyping tradition do not offer courses for it, whereas existing interpretation schools can arrange respeaking courses since it is a normal exercise in the training of conference interpreters. Moreover, respeaking is easier to learn than stenotyping.

On the other hand, it takes time to, first, train the speech-to-text software to recognize the respeakers’ voices and, second, to add words not present in its basic thesaurus for each respeaker’s voice. Moreover, enough respeakers have to be trained so that one whose voice is recognized by the software will be available when needed. Whereas once a new word has been added to the thesaurus of the stenocaptioning software, it can be used by any stenocaptioner.


The fast evolution of technology makes it difficult to foresee the issues of live captioning, even in the near future. Radio and television are merging into “multimedia broadcasting.” And, in turn, the line between broadcasting and the internet is gradually fading (see the HDTV offer by internet providers). Speech-to-text technology will probably continue to improve. Mutimedia devices are also evolving rapidly.

However, the response of the deaf and hard of hearing people who participated in the NPR Live captioning experiment seems to allow one safe surmise: live radio captioning is here to stay, whatever the means it will use tomorrow.


Further information on live captioning can be found in the online version of the “Proceedings of the First International Seminar on Real-time Intralingual Subtitling” held in Forlì, Italy, on Nov. 17, 2006 [8].

This and other online resources mentioned here have been tagged “captioning” in Diigo and can therefore be found, together with resources added by other Diigo users, in www.diigo.com/tag/captioning.