Category Archives: accessibility

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Forty-One False Starts’ by Janet Malcolm

Jessamine Chan -- October 31st, 2013

fortyonefalsestarts 18-31-42

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

One list begets another, so here are three reasons why you should read Janet Malcolm’s stunning essay collection, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers:

1. Accessibility: I am the sister of an artist, I regularly read about contemporary art, but I don’t have a background in art history and often find art criticism to be chilly and impenetrable. Malcolm’s erudite, lucid, totally accessible essays allow me to study the work of Diane Arbus, Thomas Struth, Edward Weston, David Salle, and others, and learn about their worlds with her. What a pleasure to feel like a student again when you have such a witty and unpretentious teacher.

2. Acquaintance and Reacquaintance: Friends tell me that they started reading The New Yorker in high school or even as children. That’s lovely, but I didn’t start reading The New Yorker until about ten years ago, didn’t learn of its canonical place in the world of nonfiction writers until graduate school, and my introduction to The New York Review of Books was even more recent. For readers, who, like me, cannot call upon a lifetime of reading of these fine publications—where many of these essays were published over several decades—this book is a terrific way to catch up on Malcolm’s work. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to read her other books (such as Iphigenia in Forest Hills, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, The Journalist and the Murderer) when you’re done.

3. Pleasure: As Ian Frazier writes in the book’s introduction: “A lot of journalism is a bedtime story you are sleepily hearing for the hundredth time, but with a piece by Janet Malcolm, you never know where things will lead…The chance of being taken completely by surprise keeps you alert through everything she writes.” One of the joys of reading is communing with an author’s brilliant mind, and this book, above all, is curious and joyful. The collection has much to offer aspiring critics, writers, students of art and literature, artists, teachers, and readers who simply appreciate exceptional prose. I want to cite a particular passage for you, but I’d have to take a highlighter to the entire book.

Tough Questions about Families and Technology

Jessamine Chan -- October 4th, 2013

TheBigDisconnect hc c2

In the past week, I’ve told every friend I’ve seen about this book. Some have toddlers and found the scary anecdotes to be too much. A friend who is 6 months pregnant was intrigued. While reading about how texting has replaced normal conversation or even email for today’s kids, I felt so guilty that I phoned my parents and best friend 90’s style and left voicemails and played phone tag. Remember phone tag? (My mom pointed out that she only texts with her daughters because we never pick up the phone.) One friend whose children are grown worries that maybe it’s too late—maybe technology is so much a part of children’s lives, the damage can’t be undone.

But it’s not too late, and you, blog readers who are parents or soon-to-be parents, should all read this book. The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, Aug.) by clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, writing with Teresa H. Barker, charts the negative impact of the digital revolution on parents and children. Continue reading

Through the E-Ink, Darkly

Peter Brantley -- August 20th, 2013

For the blinkd voter
In May 2013, three large ebook retailers and e-ink reading device manufacturers – Amazon, Kobo, and Sony – filed a petition with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission asking it to “waive the accessibility requirements for equipment used for advanced communications services (ACS) for a single class of equipment: e-readers.” In other words, dedicated e-ink devices are difficult to use for the blind, visually-handicapped, and reading disabled, so the manufacturers are asking to be relieved of the need to make them accessible. I find nothing in this pleading which will “advance the public interest.”

At first glance, it seems like it might be reasonable request. The petition observes that e-reader devices are typically low-powered to preserve battery life, have relatively low resolution screens with slow refresh rates, lack sound capability such as microphones and speakers, and cannot support full-featured web engines. As the counsel for the manufacturer coalition states, although these devices “have a similar shape and size to general-purpose tablet computers, e-readers lack many of tablets’ features for general-purpose computing, including ACS functions.” As some on Twitter caustically noted, these devices “suck” too much to support accessibility.

