Accessibility in Publishing: A will to read vs The means to read


Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Steven Speilberg, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Walt Disney, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, George Washington, Pierre Curie,Alexander Grahambell, Keanu Reeves, Agatha Christie, Richard Branson, Anderson Cooper, John Lennon

We all probably know that they are all famous. Do we all know that they are all Dyslexics?

Dyslexia – Not a country. Not a disease. Not a deficiency. And definitely not a fruit.

Definition by National Center for Learning Disabilities: Dyslexia is a language processing disorder that hinders reading, writing, spelling, and sometimes even speaking. And 15% of Americans suffer from this disorder, that’s 47 million people who are born with it.

Though this may lead to perceiving that dyslexic = not intelligent, it is ludicrous to assume that people with dyslexia are dumb and are of below average intelligence – the greats listed above are proofs of the statement. And it’s only fair to observe that a dyslexic person has always found the will and means to push against all odds to read, learn and interpret like any other person.

A will to read is the drive behind a person’s ambition to learn, somehow and somewhere. But the means to read is never a common denominator in this context. Umpteen number of tools and techniques are there to aid dyslexics learn. But they do have their limitations and can never be enough to fill a natural anomaly. This is where the human ‘construct of accessibility’ can make a difference and it always have. This construct is more of a human accessibility in a digital medium.

When a book or some literature is developed and published, what amount of thought is spent on the accessibility of that content across the reader spectrum?

Simplified version: While publishing a book, does a publisher really think about a blind or dyslexic person who might want to read their book?

There is not a better truth than the big ‘no’ as answer to this question. Why would they? Does a bike manufacturer think about a person with one leg who might want to ride it?

But publisher or not, this theory doesn’t hold true in the digital strata. The horde of digital books, reading apps and devices have been here long enough for everyone to understand the possibilities of taking literature to all hungry eyes and ears. But one just cannot comprehend as to why there is a lull in digitization and a dearth in accessible digital content. If there has to be mudslinging based on this, then it would surely cover a 360 degree radius – meaning, everyone is a party to the happening.

This and more such observations are made in the ongoing Future Publishing and Accessibility Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jimmy Wales – An organized effort to ensure accessibility needs legal structures to succeed

Von Haller – To make info usable and accessible for all, we need a critical mass of free content as a basis for new businesses

Stephen King – consumers of information should have an equal voice in the debate on how accessible materials are distributed

Jens Bammel – epub3 means that publishers can make accessible copies themselves.

The voices are strong, the reach is long but the response might never see the light of the day. If this is status quo at the macro level, then at the micro level, it isn’t that impressive either. Digital Books or ebooks is where the reading is supposed to come with various font and text options to make it a convenient experience.

This is all true but the downside is that all the focus is on making reading a wonderful experience for people who have normal reading abilities. There is a scant disregard for people who are print disabled – be it visually impaired, low vision, or dyslexic. And this disregard to the sensibilities of the print disabled is what that’s most irksome by ebook developers, ebook reader app makers and device manufacturers.

But all is not lost yet, as some niche group of organizations are delivering accessibility solutions to this segment. Benetech, LearningAlly, AEL Data and the likes churn-out honest efforts in the form of DAISY standard ebooks, audio books, DT Books, Hybrid ebooks and Tactile content. There are some ground breaking initiatives like DysLektz ebook reader, developed exclusively for dyslexic users, where it converts ebooks into OpenDyslexic font, taking digital content accessibility forward.

The will is still the same but the means are not. There is widespread disengagement and regression from all corners towards accessibility commitment. Then there are beacons of accessibility solutions that keeps the right things right by doing things right. All for the will and only a few for the means – The future of accessibility.



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