Transcript to Podcast 29: Book Accessibility for Sight-Impaired Readers

Here is a complete transcript of podcast #29: Book Accessibility: An Interview with Sassy Outwater, Pratik Patel, Laurel Montgomery, and Kodak the Guide Dog.

Book Accessibility: An Interview

[music]
Sarah Wendell: Hello, and welcome to a brief interlude in the RWA coverage of the DBSA podcast. I'm Sarah Wendell, from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

And instead of a group of interviews today, I have a long interview with Sassy Outwater, Pratik Patel, and Laurel Montgomery as we talk about accessibility for blind readers. And I interview Sassy and I also interview her guide dog, Kodak. So, I hope you enjoy this interview about accessibility.
[music]

Sassy Outwater: I am Sassy Outwater. I am a totally blind author. And I write contemporary romantic suspense and urban fantasy. And I'm here pimping out my books, which hopefully will be published soon.
And I am also here presenting on becoming an accessible author, making your books accessible to blind and visually impaired and print disabled readers.

And the most important thing I want people to know? Your books can be in every hand in the world. You've just got to help make it that way.
I think that's the simplest way to put it is, we need authors and publishers, editors and agents to be aware that right now there's a severely limited resource for blind people to access books. And that can change due to the fact that we have a zillion ways to make it happen in the digital market today. We just need help from the publishing industry to make that happen.

Sarah: Cool. And you, sir?

Pratik Patel: I'm Pratik Patel. I'm the CEO of this little company in New York called Easy Fire. And the main reason why I'm here was to present on a panel that talks about making your books accessible.

One of the services that we provide as a business is to work with authors, work with publishers, I work with a lot of publishers in the high read and the textbook industry to make their books accessible. And one of the services we're starting to offer is for freelance editors and freelance converters who produce various digital formats to make those formats accessible to blind and visually impaired people.

One of the most important things that I want to convey to your listeners is that it's really not that hard to make your books accessible. There are very few steps that you need to take or for the converter needs to take to make that book successful. We want to make sure that you know that.

Sarah: What are the questions that an author should ask their publisher or the person who's creating their digital files for them, what is it they should ask for? What should happen, where should those files be so that blind readers can find them?

 

 

Sassy: Blind and visually impaired readers have access to books in about five or six different places. iBooks, Google Books, The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and a website called BookShare.org

Sarah: Not piracy.

[laughs]

Sassy: Not piracy, this is true. That's totally illegal.

Sarah: Not a bunch of torrenting blind people, I promise.

Sassy: Well, yeah, no. The other way is through audio books. There are websites and resources out there. The author needs to take the initiative and do a search and find out where their books are available. What books aren't available.

If you go to iBooks, if you go to Google Books, and go to BookShare and look to see which of your titles are up there and which ones aren't, then you contact your publisher with a list of titles that you would like to see up there.

The publishers, because they are the ones who hold the copyright, usually, unless you are a self-published author, are the ones who are responsible for putting your books out there in that format. They hold the publishing rights to that material. And so, they would be the ones to actually go and physically put it there.

But it starts with the author talking to the publisher and saying, “Hey, I have a whole demographic of readership that can't get my books right now. And I would like them to be able to do so. Can we work together to make that happen?”

Publishers usually won't say no. They just usually don't know how to do it.

Sarah: And there's always, like, two people who know how.

Sassy: Right.

Sarah: And the editor's got to go find them. That was my experience.

Sassy: In a house full of bazillion people.

Sarah: Well, there's actually only about eight people in publishing, and the rest is done with mirrors. We'll just pretend.

[laughter]

Now, the key figure from the presentation that seemed to resonate with the audience the most was that there are three million.

Pratik: 30 million.

Sarah: 30 million, excuse me. Do you see how I don't remember numbers? 30 million visually impaired readers in the US alone. And visually impaired readers read five times as much books as sighted people.

Sassy: Yeah.

Sarah: So, you're talking about 150 million books read in the US.

Sassy: Cha-ching.

Sarah: Yeah.

Pratik: Money, money, money.

Sarah: Money, money, money.

Sassy: I'm thinking major money.

