On May 5, 2012, Dr. George Kerscher received the AFB Migel Medal. He earned this prestigious honor because of his work standardizing accessible digital books. He is also closely related with the DAISY standard (Digital Audio-based Information System), which has been adopted worldwide to make eBooks accessible to everyone. Dr. Kerscher has worked closely with web developers, technology developers, publisher’s libraries, and other service providers to make eBooks accessible.
The medal that Kerscher won is the highest honor in the blindness field. This medal is given to professionals and volunteers who have dedicated their lives towards improving the lives of blind and visually impaired people. The award has been in existence since 1937.
We truly have Dr. Kerscher to thank for being able to download eBooks from mainstream sources, as well as other sources. In addition to his advances in eBook accessibility, he is also president of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Standing at the helm this organization, we can be sure that he will continue to make eBooks accessible to everyone.
Immediately after receiving the medal, he was on his way to Washington, D.C. for a White House event honoring champions of change in increasing access to STEM. He will also be going to meetings representing IDPF in conjunction with Book Expo America and Daisy, both taking place this month.
Kerscher started out as a high school literature teacher. During this time period, he was declared legally blind at age 28. He would have remained a teacher if the technology of today was available to him. However, he gave up driving and couldn’t think of ideas on how to do his job as a blind person. He then discovered that he had an aptitude for computers and enrolled in a master’s program at The University of Montana as a computer science major. While in college, he had to depend on readers to read material for him. He also wrote to publishers in order to obtain files for his books. He received some on floppy disk, but they were mostly junk. He put them in a drawer and only took them out later in order to invent a program so that he could read books with his screen reader. It was at that point, that computerized books for the blind became a real possibility, and shortly thereafter, Computerized Books for the Blind, a non-profit organization, was born.
In 1991, Kerscher went to work for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (now Learning Ally). He started as a research and development director and produced books on floppy disks with some navigation capabilities. In 1995, he was promoted to Senior Officer of Accessible Information. While in this position, he consulted on all accessibility issues for Recording for the Blind as well as collaborating with people around the world to develop standards for digital books. The Digital Audio-based Information System (DAISY) Consortium was formed in 1995. This organization would form a single set of standards for blind people worldwide to make books accessible.
In 1997, he was hired as DAISY’s Project Manager. Later on, he would hold multiple other jobs that would influence how books were produced for the blind all over the world.
Kerscher has made some truly amazing contributions as far as making books accessible to the blind is concerned. Without his efforts, it’s hard to say where we would be as a community, and if accessible digital text would be as advanced as it is today.
He is a great man and we have a lot to thank him for.