2009 Advocacy Update

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Reading Rights Coalition

2009 Advocacy Update

The Reading Rights Coalition (“Coalition” or “RRC”) accomplished a great deal in 2009 in its advocacy for equal access to electronic books for the 30 million Americans with print disabilities.

Text to Speech

      Amazon Kindle 2 Provides Text-to-Speech

Approximately 20 manufacturers now offer electronic book reading devices, with more on the way.  Amazon is one of the first and perhaps the most well-known e-book device.  In February 2009, Amazon began offering the Kindle 2 with text-to-speech (read-aloud) capability. 

      Authors/Publishers Object

Almost immediately, the Authors Guild and trade book publishers objected, claiming that text-to-speech required separate releases of authors’ rights and that it threatened their audiobook markets.  They suggested requiring extra payments or special registration for people with disabilities needing text-to-speech.  Amazon conceded and began turning off text-to-speech unless authorized by the authors and publishers.

      RRC Protests and Petition

In response, the Reading Rights Coalition of over 30 organizations came together and organized protests outside the Authors Guild offices in New York City and at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.  The protests generated a great deal of press coverage and over 7,500 signatures to its petition to allow text-to-speech on Kindle books.  Numerous authors, including Cory Doctorow, George Pelecanos, and Kinky Friedman, joined the protest.  The RRC also wrote to the major publishers to challenge their opposition to text-to-speech.

      RRC Brings Issue to the Attention of the White House

The Coalition brought the controversy to the attention of the White House and on June 25, Kareem Dale, White House Special Assistant for Disability Policy, convened a meeting of White House representatives, Coalition members and the Authors Guild, Association of American Publishers, and several publishers.  

      Publishers Divided on Text-to-Speech

Despite the discussions, Random House continued to require text-to-speech to be turned off on its books.  However Hachette Group soon announced its policy to allow text-to-speech for all its books unless they are selected to be audiobooks or the authors object.

      Joint Statement Among RRC, Authors and Publishers Supports Accessibility of E-Books

Discussions continued with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers and culminated in a joint statement to be issued in the next week agreeing that “the contents of books should be as accessible to individuals with print disabilities as they are to everyone else. To that end, these groups agree to work together and through the communities they represent to ensure that when the marketplace offers alternative formats to print books, such as audio and electronic books, print-disabled consumers can access the contents of these alternative formats to the same extent as all other consumers."  The statements is to be included on the White House blog and we are hopeful that ongoing discussions will give substance to that agreement, both in Kindle e-books and in other e-book devices.

      Adobe Digital Editions Inaccessible

The Reading Rights Coalition also addressed the inaccessibility of Adobe’s Digital Editions downloadable e-book system.  In March 2009, Adobe discontinued the use of the accessible Adobe Reader system and switched to the Digital Editions system, which is not compatible with screen reading software.  Numerous public and private libraries subscribe to Digital Editions downloadable e-books.  Therefore, as a result of Adobe’s decision, many people with print disabilities who download books through their libraries are now denied access. 

      RRC Persuades Los Angeles Public Library to Suspend Digital Editions Purchases

In July 2009, the Reading Rights Coalition wrote to the Los Angeles Public Library to challenge its use of Adobe Digital Editions downloadable e-books.  In response, in August, the Los Angeles Public Library suspended purchases of new Adobe Digital Editions books unless and until they are made accessible.  The Coalition then sent letters to over 11,000 public libraries across the country asking them to follow LA Public Library’s example. 

      RRC Persuades American Library Association to Require Accessibility of Electronic Resources

In addition, the Coalition successfully advocated with the American Library Association to adopt a Resolution on Purchasing of Accessible Electronic Resources, which was adopted in July.  The Resolution calls for libraries to insist on accessibility from their vendors, test for accessibility, and ensure adequate funding to ensure accessibility of electronic resources, including digital books.

      RRC Advocates for All Colleges and Universities to Require Accessibility of Electronic Books

The Coalition wrote to all state attorneys general and the presidents of over 1,800 major colleges to remind them that, as colleges and universities move to electronic books, they must be fully accessible.

      Adobe Announces Digital Editions will be Accessible in 2010

In October Adobe announced that it will make Digital Editions accessible this summer and, in the mean time will work with accessibility software developers to allow them to access Adobe books.  Adobe also plans to activate text-to-speech as a default that publishers can opt out of and will specifically permit access by screen reading software.

Accessibility of E-Book Devices

Both the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX, which is larger and intended for textbooks, offer text-to-speech capability.  However, both provide on-screen-only controls without audio.  Therefore, the controls are not accessible to people who are blind.

      Colleges Provide Kindles in Classes and Libraries

In April 2009, six colleges and universities (Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Reed College, Princeton University, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Arizona State University) announced pilot projects with Amazon to use the Kindle DX in their classes.  In addition, the University of Washington began a program to use the Kindle DX in classes.  Winthrop University and Concordia College followed with their own Kindle programs.   Numerous colleges and universities also purchased or considered purchasing Kindles for their libraries.

      NFB and ACB Challenge Inaccessibility of College Kindle Programs

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB). the American Council of the Blind (ACB), and Arizona State University student Darrell Shandrow filed a lawsuit in Arizona federal court against Arizona State University (ASU) challenging the Kindle program because it excluded individuals who are blind.  NFB and ACB also filed complaints with the Departments of Justice and Education against Case Western, Pace, Reed, Princeton, and UVA. 

      Colleges Agree to Stop Using Inaccessible E-Books

Working closely with the Department of Justice, the plaintiffs reached a settlement with ASU in which ASU agreed to discontinue using the Kindle DX in classes after the Spring 2010 semester and not to use any inaccessible e-book system.  The Department of Justice also reached settlements with Case Western, Pace, and Reed on similar terms.  The Department of Justice and Department of Education are pursuing similar agreements with Princeton and UVA. 

In response to the Reading Rights Coalition, Concordia College has also agreed to discontinue its Kindle DX program.  In response to RRC advocacy, Syracuse University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have announced that they will not purchase new Kindles or other e-books for their libraries or classes unless they are accessible.  The University of Washington and Winthrop University have so far refused to give up their inaccessible Kindle programs.

      Amazon Announces Next Kindle Version will be Accessible

In December, Amazon announced that the next edition of the Kindle will provide accessible menus and controls.

      Accessible E-Book Readers Come on the Market

In recent months, two new accessible e-book readers have entered the market.  The K-NFB Blio is a software platform that provides both visual and text-to-speech output.  The Apple iPad tablet computer will also offer captioning, text-to-speech and magnification.

Ongoing Efforts in Continuing Education

The RRC has met with the Department of Justice and plans to meet with the Department of Education to identify opportunities for collaborative efforts to advocate for accessibility of e-book content, software, systems and devices, particularly in the arena of higher education, where electronic books are establishing a leadership position.