The Blind Wins the Right to Dismantle Ebook DRM. In 3 Years, They Need It Again


This rarely happens. A screen reader would instead stumble upon these static images, sometimes reciting the filename in vain, leaving a blind reader with no possible way of recognizing the meaning. That believes, again, that a usable version of the book existed to begin with. If there is one, it can only be used on certain platforms.

Conflicts can be frustrating. Take Calculus: Early Transcendental, a popular book from publisher Cengage Learning. The “eTextbook” available on Amazon is actually just a straightforward scan of the book, with no text to speak of. Bookshare, an accessible online library, offers version of the book, but even that copy is not fully accessible, because it does not have alt text definitions of static images.

Brad Turner, VP and GM of global education and literacy at Benetech, the nonprofit behind Bookshare, says that while his company sometimes injects accessible features into ebooks without the cooperation of a publishers, they do not write their own descriptions for the pictures.

“Our agreement with publishers is, give us your content, and we promise not to change it again.” For most of the images, graphics, charts, graphs, formulas, equations, we don’t qualify. as the author or the publisher. “

Emily Featherston, director of corporate communications at Cengage, says the company is committed to providing accessible versions of its ebooks, and that it has “accessibility guidelines and an in-house team of digital accessibility and learning design specialists” to support its product and technology. teams. Readers who purchase and access text through Cengage’s own platform have access to TTS and alt text, but those features are not guarantees from third parties that people will be more accustomed to buying from.

“While this work helps demonstrate our commitment to providing solutions that are readily available, we also know that access is a journey, not a destination, and there is always room to improve,” he said. Featherston.

The journey was very long. Technological interventions have been around for years — some people use tools like Kindle Converter or Codex to participate through digital rights management, converting proprietary ebooks into usable formats — but the core problem is simply too simple. Publishers can provide fully accessible, digital versions of their books. They don’t have to, and usually don’t.

That’s why proponents in the United States are stuck filing for an exemption to a 23-year-old law, signed a year before Napster’s founding and before the smartphone era, if the a major copyright concern is children ripping music from CDs. This month’s recommendation to extend the copyright exemption for accessible ebooks is good news, but the whole process will be repeated in three years.

At that time, a permanent fix may be closer. In 2019, the European Accessibility Act became EU law. It will be implemented in June 2025, which requires all ebooks published in the EU after that point to be fully accessible. Some hope it becomes a pattern here.

“We passed a seatbelt law. We passed an unleaded gas law. Why can’t we pass an accessible book law?” Turner says.

Meanwhile, Bridges is looking to the future — with some fears.

“Math can be bad,” Rebecca said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”


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