Discussion Board

Topic: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Nadine Riches
Location: Australia
Date: 10/02/2006

Hi Greg,

I am a blind person living in Australia, and unfortunately suffering from lack of good sci fi available in Braille, which is my preferred reading format. recently I came across a review of Slant and, being very keen to read itg since it deals with nanotechnology, which utterly fascinates me, I bought a copy in pdf format from ebooks.com. Because of its graphical nature, PDF is a lucky dip at best for blind people: depending on its level of encryption you can sometimes read them and sometimes not. The file I bought was heavily encrypted and even though it says text extraction for accessibility is allowed, I can't for the life of me get anything out of it. I'm interested to know whether you are interested in making your books accessible electronically in a way that enables you to get paid for your product and us to enjoy it. Even though ebooks are often cheaper than print copies, I don't see any reason not to pay the same price for an ebook as I would for a print copy, if I could only then load it onto my PDA and read it in Braille.

Ebooks could be a fantastic resource for blind people, giving us access to the same material as the sighted world in the same time frame. Often, if a book is even produced in Braille at all it isn't done until years after publication, meaning by the time we get it everyone else has moved way on, at least in this country.

I'm very disappointed that I'll miss out on Slant (and probably most of your other books as well).

Cheers,

Nadine.

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Greg Bear
Date: 10/02/2006

Thanks for writing, Nadine. I'm sorry to hear about these difficulties--I actually know very little about Braille accessibility in countries other than the U.S., where our contracts usually allow production of Braille editions. Do you have access to an electronic voice reader? If anybody has further information, please let us know!

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Harald Elsebo
Location: norway
Date: 10/02/2006

I just have one tip and that isnt exactly what was asked for.
But i found that adobe acrobat reader could read it out loud, was under the view tab.
I will try find out something of extracting it and post it here as soon as i do.

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Nadine Riches
Location: Australia
Date: 10/05/2006

Hi again,

Yes, I do have access to an audio player, but I find listening to audio very unfulfilling. I love Braille, and now etext, probably for the same reasons sighted people love print: I like to be able to carry my books around with me and read on the train for instance, and listening to audio while traveling is pretty impractical for a blind person . I also really don't like having a book interpreted for me. Audio books are almost always narrated by actors who obviously like to perform them rather than read them. I'd rather interpret the characters and stories for myself, so to me listening to an audio book is just way too passive.

Also, on a more serious note, I'm very passionate about ebook access because of the doors it opens for deaf-blind people. I think sighted people are surprised to learn just how many blind people have additional hearing impairment, and the number of totally deaf, totally blind people is larger than I'd thought too. Currently there is a lot of attention being focussed on a new digital audio format called DAISY (the only thing I like about this is the name, which was also the name of my not-long-retired guide dog). With all the resources being put into DAISY development and the production of materials in DAISY, I fear that Braille will be forgotten about. This isn't helped by some in the blindness field who will actively tell you that Braille is dying out and that's OK because there are plenty of audio resources.

I think it is important for sighted people to understand that not all blind people are alike and, just as there needs to be a diversity of materials to meet the needs of sighted people - indeed I'm sure if there were not you would demand them vociferously - blind people have the right to be able to access those smae materials in a reasonable time frame and also in a variety of methods. Just because audio is not for me doesn't mean it's not for everyone. I don't believe we should be made to accept anything less than sighted people would accept, espeically now that resources are becoming more easily obtainable, such as ebooks and digital audio that can be bought online.

I may sound paranoid about this, but I work in the Braille library here in Australia (note, there is only one) and I see this from the inside. As resources in various formats should be getting easier to come by, paradoxically it seems to be getting harder. I truly believe that authors can make a difference in this, if for no other reason than if blind people were able to buy the books in etext legitimately authors would boost their sales.

Cheers and apologies for the long fiery response,

Nadine.

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Greg Bear
Date: 10/05/2006

I understand completely, Nadine--I love to read, all by myself. Wish I could help! I suspect that any machine that can transcribe to a Braille reader could also output text to a pirated file, and that may be our biggest problem. I'll continue to post responses from people with more information--and please keep us all updated on progress, if any.

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Terran
Location: Winter Park, FL
Date: 10/05/2006

I'm curious to know more about the braille translator machine - can it read other formats of eBooks? I know that some of the different eBook publishers offer their books in a variety of formats besides PDF format, but I'm not sure if they are only readable with proprietary equipment. ereads.com is one of the companies that offers a few of Greg's books in different formats, and I think ereader.com (if I'm reading the Help page correctly) uses some sort of a digital text format instead of a PDF.

I completely understand the need to be able to be able to read for myself as well. I commute over 2 hours a day, so I do listen to a lot of audiobooks in my car, but I tend to choose different types of books to listen to than I choose to read because of the different experiences they produce. I rarely choose to listen to a sci-fi novel on audiobook because I prefer print, but I've found that I particularly like to listen to mystery novels on audiobook -- possibly because they remind me of old radio dramas.

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 10/05/2006

I can dig that Terran. Nadine, I agree with you - for example, in pop culture, few people know how to read music; it's nearly all done by ear, and with the lack of musical structure, this translates to a lack of substance. (Not that I don't listen to a bit of popcul stuff, from time to time, but I recognise its level of quality.) In relation to this topic, it sounds like an imminent result is a return to an oral tradition - a treacherous, as often depicted in various fiction stories over the years, circumstance.

Lastly, the thing that first caught my intense curiosity was the question of how the braille device you use changes to different characters?!

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Nadine Riches
Location: Australia
Date: 10/05/2006

Hi again,

The Braille device I personally use is called a PACMate and it's basically just a pocket PC with a Braille display attached instead of a screen. Although the hardware doesn't look like a typical PDA the internals are pretty much the same. It runs Pocket windows, pocket word, all that sort of stuff. It doesnnot have any special software on it and there's no way to extract text from encrypted files or anything like that. Basically, I can load plain text, Word, RTF and Braille files files on it. If any other formats open on it I'm not aware of them.

To create a Braille file you first need prefereably a Word file and you put it through translation software. It sounds easier than it actually is. Sometimes a lot of work needs to go into producing a good Braille copy.

It's unfortunate, but I suspect that pirated files will proliferate because some of us can't get legitimate access to the ebooks that are being produced. There's always someone out there who likes a challenge and has the smarts to meet it. That's not me by the way.

Cheers,

Nadine.

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Terran
Location: Winter Park, FL
Date: 10/06/2006

Patrick - I too was curious about how the braille worked mechanically. Here's a website that explains it:

http://www.deafblind.com/display.html

Very ingenious!

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 10/11/2006

Thank you, Terran. Curiously, this (pistons of some sort) is basically what I thought of the other day before you provided the link. Simple, really, but regardless of technical possibility, a device's manifest is always an 'if'.

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Mark Williams
Location: UK
Date: 11/13/2008

Hi Greg, All

I, too, am blind and an avid but extremely vexed fan. Predominately accessing books through audio versions, I am frustrated by the lack of titles available in audio format to UK listeners.

Whilst US listeners have full access to audio versions of all your books, mainly at Audible.com, only Darwin's Children is available to UK listeners. Is there any way I can get hold of other audio versions or obtain digital versions that can be accessed via screen reading software? Alternatively, can you convince Audible.com to make all your titles available to UK listeners?

Yours in hope.

Mark Williams

Re: Accessibility of your books for people who are blind

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/13/2008

DEAD LINES, QUANTICO, and CITY AT THE END OF TIME are available through BBC Audio, and they should all be available in a local library. Let me know if you're having difficulty getting these titles!

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