DRM = Discrimination

Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Disability and or Neuro-diversity | 11 comments

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day, a day dedicated to sharing thoughts and raising awareness about disability discrimination.

I have quite a few partly written posts in my drafts folder that I thought might be worth sharing today, including my thoughts on supernaturals with disabilities in young adult fiction and why stories about people with disabilities don’t need to be about being different. Instead of talking about inclusive fiction or fiction with disabled characters, however, I decided to talk about accessible fiction.

Accessible fiction is a topic close to my heart simply because I am one of the many people out there who can’t read print. What exactly does that mean? There are many people out there who have disabilities which impact their ability to read print. This might be because they are blind or they might have a visual or neurological condition that impacts their ability to either see or process the written word. Although they might not be able to read in the traditional sense, this doesn’t need to mean they don’t ‘read’ in other ways.

Certainly, some people rely on books reprinted in braille, but this is a fairly limited option for most.  Audiobooks are also now more widely available. They are no longer limited to a few cassettes you can borrow from the local library, but there is a huge library of downloadable audiobooks online, including free books read by volunteers, for example at Librivox.org, and current popular titles on sites such as Audible.com. Many local libraries also have audiobooks available for download as electronic borrows. While these audio options are increasing, however, they remain limited to certain titles, whether those in the public domain now read by volunteers, or the books deemed popular enough to record for audio publication.

Luckily, we live in an era of technology where the world of literature should be easily accessible. People are able to read electronic text with the assistance of text-to-speech technology. This is a pretty basic aspect of life with a print disability in the 21st century. There are many varied programs available from those on your desktop or laptop, to your mp3 player and phone. These programs fit a range of needs and the world of reading is at everyone’s fingertips. Thank goodness we live in the future.

When ebooks started to take off, it seemed time to celebrate. More and more books are now available in electronic formats, and are, therefore, theoretically accessible to all. Until you put DRM (Digital Rights Management) into the mix. Suddenly, ebooks don’t seem so exciting. Yes, increasing numbers of books are available in electronic formats, but those formats are not accessible to the text-to-speech software, which is unable to function with the presence of DRM protection.

It is not uncommon to find a DRM-free ebook that requires changing the format in order to make it accessible to text to speech software, but, for the most part, this isn’t too much of a hassle. Smashwords, for self-published authors and other small publishers, has a range of download options including .txt, making it one of my favourite options for accessible fiction. Other smaller publishers and digital imprints have DRM-free purchase options that simply require a program such as Calibre to change the format in order to make it accessible for text-to-speech.

The vast majority of ebooks available for purchase, however, have DRM enabled. Amazon is the biggest culprit and disappointment in my life. There are so many books now available in electronic format taunting me from the Amazon store. There are new books by fabulous authors who I would love to read, and old books being reprinted as electronic texts. Sadly, it is impossible to access these books without illegally stripping the DRM. I’ve also been told it is possible to access a text to speech function through certain Kindle models, but the idea that someone with a print disability should buy a Kindle in order to access fiction strikes me as basically offensive. But Amazon isn’t alone. The e-book world is dominated by DRM and inaccessible books.

I appreciate everyone’s arguments flying around the internet over DRM, such as issues of ownership, price and being able to transfer books between devices. These arguments all seem very logical and sensible, but I don’t really care about these particular lines of reason. DRM is disability discrimination. Everyone deserves to read and DRM limits that ability.


EDIT: More recently Amazon has provided the option for publishers and self-published authors to elect to publish their titles DRM-free. I think this is great news, and I urge publishers and authors to choose this option. Unfortunately it remains a little tricky to discern which eBooks have DRM and which do not on the Amazon site. If you can find the words “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited” in the product description, it is probably DRM-free, but Amazon doesn’t make it easy to work this out.


