Jane Curry, Director of Ventura Press and AIPI participant, has spoken at the Round Table for Information Access for People With Print Disabilities the print disabled, to launch the publication, Making Content Accessible: A Guide to Navigating Australian Copyright Law for Disability Access. Learn more about the guide and download it for free here. We share with you her speech to the audience.
Title : In the Minds’ Eye
I was reminded over Christmas of the fragility of sight.
I went back to England and visited my old school friend Sue and her husband Keith. We were all at school together – Keith was three years above us, had a car, and was captain of the first 11, which meant he was a prize catch. They married when Sue was 19, I was their very nervous bridesmaid. They went on to have two sons, who are now fine young men and they both enjoyed fulfilling careers. They are my touchstone for living a good life.
Keith had worked his way up to become headmaster of a large comprehensive school in England and they had both just taken early retirement. A world of adventure beckoned.
But fate had another plan, as last year Keith developed a disorder of the optic nerve and within a few months had lost most of his vision. They had to adapt to a new world and adapt fast.
I often think of that optic nerve and how a slender link of tissue is so vital to opening our eyes to the world. We take far too much for granted.
Including the fragility of sight.
To those in this room, this story is, I am sure, one that you are all too familiar with.
In fact, the very reason I am here today is because I had the privilege to publish the wonderful Nick Gleeson’s story in The Many Ways of Seeing – a story about the fragility of sight and the power of images kept in the mind’s eye.
(And of course, we are here with Unity.)
I will let Nick tell his story – we are a publisher/ author tag team today.
All I will say is that I knew I had to publish Nick’s book when, upon reading the manuscript, I was profoundly moved by the image that will always remain in my mind’s eye – that of Nick, at age 8 , seeing his mother’s face slowly fading from his sight.
My mum is hugging me. I look into her face. There’s no anger. It’s a face of worry and her hug tells me it’s okay.
Night is falling.
The retinas are tearing away, the curtain starting to close.
It’s a few days later on an ordinary Sunday that the curtain closes for good and the darkness comes over me.
I’m sitting between Mum and Dad in our old car and Dad is driving fast to the hospital. I stare out of the window. The buildings keep getting further away.
In desperation I look into Mum’s face. A small face, a loving face.
And the lights go out. Her face is the last image I will ever see in my lifetime.
The power of those words created an image that will always be with me.
That is what words can do.
They paint a picture, explain an idea, reveal a passion and transport us into a different world.
But of course, words began as language. Without them we would have no history, no belonging, love or fear. Think of a battle cry, a victory song, a troubadour’s ballad.
In this ancient land of Australia, our Indigenous people were the original storytellers, passing on knowledge of The Dreaming from generation to generation, making sense of the past, present and future, all through oral tradition. They spoke of beliefs, customs and an entire way of life.
I always find the Welcome to Country ceremony deeply moving, when through the resonance of an Elder’s spoken words the buildings and roads, the noise and bustle of the city is stilled and I feel the ancientness of this land on which we stand.
So, in the context of why we are here today, it is not words themselves but it is the written word that is inaccessible to the vision impaired within our society.
The ancient Sumerians developed the written word – or, more accurately, the written mark. To enhance their trading activities, the Sumerians started recording marks on tablets of clay. The ancient Egyptians wrote with hieroglyphics. The Romans had wax tablets and the early medieval scholars their parchment.
Of course, this was all the province of the educated elite and their scribes until Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1455 and what we know as a print run started. It is interesting to note that that the first printed book which Gutenburg produced was the Bible, which eventually changed the course of history.
I would love to take a detour here into the role that printed Bible had on the reformation and thus the enlightenment, but I will resist!
Nick and I are here to challenge the complacency of the sighted when it comes to the world of books and publishing.
We sighted majority may run the companies, but we have an ethical and professional duty to ensure our books are accessible to all.
And Nick is the first author I have published who is not only a brilliant writer, but the first writer who cannot see his own words. And it has been a privilege for me to do so. His book has moved me profoundly and challenged my assumptions about how we experience life.
And I like to think we enjoyed every moment. From my first meeting Nick and Unity, to reading his work, to working on the book’s cover and feeling slightly guilty about how arduous the publicity tour was.
One observation which will always stay with me was the book launch at Readings in Melbourne – which Nick described as being thrown into in a tumble dryer, such was the cacophony of noise and movement. He is completely correct – book launches are always a bun fight and I now try to avoid them too!
I also have benefitted in terms of understanding the text-to-voice programs as we edited and emailed each other.
So to the publishing industry today.
We lobby government on the importance of books, but we cannot say that books matter – that story matters and that our industry is vital to Australian narrative – if we exclude any part of the population.
The work of Vision Australia in this area has been remarkable – their library is a wonderful resource – and you’ll find Nick’s book there.
By the way, we as in industry want all readers to have access to books as they are published.
In the Vision 2020 paper, it is stated that over 575,000 Australians are registered as blind or vision impaired. Over half a million people, a figure which is quite staggering.
In early life, reading should be our birthright . We need all children to have access to learning and literature, not just the middle class or the sighted. The youngest Australians need storybooks, maths books, textbooks and novels. For there is no greater driver of social mobility than an educated and enquiring mind.
And at the other end of life, over 70% of people over 65 have low or no vision – at a time of life when reading should be a pleasure and a buffer against the shrinking world that so often comes with ageing.
When I was asked to be part of the AIPI, I thought it an important, worthy cause, but soon realised it is not so much worthy as it is vital. To be part of an initiative to include and not exclude, to bring every Australian into the world of knowledge and imagination.
It is a sign of a true clever country to include all, and publishing should reflect that more than any other industry.
So, on behalf of the publishing industry, I can say today that we are deeply committed to our books being accessible to all. Embedding accessibility into the workflow – what we call ‘born accessible’ – not retrofitting months after the book is launched.
We can do this as an industry, as we have changed our industry before.
Take for example the disruption wrought by the imperative to produce ebooks for the newly developed Kindle – and how quickly we moved then. In effect, Amazon said ‘jump; and we said ‘How high?’
So the imperative now is that we want all books to be accessible to all readers.
Technology is on our side – DAISY, convertible PDFs, embedded links and even audio books. It is an exciting time to harness this technology for the enhancement of all readers
Because books matter and story matters.