eBooks and people with print disabilities – Match made in heaven or a barrier to digital inclusion? It‘s up to us!
The evolution of the printed book into a set of digital files displayed on computers or smart devices brings about a gigantic change in the way we read and interact with it. It also holds the key to unlocking a whole new world of information to people with print disabilities (visual impairments, cognitive impairments such as dyslexia, and people with certain types of mobility impairments); a group that accounts for between 10 and 15% of the population in a typical western society. It is estimated that only 5% of books are available to this group in accessible formats in the western world and only 1% of books in developing countries. This is often referred to as the „book famine“.
The digitization of the book, if done correctly, combined with software on smart devices that provide non-visual access or enhanced reading experience can go a long way towards making most books accessible and levelling the playing field for access to information.
For this to happen, standards need to be in place, open source software and technologies need to be deployed and worlwide expertese on the problem needs to be utilized.
We already have the EPUB3 standard for the creation and playback of eBooks which was created in close collaboration with experts in digital accessibility requirements, we have open source software that can turn digital information into speech, braille, large print, or a combination of all of these, and we have devices such as smart phones, PDAs and computers capable of running this software. The key to eliminating the book famine lies in making sure we can leverage these technologies and get the big publishers and device manufacturers to utilize them. This is being done through various means, ranging from technical and standards development to law suits and awareness campaigning.
This presentation will explain the problems print-disabled people are faced with, the EPUB3 standards and the promises it holds and the challenges to making accessible eBooks a reality, including the reluctance of some major eBook and hardware vendors to go along with the standards, opting instead to create proprietary ecosystems of inaccessible hardware and software.
It will explain why an inaccessible eBook is in some ways a bigger problem than its printed counterpart and, if time allows, provide a short overview of the most popular eBook reading systems and to what extent, if any, they offer accessible solutions.
About Birkir Gunnarsson
Birkir Gunnarsson works in many areas of Assistive Technology and web accessibility for various organizations in Iceland including the Iceland National Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Library for the Blind and Dyslexic and the Blindrafelagid, Iceland Association of the Visually Impaired. He is also a member of Anec, the European Consumer Organization and the European Blind Union Access to Information Experts Committee. Birkir holds bachelor degrees in Computer Science and Economics from Yale University and has worked with Microsoft and Design Science, a company that makes math authoring and reading software such as MathType and MathPlayer.
Birkir also worked as a financial analyst for Wachovia Bank and Glitnir Bank, both of whom ended up in bankruptcy situation. Though he does not consider himself effectively contributing to that unfortunate outcome.