Disability Groups Respond to Concerns Over Kindle 2 Text-to-Speech Function

by Staff

Responding to assertions by the Authors Guild that Amazon's Kindle 2 device, with its text-to-speech function, violates audiobook rights, and Random House's subsequent deactivation of the function for its e-book titles, nine disability groups last week urged publishers to recognize the benefits of the software, which enables books to be spoken in a computerized voice, to people who are blind or suffer from dislexia or other disabilities, and even those who use English as a second language.

Daniel F. Goldstein, on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, the DAISY Consortium, the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, the International Dyslexia Association, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, wrote a letter to Random House chairman Markus Dohle that simultaneously celebrates the Kindle 2's text-to-speech software as "a wonderful and market-broadening step on the part of the industry" and excoriates the Authors Guild's copyright assertions as "morally repugnant."

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, had told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that "there is a way to work this out so that the visually impaired can have text-to-speech access."

"We urge the Authors Guild, publishers, and Amazon to include, as equal consumers, persons with disabilities who rely upon text-to-speech to read and to turn text-to-speech back on for all books offered on mainstream devices," Goldstein wrote. (The full letter to Random House can be read here.)

In addition to challenging notions of copyright as it pertains to the text-to-speech function, Goldstein wrote to Dohle that the aforementioned disability groups will be launching a public education campaign "to raise the awareness in the book-reading public that you wish to deny us the same and equal access to your books that you provide others."