Holly Kench
Visibility Fiction


  1. According to the University of South Australia, in Australia it *is* lawful under Copyright law for a print-disabled person to make themselves an accessible version of a book etc that they lawfully own in a non-accessible format. It is also lawful for an educational institution to create an accessible version of a book that is part of coursework for a print-disabled student. Whether an educational institution is inclined to fulfill its duties under the Disability Standards in Education is a separate issue. Speaking as someone who keeps hitting the same issues over and over and over again, beating my head against the brick wall that tells me I am not fit to participate in society because I have a minor disability.

    • I *think* making a copy for a print disabled person is different to stripping the DRM… I mean, they can make an accessible transcript (which is how I got through uni with the university making accessible copies of texts by scanning and typing them – though like you said, this was at times very difficult as I would often receive my texts in week six or seven of semester!), but I don’t believe you are allowed to strip it. I might be wrong though. Certainly, either way there is NO easy process for anyone to access these books without the assistance of a university or other institution to facilitate the accessible copy. I mean, if you have a print disability the ordeal of creating an accessible copy of a DRM protected text is likely to be as difficult as accessing the text in the first place.

      • To my knowledge, DRM was brought in after copyright legislation. Copyright legislation says that a disabled person can make an accessible copy but doesn’t then turn around and stipulate how or say you have take the hard road. It is my understanding that it is not *LAW* that controls DRM but company policy, terms & conditions. Guess what counts more, company T&Cs or our country’s legislation? You can see where I’m headed with this argument. It’d be interesting to get a GOOD lawyer’s opinion on this.

      • Prezado Alex, Em nosso entendimento, caso o engenheiro não possa ser sócio e assumir a responsabilidade técnica, poderá contrata-ló ou outro engenheiro como responsável técnico, que não necessita obrigatoriamente ser sócio. Mundo Sebrae

      • Gen. Boykin made some pretty crazy remarks while he worked for the Bush administration such as “my God is better than their (Islam’s) God”. He is definitely a Dr. Strangelove type and unfortunately not the only one. I wonder how concentrated these people are in the military. There is a man who has been trying to fight religious fundamentalism in the military but I forget his name.

      • Hieman samaa olen minäkin ihmetellyt mitä muutama aiempi. Dödöjä en ole oikein ikinä oppinut käyttämään, enkä ole hirveästi koskaan kaivannutkaan. Urheillessa ja kuumuudessa tietenkin hikoaa, mutta sehän on ihan normaalia? En kuulema haise mitenkään pahalle.Voikohan hikoiluissa olla niin paljon eroja, vai voikohan jotain merkitystä olla sillä ettei koskaan ole noita kemikaaleja kainaloon käyttänytkään?

    • The SC430 is an amazing car. As far as the Audi is concerned your looking at some reliability issues. Especially an 03 model. The new coupe from Lexus would be better as far as maintenance is concerned. I am taking it that your price range is in the mid 60s. That’s what the SC is selling for any who. Is the convertible why your buying the SC? If it’s a performance car I would seriously consider the similarly priced Lexus IS-F. It’s a 5 liter v8 power house. Maximizing performance and embracing safety and luxury. But that’s just my opinion.

  2. One of the great things about BADD is getting an insight into the day to day life of so many disabled people. I had never considered the problems of DRM, as I have never used speech-to-text software. I am an aspiring author, and I now know something about e-publishing that I might not otherwise have had the chance to learn.

    If you’d asked me yesterday, “Do I want to protect my digital rights when publishing an e-book?” I would have said yes, right away. Now that I know it causes problems for some readers, I can look for other solutions.

    Thanks for sharing this post. I can’t do anything to sort out the problem of inaccessible books, but at least I can avoid adding to it.

    Kell Willsen

    • I agree, BADD is fabulous for that.

      I am glad to have given you a little more info on the realities of DRM, but as an author I would also suggest you look at some of the articles released by digital imprints such as Momentum as to why they don’t use DRM. It might be enlightening from a publishing perspective as well.

  3. Omg that is so ridiculous! Why can’t they make DRM that allows the speech to text software to access the ebook?

    • I’m not sure but I believe the technology that makes it hard to copy is the same technology that stops Text to Speech input.

      Yes it is ridiculous.

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