e-book readers

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.

6 Replies to “e-book readers”

  1. That Kindle debacle (one of several, it unfortunately seems) was and is a dreadful step in the wrong direction.

    But – I’d take issue with your statment (previous blog post) that “increasing digitisation of text is also increasing the digital divide and putting in place yet more barriers to participation”.

    I’d argue that increasing digitisation of text is our greatest liberator in terms of increasing access to the written word – it’s bad hardware, DRM, copyright and the profit motive that are the real barriers.

  2. The price of alternative formats outside the digital world is also outrageous. I accept that there are likely to be rights management issues and associated costs, and I suppose they have to pay the readers too. On the other hand the production and distribution costs of a CD or an MP3 file are likely to be lower than those for the printed book, so I also suspect (and as Paul’s reply rather suggests) that publishers see audio books as expensive add on luxuries and therefore exploit them as a cash cow.

    Perhaps there’s a gap in the market for a specialist company that can supply these (and their digital equivalents) to people with registered disabilities.

  3. Having just spent three hours in the company of a blind person and a screen reader I still maintain that that “increasing digitisation of text is also increasing the digital divide and putting in place yet more barriers to participation”.
    Digitisation is replacing text; information is being given out in digital format; and in 99.9% of cases is being distributed by people who can see the screen and use a mouse.
    Here’s an example:
    A yahoo user group has uploaded a pdf file and sent an email with a link to the file. But to access it (with the Guide screen reader) you have to first go through the procedure of identifying the link, saving the link, then accessing the link, which then takes you to the login page for the group but that involves logging into Yahoo. (making it available in pdf format also involves having Adobe Reader and none of the people I work with have that but that’s another story). A non-sighted person can’t join a yahoo group in the first place because that involves a captcha and they can’t see it – so someone else does it for them – but when they’re on their own they can’t see what their login details are – and as sighted people we can’t always remember our login details – so when they’re asked to log in to access the pdf file – which they really want to read the contents of – they can’t and the result is ever increasing levels of frustration at being excluded. The discrimination just goes on and on and on – digital data is so inaccessible unless you can see and this is the reality of this particular digital divide.

  4. Can’t argue with an example like that!

    I do appreciate the experiences of visually-impaired people using the Web; I’ve helped enough blind and partially-sighted students navigate our library catalogue to know that this university – HEIs in general, no doubt – have a looooooong way to go before we start getting complacent. I hope you don’t think I was dismissing your – more deep-seated than ever – digital divide.

    I think you’ve nailed it on the head though in your next post when you point up the chicken-and-egg situation of “digital data [and] the means to distribute it”.

    I’m still going to argue (because I’m nothing if not bloody-minded) that digital text is *inherently* accessible. In fact, the most accessible thing we have.

    It’s the means [plural] of distribution that are broken, and broken badly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *