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[Image: tweet by Titanium Cranium (@FelicityTC) including three screenshots of a Harry potter book in three different formats on Amazon. Text:

“Harry Potter on Amazon –

Print: $6.39
Audio: $44.99
Braille: $100.00


So, let me explain this a bit.

The defenders of CripTax prices will say that those prices cover the cost of production. This is, without a doubt, true. I work at a university where we often have to take written materials and convert them into braille – it takes a LOT of people hours, special software, and a braille embosser.

But those defenders of higher prices are reversing the argument to justify fleecing disabled readers.

What do I mean by that?

Braille is not magic. It is done by taking plain text and feeding it through fairly affordable translation software, creating a document that can easily be printed in braille.

All that time and effort and special software? IS NOT FOR THE BRAILLE.

It is to take the document provided by the publisher (usually in PDF format, the same file they send to the printers) and turn it into plain, unadorned text, by hand. Text has to be “stripped” (OCR/text recognition); images have to be described; footnotes have to be embedded; special pullouts and other formatting shifted or removed. 

Printing in braille is cheap; reverse engineering a finished text to print it in braille IS NOT.

Same with those audio books. After a book is completed and, often, after it has already been published, the publisher arranges to have the book recorded by a professional voice actor/reader, which usually also involves a recording producer, if not a recording studio, which all stacks up to $$, no two ways about it.


Oh, it might be, if the author is JK Rowling and it is well known that readers will want audio versions right away. But most of the time, nope, the audio book is produced only after the hard copy book has become a decent seller, and so it’s an extra cost which is claimed must be covered by making the audio version extra expensive to buy. (Even then it’s somewhat ridiculous, since honestly, creating an audio book is, in the end, cheaper than printing, factoring in the cost of paper.)

If publishers factored audio book production into the assumed costs of publishing a book, they would have very little reason to price it higher.

If publishers factored in creating a “plain text” file – including having editors/authors describe images – that could be used to print braille copies or to be used with refreshable braille readers (electronic pinboards, basically), then there would be zero reason to price those books higher.

Yes, it’s a #criptax, and the excuse that “those formats are more expensive to produce so they have to be priced higher” is only true if you completely throw out the premise that publishers have an obligation to account for disabled readers when they are actually budgeting for and publishing the book.

I’m really glad you brought this up, because this is exactly the sort of argument thatpeople try to use to justify inaccessibility in all kinds of areas. When we tell a company that their website or appliance or piece of technology isn’t accessible, they frequently tell us that they are sorry to hear that but that the accessibility is too expensive and time-consuming to add in now. There is also a provision in the law that allows companies to not bother including accessibility in their products if the cost of building in the accessibility is more than 5% of the total cost to build the whole product in the US.

That seems reasonable on the surface, doesn’t it? Except here’s the thing—the accessibility should have been a part of the original plans to begin with and designed in from the very beginning and should have been considered a necessary element and just another ordinary part of the cost of producing the product, not some extra feature that can be opted out of if it’s too expensive. The problem is that these companies do not understand the fact that if you cannot afford to build the product with the accessibility included, then you cannot afford to build the product and that is that. It’s exactly the same as not being able to afford to make the product with all elements up to safety and health codes and standards. If you can’t afford to meet the legal standards, then you can’t afford to make the product, and it’s that simple. Accessibility is not an exception to this and it should not be considered as such. It should be just as much an ordinary required part of the design process as any other element, not an extra, shiny, fancy feature that you can just choose not to bother with if it costs a little bit of money.

Accessibility should be part of the standard design process just as much as safety codes and health standards and other legal regulations. The ADA has existed for 20 years so companies have had ample time to catch up and learn to plan for accessibility from the beginning as a part of the standard required design process. If you can’t afford to create the product fully up to code, standards, and accessibility laws, then you simply can’t afford to make the product. No excuses, no exceptions.

I have often said that, very often, the high cost of disability accessibility is not actually for the accessibility itself. The actual high cost is often due to the lack of foresight and planning for accessibility from the design stage onwards.

Let me explain what I mean with an example. Take accessibility in a building. Usually making a building accessible means you need things like braille signage, ramps to entrances, wide doorways that leave plenty of room for a wheelchair to pass through, and so forth. If you design a new building from scratch to incorporate all of these design elements from the beginning, literally before the building is a hole in the ground, then the total cost of integrating accessible features into the building is less than one percent of the total cost of constructing that building.

On the other hand, if you don’t bother to account for the need for disability access and just build the building first, and then go, “oops, we didn’t design for accessibility”, then you will need to literally tear down parts of the building and reconstruct it from scratch. If this is your primary approach to accessibility, then of course the cost of accessibility may seem expensive. But it’s not actually the ramp or the wide door ways that are expensive. What is expensive is all the extra cost and effort of completely undoing parts of what you had already created wrongly so that you can recreate it correctly. In other words, the actual expense is the lack of planning ahead for accessibility.