I can’t help but find the arguments of these retailers pathetic and depressing. As the retailers note, “This Petition demonstrates that e-readers are devices designed, built, and marketed for a single primary purpose: to read written material such as books, magazines, newspapers, and other text documents on a mobile electronic device.” I assert that the affordance the blind would most like obtain from increasingly powerful mobile technology is exactly this: to read text on a simple device. For ebook retailers to set up a straw man argument between blinged out retina-resolution tablets supporting complete software stacks and e-ink devices is poor logic and shameful conduct. The choice is not between a Model T and a Tesla – a Kickstarter project could likely find a happy engineering medium if large corporations cannot manage it.

This is an amazing market opportunity gone missing, and as many advocates of accessibility have noted, helping the blind also means helping a rather large number of individuals who have various incapacities, many of which inevitably arise or increase with age. Vast numbers of the blind do use smartphones and tablets to read – they are a vast improvement on the expensive, dedicated accessibility devices of years past. But they are often overkill, and their complexity frustrates as much as it aids, despite Apple’s long dedication to accessibility support. Building an e-reader device that is not a tablet or smartphone but which does support accessibility would be a huge boon to literally millions of readers whose reading is sharply restricted today.

Furthermore, as law professor James Grimmelmann noted in Twitter, this is not a war that ebook retailers should be fighting. If publishers want to disable text-to-speech and other accessibility functions, then they should petition the FCC, not Amazon, Kobo, or Sony. A cynical observer might think that despite Amazon’s recent acquisition of high-end text-to-speech (TTS) technology, the removal of TTS capability from the Kindle Paperwhite series – when it was present on prior Kindles – might suggest that they are simply forcing consumers upstream to tablets. Gasp: could it be possible that the petition to the FCC is motivated by their own financial interests, and not those of the public?

There is one other omission to note: the complete silence from the International Digital Publishing Forum. The IDPF has spent years working on its new EPUB3 standard, with a stated goal of enhancing accessibility. The EPUB3 specification document calls out: “It is important to note that while accessibility is important in its own right, accessible content is also more valuable content: an accessible Publication will be adaptable to more devices and be easier to reuse, in whole or in part, via human and automated workflows.” Even the American Association of Publishers’ newly launched EPUB3 Implementation Project notes that “Through EPUB 3’s innovative assistive features, people who are blind or have other print disabilities will have access to the same titles, at the same time, as all readers.”

Paradoxically, two of the members of the “Coalition of E-Reader Manufactures” – Sony and Kobo – are members of the IDPF. Although the BISG’s EPUB3 compliance table documents only partial readiness from reading system providers, both Sony and Kobo have publicly indicated more complete EPUB3 support by the end of 2013. Unfortunately, that endorsement seems to falter at one of the format’s core design features. Despite the manufacturers’ naked disrespect for the EPUB3 specification, as far as I can tell the IDPF has yet to issue a press release on the request for FCC waiver, or submit a filing in response to the petition. That is unfortunate if true; the board of a not-for-profit must carry some responsibility.

More fundamentally, corporations able to advance access to knowledge through innovative technology should take gracious pride in the opportunity to open horizons as a fortunate reciprocity for their charters. Instead, in this petition, I see hubris. Make your voice heard: the last date to submit comments to the FCC is September 3, 2013.

Through a Glass, Brightly: Marrakesh

Peter Brantley -- June 26th, 2013

Teen Read Week
This week, Pew Internet Research released a study on young readers, their library habits, and reading preferences. Although ereading continues to grow, the eye-opening part of the survey for some has been the high percentage – 75 percent of those aged 16-29 – who have read a print book in the past year.

Count me among the surprised. I would have thought the percentage of print readers would have been lower. Print has an interesting stickiness – it’s still available nearly ubiquitously, both in book- and general stores, as well as through Amazon – and it has one other gainful characteristic. It is a self-contained media package. Unlike walking around with an LP, CD, or DVD, which are useless in-and-of themselves, most of us can stick a book in our purse, bag, or jacket and not require anything else to go forth and ponder the world’s mysteries or plumb an imagination. (Except reasonably dry weather).

