Monday, March 30, 2009

Gay and visually impaired ... what are you reading, and how?!

It's only very recently that this question has hit me -- and it's hit me like a brick. No, Keegan isn't going blind! But my mother is. Life-long, my mother has been the most major supporter of whatever I wanted to be, do, and write. I'm one of the incredibly lucky ones. My mother was a professional musician with experience of performers from the legitimate stage to what, today, would be called "pub rock." (In her day it wasn't rock, of course, but the popular music of the era.) That breadth of experience makes a person wise, compassionate, tolerant. However your kids grow up, you know that they're bright, savvy, talented, as "normal" as any human being ever is (since there's no such thing as "normal" anyway), and if they're going to work hard, they deserve the best shot at success a person can have.

I had this fantastic lady behind me from Day One. Friends, partners, life partner and so on -- all that came along later, and some friends disappeared as smoothly as they appeared. There's been one constant, however -- yep. Your Mom isn't going to disappear on you. Mine calls herself "Mel's #1 fan," and although she hasn't read everything I've written (a few titles are too hot, too "down and dirty" for a lady of her years and refinement), she's read a hell of a lot of it. The Swordsman, Dangerous Moonlight, Lords of Harbendane, Nocture and Twilight, Tiger, Tiger and so on -- these are among her favorite reads...

Except, she can't read them any longer.

Just after Christmas, she was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma, and right now her specialists are struggling to stop the condition worsening (yes, it's the laser treatment, starting next week). We've gotten her every big magnifying glass and reading light you can name, but the fact is, small type is beyond her.

So naturally (Keegan being far from dumb even now, though I have no doubt a considerable number of brain cells have gone bye-bye), I went back to the software, reset the type in BIG fonts, and hit "print."

Joy. She can read again, so long as the type is up there around the 16 point mark. Problem solved ... I can also download loads of stuff from the web and do the big-type printouts.

But all this got me to thinking: If you're blind and gay, or visually impaired and gay, how many publishers out there are making books available in extra-large type? What are blind gay readers reading?

So I hit the web, and discovered a lot more than I'd imagined. There's a page at Writers' Services, for a start: ... and here is an outtake:

"Anybody who does not require glasses for reading by the age of 40 is a freak. A bit shocking perhaps but it makes the point that eyesight degrades with age for absolutely everybody. The little muscles and membranes in the eye are truly remarkable but they do wear out. Anybody who could design a modern material as durable as the components of the human eye would make a fortune.

So reading and seeing is a problem that everybody will have to deal with. The only question is the age and the severity. A few are blind from birth but a much larger group are not blind but have problems reading text. The ability to read was not, after all, a factor driving our evolution.

There are about 2 million people in UK with sight problems. According to RNIB, ‘another 100 people will start to loose their sight’ each day within the UK. Figures from the American Foundation for the Blind, (ABF) ‘approximately 1.3 million Americans are legally blind’ of which 55,200 are children and a further ‘5.5 million are visually impaired’. The Blind people’s Association of India estimate that there are over a [m]illion people on the sub-continent are blind because of cataracts.

Demographics makes it likely that the problems people have reading are going to increase in spite of medical advances. It is important that publishers address the issue both on the grounds of social exclusion but increasingly for good market motives. In the UK 96 per cent of the books published cannot be accessed by those with sight loss or dyslexia. By 2030 the number of people with sight loss will have doubled, and eight out of ten people say that they would want to continue reading if their sight deteriorated."

I'm sitting here being shocked. Appalled. And I can imagine how much more difficult it must be to be blind or visually impaired, and gay, and wanting desperately to read a good gay book, and not having a damned thing available.

Now, ebooks are starting to make this easier. You can always use a PDF and go up to 200% or whatever you need on the text size. The little palm-top screenreaders will be a right royal pain though -- first, they're bloody damned expensive, and if you're on a budget ... well, I don't have one myself yet, because of the price of the things. And if you're seriously visually impaired, the screen will be displaying about six words at a time. Gak. So, to read an ebook you have to sit at a desk for many, many hours. Again -- gak.

And (fair go, here) you want the same reading comfort that a sighted person would have -- to be able to curl up in a lounge chair with your feet up. Can't do this when you're chained to a desk.

And there isn't a single publisher, not one, which caters to these needs.

Keegan is appalled. Again. Keegan is remembering a 79 year old lady hunched over with a big magnifying glass, trying to plow through The Lords of Harbendane -- and that problem got fixed in about an hour flat, as fast as the printer could run.

Blind, or visually impaired, and gay -- or know someone who is? Tag yourself onto my mailing list and watch your emails, because in the very near future I'm publishing a range of books in large type. I can't speak for other publishers, but I can certainly address this deficiency in the system myself.

The books will be produced by, and will be "the real deal," properly designed and laid out, with text around the average 16 point mark. (If my mother can read it, almost anyone can.)

Let me show you what I'm doing. Here's the first 10pp of The Swordsman as a PDF, as a sample. Download it, guys, and print it out. Find out if it suits you (or your friend, whoever needs the large print) ...

Give me some feedback here. Is this good for your vision? Can you read comfortably? This is what my mother is reading without a problem, but before I go ahead and hit "publish" I'd like to have feedback from a group of people. So -- let me know! Leave comments right here.

Need a little perspective? This is excellent:

Thanks! Stay tuned.


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