Ebooks and Accessibility

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These notes are based on a presentation which I gave to the Visually Impaired Boston Users Group on August 10, 2002 during Open an Ebook Week August 5-August 11 2002

This page was last updated on December 17 2003

Email Kestrell
Find more accessible eBooks and etext sources at the Blind Bookworm Home Page


This page has three parts. Click on the link to go directly to that section.
1. Notes arranged in outline form used for the presentation
2. Brief explanations used during demonstrations of ebook reader software
3. A list of sources of software and web sites mentioned during the presentation
Additionally, there is an appendix on Daisy
and another on
MobiPocket containing information about MobiPocket not included in the original presentation.
along with a separate page for learning more about
Using Palm Reader with a Screen Reader


A Why ebooks?
1 recreational reading (Offers immediate access and portability: examples magazines and journals)
2 school e-textbooks (Simple inexpensive method for revision)
3 business and technical (Audible.com offers the Wall Street Journal delivered daily by email and many books about IT and computers are available through Fictionwise, Audible Palm Digital Media and Peanut Press, among others)
4 referenceware Safari.com, 24x7.com and other online bookstores offer corporate accounts which allow for employees working on a project to read and refer to the most current titles on a subject)
5 self-publishing (ebook publishing software and the existence of independent ebook publishers make it easy to format and promote your ebook on the Internet)

B Concepts

1. Despite slanted and sometimes even inaccurate articles presented by the media, an ebook reader frequently refers to the software program which reads the ebook rather than the dedicated hardware device. This has become particularly true in the past few years (roughly since 2000), as ebook vendors and publishers listened to ebook readers who demanded the ability to read ebooks on more than one device, including their desktops.
2 These programs, along with sample ebooks, can be downloaded free, making testing and experimenting for accessibility a relatively easy and inexpensive process.
3. On the whole, Digital Rights Management, or DRM, causes more accessibility issues than the ebook formats. MS Reader and Adobe Reader 6.0 both have accessibility features, but many ebooks in these secured formats (more discussion on the difference between secured and unsecured formats later in this document) are inaccessible due to DRM security settings. This is not meant to be an anti-copyright statement, only to inform blind computer users as to where accessibility issues arise from (for more information about copyright issues in regard to access to books for the print-disabled, go to An Idiot's Guide to Copyright Issues). .
4. Independent ebook publishers, less concerned with Digital Rights Managent, frequently use a variety of formats which require no special software whatsoever, including HTML MS Word, PDF, and text. These independent publishers and the authors they represent are frequently very approachable regarding accessibility issues. One author I contacted was in the process of changing publishers because she wanted her books offered in more formats than her previous publisher was willing to offer. However, it is important for readers to be aware that an author who has signed a contract with a publisher may have little control overr decisions abuot format, and that these decisions instead may be controlled by the publisher by the terms of the contract the author signs with the publisher.
5. Converters like Mini-Reader convert palm doc formats into text files, allowing those with Braille display devices to make unsecured palm doc format ebooks accessible.
6. Palm Reader for the PC and Mac available at Palm Digital Media and Peanut Press will allow you to view ebooks in pdb format, but will not allow you to change the palm doc format to text format. If the idea of the doc readers is confusing, think of it as a sort of word processor which will only allow you to read documents in its own format, with no permission to edit or alter the format or text.