Sarah: I'm going to find the sound effect for a cash register and just drop it in right here. Once I discovered the sound effects file in Garage Band, it just opened a whole new world.

Sassy: The whip sound. Yeah.

Sarah: Oh, yes.

Sassy: So, I think that people don't realize that we go through, I can read because my computer, I have what's called a screen reader, which takes text and turns it into speech. So, I listen and I can read a 400-page book in about three hours. That's a lot of reading. And I'm a bookworm, I'm a pretty voracious reader. And most blind people I know would rather pick up a book than sit down and watch something on TV, where they only get about half the content.

So, I mean, maybe I'm speaking incorrectly, Pratik, on that.

Pratik: Oh, no, you're not.

Sarah: Not big on TV, huh?

Pratik: No.

Sassy: I think most of us would rather get the full experience than about 50 to 80 percent of the experience of putting on the show.

So, anyway, yeah, I would rather pick up a book. And unfortunately, the books I can actually go pick up are pretty limited. There's a tiny slice of the pie that is actually available to me as far as literature goes. And it's our goal to see that turned on its ass.

Change that up a little bit, because right now, things are just totally, it's an open market. Anybody can do this. Anyone can make this happen, it just actually has to happen. It's just a matter of learning and knowing.

And think about it, 30 million print disabled readers in the population, five times the amount of books, that's 150 million books.

Sarah: To be read.

Sassy: Oof. There's change in that.

Sarah: Now. It seems to me that one of the things our presentation answers is the question for anybody why is the iBook store important? The iBook store is important because very Apple device is accessible and it makes reading a book a lot easier if you can get it from the iBook store onto your iDevice.

Sassy: My life runs on Apple. It all has that pretty little design, not just because my love likes to steal apples, he's a horrible apple slut, but because I exist on Apple.

Sarah: The iBook store is a necessary medium for people who want to reach blind readers?

Sassy: Absolutely. Apple created a product years ago that came built in. All of their Nooks, all of their iPhones, iPads, everything is completely…

Sarah: Universally accessible.

Sassy: …universally accessible. I go and I turn on a feature and it talks to me. Bing, I'm done. To have your books available on iTunes, I can pull it up on my Mac, I can pull it up on my iPad, I can pull it up on my iPhone. Whatever I'm doing, wherever I am I can read your book, which is exactly what you can do with a Kindle but I can't because a Kindle is not, right now, accessible to me, but an iPhone, an iPad, a Mac is.

If you have your book in iBooks and I can go in there, search you by name, see that your book is there, hit the little buy button. Suddenly 30 seconds later I'm reading. That only happened for the blind population about three or four years ago. Before that we would have to wait a year or more sometimes for a book to be available either through audio or through Braille, if it was ever done.

Sarah: If it's ever done.

Sassy: Now it's instant gratification, which I love.

Sarah: I like that, too. How much romance is available to you as a blind reader?

Sassy: Not a lot.

Sarah: Not enough?

Sassy: Not a lot.

Sarah: You need more?

Sassy: A lot of the lines and a lot of the small published houses, they just don't do it, and it's not expensive. Like Pratik said, it's not expensive to do this. It's not hard to do this.

Sarah: You're already digitizing files. You're already doing it so do it one more step and you're in.

Sassy: Totally. Making your books available and making yourself as an author, your web presence, accessible for us so that we know your books are out there and we can go get them and find them, that's going to sell.

Sarah: They will be found.

Sassy: Exactly. Put it out there, we will come.

Sarah: What about you, Pratik? What do you like to read?

Pratik: I like all sorts of things. I actually love romance.

Sarah: You are the man.

Pratik: I'm not afraid to admit it.

Sarah: I just want you to know, that's hot. Laurel's like yes. Laurel Montgomery's also here. Say hi.

Laurel: Hi. Yes, that's totally hot.

Sarah: Laurel and I are both nodding at you.

Sassy: That is my kick-ass critique partner sitting over in that chair and I can tell you from firsthand experience she reads what I write and she has to come up with pretty creative ways to troubleshoot, but she does the one extra small step and it makes it accessible to me. She takes the time to do the one little thing and it makes it completely accessible to me.

