At AbilityNet we champion a digitally inclusive future and amongst the expanding choice of innovative hardware, software, on-line systems and applications available, there are many worthy examples which are truly accessible.
However, there are at least as many instances where the basic principles of design for all are willfully ignored and, in so doing, also flout the legislation devised to protect ‘non-standard’ consumers (who incidentally make up over 16% of the population).
This is why my colleagues and I have decided to award TASBOs (Technology Anti-Social Behaviour Orders). It’s difficult to pick just one offender among the competing array of web and software developers, manufacturers of mobile phones, digital TV desktop sets and MP3 players.
So often we look at a new product and wonder - how could the needs of disabled users be disregarded quite so completely? And, how could access be so readily sacrificed for slight improvements in speed or other functionality?
But one industry has recently distinguished itself by its uniquely disdainful indifference towards the disabled community and we are proud to award our first TASBO jointly to (drum roll) Amazon.com and the American Publishing Industry.
If you don’t know the story, it concerns the launch of Amazon’s latest version e-book reader (the Kindle DX) with built-in text to speech. A great step forward, one would think, heralding greatly enhanced access to reading for those with vision impairment, dyslexia and a wide range of other sensory and physical needs.
With titles now exceeding 300,000, outstripping all US sources of alternative formats for the ‘print disabled’ combined, it’s understandable that our vision impaired friends across The Pond were getting excited about equality of access.
But all was not as it seemed. Despite the best efforts of the American Reading Rights Coalition which represents the 15 million Americans who cannot read print because of blindness, dyslexia, spinal cord injury and other so called ‘print disabilities’, the Authors’ Guild claimed that the device would not only represent an infringement of copyright, but would also presage a dramatic decline in audio-book sales.
As such, they’ve pressured Amazon to give authors and publishers the right to block access by text to speech in the Kindle. So…Amazon backed down and removed the text to speech function from the planned product, unless specific publishers or authors approved the use of text to speech for their works.
Hurrah! Vested interests or, let’s just cut to the chase, and call it barefaced greed, has conspired to deny millions of people a basic human right – that of access to information, culture and the arts – in one fell swoop.
The 31 disability groups from which the Reading Rights Coalition derives its membership, held a protest outside the Guild’s offices in New York stating their collective belief that “access to the written word is the cornerstone of education and democracy; and that new technologies must serve individuals with disabilities, not impede them”.
So far though, their voices have yet to be heard.
May we however congratulate those authors who have publically come out in support of access to text for all? Amongst others, please step forward: Kinky Friedman, George Pelencanos and Cory Doctorow – your gesture is much appreciated.
Director of Development