C possible issues
IMPORTANT: Explanation of Secured versus Unsecured Formats

1. Be aware of phrases such as "secured format" or "Premium content", "Owner exclusive".
In some ebook formats, the security settings used to ensure copyright control (DMRC) also locks out screen reader software.
Secured MS Reader format is not accessible to screen reader users, while the unsecured format is accessible.
Secured MobiPocket format is accessible to screen reader users, though it has a steeper learning curve than most of the other reader programs.
Adobe Reader 6.0 ebooks sold through Fictionwise are accessible, however,
Adobe Reader 6.0 ebooks bought through vendors other than Fictionwise may be accessible, but it is impossible to determine before purchasing, downloading and attempting to read the ebooks in this format if the security setting has been set to a high level which will lock out screen readers.
If you have bought an Adobe Reader 6.0 ebook and find it is locking out your screen reader, the following workaround using Kurzweil 1000's virtual printer may allow access to these ebooks, but it is not reliable:
Open the file
Press control plus p
Select the KESI virtual printer.
The file will be sent to Kurzweil, which will scan and recognize the file and print it to a text file if it can.
2. No one offers refunds on already downloaded ebooks; if you make a mistake in assuming something is accessible, there is typically no grounds to get a refund. Try downloading some of the free ebook format texts available at web sites like BlackMask Online to gain familiarity with the ebook readers before you try a big expenditure, or try some of the free or cheap (under one dollar) short stories available at Fictionwise .
3. MS Reader and MobiPocket require the programs to be activated before they will work; this means, you will need to register an id number with the company, and typically give them a valid email address.
4. You do not need to be a geek to use these ebook readers. However, with the exception of MS Reader, accessibility is rarely a concern for those developing these readers. I learned how to use them and I document what I have learned because I think this is a great potential method for blind readers to have access to books, but some of the ebook readers require a little more guesswork to access. MobiPocket is an example of this. I can make it work on my PC with not much of a problem, but on my laptop, which I am less familiar with, it is more frustrating. The Palm Reader, Mini-Reader, and MS Reader are all very easy and usable, though, so save MobiPocket for when you are feeling more adventurous.

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Explanations of Ebook Reader Programs

Mini-Reader is actually an ebook reader which allows you to view pdb and prc format books, and it also has a converter which allows the reader to convert pdb files into text or txt format and save the files in this format. It is a shareware program, so you can download it for free, try it for as long as you wish, and pay fifteen dollars to register it. Registration will give you additional functionality, tech support, and future upgrades.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The original Web site for this program has evaporated, so I cannot tell you how to purchase the full copy and obtain a key in order to access all the features.

Press f1 for context-sensitive help
To open and view a pdb format ebook in Mini-Reader:
1. Open Mini-Reader
2. Mini-Reader uses standard Windows menus, so you can press the alt key plus o to open a file. Either enter the name of the file or browse to find it.
3. Press the return key.
4. The file will be opened in the viewer. Activate the Jaws cursor and press control plus home to make certain you are at the top of the document. Use the Jaws cursor to read the page.
5. Activate the PC cursor and press page down to scroll to the next page. Continue in this way, activating the Jaws cursor to read, and the PC cursor to scroll.
6. You can save the file by pressing alt plus s and filling in the file name etc., but this will not save the formating, though this may be useful for those using braille displays.

To convert a pdb or prc ebook into txt format )Note: this will not work on the secured MobiPocket ebooks):
1. Press the alt key plus t for tools and, since the first item on the tools menu is the converter, just hit return to choose it.
2. You now need to choose the file or files you wish to convert, along with the source directory, and then choose the format you wish the file to be converted into, and the destination where you wish the result to be saved in. This sounds more complicated than it is: Just use the tab key to get to the "change directory" button and press return.
3. At this point, you will be able to browse the tree view of directories and files, using the arrow keys to go up and down or right arrow to open and left arrow to close. If you make any mistakes, just tab over to the "change directory" field and hit enter to try again.
4. There is a "select all files in directory" button, but you don't have to do anything at this time, I will explain why in a bit.
5. Now choose the destination directory, where you wish the text files to be saved, by using the tab key to get to "change directory" (it is slightly confusing at first because this same phrase is used twice, once for the source directory where the pdb or prc files are and once for the destination directory, where the txt files will be saved.)
6. There is a field titled "messages" then another field after that. This is a combo list box which lets you select whether you wish Mini-Reader to overwrite any palm doc files in that directory which have already been converted, or ignore them, or prompt you as to what you wish to do.
7. The next field is a list box with all the files in palm doc format that are selected to be converted.
8. Use the tab key to get to "Start" and press return.
Presto! You will find the files converted and saved with a txt extension in the directory you chose. I strongly suggest users create a directory named something like "ebooks" which they can easily remember and get to in order to locate and easily open their ebooks. The user could also associate pdb files with Mini-Reader, so all that would be necessary to open a file with a pdb or prc extension would be to click on it and it would open in Mini-Reader.

