Jake Gordon

Using the Disability Discriminatin Act (UK) to force companies to provide e-books

3 July 2004

I sent an email to Lawrence Lessig today:

“Hi Lawrence,

I thought you may be interested in an idea I had to force companies - using new UK legislation - to provide e-books, or more specifically, audio versions of their books, perhaps by releasing plain text versions which can be transformed into MP3s etc. using text-to-voice software.

The Disability Discrimination Act in the UK ensures that disabled people can have access to products and services provided by businesses. In October of this year (2004) there will be a change in the act so that:

“you [businesses] may have to make reasonable adjustments to any physical barriers that may prevent disabled people using your service. Or you may have to provide your service by a reasonable alternative means, like bringing goods to the disabled person or helping them find items.”


According to this act it would follow that a business should make reasonable effort to ensure that blind people can also ‘read’ all of their books, rather than just selected versions which are made into audio books. The fact that a physical book cannot be read by a blind person is a barrier to them.

Whilst it may be considered unreasonable for a publisher to have a person dictate an unabridged copy of every book they publish, and release them all as tapes or CDs, is it so unreasonable for publishers to provide a text-to-speech version of every book which they publish? I would expect not. Because of this, from October, surely a lawsuit could make it illegal for publishers not to provide such copies of their books? Better still, perhaps it could be argued that the books are best provided as plain text with the reader encoding the plain text into audio themselves. This would then, for example, also allow a blind person to convert the plain text into braille using a braille machine. Or a partially sighted person could enlarge the text and read it on a computer screen.

Do you think I have a possible case here? If I wanted to pursue this, what do you recommend I should do?

Anticipating a response.


Jake Gordon”

As you’ll see from my last post, my gran’s eye sight is currently deteriorating. There are plenty of audio books which are available to her, but I do not consider that to be enough. What about the books which aren’t released as ebooks? In particular, ‘alternative’ books which I myself read at least. My understanding of the updated act is that publishers will have to provide all their books for the blind and other disabled people as long as doing so is not unreasonable. Using text-to-speech technology, I do not consider it to be unreasonable. By all means, the publishers can charge for their text-to-speech books (although they’d be preferable without annoying DRM), but there should be no reason why they do not make them available.

Next: Fahrenheight 9/11 Previous: Slashdotted

Other stuff...

by Jake Gordon, some rights reserved