Organizations representing people who cannot read print have joined together as the Reading Rights Coalition to ensure that the Amazon Kindle maintains its text-to-speech (”read aloud”) functionality. This critical function enables people who cannot access visual information to read books and other information available on the Kindle by reading through audible, rather than visual information. The Coalition, which includes the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind and others, issued its first press release, reprinted below, on March 30, 2009. A list of coalition members as of March 30 is at the end of the release. More information at the Reading Rights Coalition website.
Reading Rights Coalition Urges Authors to Allow Everyone Access to E-books
Informational Protest to be Held at Authors Guild Headquarters
New York, New York (Mach 30, 2009)– New York City : The Reading Rights Coalition, which represents people who cannot read print, will protest the threatened removal of the text-to-speech function from e-books for the Amazon Kindle 2 outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009, from noon to 2:00 p.m. The coalition includes the blind, people with dyslexia, people with learning or processing issues, seniors losing vision, people with spinal cord injuries, people recovering from strokes, and many others for whom the addition of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2 promised for the first time easy, mainstream access to over 245,000 books.
When Amazon released the Kindle 2 electronic book reader on February 9, 2009, the company announced that the device would be able to read e-books aloud using text-to-speech technology. Under pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon has announced that it will give authors and publishers the ability to disable the text-to-speech function on any or all of their e-books available for the Kindle 2.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The blind and print-disabled have for years utilized text-to-speech technology to read and access information. As technology advances and more books move from hard-copy print to electronic formats, people with print disabilities have for the first time in history the opportunity to enjoy access to books on an equal basis with those who can read print. Authors and publishers who elect to disable text-to-speech for their e-books on the Kindle 2 prevent people who are blind or have other print disabilities from reading these e-books. This is blatant discrimination and we will not tolerate it.”
Mike Shuttic, president of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), said: “AHEAD envisions educational and societal environments that value disability and embody equality of opportunity. This vision of AHEAD is directly aligned with the efforts of this coalition. Although much rhetoric is made about potential obstacles and problems that exist, the basic goal is clear and simple––access for everyone. And why create something that prevents it?”
Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind, said: “Removing the text-to-speech features closes the door on an innovative technological solution that would make regular print books available to tens of thousands of individuals who are blind or visually impaired.”
Andrew Imparato, President and Chief Executive Officer for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), said: “It is outrageous when a technology device shuts out people with all kinds of disabilities. AAPD works to remove barriers to accessibility and usability in technology, and we don’t expect to see people with disabilities singled out by having to pay more for access. New technologies, such as electronic books, should be available to everyone regardless of disability.”
Paul Schroeder, vice president of programs and policy for the American Foundation for the Blind, said: “Those of us with print disabilities have long dreamed of a world in which books and media are available to us at the same time as everyone else. The Kindle 2 offers that possibility for the first time. We hope publishers and authors come to see that text-to-speech is simply an alternative means of access to print.”
Dr. Peter Blanck, chairman and university professor at Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, said: “As electronic books become the norm, denying universal access will result in more and more people with disabilities being left out of education, employment, and the societal conversation. We will all suffer from the absence of their participation and contribution to the debates that occupy us as a society.”
George Kerscher of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, said: “The DAISY Consortium envisions a world where people with print disabilities have equal access to information and knowledge, without delay or additional expense. Authors and publishers surely must share this vision. Now that the issue of human rights has been explained, and the opportunity for larger sales are known, I urge the Authors Guild to reverse their position on text-to-speech and join us in actively encouraging all publishers and reading technology developers to open the world of reading to everybody. Authors, join us on the picket line.”
Steve Jacobs, president of IDEAL Group Inc., said, “Not only is text-to-speech important to people who are blind, it is critical in providing quality educations to millions of young people who rely on text-to-speech to learn effectively. This includes students with autism, learning disabilities, mobility disabilities, and cognitive disabilities that impact their ability to acquire information with their eyes only. I remain hopeful that the talented members of the Authors Guild come to understand the potential negative impact of disabling the text-to-speech function on their e-books and reconsider their position.”
Cynthia D. Waddell, executive director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI), said: “The mission of ICDRI supports the removal of barriers in electronic and information technology and the promotion of equal access. ICDRI welcomes the text-to-speech functionality being offered by the Kindle 2 since it increases mainstream access to books for the first time in history. We question why the Authors Guild demands that it be turned it off since many more books would be sold if text-to-speech was turned back on. Not only does this feature benefit persons with disabilities, but it also helps persons for whom English is not their native language. In an increasingly mobile society, flexibility in access to content improves the quality of life for everyone.”
James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, said: “Knowing full well that not everyone can see, the Authors Guild wants the right to be seen, but not heard. By bullying Amazon to change the technology of Kindle 2, the Authors Guild will either deny access to people who are disabled, or make them pay more. By attacking disabled persons in this way, the Authors Guild is attacking everyone who would otherwise benefit from the contributions this community has the potential to offer.”
James H. Wendorf, executive director for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said: “Access to the written word is the cornerstone of education and democracy. New technologies must serve individuals with disabilities, not impede them. Our homes, schools and ultimately our economy rely on support for the future, not discriminating practices and beliefs from the past.”
While the Kindle 2 is not currently accessible to blind users, Amazon recently announced on its Kindle 2 blog that it is currently at work on making the device’s navigational features accessible to the blind.
The coalition includes: American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Association on Higher Education and Disability, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Burton Blatt Institute, Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), IDEAL Group, Inc., International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet, International Dyslexia Association, International Dyslexia Association––New York Branch, Knowledge Ecology International, Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, NISH, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. In addition to the April 7 New York City protest, the coalition will participate in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 25-26.