Many Reading Options Available for People with MS
By Ellen Kampel and John M. Williams
Alexandra MacKay’s greatest pleasure was reading. About five years ago, her multiple sclerosis started to make reading difficult, but Alexandra refused to give up her favorite pastime. She approached her brother, Christopher Stephen, an electronic publishing pioneer, who began a series of experiments to determine if people with reading difficulties could benefit from technology. Stephen knew how important reading was to his sister, and he was determined to develop a solution.
After four years of experimenting, research, and testing, Stephen developed ReadHowYouWant.com, a technology that can reformat existing books into high quality, digital formats quickly, easily, and at a comparable price to standard books.
Before ReadHowYouWant.com, Alexandra was forced to make adjustments to accommodate her vision challenges on her own – she tried to read books with larger print and would make formatting changes to the font and word spacing on her computer and then print off the pages. With the development of technologies like this, these inconveniences are no longer necessary.
There are plenty of other products on the market that allow people with MS to read books more comfortably. One product is Amazon’s wireless reading device called the Kindle 2.0. The electronic display provides a high resolution screen that looks and reads like a real book and allows people with vision difficulties to adjust the font size without even using a computer. The Kindle’s light weight and small size make it easily portable for people with MS who may have difficulty carrying heavier products. Even page turning is an easier task for people with dexterity issues, as it can be done by the touch of a button. The Kindle 2.0 also reads out loud through its text-to-speech feature.
Another resource is Benetech’s Bookshare.org, which allows users to purchase and download audio or Braille books. Bookshare’s readers can then either read or listen to the books online. Bookshare.org also takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for disabled individuals, including people with MS. This allows Bookshare.org users to share book scans with other members of the community, thereby leveraging the collections of thousands of individuals who regularly scan books and eliminating the duplication of effort.
Because of technologies like these, people living with MS can continue reading, a favorite pastime of so many. With a variety of options available, you can find what best suits your individual needs and never miss out on a good book again.
Ellen Kampel is the public affairs manager for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. John M. Williams has been writing about assistive technology for 28 years. He coined the phrase assistive technology.