The Disabled Deserve to Read

Note: this is substantially the same (at time of posting) as the title that is for sale in the Kindle store, and which I allow to be copied and distributed freely for non-commercial purposes.  The Kindle store version has an interactive table of contents, and there are some other slight differences (including the price listed for a Kindle 2).

Either one may be updated without the other reflecting the change, although I will probably inform people if that is the case.

The Disabled Deserve to Read

The Controversy Over the Amazon Kindle’s Voice

by Bufo Calvin

1. Introduction 
  • The Issue
  • Initial Research and Reactions
  • Amazon Changes Its Stand
  • Random House Blocks Access
  • Response to the Guild and Random House
  • The Guild Responds: The “Unnecessary and Unfortunate” Statement

2. The Arguments

  • 1. The Kindle 2 creates an unauthorized audiobook version
  • 2. The Kindle 2 threatens the audiobook industry
  • 3. A company should not be forced to spend its money to support a special interest group
  • 4. There are alternatives available for the disabled
  • 5. The Kindle 2 itself is not blind-accessible
  • 6. The voice is creepy and inhuman. Nobody should care about having it
  • 7. Blocking the voice is against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

3. Proposals

  • June 27 2009: The Disabled Deserve to Read Day
  • The Viral Campaign

# Timeline

# Notes

# Acknowledgments

# Permission to Reproduce for Non-commercial Purposes

# Proceeds Donation


There is something magic in the power of the written word. It can allow a reader to connect with the writer in a unique way. It can take you to places that never existed, or let you share in a past that is long gone. It can help you imagine a future that is yet to be, or make sense of your every day life. It can make you laugh, cry, and think. It is a great leveler: all who can read encounter the same words, but each can leave with something different.

In the words of Helen Keller:

“…literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness. The things I have learned and the things I have been taught seem of ridiculously little importance compared with their “large loves and heavenly charities.”
— The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (free e-book version from ) 

It would seem that universal access to the written word would be an uncontroversial goal in a democracy. In America, we speak pejoratively of book-burning and censorship. We lament the limited boundaries of the illiterate, and seek to remedy the condition. We set up vast systems of publicly-funded libraries, and consider the mighty Library of Congress one of our great national achievements and ongoing institutions. Volunteers and charitable organizations work selflessly to literally spread the word to those less fortunate.

Reading adds to the productivity, wisdom, and happiness of our population.

Who then would want to impede access to books, newspapers, and magazines to a significant segment of Americans?

Surprisingly, this challenge has come from one of the groups that stands to most directly benefit from increased readership: publishers. An industry whose very livelihood depends on readers is threatening to block an already existing way to access the materials they sell. They are working to defeat a technology that directly costs the publishers nothing, and gives the disabled everything that language can give.

On its face, it would seem like this is self-destructive behavior, as well as being unfair to those who will lose access. It is an issue that is being debated right now, often heatedly, with many arguments presented on both sides. It involves issues of diversity, free enterprise, fairness, and ownership.

I’ve been involved in a number of those debates. I have welcomed the thoughtful points presented on both sides, and regretted the personal attacks that an emotional issue like this provokes some people to make.

I also know where I stand on it.

The Disabled Deserve to Read is my attempt to lay out the issues. I will do my best to present both sides of the various arguments, and to give you the facts relevant to those points. I won’t pretend, though, that this is unbiased journalism. I do hope you come to the same conclusion I did. However, after you read the ideas and information in this work, you may disagree with me. Just remember if you do, that you at least had the opportunity to read them…

The Issue

On February 9, 2009, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the world to the Kindle 2 at a high-profile event in New York City. The device was the updated version of the company’s successful e-book reader. While the company’s press release highlighted a number of features, the stand-out change was the experimental “Read-To-Me” feature. This “text-to-speech” (TTS, sometimes T2S) software allowed the Kindle 2 (K2) to read out loud books, magazines, and newspapers downloaded to the device. Users could literally listen to a book hands-free while exercising, driving a car, eating, or knitting. This feature was included with the K2, and since it worked on any book you bought, no additional charge per title was imposed.

While text-to-speech software had been commercially available since at least 1984, this promised the most book-like experience to date. The visually impaired, and those with debilitating conditions (like muscular sclerosis), could enjoy the same reading material as the general public. This was without the need of a specialized device, or having to be tied to a computer, or having specially-prepared versions. On the same day that anyone could get a bestseller on the Kindle, they could do so too. They could get the latest news and opinion from such well-known sources as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

Three days later, the Authors Guild (sic) published an “alert” on its website. It warned its members that:

“…Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books”.

Authors Guild article

The alert equated what Kindle 2’s voice did with an audio book:

“Bundling e-books and audio books has been discussed for a long time in the industry. It’s a good idea, but it shouldn’t be accomplished by fiat by an e-book distributor.”

This would become the crux of the disagreement. Did Amazon’s Kindle 2 violate intellectual property rights by creating an unauthorized derivative work? If so, the rightsholders (authors and/or publishers, typically) had the legal right to block the use of it without compensation. On the other hand, if it simply provided another way to access the existing material (in a sense, the same way that a booklight does), it would be a “non-infringing use”, and thus legal.

Initial Research and Reactions

I decided to check to see if the Copyright Office had said anything specific on text-to-speech. It didn’t take much searching to find what seemed like a fairly definitive statement.

Copyright Office statement

This Final Notice addressed a question submitted to the Registrar about when it would be permissible to circumvent (“hack”) DRM (Digital Rights Management). DRM is software included in digital media (movies, books, music, video games, and so on) that technologically limits the use of that file. Commonly, it serves as: “copy protection”, to prohibit the user from making unauthorized copies; or to prevent access by unauthorized parties.

It reads in part:

“Literary works distributed in e-book format when all existing e-book editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling of the ebook’s read-aloud function and that prevent the enabling of screen readers to render the text into a “specialized format.” For purposes of this exemption, “specialized format,” “digital text” and “authorized entities” shall have the same meaning as in 17 U.S.C. 121. The final exempted class is based upon proposals by the American Foundation for the Blind and five major library associations. It is in response to problems experienced by the blind and visually impaired in gaining meaningful access to literary works distributed as ebooks. Ebooks can offer accessibility to the blind and the visually impaired that is otherwise not available from a print version. Ebooks may allow the user to activate a “read-aloud” function offered by

certain e-book readers. Ebooks may also permit accessibility to the work by means of screen reader software, a separate program for the blind and visually impaired that interacts with an e-book reader and that is capable of converting the text into either synthesized speech or braille.

By using digital rights management tools that implicate access controls, publishers of ebooks can disable the read-aloud function of an e-book and may prevent access to a work in e-book form by means of screen reader software. The record indicates that many ebooks are

distributed with these two functions disabled. The disabling of these functions is alleged to prevent the blind and visually impaired from engaging in particular noninfringing uses such as private performance, and to prevent access to these works by blind and visually impaired users altogether. The uses that such persons make by using the “read-aloud” function and screen readers are noninfringing, and are likely to be the most reasonable means of meaningful access for such persons to works that are published in e-book format.

To be included in the exempted class, a literary work must exist in e-book format.

Moreover, the exemption is not available if any existing edition of the work permits the “readaloud”

function or is screen reader-enabled. Thus, a publisher may avoid subjecting any of its works to this exemption simply by ensuring that for each of its works published in e-book form, an

edition exists which is accessible to the blind and visually impaired in at least one of these two ways.”

(reproduced portion of a government document)

My understanding of this (and it seemed to be pretty unambiguous) is this: if a publisher blocked access to “read aloud” in all versions of an e-book, it would be legitimate for a user to circumvent the DRM to gain that access. It seemed clear that not allowing the “text-to-speech” would more likely be a problem than allowing it.

So, I incorrectly predicted that the issue would quietly go away. 🙂 I thought the Authors Guild would find the statement, realize that “read aloud” and an audiobook are two very different things, and let it drop. I thought authors would complain and distance themselves from the position: why would they want to block part of the audience for their works? I thought publishers would see that having text-to-speech might lead to increased audiobook sales, since it would accustom people to listening to books. Amazon commented that the text-to-speech was legal, and I thought they would just have to (ironically) be silent for a few days and it would all go away.

I was wrong.

Amazon Changes Its Stand

On February 27, 2009, Amazon issued a press release.

While reiterating the legality of the text-to-speech in the Kindle, Amazon decided to leave it up to rightsholders to decide on a title by title basis as to whether or not to block the now present access.

The justification they gave was, in part, this:

“…many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat”

I was, honestly, floored by this. Amazon had always seemed to me to be a caring company, and has been (and continues to be, generally) responsive to their customers. It appeared in this case, though, that the company had put the “comfort” of the rightsholders ahead of the customers. Since Amazon continued to state in the very same press release that allowing access was legal, it is safe to assume that other pressure was brought to bear. Given the nature of the relationship between the online bookstore and the publishers and authors, it is safe to assume that it was economic. It’s possible they were threatened with a loss of content, or perhaps with a public relations war in the media. For whatever reason, Amazon changed its position.

The next thing to see is if any publisher would actually choose to block it. It seemed like a risky move to me, but not one that wouldn’t eventually happen. Why risky? It had the potential to be a public relations nightmare. On the one side, there would be the publishing company, which could certainly be perceived to be a “big corporation”. Ideally for them, the authors would be aligned with the publisher’s decision. That would allow that side to also being “fighting for artists rights”. The book buying public often knows and loves specific authors: if it could be painted as the publisher standing up for them against the more faceless online retailer, that could help gain sympathy.

That would only work, though, if the authors stood with the publishers. While some would, it was also clear that some would not. If an author publicly opposed the publisher’s stance, that could be a problem.

On the other side, you would have the disabled, their friends and family, and others who support them. How would it appear to the public to have people in wheelchairs and people with guide dogs picketing your company? Reading, we’ve been told for years, is fundamental. The somewhat arcane issue of intellectual property rights would be up against the visceral appeal of equal access for the disabled.

Consumers would also likely see it as a takeaway. The text-to-speech is fun and convenient. The number of people who benefit from it is likely to grow as challenges that fall short of legal disabilities grow with an aging Baby Boomer population. Arthritis, having to find your glasses, and all manner of aches and pains can simply make it attractive at times to have somebody read to you. With text-to-speech, you don’t have to hold the book and turn the pages. For the average person, that may sound like a silly inconvenience: for many people, it is a life-changer.

Random House Blocks Access

On March 19th, I read online that Random House was intending to disable the text-to-speech for its e-books. If there was going to be a false rumor, this was a likely target. It is a very large and diverse company, and one that a prankster would know.

I went to the Random House website to attempt to verify the information. The same date, I was able to verify the information in its FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions):

It stated very simply that,

“…all of our eBooks have the text-to-speech feature disabled.”

While as of this writing, I am unaware of anyone actually getting a book from Random House with the text-to-speech disabled, their intention to do so was clearly stated. [UPDATE: Many Random House books now have text-to-speech disabled.]

Response to the Guild and Random House

I e-mailed Random House for a clarification. I received an e-mail back from them on March 23rd. I was told in part that:

“This is an issue that involves author’s rights and royalties as well as the rights and royalties of the narrators of our audiobook titles and is currently under study.”
–Random House e-mail to the author

It also confirmed that TTS was disabled.

My personal decision at that point was to stop purchasing Random House products while the policy was in place. If Random House was not providing alternative access for the disabled to its e-books, my best guess was that the policy was illegal. However, I didn’t know that, and couldn’t confirm it. Even if they were providing that access, I still disagreed with the policy. The disabled should be able to access books through the Kindle 2 like anyone else. I do enjoy the text-to-speech. I’ve listened to non-fiction while driving. I’ve listened to it while doing household chores. I don’t think, though that I am entitled to it. I do believe that the disabled are.

A demonstration was held outside of the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City on Tuesday, April 7, 2009, by a group calling itself the Reading Rights Coalition ( The expanding list of members includes well-known disability support groups such as: the American Foundation for the Blind; Lighthouse International; National Disability Rights Network; National Federation of the Blind; and United Cerebral Palsy. Hundreds of people from several states joined the demonstration, including many with mobility issues and other disabilities. The demonstation was webcast.

The Guild Responds: The “Unnecessary and Unfortunate” Statement

In one of the most extraodinary public statements I have ever read, the Guild responded to the protest. ( )

The first interesting point is that they referred to the protest as being by the “National Federation of the Blind”. This is, I believe, a carefully crafted statement. It seems interesting that they singled out one of the groups, rather than referring to the Reading Rights Coalition. This could be because the rules for the visually impaired and the rules for those with other disabilities are different. It could also just be an attempt to minimize the protest.

It could also be because they go on to cite a statement from the National Federation of the Blind in October of 2008, praising the Guild, which is accurate. This is in association with the Guild’s legal action against Google. They correctly state that the NFB praised the settlement.

