Any digital text can be read aloud through text-to-speech, granting people with visual impairments the basic human right to read — unless there's DRM in the way.
Tricking the technology used by Amazon, Apple, Adobe and Google to stop blind people from adding text-to-speech to their devices isn't hard — but it is a felony, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A UN treaty intended to help people with visual, cognitive and sensory disabilities access copyrighted works has been all but killed by the big publishers.
Groups representing blind people have asked the US Copyright Office to renew the very narrow exemption that allows legally blind people to jailbreak their devices to add text-to-speech, but no one knows if they'll get it. And even if they do, it remains a felony to make or supply the tools that allow blind people to undertake this feat.
Advocates narrowly procured the exemption for ebook DRM over the objection of the register of copyright when they applied in 2010. This year, it's anyone's guess—and that's part of the problem.
Copyright law is taking away our rights. It means that developers are afraid of writing applications to help the blind. It means that consumers are afraid of repairing and tinkering with their things. And it means people with visual impairments, like Chris, don't know if they'll be able to keep listening to some of their books.
"For me, if I could describe Text-to-Speech in one word, it would be liberating," said Chris, now 16 and a junior in high school. "It's a kind of freedom. I, as a blind person, don't have access always to most kinds of information that sighted people have access to. It's a kind of freedom when I know that I have access to that information."
Reading is a basic human right, and no one—not the Library of Congress and not corporate copyright lobbyists—should have the power to take that away.
E-Book Legal Restrictions Are Screwing Over Blind People [Kyle Wiens/Wired]
(Image: Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana. Education, blind work. Blind Works Progress Administration (WPA) worker, public domain)