Authors for Accessibility: Maribel Steel, Australia
Changing the way we see books
Access to published work has proliferated on our computer screens, audio devices, iPhones and tablets. Yet, millions of blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled people (including those with learning difficulties) are facing a “global book famine”, hungering for the knowledge that reading brings to their lives.
I am one of them.
According to the World Health Organization, there is an increasing probability that more of us will be at risk of visual impairment purely due to the ageing process. Currently, 357,000 Australians are blind or have a degree of vision loss, with visual impairment affecting one child in 2,500. This may seem an insignificant ratio, but having been diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition in my teenage years, it has been a daily challenge to find the same texts as my sighted peers.
Even using assistive technology — magnifying devices and specialised software, audio books and the internet — I am still often denied access to web pages and deprived of many essential books due to a lack of accessible formats. Only seven percent of books are currently made available to the print disabled worldwide.
Accessible publishing is much more than creating published work and other text in alternative formats. It is an international commitment seeking support from the publishing industry to expand equal opportunities for those who are print-disabled.
Producing accessible books is the link in a chain where people like myself can stay connected and support the work of other authors.
I relish the joy of building a physical collection of my favourite books: in neat rows they wait to be shared with my sighted friends.
When I have fallen in love with an audio book, I often purchase a print copy. My eyes may not be able to read it but my desire is to support the author.
If your love of reading and sharing books has brought something special to your life, then why not become an advocate for accessible reading. If access to knowledge is empowering and the sharing of stories brings wisdom, unlocking access to books may be the best gift you will ever give to someone you love.
This extract is taken from the article by Maribel Steel, ‘Changing the Way We See Books – A Global Vision: it’s time for publishers to make books accessible for all’ in Australian Author magazine Volume 47, No 1, June 2015.