However, it seems disingenuous that they did not then also cite the NFB’s statement of February 12 2009, responding to the Authors Guild’s expressed concerns about the text-to-speech capabilities of the Kindle

2. The statement reads in part:

“…blind people routinely use readers, either human or machine, to access books that are not available in alternative formats like Braille or audio. Up until now, no one has argued that this is illegal, but now the Authors Guild says that it is. This is absolutely wrong.”

The Guild then goes on to state “E-books do not come bundled with audio rights.” This is, of course, the crux of the legal argument. They do not come bundled with audiobook rights, but a “read aloud” system is not an audiobook. The separation is clear: an audiobook must be in a fixed format, text-to-speech is streaming (not recorded).

The Guild then goes on to lay out a three step plan which they say they had communicated to the NFB some time prior.

The first step cites the Chafee amendment. The Chafee amendment was enacted to give authorized entities a way to produce disabled-specific editions to copyrighted books without first obtaining the permission of the rightsholders. In other words, it was created to get around the rightsholders. It seems odd to cite this as an argument proposed by those same rightsholders. Furthermore, that exemption only applies to “specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilites.” This does not seem to describe the text-to-speech in the Kindle, which is accessible to those without disabilities. It’s possible their proposal was to make such access unavailable to the general public, an only available to those with qualifying disabilities.

The second step was to suggest that Amazon make a more blind-accessible version of the Kindle available, with a Braille keyboard and “audible menu commands”. By this time, Amazon had already announced that it was working on a more accessible model. It’s also unclear how this would impact the text-to-speech discussion, unless the suggestion was to make the text-to-speech only available on this specialized device.

The third step talks about the need to amend contracts. It states that for the previous 16 years, contracts had not been permitted that bundled e-book rights with audio rights. These contracts to not cover the non-infringing text-to-speech right, so (in my opinion), no amendment is necessary.

The statement then goes on to talk about the importance of authors retaining rights as publishing moves into the digital era. It says in part:

“…Knowing how difficult the road ahead is for the already fragile economics of authorship, we are particularly troubled at how all this arose, with Amazon attempting to use authors’ audio rights to lengthen its lead in the fledgling e-book industry. We could not allow this rights grab to happen. Audio books are a billion dollar market, the rights for which are packaged separately from — and are far more valuable than — e-book rights.”

This suggests that the text-to-speech was a right of the rightsholders to initially, and again conflates it with audiobook rights. For there to have been a “rights grab”, there must have been a right initially.

The suggestion that audio book rights are more valuable than e-book rights is an interesting one. While it is arguably true at this time, the e-book market is showing huge growth, which can not be said of the audiobook market. In the future, it is reasonable to assume that the value situation will be reversed.

The final paragraph began with the line, “Today’s protest is unfortunate and unnecessary.” Some people, who had traveled a long distance with unusual difficulty, found this statement dismissive of their efforts.

The Arguments

This section presents arguments which have appeared about the Amazon Kindle’s voice. I encountered many of them on Amazon’s Kindle forums. I disagreed with some people and agreed with some. Often, the arguments on both sides were well reasoned and respectful. My intention here is to summarize some of those arguments for the reader.

1. The Kindle 2 creates an unauthorized audiobook version

This argument says that the voice of the K2 creates an audiobook version. The key issue here is that the Kindle 2 doesn’t create a new version. Nothing is “fixed” by the Kindle 2 reading in streaming audio: no new copy is created. If, after you used the Kindle 2, you had an .mp3 of the book, I could see the argument. Even then, if it was for personal use, I could see a parallel being drawn to using a Tivo or a VCR. However, the issue of personal use is irrelevant here. In its Copyright Basics Circular, the Copyright Office defines the rights of a copyright holder. These include:

A. The right to reproduce the work in phonorecords

It defines a phonorecord thusly:

“A phonorecord is the physical object in which works of authorship are embodied. The word “phonorecord” includes cassette tapes, CDs, and vinyl disks as well as other formats.”

There is no phonorecord created when the Kindle 2 reads.

B. The right to publicly perform a sound recording by means of digital audio transmission

It defines a sound recording in a bold note:

“…Sound recordings are defined in the law as “works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work.”

The Kindle 2 does not “fixate” the sounds it makes. So the sound recording issue does not apply.

C. The right to publicly perform a literary work

The key word here is public. In its Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies, as noted earlier, it stated that:

“The uses that such persons make by using the “read-aloud” function and screen readers are noninfringing…”

The issue of the Kindle 2 violating copyright appears to not be supported by the Copyright Office itself.

