Hi all. It has probably become obvious to anyone that may have been following this Blog for some time that posts have become few and far between of late. I think I have more-or-less struggled over the years with times of poor health, but no more so than the current time. It is a many faceted problem and I won’t go into all of the details. Essentially, something needs to change (or a number of things really). Being still at work and clearly needing to continue to work in order to feed myself, etc, sadly it has beome time to change the way I do things around my many Blogs, etc. I have always enjoyed being online and keeping blogs and websites ticking over, but it has now become an almost impossible chore.
What will change is that this Blog will remain up as an archive, while also providing a gateway (via a link) to my Facebook Page (At the BookShelf), where I hope to continue posting curated articles/links/reviews, etc. It is so much quicker and easier to do that there than having to write code, etc, here. Essentially, the only real change will be the location of the information. Of course, this will also affect the tumblr version of the Blog also. The page has been going for some time now, years in fact, and has long been a useful place for information concerning books, etc.
If you would like to continue the journey with me, please visit the Facebook Page linked to below – and thank you for visiting me here over the years.
Currently, creating accessible formats from existing works is only possible with the permission of the copyright owner or if there are exceptions limiting the copyright owner’s rights. Combined with a lack of infrastructure and the high cost of producing accessible works, this has created a global “book famine” for visually impaired people.
This affects not only those who read for leisure but also students and researchers, especially in developing and least developed countries. This lack of access to books and other copyright material is a hurdle to the realisation of several human rights, including the right to education, access to information, the right to participate in culture and to enjoy scientific progress, as well as the rights to health and employment. This is reflected in the Marrakesh Treaty’s focus on human rights and equality for the visually impaired.
The treaty’s provisions are designed to address problems such as long waits for authorisation or accessible format copies from a copyright owner, unreasonable restrictions imposed on accessible formats, and barriers to cross-border exchange of available accessible works that often result in duplication of production efforts.
Access to copyright works and higher education
Australian research found that when universities provided their visually impaired students with access to essential or prescribed texts, students generally obtained readings late. For instance, only 50% of print disabled first-year students had access to prescribed textbooks before the semester started.
Some universities reported far more substantial delays. In such cases, students would receive their essential readings only very late in the semester or after the semester is over. The reasons for delays vary, with some students not notifying the university that they require assistance. Additionally, reading lists are often not finalised until the first week of semester and publishers fail to respond to requests to provide accessible texts in a timely manner.
Publishers generally require students to buy a print copy of the work before they will provide access to an electronic version. Some are willing to provide download links, while others, particularly in the United States, often prefer to mail disc copies. Sometimes works are only available as preprint versions, which require a considerable amount of editing before they can be provided to students. This is a drain on university resources.
Consequently, not all students who would benefit from accessible formats currently obtain them. This means their chances of demonstrating their full potential are often compromised.
New Zealand’s Marrakesh Treaty implementation bill
The bill is part of a broader review of New Zealand’s copyright legislation to ensure “the copyright regime keeps pace with technological and market developments” since its last significant amendment in 2008. It expands the reach of section 69 of the Copyright Act 1994 that addresses the reproduction and distribution of accessible works.
One of the main changes is to broaden the scope of current exceptions and improve access for visually impaired New Zealanders. The bill also introduces measures to facilitate international sharing of accessible works. These changes help realise visually impaired people’s “right to read”.
A contentious issue for the implementation of the treaty in New Zealand and elsewhere is the so called “commercial availability test”. The test is currently a requirement in New Zealand for an “authorised entity” to make reasonable efforts to obtain an accessible copy at an ordinary commercial price. By far the cheapest, fastest and most convenient means of obtaining accessible format works is if they are available for sale through the normal channels.
The proposed changes to copyright legislation would allow people with a print disability to make accessible format copies or to receive those made by an authorised entity in New Zealand or elsewhere, without infringing copyright. While broadening the scope of the current exceptions, the bill has checks and balances in place that protect reproduced accessible formats, contrary to a misconception of allowing free-riding on copyright works.
