ITC is supporting the Dickens Journals Online project at Buckingham University. The project has put 30 million words of these episodic writings on the web for all to read and the ITC is supporting the project to convert those words to text for the 300,000 people in the UK cannot access them in that way because of visual impairment.
Before Eastenders there was Charles Dickens: 150 years ago he enlightened Victorians on social issues through stories of how the middle, working and criminal classes got along together in London. Dickens wanted to have social impact through a wide audience and the ITC Charity is helping to make his work more accessible, using innovative text to voice technology.
If Dickens was alive today, he would probably be a committed Tweeter and Blogger but in the nineteenth century the closest equivalent was the weekly journal; many of Dickens’ writings were first published in that way. 200 years after his birth, the Dickens Journals Online (DJO) project has put 30 million words of these episodic writings on the web for all to read but 300,000 people in the UK cannot access them in that way because of visual impairment. We were invited to help make those words spoken, for the benefit of those who cannot read them, and donated £2,700 from our charitable fund to contribute to using text to voice technology from the Acapela Group (www.acapela-group.com).
The DJO project is based at the University of Buckingham and has enjoyed grants from numerous organisations; in particular the Leverhulme Trust (2009-12). It brings together themes that are important to the ITC charity; overcoming disadvantage, educational opportunity and access to the arts. We hope to link up the DJO project later in the year with our educational activities through the schools that we support.
About two thirds of Blind and Partially Sighted people are aged 75 and over but registrations amongst both 5 to 17-year-olds and 18 to 49 year-olds are increasing steeply. These groups are educationally important, given national levels of digital and online literacy. The real-time 'audio book' function that the website offers appeals across the spectrum and Mrs Gaskell's novel 'Cranford' and Dickens's 'A Tale of Two Cities'--are classics with a timeless appeal. DJO offers a choice of 15 different voices, and is midway through an exciting project with a famous Dickensian actor to create their inimitable voice as the principal reading vehicle for the site.
The system is still being test-driven and work remains to certify and test the Blind and Partially Sighted access level but Dickens’ original material is proving a big draw. DJO has had over 85,000 visits in the last 15 months; 68% came from the UK but the balance is made up from readers in 137 different countries. The text to voice facility only went public at the end of April but has already delivered nearly 2,500 minutes of audio and five times as many people listened in June as listened in May – like Oliver Twist it seems they are coming back for more – and telling their friends.