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M-Enabling Summit 2013

Thu, 20 Jun 2013

Richard Orme, Head of Accessibility at RNIB attended and spoke at the M-Enabling Summit this year. The M-Enabling Summit is dedicated to promoting mobile apps and services for older people of all abilities. Below is a transcript of Richard Orme's address:

E-Book readers and e-Publishing for Mobile Platforms

Subtitle: Competing for seniors and users of all abilities

In his introduction Andrew talked about a long history of work on this mission. RNIB was founded in 1868 by four men (three blind, one partially sighted), who had the vision to improve access to literature for people with sight loss. We are now the UK's leading blindness org, one of the largest in the world. We are a membership organisation, run by blind people.

Both an advocacy and a service organisation.

As a service organisation, we know that for five years the most common category of enquiry to our technology helpline has been concerned with mobile. So it's great to be here at m-enabling.

Also as a service organisation we run activities to help people to get the best out of technology, in order to assist with every day tasks. Many things that mobile tech can help with: keeping in touch with friends and family, applying for jobs, getting out and about, shopping and banking. But the subject that always comes up is reading, so it is wonderful to participate in this important session today.

The UK is a nation of book lovers, and we have a vibrant and wonderful publishing industry. As a country we have taken to eReading. Nearly one in five adult fiction books purchased were eBooks. In March of this year about 24 per cent of the British adult population downloaded an ebook.

You'll recognise the names of the companies vying for our business in the UK, including Kindle, iBooks, Kobo and Nook.

Some people use dedicated eReaders, but the trend detected by research report "Consumer Attitudes toward eBook Reading" shows majority is for people to read using phones, tablets and what we must now refer to as phablets.

So we have thousands of great books, companies doing some great innovation, and what this offers people with difficulty in reading regular books the opportunity to access the same book, at the same time, at the same price. Think about how powerful that is for people in participating fully in education, in being successful in the world of work. In engaging in culture in all its varied forms, from Harry Potter to 50 shades of Grey.

Don't underestimate how important this is. To be able to hear a book review on the radio and to be able to start reading a title in braille within a few minutes. To be in a local book group and read the same book with larger size text. To read a travel book, and be able to use text to speech to spell out the unfamiliar names of the cities and places.

Authors and publishers want their books to reach as many people as possible, and have released a statement emphasising the importance of eBook accessibility to people with all sorts of print disabilities.

The joint statement was released by our PA, PLS, Society of Authors and gained the endorsement of the IPA.

The statement recognises that for eBook access to work it requires everyone to play their part. The statement calls on everyone in the supply chain to play their part in making books accessible.

So for the m-enabling event, this is relevant to mobile device manufacturers, operating systems vendors, and app developers, publishers, authors and consumers themselves.

Let me first consider the content.

The eBook content must contain the text of a book of course, and in a way that the presentation can be customised with larger type, different fonts, and colour combinations. But it is also essential that this content is structured in such a way that tables of contents, headings, foot notes, image captions, tables, embeded audio and video and so forth are marked up so that they can be perceived, navigated and interacted with. Fortunately much of this work is well understood. Based on the work of the DAISY Consortium, the IDPF have built accessibility into the heart of the ePub standard, widely used.

Beyond the content are the eBook devices and software that are used to read the books. In the digital world there is the capability to offer a reading experience that works for a much wider population, and in many more contexts, than a regular, paper based print book.

For this to happen, industry need to have an understanding of the needs of their customers. In the UK, the Right to Read Alliance, work together to present a unified voice to industry and government.

We developed a document, "Can everyone use your eReader?", setting out what we meant by accessible an eReader, and an accessible eReader app. Companies responsible for eBook readers (both hardware and apps) have told us that they have found that really helpful in understanding what they already offer, and what more they need to do.

And on mobile devices, these eReaders will typically utilise the accessibility features of the mobile operating systems. So at the moment it may not be a surprise that the most accessible eReading experiences are based on Apple iOS. We look forward to Google, Microsoft, Blackberry and others catching up offering more choice to consumers. Perhaps next m-enabling event?

We continue to learn. We have run events around the UK every week, helping people to understand the choices that they have today for reading with eBooks. We feed that back to the eBook vendors.

This brings me to the role of consumer groups. We know that many people are using mobile devices to read eBooks, newspapers and magazines, and loving it. But people don't always know what is possible, and so we produce material that helps people understand that these opportunities exist, and review the options that work best for them. We have podcasts and YouTube videos of people with sightloss talking about reading with eBooks, and factsheets that describe different eReaders.

As well as consumer awareness of what is possible now, we also need to be alive to where access falls short. And as eBooks evolve with more multimedia and interactivity, there are risks that mean that this

progress could so easily slip away if we are not all vigilant.

I've described how publishers, eBook reader developers, mobile device manufacturers and os vendors, and consumer groups all need to play their part. But so too do policy makers and those that make purchasing decisions for public bodies. In Washington, so I need to have some comments for policy makers to reflect on.

eBooks will increasingly a part of our education system, our library services. Some companies are doing better than others, are proactive in issues of accessibility. Policy makers and purchasers have an important role in making sure that these companies get the business. This rewards the companies that help you ensure that the widest group of people can use your services, and also helps you meet your legal duties under non-discrimination laws.

In conclusion, after 145 years we're really excited how accessible mobile devices and accessible eBooks are revolutionising reading for people with print disabilities. Making this a reality relies on all of us to play our part.