Apple announced that iPad will be able to read aloud “the contents of any page.” This is a huge step forward from Amazon allowing autohrs to disable read aloud features. /cheer for Apple on this one. Apples long held commitment to text-to-speech is one of the reasons I moved form a Linux laptop to a Macbook Pro 3 years ago (although I usually dual boot now). Being able to read any text aloud mitigates some of the challenges my dyslexia creates.
Disability access is an area where my beloved open source community has lagged behind for too long…. Until accessibly is a desgin spec in most OS projects it is tough for me to recommend OS tools to some of the communities I work with.
The real test of Apples brave choice will come if the authors guild decides to fight Apple by erroneously claiming that text-to-speech creates an infringement of ones copyright. Not only is there a strong fair use defense for text-to-speech, but also I do not believe that text-to-speech creates an infringement. Private performances of copyrighted works are not covered in the exclusive rights granted by copyright. The basic claim of the authors would make it illegal to read a book aloud to your child and then tries to piggyback this type of claim into a secondary liability. If this happens I will be one of the first people to volunteer to write an amici fighting the expansion of copyright law to this basic technology. We need to fight copyright expansion when it threatens to harm access to knowledge and accessibility.
Converting text to speech should be a basic human rights issue. One should not need to register as a person with a disability to access these functions. Disability rights need to be be the default, as long as we have to go through extra transactional steps to access content those of us with disabilities will lag behind in access to knowledge and practical potential.
Hopefully the market pressure created by iPad will force others to adopt these features as defaults.
PS: I was so excited to report this I did not run the post through my editor please ping me if I missed an error text-to-speech helps but it does not catch everything. thx.