Archive for December, 2009

A Brother Just Wants to Read

Monday, December 14th, 2009

This week Amazon announced that they are developing accessible menu navigation for the popular Kindle I-Book Reader. The talking menus will allow people who are blind and visually impaired to independently use the reader.

As you may recall, Amazon’s Kindle contains a “Read to Me” feature that uses text to speech (TTS) to read books aloud using synthetic speech. Many in the blind community had great hope for this product until the Author’s Guild got there panties in a bunch. Simply put, they incorrectly concluded that TTS was equal to audio books and therefore author’s should receive additional royalties.

Believe me, there’s no hate on my side toward authors. I really like author’s. Some of my best friends are authors! In fact, many authors have moved into my neighborhood, their children attend school with mine. Ok, you get the joke. Seriously no one in their right mind can listen to an audio book and equate such a performance to synthetic speech.

The result, Amazon caved and gave Publishers the control to turn on the TTS feature for each title.

Amazon’s announcement therefore doesn’t really get me all that excited. It’s great and I hope that future versions of the product and other I-Book readers approach product development from a universal design perspective, but how will this actually play out. There’s no way I will spend a few hundred dollars to buy an accessible I-Book reader only to access a limited number of books.

Now according to this article from Boing Boing, titled “RIAA, MPAA and US Chamber of Commerce declare war on blind and disabled people, “ the struggle continues. Apparently writer’s began a petition to assure that people with reading disabilities would have access to E-Books. According to the article, which asks who would be against assuring that people unable to read print have access to books:

Well, The US Chamber of Commerce, the MPAA and the RIAA, that’s who. All three organizations have urged the US trade delegation to oppose the treaty, because they fear it might set a precedent that users have rights to copyrighted works.

Is it just me or is this a bit confusing. On one hand, author’s are saying they are for print impaired having access to their books. However, the Author’s Guild saw to it that TTS was limited. I guess it plays out like: “Yo blind dude here’s the E-Book but you can’t use TTS.” Hmmm, see the problem?


I’m sure the Author’s Guild wants blind people to access their books using TTS, but I think they saw the opportunity to re-negotiate their contracts and increase their revenue.

Same is true for the organizations mentioned in the Boing Boing article. I don’t believe they are blaming blind and print impaired people for piracy, but they are trying to protect their bottom line.

I’m sure all of these organizations understand and believe in access to physical property such as public stores, restaurants, hospitals and schools. All of these “brick and mortar” properties require facilities to be accessible. Why not print?

These organizations need to protect their businesses, but not at the expense of people who have a right to access

I along with millions, want to purchase a book, in the same way fully sighted people can – without jumping through hoops or waiting months for the accessible version. The technology is here right now to make it possible. It’s a shame we still have to wait for the “human” aspect to catch up to the technology.