Feature Writer Alena Roberts – The Year of the Book

Access to the written word is a fundamental right, but if you have a print disability, this is not the case. This statement was very true a year ago. We certainly have not reached full access, but we’re making great progress. Over the past year, a group of mobile apps and a UN treaty have changed the lives of those who struggle to read print.

Getting access to the over one million titles in the Amazon Kindle library has been a rocky road. First Amazon decided to allow the publishers to turn off the text to speech on any book. Then, they only provided minimal accessibility on the Kindle and made no moves to make their third party apps accessible. Thankfully though, in just over six months, accessibility has come to the Kindle iOS app, they’ve designed a new Kindle Fire that is accessible out of the box, and the Kindle Android app is becoming more usable.

Being able to buy and read books from the Kindle library is amazing, but just as amazing is finally getting access to NLS books on the iOS platform. Even though this doesn’t add to the number of books available, it greatly increases the likelihood that people can access all of their books on one device. The developers of the app also made sure to make the interface very similar to the free NLS player, making the transition to the app smooth for users.

The final app that deserves a mention for helping improve access to the written word is Voice Dream Reader. This app, which now supports all DAISY formats as well as many other text formats, is one of the best reading apps available. Not only can users read files from multiple sources, they can also listen to the files with a number of high quality text to speech voices.

All of these apps have greatly increased the number of published works that are accessible, but, in many cases, the works are only available to those of us in the US. This is where the UN treaty comes in. The WIPO treaty was signed earlier this year aiming to make the printed word more accessible around the world. When the treaty is ratified, countries will legally be allowed to make published work available in alternative formats such as braille or DAISY without being punished for copyright infringement.

It is my hope that this year was just the beginning of what is to come for those with print disabilities and that one day soon, we’ll be able to say that we have full access to the written word. It is also my hope that the mobile platform increases the use of braille in the US and around the world. Being able to read anything we choose is within our reach.


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