Sarah: You write and then convert it to a format that Sassy can read for critiquing your work?

Laurel: Other way around. We critique for each other. In Microsoft, if you use the comments function that works for a sighted reader because you see the comments. They pop up. She doesn't see them. If she doesn't happen to roll over them she's not going to know they're there. We invented our own system. Sassy was the one that suggested it. She puts in double asterisks or I put in double asterisks if I have a comment so she just does a search for double asterisks.

Sarah: And then you hear the comments.

Laurel: And then she hears the comments.

Sarah: It's almost in line. It's almost in line, the text.

Laurel: It is. That's how we do it. We do it in line. Even if it's a typo, I never change anything. I always use the double asterisk because if I change it and send it back to her and she's using a saved file instead of the file I've sent back…

Sarah: It'll overwrite.

Laurel: Yeah, and that's just a copy edit, a typo, no big deal. She might not catch it.

Sassy: That's the whole trick to being an accessible author or an accessible product is just making a couple little changes that make the world of difference. It's not hard, it's not a big, expensive thing to do, and it's not impossible. It is now, with the advent of ePub and digital books available, it's so super easy. It just takes thinking outside of the box.

Pratik: It's a very little thing to do. If you've got a little picture in your book, describe it.

Sarah: A caption.

Pratik: A caption. It's that simple for many books, especially in the romance genre. You're not really talking about complicated textbooks. You're not talking about sidebars, you're not talking about tables.

Sarah: It's not a chart.

Sassy: Remember that chart that you put up, what flavor of romance book are you?

Sarah: And then I read it. Badly. Oh, it was terrible.

Sassy: No, but you also made it accessible.

Sarah: Yes.

Sassy: Sarah thought ahead. She thought, how are my blind readers going to access this little chart that I'm going to post on my blog, and she thought up a way to do it.

Sarah: Yeah I read an MP3 and then embedded the MP3 into the entry.

Sassy: That's what it takes, is just thinking outside of the box and considering your readership. When you think about YA you think about what that age demographic is going to read. When you think about historical romance you think of who would be reading that. It is a natural part of the publishing process to consider the market that you're re selling to. Just consider one more market, the print disabled market, and make the changes that you would make for any other market that you're publishing to.

Pratik: That market goes all across and every single category. We hear often from people, companies, who tell us that, oh people with disabilities are not a part of our target population. What does that really mean? I mean every person has the potential of being disabled, at one point or another, or maybe disabled who's not really identifying him or her self to you as a customer who's disabled.

So it's about reaching that particular person. You make your book accessible and available to the person the first time, they are going to come back and read your book again or another book that you published or other books that your publisher publishes. It's not only about one book. It's a cascading effect that goes across different categories.

Sarah: What are some books that you have read recently that really rocked, that you really enjoyed?

Sassy: The Patrick Rothfuss Name of the Wind series, oh my gosh, it's not necessarily romance but it does have romantic elements. There's a love relationship going on through the book. I'm hooked., I'm in like Flynn. I'm reading that one in audio.

Pratik: There's actually some hot sex in the second book.

Sassy: Oh my god, I haven't gotten there. Stop it.

Sarah: [laughing]

Sassy: I'm done. I'm going upstairs. I'm locking myself in my room and reading. I'll see y'all later… I just, yeah.

Sarah: Bye.

Sassy: [laughing] No I love that book and I'm reading it on audiobook because the performance is done so well. Nick Podehl is the narrator and he's kicking ass all over the place and taking names on that. When the author and the narrator feel on the same page and they can read a great audiobook together, it's a performance.

Sarah: It's worth investing your time and your money in.

Sassy: It is and I want to make that point. Sometimes authors get the idea or publishers especially get the idea that if the book is available in audio, they don't have to do anything else that's accessible. That's not exactly true. I enjoy a performance as much as the next person but if I want to be able to speed read a book and just get through it and know what the book is.

I really, really, really have been waiting eight months for this book to come out like Shannon Stacey's Slow Summer Kisses. I was on pins and needles waiting for this book to come out. It finally comes out, I just want to fly through that thing and read it and totally go oh my god yeah.