2. The Kindle 2 threatens the audiobook industry

Audiobooks are typically performed by human actors, called voice artists. I have been a huge fan of voice artists for years. The work that they do in interpreting a book can be truly impressive. They bring human emotions, and may use a variety of voices. The recording may include sound effects and music. The current state of the text-to-speech on the Kindle does not approximate this. However, it is reasonable to assume that the capabilities of the voice will improve over time, especially if the market continues to grow. Already, there are many alternative voice simulators on the market. There may come a time when software can produce a convincingly “human” performance. If this is the case, why would people buy an audiobook if they can get the computerized version for free? This has largely been the argument of the Authors Guild.

The first thing to note is that text-to-speech has been around for many years. In fact, the rise of audiobook sales paralleled the development of text-to-speech in some particulars. This is not too surprising. It took new technology for them to catch on with the public, despite Congress establishing a “talking book” program in the early 1930s for the visually impaired. With the popularity of cassette players in cars in the late 1970s, portable cassette players, and then CDs, the market grew to around a billion dollars annually. It wasn’t until 1987 that the Audio Publishers Association ( was established…three years after Apple introduced MacInTalk.

Perhaps the highest profile audiobook seller is Amazon bought the company in 2008. It seems reasonable to ask why Amazon, after spending something like $300 million dollars the company in 2008 would introduce the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle in 2009.

I have heard from a frequent user of audiobooks that, if a free alternative was available, that person would purchase fewer audiobooks. However, one question is whether a reduction in sales by “power readers” would outweigh an increase in sales from casual readers. I have never been a person to listen to audiobooks: I’ve tried a couple of them, but not been a big fan. However, I am now becoming accustomed to listening to books through the Kindle 2. I would now consider buying audiobooks in a much greater way. I think could certainly turn out to be true: the text-to-speech of the Kindle 2 could lead to much greater audiobook sales.

The operative word there, though, is could. Nobody knows for sure what will happen: there just isn’t enough data yet. My feeling is that the known rights of the disabled to have access to the material outweighs the unknown possible loss to the audiobook industry. Many publishers do both e-books and audiobooks. Will the increase of sales in e-books by allowing text-to-speech make up for the losses in audiobook sales? Again, nobody knows yet.

3. A company should not be forced to spend its money to support a special interest group

A reasonable “free market” argument can be made in saying that a company should be able to control how it legally spends its money.. However, it does not apply here. It costs the publishers nothing to leave the Kindle 2 text-to-speech access the way it is. It will, presumably, cost them money to develop the technology to block it. Amazon spent the money to include the feature, and that cost was probably passed on to the purchasers of the Kindle 2. No one is forcing the publishers to spend money to enable it…it’s already done. The possible cost to the publishers is if it cuts into their audiobook sales (see above). It is as if the government provided wheelchair ramps to all the buildings in a town at no cost to the companies in those buildings. However, one company chose to block the wheelchair ramps, because they have a really cool helicopter ride to the roof. Maybe they charge $100 for the ride, and they are afraid that people will just use the ramp and the elevator instead. The audiobook is the equivalent of the helicopter ride: it costs money, and is admittedly much more elaborate and fancy than the simple computerized voice used by the Kindle 2. If I was aware of a company that blocked a ramp like that, I would not shop there. I would also let them know why I took my business elsewhere, in the hopes that the policy would change.

4. There are alternatives available for the disabled

There are other ways to listen to books. The DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) ( is one such method. Like most other accessibility systems, it requires special preparation to make a book available. Some systems require special software, others require special hardware, or both. It’s important to note that DAISY, along with others, is part of the Reading Rights Coalition. While alternative methods do exist, they do not offer the mainstream integration that a Kindle 2 does. I often get approached by people in public who think my Kindle is cool. I don’t think that the disable necessarily have a legal right to be cool 🙂 , but why deny it to them when it is free to the publishers? Speed does matter in this information age. Helen Keller, in her autobiography, talks about the difficulty of getting study materials in time in college. They had to be specially prepared. The Kindle requires no preparation, just downloading or transferring. Even work materials can be read on the Kindle. The Kindle provides the closest simulation to reading a book: it’s lightweight and portable.

