Mass production of accessible books can eradicate the book famine faced by persons with blindness or other print disabilities.
Books are considered a person’s best companion. It is said that “When you open a book, you open a new world”. Books provide us with an endless pool of knowledge and information and allow a person to improve their understanding by exposing one to new things, besides being an invaluable source of entertainment.
Books have been in existence forever, but recent advancements in technology have provided us with various other alternatives to choose from besides the physical form. These include electronic books and talking or audio books.
The concept of talking book goes all the way back to 1870s when Thomas Edison for the very first time recorded the recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
The early initiatives of producing audio books were undertaken by Library of Congress in United States and Royal National Institute of the Blind in Britain. In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the “Talking Books Program” (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults. Not until 1952, when an upstart recording company called Caedmon Audio released Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” did people begin listening to what were then called “spoken word” recordings, which marked the beginning of commercially available audio books in the United States. There was still the issue of limited space, which meant there were considerable abridgments that led to adaptions, and even dramatizations, with full casts, music, and sound effects.
Audio books have since then undergone tremendous amount of transition, from Books on Tape all the way through books on CD and now downloadable books.
Mobile technologies such as smartphones, tablets, etc. have further boosted their popularity. In India in particular, audiobooks on topics such as business and self-help have become extremely popular.
Even though audiobooks are now being more widely read and enjoyed as an alternative by people in general, they have proven to be one of the most essential medium for accessing information for persons with print disabilities who include people with blindness, low vision and certain physical and learning disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, multiple sclerosis, dyslexia and quadriplegia.
Audiobooks are considered a highly preferable means to provide books to persons with blindness as unlike Braille books that can go up to several volumes per book, audio books are not bulky.
The audio books are also preferred by people who lose their sight later in life and are unable to read Braille as quickly. Their popularity has further increased with advancement in technology, and one can read and carry a whole lot of books with portable digital players or even on one’s mobile phone.
As a result, audio books have also proven to be extremely important for education of visually challenged students.
The audio books are playing a vital role in addressing the challenge of dearth of books for students with blindness and reducing their dependence on human and volunteer assistance for reading. The increased availability of accessible books enhances the quality of their education, thereby enriching their knowledge, information, communication, personality and improving their employment opportunities, which allows them to lead a more meaningful life.
Surveys carried out worldwide show that less than 1% of the published information is available in alternate and accessible formats for use by persons with print disabilities.
One of the major challenges in this regard in a country like India is the diversity in language.
More than 5 million blind and low vision persons speaking 22 different languages pose a tough challenge to provide books and information in accessible formats.
Moreover, instead of books being produced in accessible formats at the time of publication itself, the task of making them accessible have to be undertaken by different local organizations working for persons with blindness to address the needs of their users. This not only causes considerable delay in their availability for students and other visually challenged and print disabled users, but needs of many remain unmet. Lack of resources and infrastructure for production of high quality audio books are some of the other key challenges.
Producing more and more accessible audiobooks has a potential to eradicate the book famine being faced by persons with blindness and other print disabilities.
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An updated version of the report has been published in Kartavya Sadhana Magazine where you will find Let’s Record mentioned in the final article of the series. Click here to read.
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