Nooks and the Print Disabled (the elephant in the room)

I’ve been thinking about the issue of providing access to materials for the hard of sight while balancing those needs with those of the Library and the community. This stemmed from a bunch of comments on the ALA Council Listerv, some in person, and one or two on my blog. The issue is pretty serious, especially since the National Society for the Blind is threatening to sue any library that starts a Nook lending library. I have a couple of thoughts on this whole problem and of course I have some solutions that I’d love to hear your thoughts on.

First of all, let me make this one clear – On many forums I have read that libraries should offer Kindles instead of Nooks. This argument is brought up because some of the Kindle Content and the device itself at least has some features to help the sight impaired. However, this is NOT going to happen. I have a lot of issues with both Kindles and Amazon and some of their practices. They also will not work with libraries in any kind of meaningful way. They continuously change their terms of agreement and if you get one representative to give you the go ahead, you still run the risk of another saying no AFTER you buy all the Kindles. Of course Buffy Hamilton lays it all out here too. I have read way too many horrible library stories against both Amazon and Kindle to use those.

Updated – *I am having people comment that Kindles are NOT print disabled friendly, my paragraph above was in response to messages that people have sent me that said that they were and that therefore we should provide Kindles instead of Nooks. Either way, it’s not a viable solution*

There was a comment on my blog that we force Barnes and Noble to make the device navigable for the blind. I would love this to happen, however I have a doubt that it’s going to happen anytime soon, or soon enough, but I would love people to keep the pressure up so please keep that fight going!

One of my most basic (and least favorite) solutions is that most libraries offer access to the same content through a multitude of other systems that work for the sight impaired. Some of the ones that I can think of are, CD audio books, Playaways, and downloadable audio books on computers and other MP3 devices. If the same content is made available in audio version, would this be a way to ensure that we are properly serving the needs of the Hard of Sight Community? This question admittedly comes out of ignorance, and I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this specifically.

In California we also have an amazing library that we can get a wide range of materials from for our patrons. The California State Library loans braille, cassette and digital talking books, magazines and playback equipment to Californians unable to read conventional print. I know that this solution may not be the same as the Nooks, but I think people will be able to get the resources a lot faster than they would a Nook since the waitlist for most Nook devices is crazy if Sacramento Public Library is any indication of its success.

Here is my real thought for a solution though. We could offer materials via something like an Ipod Nano. They would hold a high amount of material just like a Nook, but in audio format. If I’m reading these reports right, then I think this would be a very legitimate solution. But really, I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on this before we go out and buy them.

The library (and me), love serving all people in our community and we really strive to do just that. We are navigating a new environment and I would love to hear people’s legitimate solutions before we start running around suing each other. We are here to help each other learn and grow and we can do that together by crowdsourcing some solutions. Help me come up with some solutions team.

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About pcsweeney

Currently, I'm the Branch Manager of the East Palo Alto Library in California. If you find yourself to be extremely bored (and would like to be more bored) you can find all of my internet mind droppings about libraries by googling pcsweeney.
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14 Responses to Nooks and the Print Disabled (the elephant in the room)

  1. laura pearle says:

    It seems to me that asking for Nook/Kindle to be audio-enabled when there are MP3 devices that do the job better is just wrong. I don’t understand that thinking (unless it’s because people don’t understand the difference between audiobooks and ebooks?)… Insisting that there be device equity is not the same as access equity, right?

    • pcsweeney says:

      That’s what I thought originally, except for all of the messages and comments I received. I want to have the discussion to find out more. Thanks!

      • Liz B says:

        The issue, as I hear it from my patrons, is that MP3 is about audiobooks. These are readers who do have enough sight to want large print; use Braille technology so that they read what is on the ereader in Braille on their own device; or the audiobook version doesn’t exist so will put up with text to speech.

      • pcsweeney says:

        That is what I’m wondering about. eReaders have enlargable text, way larger than large print books and that is why I know many older patrons who love them. They have sight issues, and the option for much larger text helps them. The problem that I really hear about, are people who are blind and can’t use touch devices and there is no audio available. In which case, the MP3s would work as a viable option. That’s my thought anyway.

  2. Jeff Scott says:

    I think some of those features on devices are disabled due to publisher demands. I remember an article and some blow-up about it several months ago. (will have to double-check on that). You could have Kindle read the book to you, but the feature was disabled due to publisher demands. I think libraries are caught in the middle.

    • pcsweeney says:

      I heard the same thing. They were worried they would loose the Audio Book market

      • Liz B says:

        Just repeated what we were talking about on twitter: the issue is also about accessing the menus. Does voice over work on all the menus? What about magnification, is it just in the book or for everything? And not all publishers said no to that feature.

