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profoundly yours the abledbody blog

The media is talking about braille and literacy, a topic jump-started by a New York Times Magazine article, “Listening to Braille,” by Rachel Aviv. The author writes that new technology may be undermining Braille literacy as people who are blind are now “reading” via e-books, iPods, telephone news services and other text-to-speech devices. Aviv’s article centers on education: Teaching braille in order to inform language structure and help blind children read and write better. While she touches on the economics of technology, I wish she had gone deeper into this issue. The cost of reading Braille really does need to be stressed. Aviv writes: “Braille books are expensive and cumbersome, requiring reams of thick, oversize paper. The National Braille Press, an 83-year-old publishing house in Boston, printed the Harry Potter series on its Heidelberg cylinder; the final product was 56 volumes, each nearly a foot tall. Because a single textbook can cost ... keep reading »
A blind blogger has started a letter-writing campaign asking President Obama to support global access to books for the blind and visually impaired. Darrell Shandrow, a technical support engineer who is the editor of Blind Access Journal, is petitioning the White House to direct U.S. delegates in the World Intellectual Property Organization to sign an international treaty that would expand U.S. copyright exemptions to blind and other people with print disabilities in the rest of the world. People with visual impairments are able to purchase “talking” versions of print books under a copyright exemption called 17 USC Section 121 that allows certain authorized organizations to make books accessible without the constant need to obtain written permission from publishers. Organizations include The National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) and Physically Handicapped, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), Bookshare and ReadHowYouWant. Visually impaired persons can “read” these books on a digital e-book ... keep reading »
Amazon’s new Kindle DX, designed for reading textbooks and newspapers, will include text-to-speech to allow students with print disabilities to read textbooks out loud. Amazon’s Director of Kindle Books, Laura Porco, said the company is working with three of the top five textbook publishers — Pearson, Cengage Learning and Wiley, along with more than 75 University Press Publishers to make their educational materials available in the Kindle Store starting this summer. With content accessible in an audio version to everyone — not just to those who can “prove” they have a print disability — Amazon and publishers have taken a big step in breaking down barriers to educational content for people with disabilities. The Kindle DX has a 9.7-inch electronic display, a built-in PDF reader and the ability to automatically switch from portrait to landscape. It can store up to 3,500 books, and also lets readers annotate and take notes. The ... keep reading »
Today I attended the Authors Guild protest in New York City, and turnout was good. There were about 100 protesters in all, many who are blind or have sight impairments, along with representatives from the International Dyslexia Association. The protesters teamed up with the Reading Rights Coalition to press the Guild to allow books to be made available in audio versions for use on Amazon’s Kindle 2. The Kindle debuted with text-to-speech capabilities but met resistance from authors and publishers over copyrights. Protesters held signs that said “Print for Some, Audio for Others,” and “No Need for Greed We Want to Read.” Though the protest was aimed against the Guild, chants against Amazon’s Kindle were rampant, including, “Give Us Access to the Kindle.” For the protesters, the event was a demonstration for equal access to books, which the Coalition says blind people have fought for many years to get, without much success. ... keep reading »
Some pictures from the Authors Guild protest at the Guild’s headquarters in New York City. Related articles: “We Want To Read” On Kindle, Protesters Say keep reading »
Huffington Post has compiled a list of powerful quotes from people who signed an online petition called We want to read, following Amazon’s decision to allow the Authors Guild to disable the text to speech feature in its Kindle 2 e-book reader. This has set off a storm of opposition among groups that see the Guild’s actions as harmful to access for persons who are reading disabled. Today, disability groups will protest at the Guild’s headquarters in New York City. Here are a few quotes that stood out: Mary Butigan, Florida Have freinds that are going through eye cancer and cannot read. This is a great resource for them to have books to hear while going through chemo and escape the rigors of loosing their sight. Timothy Emmons, Alabama Text to Speech is important to me for a variety of reasons, the main one of which, I am totally blind. I rely on it ... keep reading »
As I wrote about in today’s Profoundly Yours blog, a coalition of disability groups, led by the National Federation of the Blind, is planning a protest march outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York Tuesday. The Guild had earlier criticized the text-to-speech feature, arguing it could undermine the market for audiobooks without compensating authors and publishers — prompting a partial backdown from the Seattle online retailing giant Amazon. Now the disability groups are demanding the full activation of text-to-speech, which they say gives visually-impaired people equal access to electronic books. keep reading »
Things aren’t letting up for Amazon. Under recent pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon has allowed authors and publishers to disable the text-to-speech function on any or all of their e-books available for the Kindle 2. Now, no fewer than nine disability organizations are leading a fight to persuade Amazon, authors and publishers to make all books on the Kindle 2 book reader available in audio format to people with sight and reading disabilities. Brown, Goldstein & Levy, a law firm representing the National Federation for the Blind, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the International Dyslexia Association, and other groups sent a letter to six publishing houses denouncing Amazon’s decision with the Authors Guild. The groups asked Amazon, authors and publishers to turn text-to-speech back on for all books offered on mainstream devices. While the Authors Guild has long waived copyright fees for audio formats for people who are ... keep reading »
Many people with disabilities say that Amazon’s Kindle 2 isn’t truly accessible because its text-to-speech function is too basic. Likewise, a similar problem with the Kindle 2 is that while it can read a book out loud, the actual device and it menus do not “talk.” As noted in Serotek Blog, an online petition is circulating that asks Amazon to add talking menus and other voice prompts to make the new Kindle 2 fully accessible. The petition gives props to Amazon for taking the first step in making its website and online store more accessible — in 2006, Amazon was threatened with a lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind — and asks that the company realize that many blind persons are already paying users of Audible.com, the online provider of talking books that Amazon owns and from which many Kindle users get their books. The petition states that ... keep reading »

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