The Chafee amendment does allow “authorized entities” to produce disabled-specific editions of copyrighted books without first getting clearance from the rightsholders. However, it does not give them the resources to do so. While organizations like Bookshare (to which Random House directs inquiries) do make many books available, they simply can not make everything available. A book available on the Kindle does not require any special preparation: the text-to-speech works for everything (unless blocked).

5. The Kindle 2 itself is not blind-accessible

While the buttons that start the text-to-speech are appropriately placed for the visually impaired (it is the two outer buttons in the lowest row of the Kindle’s keyboard), it does not allow for voice navigation for those with disabling conditions. A visually impaired person would also have difficulty selecting which title was which by themselves, and in buying titles directly from the device. First, many disabled people have family members and others who can start the books for them. Secondly, there isn’t an obligation for the device to be disabled accessible. It’s different from the text-to-speech: that technology already exists and is in place on the Kindle. Voice navigation (one potential option for the K2) has to be added technologically to the device. Third, Amazon has announced that they are working on just that: a more disabled-friendly Kindle.

6. The voice is creepy and inhuman. Nobody should care about having it

Creepy is in the ear of the beholder. Listening to “Tom” (the male voice on the Kindle) is like listening to a friend with a speech impediment or a heavy accent for me. As was once said on I Love Lucy, you learn to “listen with an accent”. I’m amazed at how good the voice actually is, knowing the difference between the pronunciation of “Arkansas” and “Kansas”, for example. I won’t deny, though, that he makes pronunciation errors. He doesn’t know the difference between “she lives” (rhymes with “gives”) and “the cat has nine lives”) (rhymes with “hives”). For somebody with a disability, though, that’s a small inconvenience to have access to the world of words.

7. Blocking the voice is against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

I believe the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply here, unless use of the Kindle is part of your employment or a service the government is providing to you. The Act has a fairly narrow focus: employment, public services and transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, and telecommunications. I don’t think there is anything in the act that requires that something in that you access in your own home for your own purposes that does not come through telecommunications falls under this jurisdiction. So, even though it might help my position if this was true, I haven’t seen evidence that it is.


June 27 2009: The Disabled Deserve to Read Day

I have proposed June 27, 2009 as The Disabled Deserve to Read Day. Why that date? It is Helen Keller’s birthday (she was born June 27, 1880) and it is a Saturday, which could help with participation in peaceful demonstrations. Helen Keller was deaf and blind, and could not have benefited directly from the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech technology. However, she often wrote about how books had enriched her life. She was also an advocate for social justice causes, a position that created challenges for her reputation. I’m sure she would have opposed blocking access to books for the “dear little blind girls”, as she called her friends at the Perkins Institute in her autobiography.

I’d like to see informational pickets on that day, across the country. I’d like to see people (especially authors and other celebrities, since that would raise the profile) who support access to books, newspapers, and magazines for the disabled to make public statements. Peaceful demonstrations could be held in public places, for example, outside stores that sold Random House products (if Random House has not reversed its stand by then). If Random House has done what I believe is the right thing, and which I think will benefit the company, their books would certainly not need to be boycotted. However, public statements could still be valuable, to show solidarity with those who face exceptional challenges in entering the world of words.

The Viral Campaign

Demonstations are difficult to arange, and participation in them can be hard, especially for those with mobility challenges. I have proposed a viral video campaign:

A video would just show a person who says, “I want to read.” The person could be identified: “Allison, muscular sclerosis”, “Luis, macular degeneration”, “Lashanda, reader”. Notice that the last one works for people like me without qualifying disabilities who support the access for those who have them. The link for the Reading Rights Coalition ( would be on the screen, or be shown in the description of the video or a separate “slide”.

Authors could say, “I write for everybody.” They should be identified by first and last name, probably. It would probably be both identifications: “John Milton, poet, blind”; “Charles Dickens, author, reader”. Of course, it would be living people. 🙂 Fans could ask authors to contribute a video via e-mail, or approach them at signing events and the like.

These could be done at virtually no cost, done by individuals, posted on YouTube, Facebook, personal websites, and so on. Celebrities could be recorded (even on a cell phone camera), with their written permission, of course, and after explaining the situation to them.

The same sort of thing could be done with still images.

In the Amazon Kindle forum discussion in which I proposed this, forum member Brent P. Newhall offered to assemble a composite video or to link to individual videos.


