In June I blogged about the barriers ebooks present for visually impaired users. This post focuses on e-book readers. The synergy should be obvious. Download an e-book onto an e-book reader and listen. But no, no, no… it simply doesn’t work like that.
Amazon have a vested interest in cornering the digital text market; their first e-book reader, Kindle, came out in 2008. There was no text-to-speech facility but Kindle2, launched in February 2009, put this right. So far, so good.
Then, in an astonishing act of discrimination, the Author’s Guild declared this was infringment of copyright unless the copyright holder had specifically granted permission. Amazon’s response was a modification allowing authors and the six publishers supplying books to Kindle to have the text-to-speech turned off. The Reading Rights Coalition (RRC), the National Federation of the Blind, the Author’s Guild and Amazon became locked in battle over an issue that should never have arisen in the first place. Plus not only was there the issue over copyright, ut problems for blind people with using the e-reader independently suggested Amazon failed to test their product with equality and diversity in mind.
The Amazon US Kindle site currently says: “Read-to-Me: With the new text-to-speech feature, Kindle can read every newspaper, magazine, blog, and book out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable.”
In the UK there are a number of e-book readers currently on the market, but none that seem to address this issue. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I looked on Sony’s e-book site and could find no mention of listening to text should you be unable to see it. The digital divide seems to be going in totally the wrong direction; further away than ever from ensuring the rights of the visually impaired to have equal access to digital data.