Bookshare Teams Up with Code Factory to Help Visually Impaired

Benetech’s Bookshare—the world’s largest library of accessible books for the visually impaired—will be partnering with Spain-based Code Factory—a provider of screen readers, screen magnifiers, and Braille interfaces for mobile devices—to help individuals with visual disabilities to read more than 50,000 digital books and periodicals.
Code Factory’s Mobile Speak screen readers for mobile phones use synthesized speech to read aloud information displayed on the screens of mobile devices. According to a prepared statement, using this technology, Bookshare members with visual impairments will have new alternatives and features like navigation, bookmarking, and text search to access Bookshare’s digital books.

Among the organization’s titles are many textbooks from the National Instruction Materials Accessibility Center, books scanned by universities, teacher recommended reading, as well as 150 periodicals that include papers such as The New York Times.
The Code Factory announcement comes on the heels of a Bookshare partnership made public with the Shinano Kenshi Corporation, maker of the PLEXTALK pocket portable DAISY player and recorder.

“We support all of the assisted technology vendors who are bringing new products to market and work closely with them to make sure they build in the ability to read Bookshare books,” says Betsy Burgess, director of marketing for Bookshare. “We are supportive of all technologies coming out that can read our books.”

These announcements also come forward at a moment when accessibility issues have come more to the foreground via the dispute between Amazon and the Authors’ Guild over the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech (TTS) functionality. Amazon was forced to disable the feature for a number of the titles, and critics have pointed to accessibility issues for the impaired as an argument against restricting TTS use. The Kindle 2, however, was not designed as an instrument for accessibility.

“It’s still not quite there yet,” says Betsy Beauman, vice president and general manager of Bookshare’s literacy program, referring to the private sector’s current ability to serve impaired needs.

“We would love to see the main street market work for all people with disabilities,” she adds. “People with print disabilities should be able to buy the same book, at the same time, at the same price as everyone else. Given that ebooks are potentially accessible, we’re headed in that direction, but it’s obviously not there yet.”

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