Amazon will tweak Kindle to be more accessible to the blind

Books, Technology

kindle_smallThe Associated Press reported today that Amazon.com will add two features to its Kindle e-book reader to address complaints that the device discriminates against blind and vision-impaired users.

Last month two universities — Syracuse University in New York and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — announced they would shun the device unless changes were made to address the complaints of students who found it too hard to use.

While the Kindle has a mode that reads text aloud, its user interface currently has no such audio capability.

From AP:

Amazon said Monday it is working on audible menus, which would let the Kindle speak menu options out loud. It’s also working on an extra-large font for people with impaired vision. The additions should reach the Kindle next summer, Amazon said.

In June an ASU student, backed by the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, sued Arizona State University over the use of the Kindle DX for textbooks, saying its lack of a nonvisual UI locks the blind out of the new technology and puts them at a competitive disadavantage.

“While my peers will have instant access to their course materials in electronic form, I will still have to wait weeks or months for accessible texts to be prepared for me, and these texts will not provide the access and features available to other students,” ASU journalism student Darrell Shandrow told the student newspaper, the State Press.

kindlepreviewASU announced the pilot program in May. The proposal was spearheaded by Dr. Ted Humphrey, a President’s Professor at the Barrett Honors College who described himself as an early adopter of the Kindle.

The Kindle is no stranger to controversy. In another PR nightmare, Amazon became the target of another lawsuit in July when a high school student sued the e-tailer for deleting an e-book he bought for the Kindle device, according to a report by The Associated Press.

At issue were digital copies of George Orwell’s classics 1984 and Animal Farm, which turned out to be unofficial editions that the company did not have the right to distribute and therefore yanked back, right out of users’ Kindle units. The heavyhanded way in which it was done sparked a flood of comparisons to Orwell’s dystopian 1984 future.

Amazon now says the rights issue has been resolved and has offered free books or $30 to customers who lost their copies of the works.

Images courtesy Amazon.com

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