  3. This is an issue that was discussed at length in our “Diverse Populations: Inclusion & Information” class. Our professor is legally blind and an accessibility researcher, explaining that part of the issue is that major devices like Kindle and Nook have had accessibility features in the past but often do not replicate them when new devices roll out or, worse, go away when updates come through. Kindle started off being the only game in town for built-in screen readers, but offering very poor quality and (surprise!) no longer included at all in latest models. Nook Color and iPad allows users to adjust brightness and for reverse contrast- they have speakers but don’t play well with good quality screen readers like CAST and have varying access to 508 compliant sites and text-only mirrors. Things move fast, and I’ve had difficulty in finding a recent accessibility comparison.

    For now, e-reader companies are flip-floppers: in policy (as Buffy experienced) as well as services and, as we’ve seen this past year, in the collections themselves- a sure bet today might disappoint you tomorrow. Some public and school libraries buy a few Nooks and a few Kindles to “cover all the bases” within the budget, but this strategy could be a good choice based on the ability to give patrons options. As Liz Burns pointed out on Twitter, “blind” denotes vision impairment and doesn’t necessarily mean isolation in audio (or Braille). Perhaps the best thing we can do as information gatekeepers in the digital age is to just to provide as many options as we reasonably can for patrons to choose from according to their individual needs to make library and learning environments as inclusive and welcoming as possible.

    • Liz B says:

      To chime in with what Rebecca is saying: choice is important, or having an array of devices so people can “try out” and see what is best for them. Any “we are all going to do x y z” approach will fail, because it’s hard to create a one size fits all device.

  4. Jenny says:

    My father is legally blind. He can see a bit, but not well enough to read a large print book. He’s also getting up there in age, and has little patience for things he has to fumble around a lot to use, even though before he lost his sight (macular degeneration) he worked in the computer field. That said, he loves audio books. I’ve tried various new technologies and especially their accessibility features with them, and nothing is better than a book on tape or CD. The format is agnostic to blind user, but the device to use them on can be very inaccessible. For tape and CD, you can get simple, featureless players with large buttons and no bells and whistles. For e-readers and portable mp3 players, accessibility is a feature, and an afterthought in design for sighted users. Often times, to get to the accessibility features, you have to go through a very non-accessible process. For that reason, a lot of the new devices that claim accessibility are actually not.

    I have not actually used a Nook with my dad, but getting to the text to speech function on a Kindle was too difficult, even though he thought it was usable. Playaway players have controls that are too small to be practical for someone with adult fingers to use only by touch. The new iPod Nanos do not provide tactile feedback to download and play an mp3 of a book.

    I do not have a problem with libraries providing these technologies to their users, as long as the material is available in another format that can be easily utilized by the blind. I fear that libraries, while wanting to jump on the latest sexy technology and wanting publicity in the library community, will forget that not everyone is capable of using these new technologies. The state libraries for he blind are very useful services, but it is much harder to get a new release through them than at a public library on CD. The libraries for the blind use different technologies, and as a result, it takes months for a new audiobook to be available in their format.

  5. Liz B says:

    If you have users who are looking for devices that are for audiobooks, you could always take a look at those devices made specifically for the blind/low vision community.

  6. Ashley Creek says:

    The library that you talk about for California is actually part of a national program: National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) organized by the Library of Congress and administered by individual states. They offer materials in many formats but also devices specifically designed for ease of use for individuals with low vision. In the past few years they’ve switched from cassettes for audiobooks to digital copies, and have also started a catalog of items that can be downloaded for their digital players. Tangential to the topic of Kindles and Nooks but important for people who may not know that this service is available for them, usually through their state library.

  7. Stephen Baum says:

    I work at Kurzweil Educational Systems, which makes the Kurzweil 1000 and Kurzweil 3000. The first is reading software that provides access to electronic and hard copy documents for the blind. The second does the same for people who are reading disabled, but not visually disabled. I’d be happy go add support for Nook formatted books to our product, but need to know who at Barnes and Noble with whom I should begin that conversation. I’d be happy to require a password, and limit features that would normally allow the content to be shared. But who should I talk to?

  8. Lane says:

    What about those–mostly old–people who cannot see very well and also are quite hard of hearing? Many old people (and probably some not-so-old) can read pretty well with, say, large-type books, but cannot hear–or decode what they hear–well enough to make audio books practical. However, the selections of large-type books is very, very limited (mostly to crap like the tops of the best-seller lists), and, I think, growing smaller by the month. Those who are old and visually and aurally disabled usually cannot navigate Nooks or Kindles or computers. Many older people have tactile disabilities which make touch-enacted devices difficult for them. Moreover, the old frequently have great trouble both visually and cognitively with menus, as opposed to positive dials or switches. Most of these questions seem to me to be being discussed and decided by people who are either not dealing with old people–who will constitute a good proportion of those with visual and aural disabilities–or younger disabled people, and who don’t seem to make an effort to involve the disabled people they are trying to help in the design of and choice of devices which are supposed to make reading and other activities more do-able for the disabled. I have no solutions.

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