Being visually impaired should not be a setback to enter the magnificent world of books. Literature has an amazing quality that is to transport us all to a different, wonderful world of adventures that we choose for a while. In this point in time, technology has made sufficient progress as to allow those who have different seeing capabilities to live as close to a completely normal life as possible. Read on and see how applied technology can make it happen through audiobooks.
For many decades, braille was the way in which visually impaired people got access to the texts being published in the world around them. The delay with which the braille texts were created, published, shipped and sold made all the available titles obsolete by the time they reached their final destination.
The second drawback that braille books had and still have is that they are really very heavy and large. Most novels come in different volumes and if you wanted to carry around, let´s say, a 1,000-page novel, you would need something like a cart to go by your side. It is amazing, once you think about it, how different can the life of a visually impaired person be in terms of culture consumption. You might wonder why books are so important for them, but the answer will come to you right away if you understand that it is most likely the only outlet left to that world once you suppress all screens. There is no Netflix for the visually impaired; there are no “Game of Thrones Marathons” unless they have a braille copy of the George RR Martin book. Can you imagine your own life without any kind of screens? Picture it for a second: no YouTube, no Netflix, no cinema, what would you do? Just like people did in the old days: read books and create the imaginary world in their heads.
The third drawback of braille books is that they are not suitable for all the visually impaired. Think for a moment that a big percentage of the people who is visually impaired are also physically impaired. You need to be able to have sensitivity in your hands and be able to move your fingers to read braille. This goes together with moving those big and heavy books around; that is not for everyone.
Audiobooks Are The Solution
The emerging of audiobooks has signified an amazing step forward for those who are visually impaired and want to consume cultural products. The importance of the availability, translation, creation and distribution represents a big challenge, but there are some countries and organisms around the world that dedicate lots of money, time and effort to overcome those challenges.
The country leading the revolution is clearly France. In year 2006, a French law was passed in which publishers are forced to make source files available for organisms that are certified by the government and let them transcribe the books into braille and sound overriding any kind of copyright. This is an effort by the government that allows many of the visually impaired people in the world that sum 1.2 million in France and 285 million in the world, to have access to some of the most important titles every year in a fast and comfortable way. Why is the override to the copyright law so important? Imagine that population in France is 67 million people and of those 1.2 are visually impaired. Let´s say 25% of those read books. That leaves us with 300,000 people. How many of those love the author, have the means to buy it and are willing to purchase it? Well, if you do that simple math, you will know that a business mindset will not think making alternative books is much of a prosper business. Paying for copyright and printing the book for a potential market of 67 million is very different than a potential one of 1.2 with all the afore-mentioned considerations. But if you abolish copyright fee for those willing to target the visually impaired market, then it is more likely that books will get out there in sound and braille format.
Another amazing advantage about audio books is the transportability they have. Nowadays it is very easy to commute to work with your cellphone in your pocket, your earphones and your favorite audiobook playing on the background for you to listen and enjoy. There are many ways of creating an audio book; some prefer the voice actors, others prefer the computer software that can do it with a synthetic voice and others have professional interpreters read the whole thing.
The platform that the French government offers for those who want to benefit from this law is called Eole and in order to register, users have to send a certificate done by an eye specialist that will certify that they are visually impaired and have access to that content. This is great to avoid those who take advantage of a disability to bypass a market but leaves out others who can´t read normal books like people suffering from dyslexia.
Finally, the ability to download audiobooks is great to avoid the charges associated with the shipping and handling of the braille (or large print) books that really occupy a lot of space and also weight a lot. This helps to two major issues: the final cost of the book for the visually impaired and also the delay for the availability of the titles.
Thinking about the internet and how it helps the everyday life of most people, it is hard not to think about how far human kind has come in becoming more adapted despite the differences among us. Audiobooks are the modern response to those visually impaired and the internet is the perfect vessel for the distribution of this response. There is a long way to go to achieve equity in the access to the information regardless of our physical capabilities, but audiobooks are a huge step in that direction.