Palm Reader

IMPORTANT NOTE: The notes below are from the original presentation. For updated and more complete documentation for using Palm Reader with a screen reader, please
go here.
Note on screen readers: Palm Reader works with both Jaws (including 5.0) and Window Eyes.
download the reader appropriate for your platform (Windows or Mac), no registration or authorization required
There are free ebooks available on the Peanut Press web site to download and help familiarize yourself with the reader, but I am using ebooks I downloaded from Fictionwise with the Fictionwise header to show that this Palm Reader software will read ebooks downloaded from other web sites with no problems.
To read pages:
I also demonstrated that Palm Reader, like Mini-Reader, navigates directories just like Windows Explorer. Just click on the file to open it.
You can also associate pdb extension files with Palm Reader, which would make opening Palm Reader unnecessary. All you would have to do is navigate to the file you wished to open using Windows Explorer, click on it, and it would open in Palm Reader.
To read a PDB ebook:
1. Make certain the PC cursor is active and maximize the window. This is not a vital step but I always do it just to avoid problems reading the screen.
2. Activate the Jaws cursor to read the page. (All JAWS keys and commands work as usual.)
3. Still using the Jaws cursor, press control plus the page down key to scroll to the next page.
4. Again, still using the Jaws cursor, press control plus home to bring the Jaws cursor to the top of the new page, and read down.
5. Continue in this way, using control plus page down to scroll pages and control plus home to return the Jaws key to the top of the page to be read.
6. If you close Palm Reader while reading an ebook, next time you open Palm Reader, it will open at the place you left off reading.

MS Reader 2.0 with the TTS 1.0 package

Remember: Ebooks labeled "premium content" or "Owner Exclusive" or Fictionwise's "Secured MS Reader" will not allow for text-to-speech access, meaning these titles are inaccessible. However, the MS Reader interface is the most intuitive of the readers, allowing the user to access keyboard shortcuts with relative ease. Windows XP and various other Windows products use SAPI engines and TTS components, and third-party applications (such as a number of accessible games) use SAPI, so the user may already be familiar with SAPI. This is the same technology MS Reader uses for its verbosity features, which will track the movements of the mouse and keystrokes.

MS Reader keyboard shortcuts

Note: There are many more keyboard shortcuts for MS Reader which will allow the user to call up many menus and keyboard commands. Refer to the "Keyboard Shortcuts" link to read the entire FAQ.
enable verbosity by pressing alt plus s for settings, then click "Go to" and then press o to select "voice settings". Check to select verbosity, uncheck to unselect verbosity.
Alt plus f4 to close the program
tab to move through various options
f3 to search text
F5 for information about where you are in MS Reader
alt plus l library menu
The library menu is probably the easiest place from which to access all your MS Reader titles.
Use the up and down arrows to go up and down the list of titles and when you find an ebook you wish to open, hit return. This will open that ebook.
Return to the library at any time and from any place in MS Reader by using alt plus l.
Once you have opened your ebook, press f5 to find out where you are.
You will most likely hear "cover page" or "cover image".
Press return, then f5 to hear where this brings you.
control plus p toggles between play and pause
control plus s stop
control plus enter to follow a hyperlink
control plus f10 increase speed of playback
control plus f9 to decrease speed of playback
control plus u or f10 increase volume
control plus d or f9 decrease volume
control plus f forward by one page
control plus b back by one page
control plus right arrow go forward in small increments
control plus left arrow go back in small increments
page up go back one page
page down go forward one page
control plus home beginning of book
control plus end end of book

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List of Resources

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Daisy Talking Books (DTB) are both a W3 standard and a specialized accessible format used by such service providers as the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and Bookshare.Org. Although the W3 developed this standard to ensure equal access for all computer users, these ebooks typically require special (and very expensive) players and sometimes, as in the case with the RFBD AudioPlus Daisy-format ebooks, the players must have additional security keys installed onto the hardware itself in order to allow access to the ebooks. Daisy format ebooks can have six different combinations of feature, and the features vary from service provider to service provider. For instance, while Bookshare Daisy format ebooks offer text, RFBD AudioPlus format ebooks offer audio recordings.

The following description of these six Daisy ebook types is quoted from the Daisy Consortium Web Site:

There are six types of DAISY DTBs as outlined both in the DAISY structure guidelines and within the DAISY Basic Training Manual. Of the six, four of the types offer improved access and human voice delivery through links between the digital audio sound files and the marked up text files. It is these links that give the talking book reader access to the structure of the book; these links are the key to a DAISY DTB.

