E-Textbook Publisher Strives to Make Titles More Accessible to the Blind

Flat World Knowledge Inc. on Monday announced an effort to make its electronic textbooks more accessible to blind students and those with other disabilities.

The upstart textbook publisher, which makes its textbooks free online but hopes students will purchase print copies or related study aids, said it will form a partnership with a nonprofit group to offer its titles in formats that are easy to use by electronic Braille devices or by software that reads texts aloud. The group is called Bookshare.

Though Bookshare already works with many major publishers of novels and other texts, Flat World is the first textbook publisher to partner with the group, said Betsy Beaumon, a vice president and general manager of Bookshare.

The move comes just months after the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind sued Arizona State University for using e-books on Amazon’s Kindle e-book device, which the groups said was not accessible to all students. The groups said that the Kindle, which the university is testing to deliver textbooks in a couple of courses, does not offer ways for blind students to easily navigate and buy books. Two other universities that experimented with the Kindle for textbooks, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Syracuse University, announced last month that they would not order more of the devices because they do not work well for blind students.

This month Amazon announced that it is adding new features to the Kindle next year that will greatly improve its accessiblity.

Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, welcomed Amazon’s announcement but said the group is waiting to see the new features before commenting on them. He said that electronic textbooks have the potential to level the playing field for blind students in the classroom. “Blind people would finally be using the same material in the same format as everyone else,” he said.

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