The Silence Is Deafening

One of the joys associated with e-books is the fact that most are accessible to people with a visual impairment. As a blind book lover who is not able to read print I relish my ability to read e-books either on my Kindle or using the Kindle app on my iPad, via the text to speech facility (on the Kindle) or by Apple’s in-built screen reader, Voiceover on my iPad.

I was disappointed to find that a book recommended to me by an acquaintance (and available in the Kindle store) does not have the text to speech facility enabled thereby rendering my purchase of the title in question pointless as I would be unable to read the work in question.

As an author I can understand the legitimate desire of writers to protect their work from copyright theft. All of my books are Digital Rights Management (DRM) protected rendering them virtually impossible to copy. However all of my books as with the majority of those available in the Kindle store have text to speech enabled thereby allowing visually impaired individuals to purchase them. I would never disable text to speech because, by so doing I would be locking out blind people from the possibility of reading my works independently.

I have sometimes heard it argued that authors disable text to speech because their book is also available as an audible download from companies such as audible.co.uk/audible.com. If the book is available as an audio download then what is the point (the argument goes) in providing a text to speech enabled version of the book on Amazon.

In answer to the above I would argue that visually impaired readers should have the same choice as to how they access books as their sighted friends and acquaintences. If a copy of a book which does not have tex to speech enabled is available from Amazon and, in addition as an audio download then the sighted reader has a choice of either purchasing the Kindle book or the audio download. In contrast the blind reader has only one choice, to download the audio version as the Kindle book is inaccessible to him or her. This is, to my mind grossly unfair as blind people should (as stated above) be afforded the same opportunity to access books as their sighted compatriots.

Certain works are only available as inaccessible (non text to speech) enabled Kindle downloads with there existing no audio alternative. Consequently blind people have their ability to access such books severely curtailed. They can request a sighted friend to read the book which negates their independence or request a charity such as the Royal National Institute of The Blind (RNIB) to record the work or transcribe it into braille. However the latter option can be time consuming and can leave the visually impaired person feeling like a second class citizen who must rely on others for his or her reading enjoyment.

I won’t name the book or the author as I hope to be able to make contact and persuade them to make their book available, on Amazon with text to speech enabled (there appears to be no audio alternative).

Most authors who sell their books on Amazon do make them available with text to speech enabled and I am, as a blind person grateful to the vast majority of writers who do the right thing. To those authors who don’t enable accessibility for visually impaired people, I am sure that most of you do not realise that the effect of your decision is to make the lives of blind readers difficult by reducing their choice of reading material. If you are one of those authors please look again and ensure that your books are accessible to all not just those who can read print.

In conclusion this post is not aimed at the vast majority of writers who make their works accessible by enabling text to speech (on the Kindle) or Voiceover (on Apple products), it is aimed at the minority of authors and publishers who do not do the right thing.

20 thoughts on “The Silence Is Deafening

  1. MishaBurnett

    My understanding is that in many cases the text-to-speech is disabled because of how the contracts handle ancillary rights. I am not a copyright lawyer and I don’t understand why the law would treat displaying text on a screen differently than have text read by a program, but evidently many older contracts allow the former but exclude the latter.

    One article I found on the subject: http://sunsteinlaw.com/read-it-aloud-and-weep-controversy-surrounds-text-to-speech-feature-of-amazons-kindle-reader/

    Reply
    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comment and the link to the article which I will read with interest. My understanding is that the book in question was published recently so I would be surprised if the rights surrounding it where governed by outdated contract provisions. I have had this issue before and on contacting the publisher of the work in question (wholly unrelated to the present case) they enabled text to speech on the Kindle edition of the book which is what I hope will happen in the present instance. Kevin

      Reply
      1. cjcasey

        Not a problem. I actually often post audio versions of my own stories on my regular blog (www.cjcasey.com) since I love reading aloud/ being read to. For some reason, though (most likely not knowing about the feature) I didn’t think to enable text-to-speech on my one Kindle project. I won’t make that mistake again.

  2. Jane Risdon

    I shall ask my editor about this regarding our latest charity book In A Word: Murder and see if she has enabled this on amazon where the book is available. I really hope so. Good luck with your writing and thanks for drawing this to my attention. Jane

    Reply
  3. Mark Coakley

    This is interesting and informative. (I was going to call it “eye-opening,” then thought better of it.) So, I just emailed it to my publisher, asking if my books are accessible to all.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: The Silence Is Deafening Revisited | newauthoronline

  5. Pingback: FREE WILL BY SAM HARRIS NOT ACCESSIBLE TO BLIND KINDLE OWNERS | newauthoronline

  6. Patty

    Reblogged this on Campbells World and commented:
    I’d like to invite and encourage all publishing authors to read this post.
    I’d also like to ask you please share it.
    This is another post which makes the effort to educate the public about disabled writers and readers and their needs.

    Reply
    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for sharing, Paddy. I haven’t come across a Kindle title with text to speech disabled for some considerable time and I have a feeling that Amazon no longer allows text to speech to be turned off (although I am not certain as to whether this is the case). Best – Kevin

      Reply

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