I guess there was a general assumption on the part of many of us that with advanced digital technologies, many of the access problems for people with disabilities would be resolved—at least there was this hope. For librarians who value equitable access to information for all, accessibility for people with disabilities should be second nature. We should automatically think about accessibility when buying resources for our library communities, including e-readers.
But for the most part, we don’t. Primarily our problem is a lack of awareness. We may think that accessibility concerns are handled by libraries for the blind or whoever makes books in Braille. This is true to a certain extent – we do have groups that work solely for people with print disabilities, and they do the best job they can with the limited funding they receive. Unfortunately, making an inaccessible book accessible is time consuming, expensive, and ultimately inadequate.
What people with print disabilities want is to access and buy accessible books and other information at the same time as anyone else. Seems reasonable. Yet impediments to access continue to exist.
Consider the e-reader. It may shock you to know that only Apple’s iPod, iPad, and iPhone are fully accessible to people with print disabilities. Folks can buy an application called Read2Go and bingo, access granted. The user merely touches the screen and can access text-to-speech, highlighting, and font and color manipulation. Users can move around in the text. Unfortunately this is not true of Nooks and Kindles (unless you circumvent technology or do a software “end around”), the e-readers more popular with libraries because they are less expensive.
An ALA member forwarded to me a link to a fairly detailed EASI webinar on e-reader accessibility by Ken Petri from Ohio State University. (EASI stands for Equal Access to Software & Information). Petri explains all of the conditions that must be in place to provide information access to people with disabilities and encourages people to contact manufacturers of e-readers and ask for accessibility enhancements. Apparently, many of them have been listening.
Director, Program on Public Access to Information
American Library Association