Sarah: Did you use a computer reader?

Sassy: I went on iBooks. I downloaded that thing, I was hooked.

Sarah: I like that story a lot. I like that story a lot.

Sassy: Yeah it was a great story.

Sarah: Have you heard Richard Armitage reading Georgette Heyer?

Sassy: No.

Sarah: Oh my god.

Sassy: Do I need some of this?

Sarah: Yes. They are unfortunately abridged. His reading of Sylvester is really good.

Sassy: Is it eargasmic?

Sarah: Yes it is.

Sassy: All right I need some eargasmic.

Sarah: I downloaded onto my Kindle which has really shitty speakers, very last minute and drove up to Connecticut. Figured I just listen to this. My car does not have an auxiliary audio port so I couldn't plug my Kindle into the stereo. I actually sat with my back against the seat pinning the Kindle upside down between my shoulder blade and the headrest so that the speaker would be behind my ear.

You've done that? Thank you. I don't want to drive with headphones on, that's dangerous. I'm pinning the Kindle to the back of my seat with my shoulder blade and driving with one arm, listening to Richard Armitage over my right shoulder for two hours. Brilliantly worth it. Even being uncomfortable was worth listening to Richard Armitage read Georgette Hayer. That was hot. What about you?

Pratik: Talk about the perfect bad example of an audiobook narrator. Steven King sometimes likes to read his own books.

Sarah: Oh god.

Pratik: Awful idea. Never read a book by Stephen King that's narrated by him.

Sarah: This brings me to a perfect point. If you are a self-published author and you want your book done in audio, so easy to do. There's a website called acx.com. For those of us who do voiceover narration and audio narration are there.

You can hook up with independent audiobook producers and pick your own narrator. You can audition the narrators and find a good one that you think can reflect your book and done well. Then boom. They produce it for you and you got an audiobook. It's that simple.

Sarah: Pratik, what books have you enjoyed lately?

Pratik: Wow, that's a tough question. Give me a second.

Sarah: [humming 'Jeopardy' theme]

Pratik: No pressure.

Sarah: I want you guys to know by the way that over to your left on the wall is a Wii and kids can just like pick up the Wii controller and play Wii Sports in the lobby of a hotel.

Sassy: I think we need to have a moment where the blind girl doesn't play Wii.

[laughter]

Sarah: I think I might have to tweet and sell tickets. Blind girl's playing Wii, 2:00, lobby.

Sassy: When I was recovering from my tumors they had a Wii in front of the couch where I was lying around. The kids that I was staying with at the time, at my friend house, totally thought it was the most awesome thing to play bowling with me on the Wii.

Sarah: [laughing]

Sassy: How we spent all our time all afternoon while I had surgery scars all over my head. We just played Wii bowling and I missed pretty much every shot.

Sarah: That's totally excellent. Have you thought of a book Pratik?

Pratik: Yes I have.

Sarah: Alright bring it.

Pratik: Recently I've been rereading actually. Lois McMaster Bujold's, the Miles series. I reread the entire series. It is an awesome series because Miles is such a fascinating character. A crazy nuts character but absolutely, gorgeously done. Great pros, great characters.

[music]

Sarah: Kodak, can I interview you? What do you have to say? Sniffing. No nothing. Is Sassy really a big pain… OK I'll rub your belly. OK so I'm rubbing Kodak's belly.

Sassy: We need an apple. Then he would talk to you.

Sarah: So is Sassy a giant pain in the butt or do you just love her? You just love her I know.

Sassy: Let's talk about the Avon signing. [laughing]

Sarah: Oh my god. We're leaving our session and the Avon signing and the Harlequin signing are going on. Sign printed are of absolutely no use to Sassy but I figured she might want to meet some of the authors. Laurel took Kodak out for some private moment in the bushes. I walked Sassy around the signing so she could meet some authors.

We come back to the Avon signing and Kodak has been sniffing the perimeter of the room cause he knows that she was there. We walk in and he drags Laurel all the way over and just leans up against Sassy and looks at here like, oh you are here. You are here and I love you…

Sassy: Because you feed me. That's the only reason why…

Sarah: So Kodak is a giant… Is he a yellow Lab?

