(Read Part 1 by Diane Hull here.)
By Chris Stephen
Just as every reader has preferences in the types of books he or she likes to read, every reader also has his or her own reading format preference or need. Some readers need large print books, others audio versions, and some need Braille. Yet what most readers find in terms of choice at their favorite bookstore has been the equivalent of "paper" or "plastic"?-i.e. paperback or hardcover, and, if they are lucky, there might also be spoken word audio editions.
It wasn't until my sister, Alexandra, who suffers from MS, began having difficulty reading that I began to question the standard book format. As my sister became increasingly physically incapacitated, she wanted to read even more, but she found that she was having eye-tracking problems and was not able to read small print. I have a publishing background, and so I began scanning some of her favorite books with an old TestBridge OCR and experimented with creating a whole series of different formats. We found one that worked, and for five or six years, she was able to read.
My colleagues and I began to research and found no material that really talked about changing the format of materials to suit the reader. The old scientist in me came out in me and we tried various different formats on people. I started to realize that it was very personal. Some people wanted bold type because it helps if you have some retinal problems. Other people wanted normal 16-point type, and these people found the bold type annoying. During this research, I also discovered that the trick to aiding certain reading difficulties was not blowing up type but rather tinkering with it-in some cases adjusting word and line spacing; in others, highlighting similarly shaped characters, like e and o, or b and d.
We worked towards developing a sophisticated system whereby a pdf of a standard book could be marked up in XML and then the book could be repurposed into any number of special formats. In 2004, I founded what became ReadHowYouWantin my hometown of Sydney, and was able to secure grants and awards by the Australian federal and the New South Wales state governments, which supported four years of research and testing.
Today, ReadHowYouWant currently offers over a dozen different formats, including EasyRead and large print formats which are optimized for easier readability, as well as formats for people with eye tracking issues, dyslexia, and other reading difficulties. We also offer digital formats, including Braille, synthesized audio, and DAISY-a system of digital audio and text together which can be used on a computer or hand-held device.
We are partnering with authors and publishers in the Unites States and around the globe to create accessible editions of their titles. Our goal is to have accessible editions simultaneously released with publishers' new books so that all readers can have access to the books they want to read-today. We are developing new formats all the time, and would love to hear from authors (some of the biggest readers) and work with them in our ongoing research to make reading easier and more enjoyable for all kinds of readers.
For years, a "one-size-fits-all" model has dominated the publishing industry when it comes to book formats, and access to alternative formats has for the most part been dictated by financial considerations, rather than the requirements of the individual reader. Like many, I had believed that it was the reader's responsibility to find a way to read published editions of books. The experiment with my sister really shifted that belief structure in my head. I saw that one size does not fit all when it comes to publishing and different people NEED different editions, and I'm proud that I started a company to meet that need. It really hit home how ReadHowYouWant could make a difference in people's lives when I gave a former neighbor-a 75-year-old man with a visual impairment-a reformatted document and he was so excited that he kissed me! That's not necessarily an experience I want to have again, but it sure confirmed the importance of this work.
You may contact at Chris@ReadHowYouWant.com.
Or visit www.readhowyouwant.comfor more information.
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