This is of significance to university students as some may self-declare disabilities while others are reluctant to disclose an impairment. Universities emphasise that they provide a safe place for disclosure, but speedy provision of services remains an issue.
The increase in the availability of electronic texts has helped to meet needs, but it is not keeping pace with student demand and expectation. As part of an increasingly technology savvy student population, students with impairments now request electronic versions of texts and use technology to adapt them to their needs. Students no longer want enlarged or scanned material as this is much harder to manipulate. The amendments in the bill would enable them to create their own accessible formats, or source them without having to identify as print disabled.
Overall, the proposed law change is a positive step towards improving access to copyright works for visually impaired New Zealanders. It also helps New Zealand maintain its good global citizen status by allowing an exchange of accessible works with other Marrakesh Treaty members.
Right now, you are reading these words without much thought or conscious effort. In lightning-fast bursts, your eyes are darting from left to right across your screen, somehow making meaning from what would otherwise be a series of black squiggles.
Reading for you is not just easy – it’s automatic. Looking at a word and not reading it is almost impossible, because the cogs of written language processing are set in motion as soon as skilled readers see print.
And yet, as tempting as it is to think of reading as hard-wired into us, don’t be fooled. Learning to read is not easy. It’s not even natural.
The first examples of written language date back to about 5,000 years ago, which is a small fraction of the 60,000 years or more that humans have spent using spoken language.
This means our species hasn’t had enough time to evolve brain networks that predispose us to learn literacy. It is only through years of practice and instruction that we have forged those connections for ourselves.
How the brain learns to read
Brains are constantly reorganising themselves. Any time we learn a new skill, connections between neurons that allow us to perform that skill become stronger. This flexibility is heightened during childhood, which is why so much learning gets crammed in before adolescence.
As a child becomes literate, there is no “reading centre” that magically materialises in the brain. Instead, a network of connections develops to link existing areas that weren’t previously linked. Reading becomes a way of accessing language by sight, which means it builds on architecture that is already used for recognising visual patterns and understanding spoken language.
The journey of a word
When a skilled reader encounters a printed word, that information travels from their eyes to their occipital lobe (at the back of the brain), where it is processed like any other visual stimulus.
From there, it travels to the left fusiform gyrus, otherwise known as the brain’s “letterbox”. This is where the black squiggles are recognised as letters in a word. The letterbox is a special stopover on the word’s journey because it only develops as the result of learning to read. It doesn’t exist in very young children or illiterate adults, and it’s activated less in people with dyslexia, who have a biological difference in the way their brains process written text.
Words and letters are stored in the letterbox – not as individually memorised shapes or patterns, but as symbols. This is why a skilled reader can recognise a word quickly, regardless of font, cAsE, or typeface.
Information then travels from the letterbox to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, to work out word meaning and pronunciation. These same areas are activated when we hear a word, so they are specialised for language, rather than just reading and writing.
Because information can travel so quickly across the skilled reader’s synaptic highways, the entire journey takes less than half a second.
But what happens in the brain of a five-year-old child, whose highways are still under construction?
The growing brain
For young children, the process of getting from print to meaning is slow and effortful. This is partly because beginning readers have not yet built up a store of familiar words that they can recognise by sight, so they must instead “sound out” each letter or letter sequence.
Every time children practise decoding words, they forge new connections between the visual and spoken language areas of the brain, gradually adding new letters and words to the brain’s all-important letterbox.
Remember, when a practised reader recognises a word by sight, they process the letters in that word, rather than its shape.
Literacy instruction can therefore support children’s learning by highlighting the symbolic nature of letters – in other words, by drawing attention to the relationships between letters and speech sounds.
What might the future hold for literacy development?
As technology evolves, so too must our definition of what it means to be “literate”. Young brains now need to adapt not only to written language, but also to the fast-paced media through which written language is presented.
Only time will tell how this affects the development of that mysterious beige sponge between our ears.
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