Tuesday, June 17, 2014

E-Book Access For All

by guest blogger Laurie Hoirup, author of I Can Dance: My Life with a Disability
 
Within the business world, financial success is the driving force for both concept and product design. Numbers matter and sadly, for the disability community, those numbers can have a detrimental effect upon independence and ability. Technology is a wonderful asset for both businesses and disability, making money for one while creating independence for the other. However, sometimes certain aspects of technology don't make enough money for the business world and therefore, are lost to the disability community.

E-books fall into this category; though extremely popular within the general population and, thus, a huge moneymaker for businesses, they are only accessible to a portion of the disability community - though I must admit a fairly large portion.

However, this article is about the small proportion of people with disabilities who have limited to no use of their hands or uncontrolled use and, for this reason, don't have access to e-books. Whether or not an e-book has a button to push or a touchscreen to scroll, both are inaccessible to individuals with dexterity/mobility disabilities. Individuals with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, paralysis, amputation of their upper limbs, or severe rheumatoid arthritis are just a few examples of the types of disabilities that affect people's ability to use an e-book as they currently exist.

I fall into this category and am completely frustrated with what is available and what could be made available. I know the technology exists, either to add a jack for a micro switch, which could be positioned for access or having voice activation as an option. Both of these additional features considered to be "assistive technology," might add to the price, but if done at the development/manufacturing stage, the additional cost would be little to nothing. And, at the same time, would open up a world of reading for everyone with disabilities.

Laurie Hoirup, author of I Can Dance: My Life with a Disability
I realize that voice activation might be disturbing to some and a bit awkward for the person using it in a quiet area such as a library, an airplane or a classroom, as having to say, “turn page” out loud could certainly be disruptive. However, in many situations this option would work out just fine. On a more personal level, I have not been able to read a book on my own since my college days, some 35 years ago. Up until about 10 years ago, I would sit next to my husband, child, or friend while they were reading and have them turn my page, which was quite a nuisance for both of us. Needless to say, I stopped reading for pleasure shortly thereafter.

Though page turners exist, they are bulky, cumbersome and not at all user-friendly. Luckily for me, I have a voice-activated computer and can therefore, read things that are in electronic format, but it is difficult in terms of reading novels. I long for the luxury of sitting somewhere; my bed, my family room, or my backyard while reading a good book.

I'm sure the thought process for most would be to utilize a laptop or a NetBook, which I agree, is one form of compromise, but I have lived through a lifetime of compromise, waiting for a product to be designed that I can use it in every aspect of my life.

I am pleading with the business world; product designers and developers, manufacturers, and marketing/advertising executives to consider promoting equal access on all e-book readers. This access only involves some slight modifications with minimal cost and at the same time, will expand the world of books and magazines to many more consumers.

Life experience for people with disabilities is often limited and for many, reading a book is their only path to seeing the earth they live on, their only way to participate in a large number of life's activities, their minds eye to the larger world around them. Reading becomes a way to expand their knowledge and their imaginations.

As a final note, I would like to remind my audience that literature was meant to be read by all; not just those who can physically pick up a book, hold it, turn the pages and read the contents, but for everyone. There have been great strides made in the field of education to ensure that America overcomes illiteracy, with “No Child Left Behind.” I would like to see the same effort incorporated by the business world to make certain that physical access does not become a deterrent to the wonderful world of words, thus overcoming inaccessibility having “No Person with a Disability Left Behind.”

Have you found an accessible E-book solution? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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