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  • When I was about three or four years old,

  • I remember my mum reading a story to me

  • and my two big brothers,

  • and I remember putting up my hands

  • to feel the page of the book,

  • to feel the picture they were discussing.

  • And my mum said, "Darling,

  • remember that you can't see

  • and you can't feel the picture

  • and you can't feel the print on the page."

  • And I thought to myself,

  • "But that's what I want to do.

  • I love stories. I want to read."

  • Little did I know

  • that I would be part of a technological revolution

  • that would make that dream come true.

  • I was born premature by about 10 weeks,

  • which resulted in my blindness, some 64 years ago.

  • The condition is known as retrolental fibroplasia,

  • and it's now very rare in the developed world.

  • Little did I know, lying curled up

  • in my prim baby humidicrib in 1948

  • that I'd been born at the right place

  • and the right time,

  • that I was in a country where I could participate

  • in the technological revolution.

  • There are 37 million totally blind people on our planet,

  • but those of us who've shared in the technological changes

  • mainly come from North America, Europe,

  • Japan and other developed parts of the world.

  • Computers have changed the lives of us all in this room

  • and around the world,

  • but I think they've changed the lives

  • of we blind people more than any other group.

  • And so I want to tell you about the interaction

  • between computer-based adaptive technology

  • and the many volunteers who helped me over the years

  • to become the person I am today.

  • It's an interaction between volunteers,

  • passionate inventors and technology,

  • and it's a story that many other blind people could tell.

  • But let me tell you a bit about it today.

  • When I was five, I went to school and I learned braille.

  • It's an ingenious system of six dots

  • that are punched into paper,

  • and I can feel them with my fingers.

  • In fact, I think they're putting up my grade six report.

  • I don't know where Julian Morrow got that from.

  • (Laughter)

  • I was pretty good in reading,

  • but religion and musical appreciation needed more work.

  • (Laughter)

  • When you leave the opera house,

  • you'll find there's braille signage in the lifts.

  • Look for it. Have you noticed it?

  • I do. I look for it all the time.

  • (Laughter)

  • When I was at school,

  • the books were transcribed by transcribers,

  • voluntary people who punched one dot at a time

  • so I'd have volumes to read,

  • and that had been going on, mainly by women,

  • since the late 19th century in this country,

  • but it was the only way I could read.

  • When I was in high school,

  • I got my first Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder,

  • and tape recorders became my sort of pre-computer

  • medium of learning.

  • I could have family and friends read me material,

  • and I could then read it back

  • as many times as I needed.

  • And it brought me into contact

  • with volunteers and helpers.

  • For example, when I studied at graduate school

  • at Queen's University in Canada,

  • the prisoners at the Collins Bay jail agreed to help me.

  • I gave them a tape recorder, and they read into it.

  • As one of them said to me,

  • "Ron, we ain't going anywhere at the moment."

  • (Laughter)

  • But think of it. These men,

  • who hadn't had the educational opportunities I'd had,

  • helped me gain post-graduate qualifications in law

  • by their dedicated help.

  • Well, I went back and became an academic

  • at Melbourne's Monash University,

  • and for those 25 years,

  • tape recorders were everything to me.

  • In fact, in my office in 1990,

  • I had 18 miles of tape.

  • Students, family and friends all read me material.

  • Mrs. Lois Doery,

  • whom I later came to call my surrogate mum,

  • read me many thousands of hours onto tape.

  • One of the reasons I agreed to give this talk today

  • was that I was hoping that Lois would be here

  • so I could introduce you to her and publicly thank her.

  • But sadly, her health hasn't permitted her to come today.

  • But I thank you here, Lois, from this platform.

  • (Applause)

  • I saw my first Apple computer in 1984,

  • and I thought to myself,

  • "This thing's got a glass screen, not much use to me."

  • How very wrong I was.

  • In 1987, in the month our eldest son Gerard was born,

  • I got my first blind computer,

  • and it's actually here.

  • See it up there?

  • And you see it has no, what do you call it, no screen.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's a blind computer.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's a Keynote Gold 84k,

  • and the 84k stands for it had 84 kilobytes of memory.

  • (Laughter)

  • Don't laugh, it cost me 4,000 dollars at the time. (Laughter)

  • I think there's more memory in my watch.

  • It was invented by Russell Smith, a passionate inventor

  • in New Zealand who was trying to help blind people.

  • Sadly, he died in a light plane crash in 2005,

  • but his memory lives on in my heart.

  • It meant, for the first time,

  • I could read back what I had typed into it.

  • It had a speech synthesizer.

  • I'd written my first coauthored labor law book

  • on a typewriter in 1979 purely from memory.

  • This now allowed me to read back what I'd written

  • and to enter the computer world,

  • even with its 84k of memory.

