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.