Originally published in The Conversation by Nicolas Suzor and Suzannah Wood.
An estimated 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired. Some 90% of those live in developing nations, where less than 1% of the world’s books are available in a form they can read.
In developed countries, the situation is only marginally better: only around 7% of the world’s books are accessible to print-disabled people.
The right to read is part of our basic human rights. Access to the written word is crucial to allow people to fully participate in society. It’s important for education, political involvement, success in the workplace, scientific progress and, not least, creative play and leisure. Equal access to books and other cultural goods is also required by international law.
The technology now exists to deliver books in accessible electronic forms to people much more cheaply than printing and shipping bulky braille copies or books on tape. Electronic books can be read with screen readers and refreshable braille devices, or printed into large print or braille if needed.
Now that we have this technology, what’s been referred to as the global “book famine” is a preventable tragedy.