1984: With the introduction of the Macintosh computer comes MacInTalk, a limited text-to-speech system

July 26, 1996: The Chafee amendment is approved, allowing authorized entities to distribute copyrighted works in special editions for the disabled

September 16, 1996: President Clinton signs the Chafee amendment into law

October 31, 2009: The National Federation of the Blind praises the settlement against Google obtained partially through legal action on the part of the Authors Guild

February 9, 2009: Jeff Bezos holds an event announcing the Kindle 2

February 12, 2009: The Authors Guild releases a memo claiming that the text-to-speech “…presents a significant challenge to the publishing industry”

February 12, 2009: The National Federation of the Blind condemns the Authors Guild statement

February 24, 2009: The Kindle’s official on-sale date

February 27, 2009: Amazon releases the “comfort” press release making the feature “rightsholders’ choice”

March 19, 2009: The author confirms that Random House states that the feature is disabled in their e-books

March 19, 2009: An informal boycott of Random House products begins on the Internet by those who oppose the company’s policy

April 7, 2009: A demonstration is held outside of the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City

April 7, 2009: The Authors Guild issues its “unnecessary and unfortunate” statement

April 25-26, 2009: A demonstration is planned at the L.A. Festival of Books at UCLA

May 12, 2009: Random House books begin to actually have the feature blocked

June 27, 2009: Proposed date for “The Disabled Deserve to Read” day



February 27 2009:

Statement from Regarding Kindle 2’s Experimental Text-to-Speech Feature

An appeal to Amazon to continue the current text-to-speech access in the Kindle 2

Random House website confirms text-to-speech disabled (begun on March 19, 2009)

The Viral Campaign (begun on May 16, 2009)

The Disabled Deserve to Read Day (begun on May 21, 2009)

The Disabled Deserve to Read Day thread

American Association of Publishers

Americans with Disabilities Act

Audio Publishers Association

Amazon to Buy Audiobook Seller for $300 Million New York Times article

Authors Guild

February 12 2009: E-Book Rights Alert: Amazon’s Kindle 2 Adds “Text to Speech” Function

February 25 2009: Kindle 2 Audio: How Does It Sound?  

March 2 2009: Amazon Reverses Stance on Computer-Generated Audio for the Kindle 2

April 7 2009:  Making the Kindle Accessible to the Print Disabled (the “unfortunate and unnecessary” statement)

Copyright Office:

37 CFR Part 201 [Docket No. RM 2002-4E]: Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies

Copyright Basics

NLS Factsheets
Copyright Law Amendment, 1996:
PL 104-197  December 1996
(Government information on the Chafee amendment) 

DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) 

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (free e-book)

National Federation of the Blind

October 27 2008:  Google Settlement with Authors, Publishers Will Have Positive Results for the Blind

Random House


List of “publishers


Random House contact page

Reading Rights Coalition


I am very grateful to the participants on Amazon’s Kindle forums

I have had many intelligent and meaningful “conversations” with them, and this work would not have been possible without them.

I’d also like to thank Amazon for providing those forums at no cost to its customers and other interested parties.

Thank you to the late Helen Keller, for providing me additional insight into what books can mean to those who have special challenges. I found that her charming autobiography took me down many fascinating paths I might not have traveled, with a “deaf and blind girl” as my guide.

Thank you also to ManyBooks, for providing that autobiography (and many other fine books) for free to the public through its website.

To my family, I appreciate your support in making the decisions that went into this offering. It required sacrifice on your part, and for that (and everything else in my life), I’m grateful.

Permission to Reproduce for Non-commercial Purposes

I, Bufo Calvin, the author of this work and the rightsholder, grant permission to anyone to reproduce and electronically distribute this work for non-commercial purposes.

Proceeds Donation

At the time of writing, the digital list price for this work is $1.00 through the Amazon Kindle store. I will be using my proceeds (currently, thirty-five cents per copy sold) to purchase Kindle 2s which I will donate to non-profit organizations. If the price of the Kindle 2 remains at $299.00, I will donate a Kindle 2 to a non-profit organization every time I receive payment of $299, which would currently be about 854 net copies sold.


13 Responses to “The Disabled Deserve to Read”

  1. Jim Says:

    So how did the protest go on June 27th? I didn’t have my Kindle then and knew nothing of the issue.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Jim, honestly, nothing organized happened as far as I know. I did do some things myself that day, but I didn’t have response from any of the groups.

      • Jim Says:

        Too bad. I agree with you that this is a very important issue and we shouldn’t let the publishers take away any of our legal rights, such as fair use for digital media.

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