Sassy: Yes.

Sarah: He's a pure breed yellow Lab. He's getting a belly rub right now. Oh giant dog. Does Kodak fly well?

Sassy: Yeah. Takes up all my footspace as he sleeps.

Sarah: Yeah. Coach got smaller and smaller. I mean, he might not fit.

Sassy: He fits, he just makes me turn into a small human. I become a pretzel. It's pretty incredible to watch. The dog gets all the space he wants, the human does not.

Sarah: And you just make around him?

Sassy: Well, I'm on the back end of the leash. I know my place. Behind it.

[laughter]

Sarah: So when you're flying, do people know how to handle flying with a blind passenger? Or do you have to educate people every time you get on the plane?

Sassy: Sometimes. It can get very interesting. Going through security is quite a special experience. I've gotten stopped because I had a dog bone in my luggage with lamb in it, and they assumed that the dog bone was an explosive device.

Sarah: With the dog next to you?

Sassy: Yeah. They think you're going to probably stuff something horrible in it.

Sarah: I'm sorry Kody, I'll rub your belly. He's waving his paw like, hello, excuse me. Woman, what the hell? Whacker. Who's a…good boy? He's such a good doggy. He's like waving his one arm [off-mike speech] Hi. Hello. He's a doggy, he's a big boy. He's a big shedding boy. My god, you're exploding.

[laughter]

Sarah: So Kody flies well?

Sassy: Yes.

Laurel: He does it at will when [cross talk] he's around a lot of black.

Sarah: Yeah. Black pants.

Sassy: Shake. Shake, shake, shake.

Sarah: Oh, OK, I'll rub your head some more. He just put his head on my foot. Hi, you forgot about me. So Kody flies well and you fly well, but flying people don't necessarily fly well with you?

Sassy: A lot of people are thrilled to be sitting next to a working service dog. A lot of people are not. They are allergic to dogs or they're scared.

Sarah: I understand that.

Sassy: Yeah, and that's fine. But then there are people who don't think the dog should be on the plane, or…

Sarah: Oh, bite me.

Sassy: Yeah, pretty much. I'm like, “OK, if you take my eyeballs off the plane, you can take yours out, too.” That's the way I look at it is, don't tell my eyeballs to stay at the door if yours get to walk in.

Sarah: If you have an assistance dog, you have a service dog, your dog is welcome everywhere, right? I mean, it's the law that he has to be able to come in.

Sassy: It is the law. Usually he's welcome. There are some places, especially, like, places where people don't know the laws, like if they're foreign.

Sarah: Where are you going?

Sassy: That would be a good question. Where are you going?

Laurel: He came to see me.

Sassy: I need to see you high.

Sarah: Kodak has barged into the middle of our little gathering.

Sassy: Yes, he is all up against the whole.

Sarah: And look at the pile of fur he left behind.

Sassy: Oh, yes. I've got fur on my legs, I feel like I'm at home.

Sarah: So, you're allowed to take him anywhere?

Sassy: Yeah. The dog goes anywhere and everywhere with me, except for, like, sanitized places in hospitals. Nothing like being wheeled in a hospital and told, you know, yeah, that's an interesting experience for the dog.

Hospitals, zoos are the only other places where they don't get to go.

Sarah: Because it's alarming for them and for the animals?

Sassy: Yeah. If a monkey sees a dog walking up to him, I'm sure the monkey's not going to be too pleased with that scenario.

Sarah: Right. And that's just, but that's mostly for your safety and the dog's safety and the zoo's safety.

Sassy: Yes, yes.

Sarah: That makes sense. But what is it that you want to see at a zoo? The smell?

Sassy: This is a very good question.

Sarah: I mean.

Laurel: The equine exhibit is probably exceptionally nice.

Sassy: Yes. Well, we have a zoo where I live and they don't have, like, lions and tigers and bears, they have a lot of musk oxen and it smells. I mean, it's just a stinky zoo.

And they have really cool penguins, but it smells.

Sarah: I go for the kid factor. If I have friends, I don't have kids of my own.

Sassy: With kids, so you go to the zoo with them?

Sarah: Yeah, hang out with them.

