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February 11, 2009 2:34 PM

Literacy Bridge gets first Talking Books pilot program off the ground

Posted by Kristi Heim

Think Kindle is exciting? Take a look at this book that talks, was developed entirely by volunteers and costs less than $10.

Seattle-based non-profit Literacy Bridge launched its pilot program today to test dozens of its Talking Books in Ghana. The digital audio player and recorder is designed as a tool to teach literacy when used with textbooks, and help rural people who can't read get access to information.

Talking Book Devices.jpg

In the current usability test, Literacy Bridge volunteers want to find out how people use the device and what content is most popular. They are working with local health and agricultural officials to help disseminate information, such as disease prevention and best farming practices, and with local schools to build lesson plans using the device.

The man behind the project is Cliff Schmidt, a former Microsoft program manager who studied artificial intelligence and thought a lot about how literacy can play a role in moving people out of poverty. He left Microsoft to form Literacy Bridge.


In a place like Ghana, Schmidt thinks having spoken information at hand will help people avoid lengthy trips to visit clinics or other offices. He also designed a function for users to record their own messages, and a way for such content to be distributed within local networks through the device-to-device copying capability.

Next he hopes to use the Talking Books to reach women in Afghanistan (90% of whom are illiterate), but ideally the device could be used anywhere in the world.

Here's a detailed Q&A with Schmidt, and a profile of Literacy Bridge.

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