This week, my publishers, Book Republic, agreed to release the rights of The Pink Cage to the library run by National Council for the Blind (NCBI). They didn’t have to do it. After all, the NCBI Library is copyright exempt, so there are no royalties to be gained. But they showed themselves to be leaders in making books accessible to visually impaired people without the usual delay.
Visualy impaired and blind people get a raw deal when it comes to books. Whereas the rest of us can stroll into a bookshop, pick up the hottest new release and get stuck into it straight away, blind people have to wait two or three years before an audio book publisher picks it up or the book is converted to Braille. I continue to feel incredibly lucky and privileged that I can read regular print at close range, that there is no barrier between me and the printed word.
Blind and visually impaired people read books in various ways. Braille and audio are the best known and there are also large print books for partially sighted people. Some people scan books onto their computers and use their screen readers or magnification software to read.
Things have improved somewhat with the arrival of the ebook, but ebooks come in PDF form and most PDFs aren’t picked up by screenreader software. And for magnifier users like me, the print is faint and close packed. Even with my magnifier, I still have to plus plus plus it to get it some way readable. Still, when the text to speech function in an ebook is enabled, people using screenreaders can read ebooks. And the good news is, the text to speech has been enabled on the Pink Cage ebook, so it’s accessible right now.
When the book comes into the NCBI library, it will be available in Braille, audio and large print. I reckon I’ll get hold of a large print book for readings, so I won’t have to bring a rainforest of paper with me. I’ve been told work will begin on the book in August, so I’m looking forward to spreading the word when it’s available.
Making books accessible needn’t be just a feelgood gesture from publishers. It’s estimated that 200,000 people in this country have some sort of sight problem. So there’s a whole market of book lovers to be tapped into if publishers make the leap and strive to make books accessible as quickly as possible.