Apr 9 2009
Earlier today I read this report Photos and Video From the National Federation of The Blind’s Kindle 2 Protest at the technology news blog, Gizmodo, about a street protest held by members of the National Federation of the Blind against the Author’s Guild.
As Gizmodo reports:
"Basically the story is this: the Author’s Guild raised issue with the Kindle 2′s new robotic text-to-speech feature, which can read any Kindle book aloud in a synthesized voice-’naturally, a feature that would be an absolute delight for the vision impaired. The Author’s Guild, however, saw things differently, stating that eBooks are not sold with “performance” rights and that the Kindle’s read-aloud feature would cut into the sales of audio books. And last month, Amazon caved to the Guild, giving individual publishers the ability to disable the text-to-speech reader for specific books."
I have an issue with the Guild for classifying the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature as "performance". There’s a world’s difference between an audio book and a text-to-speech feature of an ebook. The key difference is there’s no voice actor in the text-to-speech feature. It’s deprived of emotions, accents and other nuances. It’s a flat, unemotional robotic voice. It doesn’t give a performance of any kind. It’s a very basic function. Just like having a vacuum cleaner that does what it can do, instead of a floor cleaner who pays close attention to details and the quality of work.
It’s some responses to the article that I have a serious issue with, such as these:
Ebone: "Sometimes there just no pleasing people. You can get unabridged audiobook versions of just about every book on the market. Does EVERY product have to tailor itself to the needs of every special interest group? Maybe some of the protesters would like to be 747 pilots. Is Boeing supposed to develop a special 747 that the blind can fly too?"
Hello Mister Wishbone: "I’m all for blind people rights, but isn’t it a bit ridiculous to protest the lack of features on a commercial product? Shouldn’t it be up to Amazon or the authors to decide if they care about the blind people market? It’s like yelling at Apple because iPods do not have braille buttons. At some point, it just doesn’t make sense."
Morgan Breden: "I honestly don’t see how they have the right to complain. The books are available in audio format already, so why don’t they just buy those instead of an ebook? It’s not like the ebook has any other functionality to a blind person.
Call me a jackass, but it just sounds like another case of “I’m disabled so I should get free shit that everyone else has to pay for”. Last time I checked, in America, everyone was supposed to be equal."
This kind of attitude completely pisses me off.
Equal? You want to talk about equal? It’s an unequal world for people with disabilities. Always has been and still is now. The rights of people with disabilities are part of the civil rights and yet, people with disabilities are still second-class citizens. The quality of their lives is absolutely crap. What makes it more insulting, they sometimes have to pay for access to whatever is easily available – and free – to everyone else.
I don’t know where this person gets the idea that all things are "free" for blind people. I suspect this person and I have different ideas of what defines "free".
We all were born into a world that doesn’t cater to our special needs. If he could see or hear, it’s always free. If he couldn’t, it’s certainly not free, and rarely available. It’s up to the society to adapt to all needs, but due to various people’s ideas and beliefs, the society refuses to adapt. It’s either "shut up and put up with whatever we feel like offering" or "pay up and shut up" with this strong view that making the society fully accessible to all citizen is too expensive and time-wasting.
In my ideal world, every YouTube video would have a function that could enable subtitles for deaf users and audio descriptions for blind users. Every ebook device would have a text-to-voice function for blind readers without further charges. Every cinema in every town would have a daily accessible offering of all current releases for deaf and blind viewers. Every web site would be well designed and fully accessible. Every video would have removable subtitles. Every image with a description tag for an audio reader to latch on. Every online shop would be fully accessible for its disabled customers. No web site would dare to inflict its autoplay music on its visitors (because screen readers for blind users tend to malfunction, trying to read the autoplay device, which forces blind users avoiding certain web sites because of this kind of thing).
Until then, people with disabilities have to rely on whatever is available. If they truly want it, they have to go out of their way to get it and they oft have to pay for it.
In blind readers’ case, a typical price for an audio book is approximately £10 while a paperback is around £3.99. If there is an out-of-print book they would like to read, they oft can’t buy it because the audio book version simply isn’t available.
Get a professional reader? Tell me, when you stumble across a positive review of a foreign novel or film that hasn’t yet been translated to English, do you dig in your pocket to hire a translator to translate the foreign novel or film? If not, why should blind people hire professional readers to read books that aren’t accessible to them? Especially if it’s accessible to everyone but them?
There are libraries, of course, but some branches are struggling with budget cut-backs, resulting with limited offerings for its disabled patrons. It’s an insult that books for people with disabilities should be seen as a luxury. It’s certainly a luxury for people who don’t have sight problems, but it’s a necessity for blind people.
At leas with the Kindle 2 and other ebook readers that have text-to-speech function, blind readers can now be equal to other people as well as feeling independent. You know, feeling as if they are finally ordinary customers.
They buy ebooks they probably won’t read, but at least through the text-to-speech function, they can experience instant gratification that many others enjoy. Sure, it doesn’t offer what audio books can offer, but at least the option is there. It should be every reader’s right to choose. A typical reader can choose to buy a hardback, a paperback, an ebook, or an audiobook. A blind reader doesn’t have these choices, but they could at least choose between an audio book and a basic text-to-speech function.
Do you know how many academic text books have the audio version? Very few. Do you have any idea how much blind college students have to pay just to gain access to many text books required for their courses? Of course there are discounts, but it still takes away their independence. They can’t sit in their room and study books whenever they like. Their lives revolve around their professional readers’ schedules that are restricted to week days and between nine to five.
How about blind readers who simply want to have a right to the privacy of what they read? Such as a guide book to sex, a book on divorce, or just plainly dirty books? The audio version isn’t always available for these. If there was, do you really think blind patrons enjoy going to a library or bookshop where they have to ask for assistance to locate and purchase the audio version of this kind of books? Some authorised audio book sellers online don’t sell these because you know, blind people are supposed to be asexual. If ordinary people can buy them off the internet in private, why can’t blind people?
And some blind readers just want to sit back and enjoy a story any time they want. They don’t want to go out there and track down an audio book that may or may not be available. Some audio books become available months after a hardback or paperback is released. They don’t want the hassle.
They simply want to be in a situation where late at night, they think, "Yeah, I’m in mood for a romantic suspense novel," and purchase an ebook through their ebook device on spot, and then kick back with the text-to-speech reader reading the story out through the night.
To the person who said "I’m all for blind people rights, but isn’t it a bit ridiculous to protest the lack of features on a commercial product?"
Did you hear that repetitive sound? That was my head hitting a wall.
What, are you saying that blind people can’t be recognised as customers? You know, people who have the money to spend? Companies that don’t recognize people with disabilities as potential customers are a real bunch of short-sighted idiots.
It’s just so wrong of the Author’s Guild to control what blind people can buy. A text-to-speech reader is not even a performer, for goodness sake.