Of course, there’s a fly in the ointment. Well several, but I personally came across one the other day in a jarring fashion. Last month, I wound up purchasing two print books: one, a mass market paperback, and one hardback. Both purchases were driven by vexations with the clumsy, overly-corporatized digital transformation of publishing. First is the continuing gnash-the-teeth frustration that my partner and I have figuring out a way to share our ebooks, which we are wont to do, since we have overlapping interests in literature. We will probably wind up sharing a single Amazon account, but it’s a stupid solution that grates. Second, the rights associated with the pocket book have not been adjudicated for digital; for the hardback book, which is older, and concerns itself with political diplomacy with a scholarly bent, a digital reprint must represent a questionable source of income for its publisher.

I couldn’t read either one of them. It was a purely physical, I’m-getting-older experience, but I found the contrast of type on paper for both the mass market paperback and the better-manufactured hardback rather execrable. The paper stock in both volumes was darker than I would expected, and appeared rough. The printing itself was not very sharp, and the apparent fuzziness of the font’s strokes made the experience more tiresome. I reached for reading lamps to no avail. The fact of the matter is that I am now used to high contrast, highly controllable screens. Putting aside all the endless stupidities of DRM and the inane restrictions on access that prevent my family from enjoying books together, reading digitally is simply superior – it is more customizable, and extends more control to the reader.

It is this basic, raw accessibility of digital reading that makes the recent WIPO Marrakesh agreement on the right to read for people with reading disabilities so damn important. The treaty won’t help me (yet, anyway), but for the first time, it will be possible for accessible editions to cross borders without needless restrictions, and for a reader to be able to access global reading-impaired library platforms built from books from many different countries. Up until now, for example, it has been impossible for the Internet Archive to make available its DAISY-formatted and protected modern books to blind or dyslexic readers in Canada or other Commonwealth countries.

As James Love of Knowledge Ecology, one of the foremost advocates for greater access by the disabled, comments in a statement:

The treaty will provide a dramatic and massive improvement in access to reading materials for persons in common languages, such as English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Arabic, and it will provide the building blocks for global libraries to service blind persons. On the issues that mattered the most for blind persons, such as the ability to deliver documents across borders to individuals, and to break technical measures, the treaty was a resounding success.

Shame on the MPAA, GE, Disney, and Viacom, among other corporations, for resisting the treaty. Their intransigence in gracefully acknowledging the greater access that digital technologies make available to the blind and dyslexic should be widely noted.

Authors Guild v. HathiTrust: Closing the Case

Peter Brantley -- October 11th, 2012

Firefighter G.F. Sevilles visiting classroom at Halloween, 1966  A Federal judge has found in favor of defendant HathiTrust’s (HT) request for summary judgment on Fair Use grounds against the Authors Guild (AG), delivering a victory for those seeking new uses for digitized material. The AG had filed suit against HathiTrust and several public universities alleging widespread copyright infringement through Hathi’s mass digitization project (MDP) with Google.

Judge Baer ruled that the MDP was transformative; the uses made of the digital copies for search, analysis, and facilitating access for the reading disabled all clearly fell within Fair Use. In his ruling, which eliminates the need for a jury trial, Baer’s language was emphatic: “Although I recognize that the facts here may on some levels be without precedent, I am convinced that they fall safely within the protection of fair use such that there is no genuine issue of material fact. I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants’ MDP … “.

Although the AG could appeal the HT ruling, PW contributor and legal scholar James Grimmelmann notes that the “opinion makes the case seem so lopsided that it makes the appeal into an uphill battle.” Judge Baer clearly felt that some of AG’s assertions – e.g., proclaiming that Section 108 worked precisely opposite the way it clearly states it works with Fair Use, were frivolous. Legal fees are routinely assessed against the losing party in copyright cases, and the AG should offer not to appeal the case in exchange for the defendants agreeing not to seek attorneys’ fees. Whether defendants would accept such a trade given the low odds of a successful appeal is open to question.

