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"Print Disability and the Emergence of Audio Book Formats"

Monday, October 22, 2012
12:00 AM
1014 Tisch Hall

This talk will examine the exclusion-adaptation paradigm for media development through the case of Talking Books. Print, in its material form and in its cultural pervasiveness, generates its own disabilities. Reading, in turn, has been transformed by technologies for print access. Beginning in the 1930s, Talking Books introduced the audio format to an expanding readership. Due to copyright law, before 1966 Talking Book machines and records in the United States could only legally be obtained by individuals with a medical certification of blindness—an uncommon example of “prescription media.” Yet letters written by some of the first Talking Book users, collected at the American Foundation for the Blind, suggest that pirate listening was not exceptional; other “print handicapped” as well as nondisabled people began to appreciate recorded literature through shared listening from the earliest years of the program. "Print disability," a category based on the media environment rather than physiology, emerged after World War II in response to popular demand for an expansion of the Library of Congress Talking Book program. I will argue that this format generated an even broader cultural imperative for audiobooks, along with ongoing debates about the comparability of aural and visual reading.