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An Update from Amos Bokros
TeleRead for Disabled Readers

By Amos Bokros (

The essay below is an update from Amos Bokros, a key participant in TeleRead, who tells how technology has helped him cope with a reading disability, and how TeleRead could be a godsend for others like him. - David Rothman, coordinator, TeleRead, May 11, 2002.

Several years ago I wrote an article for TeleRead called TeleRead and the Philosopher: Why Amos Bokros Wants Library Books to Go on the Internet. I related my personal saga. Basically I have a reading disability that computer technology has dramatically rectified. People with various reading disabilities are usually labeled dyslexic, but this is not quite accurate. We now know that the problems related to reading disabilities are far more complex than just dyslexia. No matter what the exact causes, the disabilities are frustratingly real.

I found a good way to cope, however. If I simultaneously heard what I was trying to read, I dramatically improved my ability to comprehend the material. This apparently is true for a large number of people labeled as having dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. I discovered that if I got books on cassettes and had printed copies as well, I could read more efficiently. I could enjoy James Michner's The Source this way. The Source is almost 1,000 pages long. Before I read The Source, the longest book I had ever read was 200 pages. And it took me a long time with an incredible amount of difficulty to read a book even that short.

Tapes were not a solution, since only a limited number of books have been recorded. There are good organizations such as Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, but they have a shortage of dedicated volunteers who read and record books. I have used their services in the past. However, it can take six months to a year before the recording is finished.

Computer technology is unquestionably the ultimate answer. Bookshare has made much progress in digitizing books for the disabled under a new law, but even that is not a total solution since just a fraction of books are immediately available through this praiseworthy group.

Too bad. For once a book is in digital form, on-screen reading programs can read out loud every word on a computer screen. The volume, pitch and tone can be adjusted. The reading voice can match that of a man, woman or even child. And any reading material that is put on a computer and then put on the Internet becomes automatically accessible to any blind person or any individual with a reading disability. If you understand this concept, you'll easily know why I became an early convert to the TeleRead concept. TeleRead would create a national digital library where many thousands of published books and magazines would be available over the Internet for everyone. Authors and publishers would be fairly compensated when anyone downloaded their works. TeleRead would make many more books available to blind people and others with reading disabilitities. At the same time roles would still exist for groups such as Bookshare and Project Gutenberg, both of whose volunteers, for instance, could digitize older books that were not yet in the collections. A well-stocked national digital library would not materialize overnight in a complete form--one reason for a variety of approaches.

Meanwhile I regret that TeleRead itself does not already exist. However, I am convinced that the TeleRead concept will eventually come into full bloom sometime in my lifetime. And I'm grateful that Bookshare, Gutenberg-style groups and new technological breakthroughs are available to help people like me with reading disabilities. They are not a substitute for TeleRead. But these groups are already making reading more accessible to a larger number of people. And the new technologies are also paving the road for TeleRead and better technology for the disabled. Consider the facts.

First, tablet-style machines with flat screens that have high-resolution are becoming more available. The only problem is they are still quite expensive. It is my hope that somthing like my $1,500 laptop, or even something even better, will be available for $300 in ten years. I especially hope that tablet machines with artificial voice capabilities will become more affordable.

Second, the technology in other ways is easier to use. When I wrote my article several years ago, I talked about how it was inconvenient to bring a scanner along with a computer to a library. I now have a Cannon portable scanner that is less than two inches thick and weighs less than a few pounds. It is now easy to scan a book at a public library, but unfortunately, it is time-consuming. It is my hope that in the near future high-speed scanning devices will be available at reasonable prices.

Third, one completely alternative approach to this problem could be developed. Why not develop a hand-held portable laser device that could read any word it scanned? It would work in a similar way to a hand-held scanner in a department store. Scanners in a department store are used every day. They read an array of barcodes and instantaneously record what the price of any item is. Why not have such a device scan words in either a book or magazine and have it automatically read each word out loud? There is a prototype device for this called the Kurzweil electronic reading pen. Unfortunately, it does not work efficiently at this time. It is my hope that, in the near future, hopefully no more than a decade, such a device will be on the market and will be affordable to most people.

If only society can take full advantage of these new marvels! When I first became introduced to the TeleRead concept of having a well-stocked national digital library, I told people that the efforts to create such a wonderful national resource were similar to what the civil rights movement did in the earlier part of the century. Most people thought my rhetoric was hyperbole. I now stand by my statement even more strongly than before. The TeleRead concept no matter what it is ultimately called will be the Trojan horse that will radically improve education, health-care and various legal, business and government services. It will give more autonomy to millions of people who are now left behind in the post-industrial revolution. Unfortunately, just because something is practical, economically efficient, environmentally friendly, and good for everybody does not mean it will be automatically accepted in society. The concept is radically new. Because of this, many people either fear the concept or have prejudices against it. Some people with both social and economic investments with the status quo will oppose the TeleRead concept.

There is a moral imperative, however, for TeleRead and other kinds of post-industrial reforms to become a reality. Many people in the world feel left out of the post-industrial revolution. Unless we can somehow make it possible for all people in the world to truly benefit from the technological revolution going on, we will probably experience more 9/11's. For those of us dedicated to the TeleRead concept it is frustrating fighting for this cause. My advice to all my brothers and sisters of every race, religion, and nationality around the world advocating the TeleRead concept is to adopt the motto of the civil rights movement: “We shall overcome!” To a great extent I've overcome my disability. Now I hope that I can successfully help overcome the resistance to TeleRead libraries in the United States and elsewhere


Amos Bokros has been active in TeleRead for years and now lives in Bradenton, FL. This article appeared in May 2002.