The Court’s straightforward and clean ruling provides the AG with very little room to maneuver in its continuing case against Google, which is currently stayed on a procedural issue at the Appeals Court. Notably, Judge Baer found that the AG, as an authors association, lacked the ability to represent its members’ individual copyright claims in AG v. HathiTrust. This suggests that only class action certification, which now must be upheld at Appeals, would permit it to have a compelling footprint in its case before Judge Chin.

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Serving a public that knows how to copy: orphan works and mass digitization

Peter Brantley -- April 14th, 2012

Marxchivist, Indigent Orphans

Flickr, CC-BY, @Marxchivist


The UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology (BCLT) is among the most eminent study centers for intellectual property (IP) law. Coordinated by Professor Pamela Samuelson, this last week it pulled together approximately 200 highly accomplished and well-spoken legal scholars, practitioners and librarians in a small conference on orphan works, “Orphan Works and Mass Digitization.”

Obstacles and opportunities.

The conference started with a series of talks on the dysfunctions of current copyright law, with its propensity to generate orphans. The overall consensus, most succinctly aired by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, is that the the problem is so pervasive and the barriers to a comprehensive resolution so high — while networked communications make sharing ever more straightforward — that institutions are increasingly prone to adopt a “Damn the torpedoes” approach. For these panelists, the prospect of new legislation attempting to facilitate use of material with dim rights status is often scarier than the status quo given political deadlock; further, uncertainty over the use of these materials is endemic but the risk is fairly low, in part because libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) are respectful and conservative. At the same time, the cultural value is often tremendous.
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Remembering the rights of others

Peter Brantley -- December 14th, 2011

Two years ago, in September 2009, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) testified in front of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives, urging support for the proposed Google Book Search (GBS) settlement between Google, the Authors Guild, and the AAP. Nearly one year previously, in October 2008, the University of Michigan, one of the participating GBS libraries, had demonstrated to the NFB how they would make their digital collection accessible to the print disabled. In the GBS settlement, the NFB saw the means to daylight millions of books that otherwise would remain unavailable to the visually impaired, never having been made accessible by their publishers.

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SXSW: Ogilvy & Mather Gives Back Cool Graphic Recordings

Calvin Reid -- March 13th, 2011

Jordan Berkowitz (l.) and artist Heather Willems in front of her drawing on "Health in Africa"

One of the first things I noted at certain SXSW panels was the presence of artists, set up with large boards and drawing tables, frantically drawing and sketching. Turns out they are part of Ogilvy Notes, an impressive visual project by the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather that is creating large-scale “visual notes” or vivid graphic documentation of a selection of panels and keynotes, improvised and executed on the spot by a team of artists.

Directed by Jordan Berkowitz, Ogilvy & Mather executive director Creative Technology & Innovation, Ogilvy Notes has brought together a team of artists that specialize in a process called variously, “viz notes,” or “graphic facilitation.” The artists set up at events, panels or business meetings and have the ability to sketch representations of the themes, topics and high points of the discussion on the spot, rendering a kind of graphic map of the event in a frenzy of typographic and representational design. Although the drawings have elements of comics, they really offer an overall field of clever, funny and pointed illustration that essentially visually recreates the event they feature.

“They’re a stream of consciousness creation,” said Berkowitz, who brought together a team of about 6 artists who specialize in this kind of on-the-spot graphic recreation. At a time when schools, businesses and the media have realized the importance of visual learning and visual storytelling, the project offers an inventive and memorable strategy to connect and communicate topical issues with the public.

“Its an amazing skill. How do you manage to spot and represent a point made in an ongoing discussion,” Berkowitz said. Ogilvy is using the artists as way to “give back”, Berkowitz said, to the SXSW community. He also emphasized that a team of editors went over the schedule to choose a broad range of panels—from “Public Transit Data and APIs” to “Black Women in Media”—“we didn’t want the content to be self-serving; there is bredth and depth in the subject matter,” said Berkowitz.

