Books for the blind: "IT corporations lead the way. They consider accessibility a selling point"

We asked Prof. Thomas Kahlisch, Director of the German Central Library for the Blind (DZB)

02/16/2017

A wizarding student who triumphs over evil. A girl who meets the love of her life. Literature has many facets and captivates us with wonderful stories day in and day out. Yet not everyone has access to these texts because accessible books for blind or visually impaired people are few and far between.

Photo: Prof. Thomas Kahlisch; Copyright: private

Prof. Thomas Kahlisch, Director of the German Central Library for the Blind; © private

Prof. Thomas Kahlisch is the Director of the German Central Library for the Blind in Leipzig (DZB) and tells REHACARE.com, what kind of possibilities exist and why only a few invest in accessible literature.

What requirements does literature need to fulfill for people who are blind and visually impaired?

Prof. Thomas Kahlisch: Generally speaking, literature needs to meet the same requirements for both blind and visually impaired book lovers and readers who are able to see. It's important that written works are available in the respective format and can be comfortably and completely read. Blind readers like to utilize Braille to delve into texts in greater detail and they are happy about audiobooks that are convenient and easy to use. Large print books provide better access to the knowledge of the world for visually impaired persons. Smartphones and tablets offer benefits for both blind and visually impaired readers. Voice output and Braille display make it possible for blind users to use eBooks and many other digital media and information formats. Visually impaired readers benefit from the possibilities of adapting the display of texts according to their needs.

How would you describe the current situation for blind people as it relates to accessible literature?

Kahlisch: Right now, it takes far too long for books to become available in Braille format. Commercial audiobooks are frequently abridged readings and do not reflect the complete piece. Many eBooks are not accessible, which unfortunately also applies to access portals, reading devices and programs. The big lack of accessible literature is especially evident when it comes to magazines, nonfiction, and reference books. The costs of changing a reference book for blind readers to where contents such as images, graphics or mathematical diagrams are accessible is very high. That is why there is a great shortage of current specialized texts available for this group of people. Special libraries such as the DZB in Leipzig make literature available in accessible formats but are by no means able to fully meet the individual needs of users. New collaborations between the publishing industry and facilities such as the DZB can help to identify ways in which literature can already be shaped during the production process to where the outcome takes accessibility needs into account.

Photo: Hands on a book printed in Braille; Copyright: panthermedia.net/belchonock

Only very few books are made accessible from the beginning; © panthermedia.net/belchonock

What actions do you want the Federal Government to take in this regard to support blind people?

Kahlisch: The immediate ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, which permits facilities such as the DZB to embark on the cross-border exchange of accessible literature with similar institutions. This would help prevent duplicate publications of literature. Affected readers would obtain direct access to international accessible literature.

Another requirement is to compel private information providers such as publishers and other media service providers to provide more accessible options.

What does inclusion mean to you?

Kahlisch: A growing understanding in society of human diversity and people's living conditions – that’s where inclusion starts for me. At a time when people are getting older, we all benefit from investments in sustainable and shareable products and services. Despite all their shortcomings, the major IT corporations lead the way when it comes to implementing product developments because they consider universal design and accessibility a selling point and not just a cost factor.

Photo: Leonie Höpfner; Copyright: private

© private


Leonie Höpfner
(translated by Elena O'Meara)
REHACARE.com