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By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 16th March, 2010 at 10:36am
eBooks have been around for some years now without making much impact but recently there has been a lot more buzz about them. There are a lot of interesting possibilities with eBooks for people with print disabilities but the main one is access to books: if accessible eBooks could be purchased direct from a publisher then we would no longer have to contact the publisher to ask for a digital copy and wait while they find it, or rely on someone somewhere scanning the book into a digital format. For this to happen, we need accessible eBook readers and accessible eBooks.
The first eBook readers left a lot to be desired in terms of accessibilty, but the new Kindle devices (particularly the larger Kindle DX) looks more interesting. Amazon have been under pressure to improve the accessibility of the Kindle - for example the United States Justice Deptartment has agreed that three Universities will not buy or recommend the Kindle unless it is fully accessible.
On the new Kindle DX, it seems the text size can be up to about 20 point, and Kindle claim they are going to add a new font in the summer which will double this size (i.e. 40 point). Of course the Kindle can also read the text out using text-to-speech software: the voice is provided by Nuance and so it should be quite good (albeit American). A major limitation is that it can only read 'unprotected' eBooks, and most of the commercial books are protected to prevent them being copied. RNIB and others are lobbying for publishers to find a way to protect their interests and also make their books accessible, so we hope to see an improvement here.
The new Apple iPad also looks interesting because Apple says it can read out eBooks using 'VoiceOver', the iPad screen reader, and you can change the text size and also the font. We don't know yet if it will be able to read commercial eBooks, or if this function will be restricted, like the Kindle. To read more about the iPad accessibility features go to the iPad features web page on accessibility.
So it looks like things are moving fast in the world of accessible eBooks.
If you want to keep up to date with developments I recommend Denise Dwyer's Print for People blog. Denise is a Development Officer with RNIB and her blog is a really helpful up-to-date summary of accessibility developments in the publishing world.