E-Books and the Disability Rights Movement

The creation of e-books is a monumental accomplishment of the digital age for more reasons than one. Besides transforming printed content into a form that is more portable and convenient, the e-book revolution has allowed for greater accessibility of that content for people with disabilities. Content accessibility is an often-overlooked component of the Disability Rights Movement, and the need to spread awareness of this form of accessibility is crucial for ensuring that people with disabilities have the same rights as abled people throughout all facets of daily life.

These rights include the right to read books. An individual’s body is not the barrier that holds them back from reading any book they please; the true barrier is the design of the book, and this is what must be changed. Just as society has gradually shifted its mode of thinking concerning how public spaces such as buildings and pavements should be designed, it must also do so concerning written content. Improvements to the digital reading experience are gradually crumbling the barrier. E-book publishers and companies that produce e-reading software and devices must make accessibility a priority in order to destroy the barrier completely.

Many factors go into making digital content truly accessible to everyone. One of these factors is allowing the reader to change the font and size of the text as it appears on the screen. The e-reading application Apple Books, for example, provides several fonts and a range of sizes for readers to choose from. Amazon’s Kindle app and devices do the same, and they allow readers to create their own custom themes to set the margin size, boldness of the text, line spacing, and more. Other e-reading platforms such as the Nook by Barnes & Noble, Adobe Digital Editions, the Kobo E-reader, and others have also adopted similar accessibility settings. Something as simple as allowing the reader to change the font and size of the text is itself a massive help for those who are visually impaired or have dyslexia.

Another component of accessibility is ensuring that the reader is able to utilise various assistive technologies such as screen-readers. A screen-reader is a software that uses a computer-generated voice to read aloud the text of an e-book or website for those who have visual impairments. Apple’s VoiceOver is one such screen-reader, available on Apple computers and iPhones. Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Kindle app also enable screen-reading. Although audio-books serve as another option for visually impaired readers to access a book’s content, audio-books can be expensive and they are not always available for purchase at the same time that the print an e-book formats become available. Screen-readers are the solution that ensures the right of equal access to books for people with visual, cognitive, and physical disabilities. Equipping e-reader devices with speakers and headphone jacks to make audio screen-reading possible on those devices is necessary for increasing accessibility, as is the need for improving the quality of the screen-reading audio, so that it sounds more human and pronounces words correctly and with the intended inflection.

These are just a few of the many things that must be taken into consideration for ensuring content accessibility. The technology that is needed to make books accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities already exists; it is the responsibility of publishers and e-reader developers to adopt these technologies and continually improve upon them so that their books are available for everyone to enjoy.

Note: this article was originally published by Pop Culture Positive.