October 27, 2014
A Call to Action for publishers from the Royal National Institute of Blind People
by Rachel Smitley
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has made a call to action for book publishers across the UK to make their books more accessible for blind, visually impaired, and print disabled readers. It would seem that despite the advanced technology and the increase in audiobook publication, only 7% of books currently published are completely accessible to blind and visually impaired readers (according to a recent article in the The Bookseller). Charities like RNIB in the UK, and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in the US are reaching out to publishers in a more aggressive way in order to achieve more accessibility for their patrons and others all over the world.
The biggest problem that blind and visually impaired readers currently face is the volume and timing of content available. Most publishers wait six to nine months to publish in audio format, causing blind readers to endure a long delay before they can read a book. While publishers claim that they are working harder to have their books published in accessible formats earlier than they used to, it seems that what they really mean is they are publishing more audiobooks in sync with their print books, and expecting that to take care of the issue. Here is the problem: not all audiobooks are fully accessible to the blind or visually impaired reader. Most audiobooks need enhancements and special features to allow for full accessibility, which is where publishers have work to do—they have the technology, they just need to use it more effectively.
Currently, RNIB is using an enhanced audiobook format called DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) to send out CDs and USB drives of accessible content for the users of their audiobook service, Talking Books. These audiobooks contain features that make them fully accessible to all types of non-print readers, and are produced by RNIB completely from scratch or from audio files that publishers provide the organization with. This autumn RNIB is introducing Overdrive, which is the fully accessible digital version of the mainstream “Audible” website that we all know and possibly love. Patrons can subscribe to Overdrive for £50 per year and receive unlimited access to the entire library of over 23,000 enhanced audiobooks that RNIB has compiled. This service is currently only available for residents of the UK, but hopefully charities in the US, or US publishers on their own, will get on the ball and provide a similar service to the blind, visually impaired, and print disabled readers here in the States who are looking for solutions to the ongoing problem of accessibility.