Laurel: I don't think so. [inaudible 22:18] Your feet.

Sarah: I'm sorry, Pratik you are there until Kody decides it's time to get up.

Laurel: You're his human now.

Pratik: I am his human.

Sarah: Yes. He's sitting on your feet. he's very fuzzy, very cute. So, is Kody very popular guide dog? Do people, like, really come and say hi to him?

Sassy: He's the rock star, I'm just the groupie behind the band. I'm the bodyguard.

Sarah: So, what is the etiquette of greeting someone with a guide dog?

Sassy: Just ask. And that's the etiquette of greeting anybody with a disability about anything.

Sarah: Just ask.

Sassy: If you have a question, just ask. As long as you're not trying to offend me, I usually will not take offense to pretty much anything that's asked of me. And I've been asked some pretty crazy questions.

Yeah, just ask. And if the dog's harness is in my hand, I'm usually working. Or if I'm going someplace, that's usually not the right time. Because if you distract the guide dog, then you are endangering the person who's hanging on to that harness.

Sarah: Meaning you, right.

Sassy: And I can run into something, fall off a thing, or something bad could happen. And then you'd feel really bad. So, don't do that.

Sarah: My understanding was that if the harness, which is where the hard, straight part of the dog's collar that's in your hand, he's working and you never pet a dog while he's working.

Sassy: Pet, look, talk to. I mean, pretty much just ignore him as if he's my eyes and they're looking at something else. But as long as he's off duty, like right now, where he's totally schmoozing.

Sarah: Yeah. He's relaxed.

Sassy: Then he's totally.

Sarah: He's very good at relaxing.

Sassy: He is very good.

Sarah: He's very skilled at relaxing, sort of full body. Does he launch epic dog farts?

[laughter]

Sassy: Oh, my god.

Laurel: I convinced Sassy to feed him a Brussels sprout once.

Sassy: Let's just say the resulting fumes could kill all life at 50 feet. Oh, my god.

Laurel: I'm pretty sure he stripped the paint.

Sassy: I went down the hall to a friend, who was, we were staying in a dorm situation. I was going through federal job training. And they like to stuff you in dorms and do terrible things.

But I went down to my friend and I went, “Do you want to adopt a dog? Because I'm getting rid of mine.” I can't live, oh my god, my room is a toxic zone right now.

Pratik: You made me the same offer in the morning.

Sassy: His nickname now is Brussels Fart.

Pratik: Brussels Fart.

Sarah: Brussels Fart. [laughter]

Sassy: It's horrible.

Laurel: So, is this your third service dog?

Sassy: This is my second. I had another dog, but it was dog switched, due to the fact that it liked cats more than it liked being a guide dog. So, yeah.

Sarah: That's always problematic.

Sassy: Yeah.

Sarah: And how's Kody doing as a guide dog? Is he a good dog?

Sassy: Kody is eight years old and he's still going strong, not a moment's hesitation. He's a fabulous guide. Yes, he's great at lounging, but he's also kick ass at negotiating subways, Boston, LAX, Los Angeles. I mean, this dog can fly through a crowd and cross the street like nobody's business.

Sarah: And he knows exactly how to work with you.

Sassy: Work hard, play hard. Yes, he does. We've been together long enough.

Sarah: Do you take him to the vet, like, regularly?

Sassy: Oh, yeah.

Sarah: Does he have to go extra and get special attention?

Sassy: Yeah. Guide dogs have a really high health standard. They have to be in top form. Because if my dog is sick, I don't get to go do anything. If the dog's down, so is the human.

Sarah: So, labs, I know, are prone to hip dysplasia. With the amount he walks, I'm sure his joints are heavily monitored by the vets, too.

Sassy: They get tested, they get physicals, and they get their eyes looked at. Right now, mine is going through some eye trouble, we may have an eye problem. We're doing some more testing to find out. I have to go back Monday and get his eyes looked at. Everything about them is pretty heavily monitored just to make sure they stay in top condition. Like a Navy SEAL.