The project will document panels for three days over the weekend and producing a phenomenal 25-30 drawings at day! Once completed the project will have about 85-90 drawings and Ogilvy will turn them into original prints and make them available for free (you can pick them up today). In addition the public can download free high resolution versions of all the drawings at the Ogilvy Notes website.

“They’re constructed and created in the moment, people can find them through twitter and facebook,” Berkowitz said. Ogilvy has stacked the large drawings in a kind of “house of cards” sculptural installation on the top level of the Austin Convention Center. Berkowitz said the site is also encouraging artists interested in working in this manner to upload their sketchbooks and art and they may get a chance to work on future graphic documentations.

San Diego Comic-con: ‘Yen Plus’ Manga Mag Goes Digital for $2.99 a Month

Calvin Reid -- July 25th, 2010

Yen Press, Hachette’s manga and conventional comics imprint, made a big step forward for digital access to its manga list announcing plans to discontinue the print edition of Yen Plus, its monthly manga magazine, and launch a digital version. Yen Plus was launched as a print magazine and offers around 400 pages a month of serialized Yen Press titles including bestselling series like the manga adaptation of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride as well as popular series like the Gossip Girl adaptation and Svetlana Chmakova’s Night School.

At the Yen Press panel at San Diego Comic-con, publishing director Kurt Hassler announced an online non-flash browser accessible with a subscription plan. Fans can subscribe to Yen Plus online (first 30 days are free) for $2.99 a month. The fans receive the full content of the nearly 400 page print magazine including fan art and publisher columns. Yen Press is among the American manga publishers who joined the recent anti-scanlation coalition with Japanese publishers, and the launch of Yen Plus online addresses many of the issues around providing legitimate online access to licensed manga.

Yen Press online seems both a positive step toward paid online access to content and a direct and nonpunitive challenge to the rise in scanlations. Access is offered on a nonterritorial basis—fans can log in from anywhere. There is no downloading and the site will offer access to two months of Yen Plus, the current issue and previous month, after which back issue content is removed. “Yes, we want to encourage you to buy our print editions,” Hassler said from the podium. Hassler said Yen Press will make more announcements in the coming months about accessing Yen Press content on handheld devices. Hassler pointed to the success of the iPad but said that they have already ruled out e-ink devices like the Kindle and Sony Reader, “our decision will be driven by quality and e-ink just isn’t there.”

While some fans (the huge hall was packed) seemed a bit dismayed that there would be no downloading, the launch seemed to generate a positive response. Japanese publishers have been nortoriously slow about providing digital access to their content and their delay has been blamed for fostering the growth of scanlation aggregators, online sites that offer free access to thousands of illegally scanned copyrighted manga editions. While U.S. based manga publishers like Viz and DMP are offering some digital access to manga, Japanese licensors are very reluctant to offer digital licenses to their American licensees. Being able to offer some Japanese content through Yen Plus is something of an industry coup. “Digital licensing is very new in Japan,” Hassler said, “but our negotiations with our Japanese publishers are evolving and we’ve got more announcements coming in the future.”

Read:OutLoud Makes E-Books Accessible to Disabled Students

PWStaff -- July 14th, 2010

One of the great benefits of the rise of e-books is the fact that they enabled readers with various kinds of disabilities to have access to more books than ever before. Don Jonson, a major producer of products for the disabled, has just launched a robust new e-reading platform for students called Read:OutLoud. The platform reads e-books aloud, is compatible with many file formats, and is specifically designed with the needs of students in mind.

Here’s more from eBookNewser: “Read:OutLoud reads various eBook formats including PDF, RTF, TXT, XML and HTML files, as well as open-source content and Bookshare files. It also has study tools, such as highlighters, bookmarks and direct links to Google’s online dictionary.”