Allow Everyone Access to E-books

When Amazon released the Kindle 2 electronic book reader on February 9, 2009, the company announced that the device would read e-books aloud using text-to-speech technology.  Under pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon has announced that it will give authors and publishers the ability to disable the text-to-speech function on any or all of their e-books available for the Kindle 2. 

The Reading Rights Coalition, which represents people who cannot read print, protested the threatened removal of the text-to-speech function from e-books for the Amazon Kindle 2 outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009, from noon to 2:00 p.m.  The coalition includes the organizations that represent the blind, people with dyslexia, people with learning or processing issues, seniors losing vision, people with spinal cord injuries, people recovering from strokes, and many others for whom the addition of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2 promised for the first time easy, mainstream access to over 245,000 books.

We the undersigned insist that the Authors Guild and Amazon not disable the text-to-speech capability for the Kindle 2.

There are 15 million Americans who are blind, dyslexic, and have spinal cord injuries or other disabilities that impede their ability to read visually. The print-disabled have for years utilized text-to-speech technology to read and access information.  As technology advances and more books move from hard-copy print to electronic formats, people with print disabilities have for the first time in history the opportunity to enjoy access to books on an equal basis with those who can read print. 

Authors and publishers who elect to disallow text-to-speech for their e-books on the Kindle 2 prevent the print-disabled from enjoying these e-books. 

Denying universal access will result in more and more people with disabilities being left out of education, employment, and the societal conversation.  We will all suffer from the absence of diverse participation and contribution to the debates that occupy us as a society.

Furthermore, we oppose the Authors Guild demands that this capability should be turned off because many more books would be sold if text-to-speech remained available.  Not only does this feature benefit persons with disabilities, but it also helps persons for whom English is not their native language.  In an increasingly mobile society, flexible access to content improves the quality of life for everyone.

There can be no doubt that access to the written word is the cornerstone of education and democracy.  New technologies must serve individuals with disabilities, not impede them.  Our homes, schools, and ultimately our economy rely on support for the future, not discriminating practices and beliefs from the past.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this important matter.

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