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40% of major publishers do not provide e-books, snubbing readers with visual impairments


TOKYO -- More than 40 percent of Japan's major publishing companies do not provide the electronic data for their books and magazines, which would make it easier to convert into Braille or audio for readers with visual impairments, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

The 18 publishers cited administrative burden or concerns of possible data leaks as the reasons for not providing the data. The results show that hurdles still exist to make reading easier to access for people with disabilities, despite Japan signing an international treaty to promote the consumption of publications by people with visual impairments.

The survey conducted from November through December 2018 covered 50 top publishers based on their 2017 sales. Of them, 42 responded. When asked if they provide electronic data to people with visual impairment or libraries offering books in Braille, the largest group -- 18 publishing houses -- said they turn down such requests in principle. On the other hand, three said that they basically do provide such data. Four answered that they often do so, and the remaining 17 publishers replied that they do not know, as they were never asked, or for other reasons.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were approximately 330,000 people with visual impairments holding government disability certificates as of the end of March 2018. While some 80,000 titles are published a year, only around 9,000 publications in Braille are newly registered annually at internet libraries for people with disabilities.

Producing books and magazines for the visually impaired takes time, as each title must be individually processed to digitize them or make audio book recordings. While there are audio books available on the market, the number is still small. On the other hand, the release of electronic data would make it easier to convert the titles into Braille or audio books for people with disabilities.

Professor Jun Ishikawa of the University of Shizuoka urged publishers to provide the digital data for their publications, saying it is possible to take measures to prevent data leaks. "Data should be provided as a reasonable accommodation required by the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities," he said.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Harada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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