This is the first I learned how books could be more cheaply accessible if this was planned for ahead of time. But it’s the same principle at work. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand all this and blame disabled people for wanting accessibility instead of blaming designers, architects, inventors and book publishers, and so forth, as well as the people responsible for contracting them, for having failed to consider the needs of disabled people when there was still time to integrate accessibility during the design and initial construction phase, when it could have been done cheaply.

What we need is for more designers, architects, inventors, book publishers, policy makers, program managers, and so forth to learn about the principles of universal design.

Unfortunately, most people don’t understand all this and blame disabled people for wanting accessibility instead of blaming designers, architects, inventors and book publishers, and so forth, as well as the people responsible for contracting them, for having failed to consider the needs of disabled people when there was still time to integrate accessibility during the design and initial construction phase, when it could have been done cheaply.

reiterating for emphasis.

So where I live, mobility access is consistently designed into buildings and people in wheelchairs/using aids/with bad joints can get around without taking massive detours. Generally speaking fire alarms and such have flashing lights attached so that the deaf notice when they go off. If a deaf person hand someone a note with what they want, people will grab a paper if they need to clarify something.

But you know what we’re not great at? Accommodating the visually impaired. Sure, there’s a braille in a lot of elevators and on bank machines. Train stations have bumps in the yellow safely line. Sometimes crosswalks in city centers will also have that bumpyness if you’re lucky. Now, I get migraines that render me functionally blind and the idea of trying to get somewhere, even somewhere I knew pretty well, is horrifying. How do I know I’m actually going straight? What if the path curves? Where is the edge of that stair, since I can’t curl my toes to check with shoes on? What if the curb isn’t noticeable and I veer into traffic? I’ve never had to try to get anywhere with a migraine that bad by myself, thankfully. But I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have to deal with that every single time you go -anywhere-. I wouldn’t want to leave the -house- let alone the neighborhood without someone with me. But I also would hate having to have to depend on someone all the time.

Now let me tell you about Japan. I was there for a month last spring, and let me tell you, the Japanese blow Canada and the US out of the water when it comes to accessibility. Along the edge of the sidewalks, there were those same yellow bumpy lines we have on train platforms. All along the sidewalk. And at the crosswalk. And forming the crosswalk itself. Along all the major roads, there they were. Not so much in the residential areas. There just isn’t room, and their transit system is fabulous anyways. The lines were inside all the stations as well. Leading along the hallways, branching at intersections. Again, on the stairs, but also at the doors to elevators, just in front of ticket machines, at the tops and bottoms of escalators. Dragging suitcases over them sucked and I kept tripping over them for the first week or so and I just didn’t understand why on Earth they were there.

And then suddenly it hit me. They were for the blind. So they could use their canes to follow the sidewalk, so they would know if it turned. So they would know where to stop for the curb. So they could where the forks in the hall were and follow the one they needed. I didn’t see them in more residential areas, but cars in general are not very common in Japan, so in those areas there’s almost no traffic, and any there is goes carefully since the streets are often narrow. And then I noticed that there was also braille on the handrails, which I can’t read in Japanese or English, so I don’t now what they said. And, like the lines, the handrails were all bright yellow, and it is occurring to me as I type this that they’re that color because if you are not fully blind, bright yellow is super easy to distinguish from everything else, making them easy to find. Now that I think about it the doors of the ticket gates were also bright colors most of the time.

While I was there I only saw one person actually using them to navigate, but the fact that they -exist- was utterly mindblowing to me, and it -really shouldn’t be-. It’s such a simple thing, but it must make such a difference.

And as an aside, my friend wondered how people in wheelchairs got on and off the trains. Accessibility to the platform was obvious, but there can be a fairly big gap between the train and the platform. Where we live, there are special doors on each car with a ramp built in, and we didn’t see those in Japan. We found out when a girl in a chair got on with us one day. A station attendant came down with her and set up a folding, portable ramp for her to roll over. And when we got to the station she was going to, another attendant was there at the door with another ramp. They seem to have radioed ahead, with the car and door number so someone could bring a ramp. And she was on with us for all of two stops, maybe five minutes. Maybe. That’s how you do accommodation. Saw the same thing again on the Disney Resort monorail.

It shouldn’t have been so amazing and inspiring to see that. All those things are so -simple- but I had never thought about it. It should be -standard- not an amazing outlier. Seeing them should not have shaken my world so much.

Disability inclusion isn’t perfect in Japan either. People with disabilities, for example, were very under-served in the aftermath of the tsunami and other natural disasters that occurred there a few years ago. But it’s good to know that they have some good practices there as well.

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