Saturday, August 24, 2013

Read Me, Hear Me, Touch Me

It's always great when word gets out about my books, and those of my fellow authors. But when the same large corporation with whom you publish actively resists getting your books shared with disabled people, that's f*cked up.

The first published review of PINS the audiobook has been posted on Amos Lassen's blog

Here's a short excerpt: "What makes this novel so important is that we so identify with what goes on and it tears at our heartstrings. I found that reading this is difficult because of the subject matter but hearing it read really drives it home."

"Hearing it now made me realize how important this book it. The voice makes everything seem more real and [narrator Paul] Fleschner is able to capture that in his voice. Get a copy and sit down for a listen. You will not regret it, I guarantee."


Reviews certainly help get the word out about books. But it's been difficult to find specific reviewers, and the larger audiobook websites mostly cover bestsellers and audiobooks from large publishers.

But what about sight-impaired readers, or more accurately, listeners?

Earl is a new application that makes it easier for sight-impaired people to read web pages. I recently did a little Q & A for the product's blog with editor Belo Cipriani. He's also the author of the acclaimed book Blind: A Memoir.

I answered his questions about making my first novel PINS into an audiobook. While I wrote the answers, I felt a bit self-conscious as I typed. I realized that my words would mostly be heard, not read. So I simplified the sentences and made them "sound" better.

Sometimes, as critics of my books and readers of my arts writing know, I can be a bit convoluted in my writing. That's something I'm working on. I assume the reader knows what I'm discussing, but forget that some readers need to know the basic facts first.

For example, I know that in addition to apps like Earl, sight-impaired people can hear some versions of ebooks. Also, the Kindle and Nook versions of my books are less expensive than print editions, so fans with less money to spend can enjoy my books.

But it was disappointing to find out that one of the huge companies with whom I self-published Every Time I Think of You is actively preventing accessibility to my and millions of other books.

Corporations Sony and have balked at the idea of making their devices fully accessible.

Disability Scoop reports: "Under federal rules, equipment used for advanced communications services, or ACS, must be “accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”

If, Sony and Kobo have their way, however, that won’t include e-readers. The companies have come together in an attempt to persuade government regulators that e-readers should not be held to the same accessibility standard as tablets and other devices since they are limited to one core feature — reading.

“E-readers simply are not designed, built, or marketed for ACS, and the public understands the distinction between e-readers and general-purpose tablets,” the companies argue in a petition to the FCC in which they ask for an exemption for reading devices including the Amazon Kindle E-Reader, the Sony Reader and the Kobo Glo."

This isn't the only barricade keeping sight-impaired people from getting access to converted books. The entire European Union and the Obama administration have balked at agreeing on a treaty that would ease copyright restrictions for braille editions of books to be given to developing nations.

As the Guardian article states, "There are about 256 million visually impaired people in the developing world, according to an estimate by the World Health Organisation. In many rich countries, blind people have ready access to works that have been translated into braille and other accessible formats such as audio and large-print books, although, according to the EU, only 5% of books are accessible to blind people in wealthy states.

However, under existing copyright law, poorer countries can't access those translations without getting the express permission of the copyright holder. Few developing country governments have managed to do that, meaning that their blind and visually impaired populations are left with barely anything to read. The EU estimates that less than 1% of books are accessible to blind people in poorer countries."

What loss would big publishers face if some of their titles were translated into braille for poorer countries? It's not like they could ever afford to buy a book or braille edition.

I'd be happy to donate the rights to have my books translated. But I don't know how many Indonesian grandmothers would be interested in books about gay wrestlers, bike messengers and paraplegics.

Seriously, though, were the treaty to be made, books would be sent to areas in the various appropriate languages to thousands of potential readers. But it's still difficult given these circumstances.

Fortunately, there's a way around government and corporate obfuscation.

And that's through BookShare.

The Palo Alto-based nonprofit posts the text of shared books for download by sight-imparied fans. With more than 800 LGBT titles, it's the perfect place for indie gay authors to share their books. Michael Lowenthal, Sarah Schulman, Patricia Nell Warren, Christopher Rice, and many other authors - or their publishers- have shared their works, including historical and nonfiction titles. Even one of my all-time favorites, John Fox's The Boys on the Rock, is included.

I'm preparing my own books for submission. It's very simple. You email Rich Text Format (RTF) versions of your books, sign the agreement, and members of the website can read/hear the books. Members download DAISY and other reader or braille-printing  software programs, and they get to enjoy your books.

And the readers aren't just blind people. Those with physical disabilities that prevent holding a book or turning pages are eligible, too.

While there is a possibility of some dirty hacker grabbing your text and pirating it, in this instance, I consider it a worthy risk. Finding a new audience, specifically for my novels about disability, albeit a different kind, is a win-win situation.

These books probably won't get to impoverished people in developing countries, but at least they'll be heard, or read, by new readers eager to hear, or feel, your stories.

Amber Galloway Gallego

Given my druthers, I'd also love to have all my event and bookstore readings sign-language-interpreted. But of course, ASL interpreters deserve to be paid, so it would great if venues could consider this option.

And a great signer would be Amber Galloway Gallego, who's made an online sensation with this short video of her signing to rapper Kendrick Lamar's "F*ckin' Problems" at this year's Lollapalooza music festival. The lyrics and the signing are a bit naughty, so be forewarned!

Enjoy the video HERE. Amber also does a fun ASL interpretation of the song "Baby's Got Back."

The music fest also included a bit of the current trend of wheelchair crowd-surfing, something I'm sure Everett would have done. But I doubt it happened 30 years ago at any Philly rock concerts they would have attended. There was also a bit of chair-surfing at this year's Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

The point is, the arts should be accessible to all people in as many ways as possible. If one way doesn't work, find another path.

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