I consider guide dogs to be the Navy SEALs of service dogs, because most service dogs have to just obey commands. Guide dogs have to think for themselves. If he sees a dangerous situation and I'm telling him, “go forward,” and walk right into the situation, he has to disobey me, and say, “No. That's not safe, I'm going to decide to do something else, and show you why I decided to do that.”

Sarah: And he can communicate with you, you know why he's disobeying. It's not like somebody has an apple.

Sassy: He has to teach me why he's disobeying; he has to communicate that to me. So he has a lot on his plate. Being a guide dog is a pretty stressful job.

You were trying to get me through Avon today, and you went, “This is not easy.” I'm looking up trying to read the signs, and looking around at people moving.

Sarah: Yeah, it's not easy being somebody's elbow.

Sassy: Being a guide dog, that's a tough job.

Sarah: That's my guiding critique – we just go fast and barrel through people.

[laughter]

Sassy: He does like to run over people. I like to stop and chat.

Sarah: So that must actually be hard, because most guide dogs are larger breeds, and larger breeds live eight to twelve years.

Sassy: They do. My previous guide dog just passed away in May, he was 14. You know what, it was time. It's a very hard experience to go through retiring a guide dog. When they get to a certain age, they just can't work anymore, or don't want to work anymore. The kindest thing to do is to let them be a pet for a while, and enjoy the last part of their years, relaxing and being a professional couch potato. I just say, he switched careers and became my couch potato.

Sarah: What breeds make good guide dogs? I've seen Shepherds, Labs and Goldens.

Sassy: Shepherds are being phased out, because they can sometimes be territorial, and they can have some aggression issues sometimes. Labs are the most commonly used. Golden Retrievers are also heavily used.

Labs like to think for themselves, they like to be independent and inquisitive, so they make great guides. Goldens love to follow the rules. They make great guides for people who are low vision, who have some vision and can see a little bit, but not enough.

Sarah: So that's actually a cue if you see somebody with a Golden Retriever, that may be likely they have some vision of their own.

Sassy: It's not always. There are plenty of totally blind people who have Goldens, but they get used a lot for low vision.

Sarah: What about Great Danes?

[laughter]

Sassy: A – I don't think he'd fit under the plane, and B – I'm kind of a fashion junkie, and the drool factor…

Sarah: That would be so awesome, like walking a giraffe.

Laurel: Great Danes aren't drooly, they're awesome dogs. But they don't live very long.

Sarah: No. They live less than eight years, most of them.

Laurel: Six is lucky.

Sarah: Six is ancient for a Great Dane.

Sassy: It takes a good year of constant work together to really get the guide dog bond heavily well established.

Laurel: Sounds like a paranormal romance.

Sarah: It's going to be, as soon as Sassy finishes writing the book.

Sassy: Yes, my book is called “Karma Is a Bitch,” and it's about what happens when a werewolf decides to be really stupid and bite an angel. The angel curses her into the form of a guide dog, and she's the human from inside the guide dog, narrating what happens on her way to becoming a human again.

Laurel: Absolutely hysterical.

Sarah: That's what you're shopping now? “Karma Is a Bitch”?

Sassy: Yes. The name is “Karma Is a Bitch,” and Karma really is a bitch, because the guide dog's name is Karma.

[music]

Sarah: I hope you enjoyed that brief interview with Sassy, Kodak, Pratik and Laurel. I learned a lot about making books accessible to blind readers and how blind readers read, just from putting the session together.

It is going to be available online. We're going to do a slideshow online, and make a lot of the handouts available as well for download. So if you want to learn more, there's going to be more information on my site, as well as on Pratik's site. So look for that very soon.

[background music] The music is actually Sassy Outwater, that's Sassy playing the violin. That is called Fiddler on the Loose and she recorded it just for the podcast a long time ago. I'm re-using it.

All of the music we receive for the podcast comes from Sassy. Either she produces it, or she's friends with the musicians. She asked me to let you know, if there's any particular type of music that you would like to hear, or some music that you'd like her to find, do let us know. You can email us at SBJpodcast@Gmail.com.

In the next podcast I'll have interviews with various people who've been here at RWA, working hard. So you'll hear more from the conference and more from me. In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying the very best of reading.

[music]

Transcript by CastingWords.

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