As as defined in the DAISY structure guidelines, the six categories of DAISY types of DTB are:

1. Full audio with Title element only: This is a DTB without navigable structure. Only the title of the DTB is available as text - the actual content is presented as linear audio only. Direct access to points within the DTB is not possible.
2. Full audio with Navigation Center (NCC or NCX) only: This is a DTB with structure. The structure is two-dimensional, providing both sequential and hierarchical navigation. In many cases, the structure in this type of Daisy DTB resembles the table of contents of its print source. Some of these productions provide page navigation.
3. Full audio with Navigation Center and partial text: This is a DTB with structure as described above, as well as some additional text. The additional text components may occur where keyword searching and direct access to the text would be beneficial, e.g., index, glossary, etc. The audio and existing text components are synchronized.
4. Full audio and full text: This is a DTB with structure and complete text and audio. The audio and full text are synchronized. This type of production may be used to generate braille.
5. Full text and some audio: This is a DTB with structure, complete text, and limited audio. This type of DTB could be used for a dictionary where only pronunciations are provided in audio form. As in the previous categories, the audio and text are linked.
6. Text and no audio: This is a DTB containing a Navigation Center and marked up/structured electronic text only. No audio is present. This file may be used for the production of braille.

Some commercial ebooks, such as James Patterson's book The Jester, have included an additional CD using the DAISY format along with the unabridged CD audio version of the book. The ability to access these commercial books varies from player to player, i.e., the CD worked in a Victor Pro, but not in a Plextalk PTR1. Additionally, you can access these CDs by loading the CD onto your PC and installing EaseReader.

You can find out more about Daisy at
Daisy Consortium Web Site
and you can also join the
DTB-Talk: Digital Talking Books Discussion List.

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MobiPocket works much like Palm Reader with a screen reader, but it is slightly less intuitive because the menus are accessed through graphical buttons rather than easy menus. While I would recommend getting comfortable with Palm Reader first, I use MobiPocket for reading ebooks using Jaws, and WindowEyes users have no trouble at all using it. We have all successfully downloaded and read ebooks in the secured MobiPocket format available from Fictionwise

MobiPocket Reader 4.4 for the PC

To find the download, go here
The button you click on to download looks like this:

If using Fictionwise, you will need to register the 10-digit PID or personal id number. To find the PID:
1. Click on the top left of the titlebar to view the MobiPocket menu.
2. Click on the word "about" (though I think the new 4.4 version had an option called "display", it popped right up while I was updating my Fictionwise profile)

Notes on using MobiPocket with Jaws:
As with Palm Reader, reading ebooks in MobiPocket using Jaws sounds better if you adjust the Jaws verbosity to "no graphics": Press insert plus v, then g for graphics and then press the space bar to toggle the setting until you hear Jaws say "no graphics."
Since MobiPocket uses graphical buttons instead of menus, Jaws sometimes reads the buttons along with the ebook text. To get rid of these buttons, press control plus left arrow (you may need to do this more than once to get rid of all the buttons).

To open a book:
1. Click on the file you wish to open. It will open up in MobiPocket Reader.
2. Maximize the application by hitting alt plus spacebar, then x.
3. Route the Jaws cursor to the PC cursor. 4. Activate the Jaws cursor. 5. Press control plus home to go to the top of the page.
6. Still using the JAWS cursor, press insert plus down arrow to read the page.
7. Keep using the Jaws cursor to press control plus page down to scroll to the next page, then control plus home to go to the top of the page, and insert plus down arrow to read the page.

To access the menus:
1. Click on the titlebar, e.g., the title of the book or file.
2. Use the cursor keys to go up or down the list of menus.
3. Click on the desired menu.
Using the library menu as an example:
Clicking on the word "library", for instance, will present a list of the MobiPocket-formated ebooks on your computer.
Cursor over to close and hit return to close this level and return to the book.
The help menu will give you an entire help file about MobiPocket.
The find menu will allow you to enter a text string to search for.
To get the "go to" menu, place the JAWS cursor on the titlebar and hit the right arrow twice. The "go to" function allows you to go to a particular page, or back to the first page.
You can also create bookmarks.
Hold down the alt key plus left arrow to close the menus and hit refresh to redraw the screen.