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US Universities Reject ‘Inaccessible’ Kindle E-Book

Two American universities have rejected the market-leading Kindle DX electronic book reader as a textbook replacement due to its inaccessibility for blind students. Both Syracuse University in New York State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have chosen not to use the Kindle – manufactured by Amazon.com – as a teaching-aid, after their own trials found it was not fully accessible.

The institutions’ decision was “applauded” by the US National Federation of the Blind ( NFB: http://bit.ly/gBnAC ), which said that although the reader contains a text-to-speech feature, “the menus of the device are not accessible to the blind”, meaning that blind users cannot purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select which book to read, or even activate the device’s text-to-speech feature.

Ken Frazier, director of libraries for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a statement that the DX’s lack of accessibility had been a “big disappointment”, and that Amazon had “missed the mark” with this version of the device, after the university trialled the e-book format for assigned reading in a history seminar.

Since the two bodies’ announcement a third US university, the University of Illinois, has also issued a statement announcing its commitment to purchasing fully accessible e-book technology. “Like our colleagues at Wisconsin and Syracuse, we recognize the groundbreaking potential that read-aloud features have for making textbooks accessible to students with disabilities”, the university said. “Sadly, that potential can’t be realized until vendors of e-book readers, like the Kindle, add accessible read-aloud menus and basic navigation to their products.”

The NFB told E-Access Bulletin this month that if fully accessible, e-textbooks can benefit blind and visually impaired students. “If e-books are accessible, then there will be no need for the expensive and time-consuming process of converting a printed textbook into Braille, audio, or electronic form. Blind students will have access to the same book at the same time and at the same price as their sighted peers”, said Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the NFB.

Danielsen said that Amazon could increase the accessibility of the Kindle DX by “making the menus speak and/or by allowing the functions of the device to be controlled by keystrokes from the keyboard.”

Amazon has already courted controversy in this area by allowing publishers to remove the text-to-speech function altogether on a previous version of the Kindle (see story in the March issue of E-Access Bulletin, http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=244 ).

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