Harry Potter and the Magic of Accessible Books for All

I’ve never been a massive fan of Harry Potter. I watch the films and enjoy them, but I was discouraged from reading the books as a result of a teacher misjudging how long it would take to finish it, and consequently abandoned it partway through. Having said that, I think I was secretly glad given the miniscule size of the print. Following the announcement that the new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is to be released in a dyslexia friendly format, it got me thinking about the other books. Should this version of the play take off, it will hopefully lead to an increase in titles being available for those who have dyslexia and other difficulties that may impair either the ability to read, or enjoyment of, reading.

It’s not all good news though. The first thing the Amazon listing says is that the new copy of the play is in a large print version. While this is obviously helpful for those who find it easier to read books with a bigger font, it is simplistic and naive to assume this will help all dyslexic readers. I’m not dyslexic myself, but I am visually impaired and the assumption that my difficulties with certain things would be fixed if only someone made the text bigger was a prevalent misconception throughout my schooling. As a consequence, I am very empathetic to the fact that learning difficulties and impairments are nuanced and shouldn’t all be lumped together.

For those who argue that technology can take care of formatting preferences, they are making several misguided assumptions. Firstly, that people can afford to buy such things. Secondly, they aren’t realising that technology can hinder people’s ability to access books due to Kindles etc. having an unlimited battery life and screen glare. Also, some people just prefer a book, and they should, where possible, have that option.

I appreciate that it is costly and impractical for countless different versions to be made and the fact that the publication is endorsed by the British Dyslexia Association should at least be encouraging. Below that pronouncement, however, is the text “Formatting may also aid readers with visual impairment, Parkinsons disease, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, brain injury and Cerebral Palsy. Also great for all readers with tired eyes after a long day!”

The implication is that this is the additional support needs copy of the book, which is disappointing as I personally can’t see how it will help people with all of those conditions. Having said that, there is a huge part of me that wants to applaud the publishers of the book, W. F. Howes Ltd. Making books accessible to all is an admirable endeavour, and in order to achieve that someone has to be brave enough to get the ball rolling.

Well, rolling on. We can’t forget Strawberry Classics or Barrington Stoke, specialist publishers who format books so they can be easily read by people who have dyslexia. Without belittling the importance of their work – it’s both tremendous and vital – it is, at least in some ways, a shame that specialised publishers need to exist in order for this need to be fulfilled. While it’s great that there are publishers who specialise in the production of accessible books for dyslexics, it’s a pity that there are not specialists within mainstream publishing houses too. If there were, titles, both classics and popular fiction, may be brought to a wider audience. Furthermore, I think the demand is there. One in ten people in the UK are believed to have dyslexia alone, and while I know there is not – nor should there be – a one size fits all approach to formatting – more can still be done (look at books that children and young people need to read in school, for instance).

The publication of the dyslexia friendly version of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not just a step in the right direction, but something other publishers need to capitalise on for the benefit of not just their profit margins but those with additional support needs. As the Amazon advertisement illustrates, they are numerous and deserve to be recognised by mainstream publishers. In doing so, publishers would not only recognise the right that everyone has to be able to read, but also send the message that dyslexia shouldn’t stop people being able to access books, whether that be for enjoyment or necessity.

Gemma Bryant

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Magic of Accessible Books for All

  1. Anon says:

    Regarding offering reading material in different formats, I’d like to give 2 examples of organisations that achieve this extremely well. The Open University offers courses in an impressive number of formats. For example, the overview of OpenLearn Works’ course ‘How to make an online course’ is offered in 11 different formats. There’s also an interesting blog post by Morven Brooks of the Scottish Disability Equality Forum called ‘Let’s try it this way’ on the Scottish Accessible Information Forum blog.

  2. Anon says:

    Sorry, the 3rd sentence should read ‘these books are not printed in dyslexia-friendly fonts…’

  3. Anon says:

    I agree it would be good to see more publishers publishing books that are accessible for dyslexic people. That said, I do find some mainstream books dyslexia-friendly e.g. ‘Lady Magdalen’ by Robin Jenkins, ‘After Auschwitz’ by Eva Schloss and ‘The Writer’s Key’ by Gillie Bolton. These books are printed in dyslexia-friendly fonts but I found them effortless to decode. I used my coloured overlay for the 3rd which is printed on white paper. But I didn’t use it for the 1st 2 which are printed on the light grey paper of many paperbacks. I acknowledge that not all dyslexic people would find those mainstream books as accessible as I do.
    ‘The Seeing Ear’ is an online library available for anyone with a print disability, including dyslexia. It’s free to join and use. The Seeing Ear produces books in a variety of formats including Microsoft Word, plain text and Braille. If you use the Word version, you can adjust the design (layout, font, background) however you wish. You can also listen to the book using a text reader such as CALL Scotland’s free ‘Wordtalk’. Great. But not ideal. If you wish to read the book in paper copy, you need to print it off and then decide what you’re going to do with all the paper once you’ve read the book. As one article in the latest edition of ‘Dyslexia Voice’ acknowledges, piles of paper can already be a challenge for a dyslexic person, and that is before you print off any books. If you opt to read a ‘Seeing Ear’ book in electronic copy, this means on-screen reading. As Gemma acknowledges above, some people prefer to read books in hard copy.
    In addition to design, another thing that makes a book dyslexia-friendly or not is how the author uses language. For example, concrete communication such as stories and visual imagery make written material more accessible for dyslexic people.
    I recommend books that are specifically written to be ‘dyslexia-friendly’ such as Barrington Stoke’s adult titles and Quick Reads. However, if you are a dyslexic adult, I also recommend mainstream books as you might find some that are accessible for you. My experience is that if a book is well written, and the design is dyslexia-friendly enough for me, I can enjoy reading it in print.
    But why should I have to limit which books I read according to whether the publisher happens to have made them dyslexia-friendly? I think it’s time to set a standard like the British Safety Standard – a standard for publishers to publish books in a dyslexia-friendly way, in design and language use. If their book meets it, they can put the equivalent of a kite mark on the cover of the book to show that it’s met it.
    For young people and children in education in Scotland, there is CALL Scotland’s ‘Books for All’. I have asked if the books on the Books for All database could be made available for adults too. Some adults, after all, are in education. And learning is life-long. But the funding does not allow this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s