Books won't talk on Kindle

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!

 

My AT&T Adventures

This week has been one of change for my family and I with regard to our home network, telephone and television.  We decided to try AT&T’s U-verse service, which combines all of those products into one package.  The technician was at our home installing everything for about 5 hours.  Honestly, when the TV, phone and internet were out, I felt like we had literally lost power.  What a relief it was when things turned on and bit by bit restored to life.

The internet came on with no problem, other than our speed decreased slightly from what we had with DSL.  I also had to have my outgoing e-mail port unblocked in order to send messages from my business e-mail address.  The telephone worked right away, though we are having a little issue with our talking caller id which may or may not be able to work.  I started a list of questions that I would call and ask either tech support or customer service about, and the adventure was on.

The real fun for me came with the television, learning new channel numbers, remote buttons, etc.  The first thing I did was look for a channel guide on line, since I am of course unable to use the on-screen information.  I tend to try and memorize my favorite channels and all of the numbers had changed.  Once I had that information, I wanted to see if I could find an accessible on-line program guide, so that I could see what was on when.  The first one I found was very inaccessible, it was not in a table format and there was no way for me to see which shows corresponded to each channel.  I put this on my list of things to call and ask about.

One of the major reasons for our decision to go uverse is the ability to record shows and watch them on any television in the house.  I like to record shows for my daughter from PBS or Disney, but I don’t usually want to watch them over and over the way she does.  Now, they can be recorded and she can watch them in the play room while I work or watch something more entertaining.  The other great option is that I can actually program my cable box to record shows using my computer.  Now I don’t have to depend on my husband or other sighted help to record the shows I want.  I can also manage my recordings on-line, delete shows and see what has been recorded.  The main site to accomplish this is somewhat accessible, but I find that using the mobile version is faster, more compact and easier to navigate.

One really nice option that my husband found was the ability to put some sound to menu using.  Unfortunately, the options will not talk, but you can make it so that as you arrow around, you hear a sound.  This allows me to count arrows in any direction and try to choose options that way.  I have not yet found an accessible manual that will take you through step by step how to do things with the menu, but perhaps something could be written for a blind user, incorporating the number of sounds and arrows up, down, left or right.

Another important question I had was regarding the SAP or Secondary Audio Programming channel.  It is through this audio channel that audio described television is provided when available.  For now, there is a limited number of programs offered in the U.S with this feature, but many shows on PBS do have descriptions.  I had to find out first, if this channel was available on U-verse, and second, how to turn it on and off.  I put that on my list of questions and decided it was time to make the call and see what answers I could get.

I called the main number and muddled through the voice automated system and first found myself and customer care.  I explained that I was new to U-verse, I am blind and had some questions about accessibility.  I then had to explain what I meant by accessibility, that I am totally blind and have no vision whatsoever and that I enjoy watching TV even though I cannot see it.  I really stumped them when I asked about their website, and where I could go to find usable content that does not require me to scroll around with the mouse.  My call was transferred.

I found myself talking to a very nice lady in tech support.  I started from the beginning and I could tell that she too was not sure what to say or do.  She was very courteous and was able to help me with my question about the SAP channel, after a lot of time consulting manuals and probably coworkers.  She explained to me how to access the channel, even told me the exact location of the buttons on the remote control and number of arrows to the right I would go in order to turn it on and off.  She said they have it listed as the Spanish channel, but that same audio channel is used for descriptions as well.  I’m not sure she really understood as I explained what audio described television was, but perhaps it gave her something to talk about with her friends at work.  She was not sure how to help me with regard to the website, so again, I was transferred.

A very nice gentleman was my next victim, I think he was in web support.  I told him what I was looking for and he gave me a few options to try for places to find channel line-ups and guides.  He even waited as I explored them to see if indeed they were accessible to me.  I found one, the U-connect site,  that was in table format and worked very well.  I could see show times and channels by using simple table navigation commands in Jaws.  He was also the one that unblocked my e-mail SMTP port.  He tried to help me with the talking caller id issue, but I am still not sure there will be a solution to that one.  He was very nice and somewhat curious about just what a blind person liked to watch.  I don’t think he had ever known or spoken to someone who couldn’t see, so perhaps he left with new knowledge and something to chat about with his coworkers too.

So after reading all of this, you are probably wondering, is it worthwhile to switch to U-verse if you have the option.  Well, give me some more time and playing with it and then ask that question.  I will say that everyone I talked to, no matter how unsure or stumped by my questions and issues, was very respectful and really tried to help.  I think that as big as AT&T is, they definitely need to have an accessibility department, or a go to guy for questions related to customers with disabilities.  Maybe some of my readers here would know how to put a bug in their ear so to speak and get something in place?  If any of you out there are using AT&T, I would love to hear your experiences with various products and services they offer.  Overall, I think we made a good decision in switching, but as with any change of this kind, it takes a lot of time and effort to learn how it all works.

Telecommuting, could it decrease unemployment for the disabled?

There are several reasons why so many people with disabilities are unemployed.  One of the possible barriers for many disabled people when it comes to employment is transportation.  Taking the bus is not always an option, and even in those cities that offer a transporting system for people with disabilities, using those networks is more often than not very difficult.  Others may have health issues that prohibit them from working in an office environment.  For many, working from home is a perfectly viable option.  Thanks to technology, more and more opportunities to work from home are available.

Of course, as is always the case with great ideas, you have to be careful not to fall for scams.  There are many seemingly legitimate businesses that say they will pay good money to give you a job working from home, but how do you know which options are based on truth?  There are a few reputable places where you can find free scam reviews.  Is working from home right for you?  There are many pros and cons to telecommuting, and you have to weigh them honestly with yourself and any potential employer.  So when thinking about working from home, though it may sound easy, reasonable and workable, you not only have to look at the legitimacy of a company offering this opportunity, but also your own personal situation.  For more great articles about working from home and other disability employment-related information, check out www.esight.org.

What do you think?  Would working at home really be a solution for you or someone you know who may be disabled and unemployed?  Feel free to leave your comments below, this would be a very worthwhile discussion!

 

The Social Divide

With all of the talk about social media everywhere, including this blog, sometimes even those of us with disabilities forget to consider who may be left out.  Yes there are various tools that make it easier and in some cases possible for the disabled to use specific social networks, but have we covered everyone and all barriers encountered?  Are we at risk of alienating some people, keeping them from accessing the information out there?  The definition of a disability is very broad, encompassing so many factors.  It is difficult for developers of network tools to be sure that absolutely everyone can use them and get to the informational content that is available on the internet.

Here are a few examples of some disabilities and the types of content that is virtually inaccessible to them.

·        If you are hearing impaired, you cannot access the majority of podcast materials.  There are few podcasts that are also offered in full text transcription, or in other ways accessible to the deaf.  I myself listen to a variety of podcasts, but the information and entertainment I get from them is not available to those who are unable to hear.

·        Persons who are visually impaired and need to enlarge text on a page find that many of the social networking sites do not allow for increasing font size.  The background color schemes can make the content impossible to read.

·        People with Dyslexia struggle with the busy graphic schemes presented and in many cases, the colors or other details of the page are in a state of constant change.

·        Someone who is unable to use a mouse due to a motor disability is locked out of participating in many of the applications and features of any given social networking site.

These are just a few examples, not to mention people that do not have access to the internet at all.  If you are only using social networking to market, you are leaving out those who are unable to get on the internet for whatever reason.  All of that said, we really are moving forward.  More and more ways to access this information are developed every day.  Even with its pitfalls, social networking has opened many doors for people, including those who happened to have a disability.  We simply have to try and consider all possibilities as we embrace this ever-changing world of social media.