Across China: Digital libraries light up inner world of visually impaired

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JINAN, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Xuejing recently enjoyed a nice movie together with eight other visually impaired people at a library in east China's Shandong Province.

It was a barrier-free version of The Magical Brush, a well-known Chinese film. Audio descriptions were added to help the special audience understand the story.

"The descriptions were so vivid that I felt I was just beside the brave and smart protagonist Ma Liang," said Zhang. "Every time I am in the theater I feel refreshed and delighted."

Barrier-free movies are one of several digital services the Shandong Library has launched to enrich the cultural life of the visually impaired. As early as 2013, the library initiated a digital library project for the group, converting paper books into audio materials that are accessible online. To date, the total data storage of digital resources has reached 15 terabytes with over 3 million visits.

Through coordination with 17 public libraries across Shandong, the provincial library has distributed 15,000 sets of smart audio book players for free.

"Reading is not just about acquiring knowledge, but also enriching the mind," said Zhou Yushan, deputy director of the Shandong Library, adding that digital libraries have become a spiritual haven for readers with vision impairments.

When Zhang lost her sight two years ago due to illness and had to give up her job, she felt down in the dumps. Luckily, in the digital library, she learned Braille and made friends who are in similar situations. They told her about many career options for the visually impaired, such as piano tuners, psychological counselors and singers, which augmented Zhang's hopes for a new life.

Now the 42-year-old woman is a "podcaster" with a large social media following. She reads and shares beautiful poems and articles, and has designed psychological courses to provide spiritual support for her audience.

China has been constantly promoting cultural services for disabled groups. In 2017, the State Council released a program to advance equitable access to basic public services, directing local governments to ensure that people with disabilities have barrier-free access to cultural products and services and such people can enjoy television, films, plays and other cultural works.

In the same year, several ministries and the China Disabled Persons' Federation jointly launched a digital reading promotion project for the blind in the National Library, providing customized and sustainable cultural services to the group.

To date, Shandong has built 83 offline digital reading rooms in special schools, public libraries and service centers for the disabled, and 181 libraries in the province have set up reading areas for the blind.

"Digital reading enables visually impaired individuals to develop reading habits and gain access to in-depth and enlightening cultural works, allowing them to achieve their life goals," said Li Yingjie, who works with the Shandong Disabled Persons' Federation.

"I can feel that the society is now more respectful and caring for the blind, and we have more opportunities for development," Zhang said, adding that she hopes to share her experience with people in need and encourage more visually impaired people to integrate into society. Enditem

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