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Resources beyond reach of vision impaired academics

We are living in an age where ever-increasing and cheaper possibilities in digitisation and imaging are steadily putting academic resources in higher education institutions further and further beyond the access capabilities of visually-impaired students and academics. 

We have already arrived at a situation wherein by far the majority of literary and historical resources now available on the internet and on e-learning environments are not accessible because they exist only in image format. 

Witness the Google books project as the archetypal example of this. But where is the pressure upon organisations that generate this material to do something about this coming from?  

The answer is that no-one is doing it, and why not? Because everyone knows that nothing can now be done. It's already all too late, so we concentrate instead on the same old same old.  

Once you've put your project beyond the use of a certain group of individuals, that's it. There is no going back, nor any alternative on offer.  

Visually-impaired academics are now many, many times worse off than they were ten years ago, and the major digitisation projects of the future--such as the British Library's project to digitise all British newspapers--are slowly ensuring that the final nails are being hammered into the coffin.  

And where are the voices concerning inequality of access being raised? Does anyone hear them, because I can't. The truth is that, like so much in disability culture, in the end we are only interested in changing what we know we can change, and as for the rest, heads are just buried in sand. 

Many may object to what I've written, but, in the end, I ask a simple

question: when the British Library project is finished, why can't I have the same access to the newspapers as my fellow historians? It's as simple as that. 

Paul Jarman,
Disability Support Officer
Queen Mary, University of London


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