Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Siren's Song

One of my other dinner companions, Markku Häkkinen, presented some interesting connections between auditory culture, copyright, and risk communication at the conference. Häkkinen's formal presentation was about how accessible design could be used to improve auditory warnings for tsunami areas and in aviation contexts. He pointed out several kinds of cases where broadcast messages could be ignored, a point which was dramatically demonstrated later that day when I was strolling by the Nieuwe Kerk in the main square in Delft. The message instructing "ladies and gentlemen" to evacuate the wind-endangered tower in four languages was so incomprehensible that I actually drew near the site I was being ordered away from to figure out what the public announcement was saying.

Häkkinen began his career developing IT applications for the blind and had some interesting insights into the copyright politics around audiobooks, of which I was unaware. For example, he pointed out that local library systems were agreeing to contracts with proprietary systems for audio books like Overdrive when open source and open standard alternatives existed. At the same time, book publishers are also often at odds with disability rights advocates, because they are reluctant to disseminate any text information from their books, even if it helps users locate sections in the audio file.

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