Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Phase 1 Ends, Phase 2 Begins

At the end of October 2011 we delivered our final report on Phase 1 of MyDocStore to JISC. In this Proof of Concept phase we demonstrated the possibility of providing automatic conversion of documents to a pre-determined format and making these available on both mobile devices and PCs. The same source file could be opened in different formats depending on the platform, and the selected conversion routes proved both simple to operate and quick to take effect. MyDocStore used Cloud technology for file management, and an API for the MyDocStore server was developed to enable connection for third-party organisations to benefit from MyDocStore services.

Although technological limitations and time restraints restricted the range of file types and formatting, we were able to covert from various versions of Word to ePub and MP3; and from PDF, ePub, .rtf and .odt to ePub and MP3. In addition, Word .docx files could be saved as re-formatted .docx files.

User testing and feedback were important parts of this project, and we found that users generally appreciated the independence that MyDocStore offered, and the ability to download appropriately formatted documents on mobile devices. It was particularly noted that MyDocStore made conversions and documents available with the minimum of user interaction, improving productivity and removing barriers.

Encouraged by the progress made, the consortium applied to SBRI for Phase 2 funding, and in early December 2011 we learned that we were one of four projects to succeed. The aim is to develop a robust, usable, working system prototype to trial with learners in the FE and skills sector. A principal task will be the development of a web portal to enable users to use the MyDocStore service on practically any device. Phase 2 is now underway, with a final report due to be submitted to JISC at the end of this year.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

First Reflections on Using MyDocStore

For the last couple of weeks I have been out on the road demonstrating and trialling the MyDocStore prototype with students, users and assistive technology experts. It's been a great experience, a chance to learn about the potential of MyDocStore. What has also been exciting is seeing the impact that new mobile technologies and the Cloud are bringing to visually impaired users when they are linked together in a simple, accessible tool.

I have had the privilege of observing 2 blind users navigate and use the iPhone and our app using VoiceOver. And, combining this with the MyDocStore app, they were able to quickly access documents when away from their computer. For one user that meant being able to read the PDF manual for his new portable Braille display on his iPhone with his device. In the orignal PDF format he couldn't boookmark important pages, but MyDocStore quickly converted it to an ePub file and delivered it to his iPhone.

MyDocStore iphone app downloading a new file

I've learnt why getting accessible documents onto portable devices can give so much freedom to those with visual impairments. Another user was able to hold an iPad close to him - less tiring and more liberating than sitting in front of a computer; for another it meant the possibility of transforming text into large print in one step, opening the world of books and information to him.

It was also interesting to see how those with dyslexia had very different reactions to those who have visual impairment. The students I met with dyslexia at one university were looking for font and style changes and had great expectations of success as they were used to working with PDFs and changing their settings in Microsoft Word. They were surprised at the success of making an Mp3 recording from the documents and the convenience of it appearing automatically on a phone.

We are still pulling together all the feedback we have received and hope to post more comments here soon.

Abi James, MyDocStore Project

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Thinking Behind MyDocStore

In recent years the technology behind mobile devices such as Smartphones, iPads and Kindle has developed at a rapid rate, and these devices are becoming very popular. At the same time, there have been advances in making files, webpages and emails available to those who need access to alternative formats. What has been missing is the link between the two technologies. MyDocStore, by developing a Cloud-based service (similar to DropBox) marries accessibility to mobility. It aims to provide instant syncing of files between devices and applications.

Until now, user-focussed solutions have been predominantly desktop based and assume that the user will continue to use the content on that device. So you need to convert a file into two different versions – say a large font version for reading on a laptop and an audio version to listen to on your phone. MyDocStore looks to overcome this by combining proven AT tools with Cloud file syncing.

Who Might Benefit? Case Study 2

Sarah is studying as a physiotherapist via a distance learning course and is visually impaired. She has some sight but prefers to use screen reading tools to access text. She receives her course materials electronically, usually as accessible PDFs, which she wants to read and annotate with comments while travelling to placements.

She can save a PDF file from her PC to her MyDocStore folder for conversion.

MyDocStore will convert the PDF to ePub format.

She can then download the ePub document onto her iPhone for annotation and read it back in apps such as iBooks.

Who Might Benefit? Case Study 1

Paul is a sales rep, who often needs to read product brochures while on the road. Paul is dyslexic and suffers from visual stress. He needs a way of getting these documents re-formatted to match his needs as simply as possible. Ideally he would also like to listen to the documents while driving to help with memorising the facts and figures. MyDocStore offers him the following possibilities:

If he receives a PDF by email on his PC he can open it as a re-formatted Word document.

MyDocStore in the Cloud can convert the PDF to an MP3 audio file. It will also store the re-formatted Word document.

On his iPhone he can download and play the MP3 file. It will also download the Word document, which can then be read-aloud with VoiceOver.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Accessible Formats - What Are They?

The MyDocStore concept is a solution for synchronising and transferring accessible file formats across a variety of platforms, including smart phones, mobile devices and tablets. But what are accessible formats and why do we need to worry about them?

For those who find it difficult to read because of a learning difficulty such as dyslexia or visual impairment, converting printed or electronic text into an accessible format can provide the answer. Acessible documents enable users to personailise the format of the text to suite their needs such as:

• documents with large fonts

• audio versions of documents or books, usually as MP3 files

• talking e-books

• braille documents

The MyDocStore project aims not only to improve the process for creating accessible formats but also to automate and distribute documents to personal devices.

Monday, 15 August 2011

SBRI Competition Win

The iansyst team is once again celebrating! We’ve been awarded government funding to develop new life-changing technologies at a recent Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition.

The ‘Plain Sailing’ competition encouraged the development of technology solutions to suit specific public sector needs and to enhance learners’ skills through improved social and educational communication. Entrants were encouraged to develop products that enable users to produce and navigate digital information independently, anytime, anywhere and in a user-friendly way.

We have been awarded a share of £250,000 of funding to develop our proposal of MyDocStore. MyDocStore will use cloud, desktop and mobile based file management to address the missing link in the accessible transfer of files with users’ preferences for accessing all forms of digital resources. It aims to make it quick and easy to transfer files between devices, converting them into the user’s preferred format - whether text, audio or a combination of both.
We will now work alongside the Electronics and Computer science department at Southampton University and Raspberry Software Ltd, to develop the proposal and have been given six months to do so.

Abi James, Head of Product Innovation for iansyst, comments: “Using the most recent developments in mobile technology, we believe we can create a fantastic tool for people wanting to access documents wherever they are, in a format that suits their needs.”
Further information can be found here on the
Cambridge First website