E-Book Legal Restrictions Are Screwing Over Blind People | WIRED

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. Chris Nusbaum’s voice was calm and steady. And so were his hands, which ran smoothly over lines of braille as he made a personal appeal to Amazon—maker of the most widely-used e-reader in the world.

“My class has just been assigned a project for which we must use information in the class’s textbook. Every student has a Kindle, which has the textbook loaded on to it. All of the sighted students can easily read the material and complete the assignment independently,” Nusbaum read. “I, on the other hand, cannot read the book without the assistance of a sighted reader. Therefore, I am put at a severe disadvantage in completing the project when compared with my sighted classmates. … All of this because of a problem which can easily and inexpensively be solved by integrating text-to-speech software into your readers and making sure that your apps and information are accessible with that software.”
Kyle Wiens is the co-founder and CEO of iFixit, an online repair community and parts retailer internationally renowned for their open source repair manuals and product teardowns.

in the US with some degree of vision impairment, the advent of ebooks and e-readers has been both a blessing and a burden. A blessing, because a digital library—everything from academic textbooks, to venerated classics, to romance novels—is never further away than your fingertips. A burden, because the explosion of ebooks has served as a reminder of how inaccessible technology really can be.

For more than a decade, the visually-impaired have been locked in an excruciatingly slow and circuitous battle against US copyright laws. And it’s left the visually-impaired with few options but to hack their way around digital barriers—just for the simple pleasure of reading a book.

. And while audiobooks are widely available through online platforms like Audible, the selection is relatively narrow. Audible boasts more than 150,000 titles, but that’s only 4 percent of the estimated 3.4 million books that are available through Amazon. If you’re looking for an independent author, or the collected stories of a minor, long-dead novelist, or a biography on anyone less celebrated than a celebrity or a world leader—you’re probably out of luck.

—whether that was enough. Reid’s team works on media and accessibility issues; they explained: “Yes, audiobooks are already on the market. But there are not very many of them, and virtually none for technical or academic subjects.”

That’s why ebooks and e-readers are especially promising for people with disabilities. There are well over a million ebooks in the Kindle’s Store alone—everything from cookbooks to magazines to how-to books. A lot of e-readers come prepackaged with a Text-to-Speech (TTS) feature, which converts the words on an e-reader’s screen into a synthesized, human voice. Essentially, TTS reads a purchased ebook aloud—and that’s been an incredible tool for making the collective digital library more accessible, and more inclusive.

When the Kindle 2 was released in 2009, it came with TTS functions that could be used across all Kindle ebooks. Publishers balked. They argued that TTS would negatively impact the audiobook market, and that a computer reading an ebook aloud

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