  • In 1974, the great Ray Kurzweil, the American inventor,

  • worked on building a machine that would scan books

  • and read them out in synthetic speech.

  • Optical character recognition units then

  • only operated usually on one font,

  • but by using charge-coupled device flatbed scanners

  • and speech synthesizers,

  • he developed a machine that could read any font.

  • And his machine, which was as big as a washing machine,

  • was launched on the 13th of January, 1976.

  • I saw my first commercially available Kurzweil

  • in March 1989, and it blew me away,

  • and in September 1989,

  • the month that my associate professorship

  • at Monash University was announced,

  • the law school got one, and I could use it.

  • For the first time, I could read what I wanted to read

  • by putting a book on the scanner.

  • I didn't have to be nice to people!

  • (Laughter)

  • I no longer would be censored.

  • For example, I was too shy then,

  • and I'm actually too shy now, to ask anybody

  • to read me out loud sexually explicit material.

  • (Laughter)

  • But, you know, I could pop a book on in the middle of the night, and --

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • Now, the Kurzweil reader is simply

  • a program on my laptop.

  • That's what it's shrunk to.

  • And now I can scan the latest novel

  • and not wait to get it into talking book libraries.

  • I can keep up with my friends.

  • There are many people who have helped me in my life,

  • and many that I haven't met.

  • One is another American inventor Ted Henter.

  • Ted was a motorcycle racer,

  • but in 1978 he had a car accident and lost his sight,

  • which is devastating if you're trying to ride motorbikes.

  • He then turned to being a waterskier

  • and was a champion disabled waterskier.

  • But in 1989, he teamed up with Bill Joyce

  • to develop a program that would read out

  • what was on the computer screen

  • from the Net or from what was on the computer.

  • It's called JAWS, Job Access With Speech,

  • and it sounds like this.

  • (JAWS speaking)

  • Ron McCallum: Isn't that slow?

  • (Laughter)

  • You see, if I read like that, I'd fall asleep.

  • I slowed it down for you.

  • I'm going to ask that we play it at the speed I read it.

  • Can we play that one?

  • (JAWS speaking)

  • (Laughter)

  • RM: You know, when you're marking student essays,

  • you want to get through them fairly quickly.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • This technology that fascinated me in 1987

  • is now on my iPhone and on yours as well.

  • But, you know, I find reading with machines

  • a very lonely process.

  • I grew up with family, friends, reading to me,

  • and I loved the warmth and the breath

  • and the closeness of people reading.

  • Do you love being read to?

  • And one of my most enduring memories

  • is in 1999, Mary reading to me and the children

  • down near Manly Beach

  • "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone."

  • Isn't that a great book?

  • I still love being close to someone reading to me.

  • But I wouldn't give up the technology,

  • because it's allowed me to lead a great life.

  • Of course, talking books for the blind

  • predated all this technology.

  • After all, the long-playing record was developed

  • in the early 1930s,

  • and now we put talking books on CDs

  • using the digital access system known as DAISY.

  • But when I'm reading with synthetic voices,

  • I love to come home and read a racy novel

  • with a real voice.

  • Now there are still barriers

  • in front of we people with disabilities.

  • Many websites we can't read using JAWS

  • and the other technologies.

  • Websites are often very visual,

  • and there are all these sorts of graphs

  • that aren't labeled and buttons that aren't labeled,

  • and that's why the World Wide Web Consortium 3,

  • known as W3C, has developed worldwide standards

  • for the Internet.

  • And we want all Internet users or Internet site owners

  • to make their sites compatible so that

  • we persons without vision can have a level playing field.

  • There are other barriers brought about by our laws.

  • For example, Australia,

  • like about one third of the world's countries,

  • has copyright exceptions which allow books to be brailled

  • or read for we blind persons.

  • But those books can't travel across borders.

  • For example, in Spain, there are a 100,000

  • accessible books in Spanish.

  • In Argentina, there are 50,000.

  • In no other Latin American country

  • are there more than a couple of thousand.

  • But it's not legal to transport the books

  • from Spain to Latin America.

  • There are hundreds of thousands of accessible books

  • in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, etc.,

  • but they can't be transported to the 60 countries

  • in our world where English is the first and the second language.

  • And remember I was telling you about Harry Potter.

  • Well, because we can't transport books across borders,

  • there had to be separate versions read

  • in all the different English-speaking countries:

  • Britain, United States, Canada, Australia,

  • and New Zealand all had to have

  • separate readings of Harry Potter.

  • And that's why, next month in Morocco,

  • a meeting is taking place between all the countries.

  • It's something that a group of countries

  • and the World Blind Union are advocating,

  • a cross-border treaty

  • so that if books are available under a copyright exception

  • and the other country has a copyright exception,

  • we can transport those books across borders

  • and give life to people, particularly in developing countries,

  • blind people who don't have the books to read.