Free Library of Philadelphia Being Sued For Choosing Ereaders That The Blind Can’t Use

First impressions can be very wrong…..I came across this story yesterday, and my first reaction was “What now? How silly can one get? Ereaders for the blind? No way”. I then thought something along the lines of this is yet another example of people rushing to law for totally stupid reasons.

My First reaction was wrong:

Anyhow, I went on the read the article and looked at a video they had made to explain their problem more clearly, and that changed my mind completely and I realized how my immediate reaction was way off beam, and that they actually had a good point.

I had simply never thought of ereaders and blind people as having anything to do with each other, and if I had thought about it, I would have assumed that by their very nature, ereaders, as with normal paper books were simply no use to blind people.  How on earth could a blind person use an ereader?

Text to Speech is the key:

But as they point out, many ereaders support what is called Text to Speech, which means that the ereader can “read” the ebook out loud for you. But the particular ereader they are upset about, the Nook does not have this function and their argument is that the library should have purchased an ereader that did support Text to speech, rather than the Nook,  so that blind members of the library could take out ereaders in exactly the same way as sighted people did. For example the Kindle, which is an ereader with this function.

This of course ignores a factor that is out of the control of the library, and that is that many publishers refuse to allow this function for their ebooks (never been sure why this is the case, but it is so), so even with an ereader that has support for the Text to Speech function they would not be in a much better position in fact.

I was also unaware that there is apparently some system by means of which some special keyboard like devices can somehow produce Braille, which of course would enable any blind person who can read Braille to read any ebook they had on such a gadget. In the video they show this being done via an iPad, but they give no details about how this actually works, but work it does, at least with an iPad.

Apparently in the USA there are some laws that make it compulsory for public libraries to use devices that anyone can use, whatever their handicaps might happen to be, and their contention is that this particularly library’s choice of the Nook ereader is actually breaking these laws and discriminating against blind people.

In a press release about this legal action, Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said the following:

The technology to make e-books accessible exists, allowing blind people for the first time to buy or borrow books as soon as they are released.  Too many e-book platforms and devices, however, remain needlessly inaccessible to the blind and others who cannot read print.  Libraries have a legal obligation to serve their blind and print-disabled patrons and to not discriminate against them.  They should be purchasing accessible e-book reading devices and demanding that their vendors provide them, not perpetuating the status quo by purchasing inaccessible technology and needlessly relegating their blind and print-disabled patrons to separate and unequal service.  This is the standard to which we intend to hold the  Free Library of Philadelphia and any other public library that chooses to flout the law by purchasing and lending inaccessible e-book technology.”

I have to admit, that as the technology exists that meets their special needs, they have a very good argument in their favour here.

In the video they compare a Nook with an iPad, and what they show us is a powerful argument for their case, and frankly was a revelation for me, as I had never considered that blind people could use such technology. Watching the ease with which the good lady worked away on the iPad showed me that it is obviously an ideal device in many ways for a blind person to use to read ebooks with.

Here is the video I referred to, watch it and see what your thoughts are once you have seen how it all actually works.

A couple of points to consider though:

There are a couple of points to be made here though it seems to me, the first and most obvious one is the matter of cost, a Nook will cost the library about $100 each, whereas an iPad will set them back about $500 each, and given the financial situation of most public libraries this is a major consideration, and the other point, which I mentioned above, which is the unwillingness of many publishers to allow many of their ebooks to have the Text to speech function working means that many ebooks are willy-nilly unavailable to blind readers, at no fault of the libraries.

However, it does seem to me that the blind have a powerful argument here to say that libraries shouldn’t discriminate against them and ensure that whatever ereader they choose to invest in can at the very least support Text to Speech for their blind members.

Link to their Press Release: press release by the National Federation of the Blind:

Share with us:

What is your view of this situation, do they have a reasonable right to demand that public libraries provide them with ereaders that would allow them to read in whatever manner, or not?

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