Last month, the well-known and reputable publisher Randomhouse made the decision to turn off the text-to-speech feature in its books. This action mainly affects those using Amazon’s Kindle 2 for reading or listening to books. However, though I do not use a Kindle, this action by Randomhouse is very disturbing for several reasons. One is that it sets a precedence, other publishers will most likely follow suit. Another is that it speaks volumes about what that publisher and others who follow think about people with disabilities accessing their books. I understand copyright and they should protect themselves from people who plan on infringing on that right, but is the use of text-to-speech copyright infringement? Really, if you could read easily, would you choose to listen to a book generated by a mechanical voice? Honestly, the only reason to listen to a book this way is because you have no other choice. You want to enjoy the book, but cannot read it, so this is your only means of accessing it. Another reason why this action disturbs me is that so many Authors use Randomhouse, and even if they do not support blocking text-to-speech, their publisher does and their materials are denied to people with disabilities. Even books by our own President Obama are now unavailable using the Kindle and text-to-speech, since Randomhouse is His publisher.
There is an alternative however, although it is not as easy as loading a book on your Kindle. You can visit bookshare.org, become a member by verifying that you have a print disability and then download the books of your choice. You will also have to have a daisy reader software installed, or something that would convert daisy to speech, and you would have to listen on your computer rather than your kindle. If you need to translate from BRF to text so that it can be spoken, you can use NFBTRANS. While this may not be a preferable alternative for reasons of convenience, bookshare is affordable and offers thousands of books to download and listen to. Publishers are even submitting their books to bookshare, because they feel that their copyright is being protected by bookshares member approval process. So if you cannot get a book on your kindle to read using text-to-speech, try bookshare.
Hopefully, something can be done to restore access to books using text-to-speech, if for no other reason than to show that publishers and authors are considerate of people with disabilities. Once they figure out that someone using mechanical speech to read does not violate copyright, perhaps this action will be reversed. In the meantime, those of us in the disabled community need to voice our concerns via blogs, letters to publishers and authors, etc. You never know when your voice might be heard by someone who can take action and change policies!