Anyone who knows me at all understands that I love to read. They also know that I enjoy community. The ability to both read what I like and be able to discuss genres and its myriad of tropes should be considered a match made in Heaven. Listening to the perspective of others and giving book recommendations is incredibly fun. There are, however, some downsides to being a part of online book spaces that I would like to discuss, particularly when it comes to Facebook groups.
There are so many groups out there for every genre. Once you get past the slog of groups that are mainly there to be self-promotion groups for authors while falsely claiming that they are solely for genre discussion, you can find a community for any type of book that you enjoy reading. Personally, I have joined a couple of romance communities, a fantasy discussion group, and one that is dedicated to science fiction. I also joined a group this year surrounding a very popular challenge but left because of the frustrations I’m going to discuss below.
I read an absurd amount of books and always enjoy seeing what has caught the attention of others. Book excitement is contagious and delightful and I want to celebrate what people find. Often, however, I see a lot of posts that are like the below.
I’m so excited to finally get this book! I read it and it counts for three of the prompts in the book challenge that we are all reading. What do you guys think? Have you read it? Let’s discuss!
Below that very excited post is a picture of the book cover without a text title. At this point, there are several options that I can try. I can try to share the picture with my Seeing AI app in hopes of being able to decipher the title. This is a multi-step process of double tapping the picture, taking a screen shot of it, opening the screen shot, going to the share option of the book, and choosing to recognize it with Seeing AI. Then I wait for about ten or so seconds and hope that it can manage to read the crazy stylized fonts that book titles love, usually only to be told that the text cannot be recognized. Then, I go in to the comments, usually about a hundred or so deep and hope somewhere that someone has at least mentioned the author or given me enough context clues to figure it out. It’s like a scavenger hunt that is all work and zero fun. After that, I might write a comment saying that I am blind and use a screen reader and if someone could please give me a title, I would really appreciate it.
This has been the method which has given me the most success but also fills me with the most resentment. Suddenly, this group has become entirely too much work. I wanted to be just another reader, gleefully expressing my joy over what people are sharing, and now I have to bring my blindness in to a space where I just wanted to be an equal part. These types of posts happen again and again.
In the book challenge group in which my friend was a part, I was fairly certain that she had a file with a rote response asking if someone could share the book title with her because she is blind and her screen reader couldn’t decipher it. It came with mixed results. For the most part, people would tell her the title of the book. Too often, though, the original poster would get snotty and respond that the title was in the picture, or couldn’t she read it? Well no, random Facebook poster, we couldn’t. it’s the entire reason why she’s asking.
If I find that my enjoyment of the group is less than the sheer amount of work I have to do to be a part of it, I’m just going to leave. That’s a shame and nobody wins. Writing out book titles and authors doesn’t just help those using screen readers, but it also allows everyone to be able to find posts regarding them using the group search feature. Pictures of book covers won’t show up under search.
People wrote posts asking group members to please add book titles, and sometimes they would, but the overwhelming majority did not. I found that the book challenge group was more hassle than fun, so I left and haven’t looked back. It is not just this group, though. I’m on the fence with several others.
I am in a wonderful romance Facebook group that are very good about posting the book titles along with the picture and it is great. Shout out to the OSRBC group! Do people forget? Yes. But they are very kind if you ask in the comments and commit to doing better, and they have. They also often describe book covers or pictures that they submit in general and it is an inclusive experience. In that group, I get to be the reader and not the advocate. I get to share excitement without running in to too many barriers and it has made the community experience much more inclusive and fun to be a part.
While my post talks mostly about Facebook, I’d like to take a moment to shout out many in the twitter community who put alt text in the pictures and now the GIFs that they submit and make it easy to be a member of the book community. If I ask for a title because someone hasn’t done this, they tell me. One of my favorite authors started a Discord, where inclusivity comes first and the members are so great about writing out titles, describing pictures, and make me feel like I am an equal part of the group.
Earlier this year, one of my friends did the Facebook challenge where you post a picture of a book cover without explanation. She wrote the title down and also described the book cover. I didn’t ask her; she just did it and I was so pleased. It might seem like a small thing to some, but it was so thoughtful and showed that she wanted me to be included.
I would like to know how other blind and visually-impaired people navigate mainstream book groups and what your approach has been. Have you had these experiences? Did you leave? Did you speak with moderators of the group? Are you mostly sticking to groups with other blind members? Happy reading, and may we all have more accessible discussion experiences!