Finding the Kindle a Poor Device for the Blind, 2 Universities Say They Won’t Buy More

Two universities say they won’t order large numbers of Amazon Kindles until the company releases devices that are easier for blind students to use.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison and Syracuse University, which have both made Kindles available to their students in pilot programs recently, say they won’t buy more devices until they’re improved. Though most Kindles read text aloud, it’s impossible for a blind person to navigate their basic menus because they aren’t “voiced.”

When Syracuse employees first heard that Kindles would have a read-aloud feature, “We thought, yay, this is going to be great” for disabled readers, said Eve Hill, senior vice president at the university’s Burton Blatt Institute, which advocates for people with disabilities. But staffers soon realized the device’s menu options were not spoken aloud. “If you’re blind, you won’t be able to turn it on,” Ms. Hill said.

The university recently bought two Kindle DX’s, which students can check out from a library.

Blind students often have their books scanned and turned into electronic files that can then be read using a Braille device or spoken out loud by a machine. Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, called the process “time consuming” and said e-book readers had the potential to improve disabled students’ academic experiences.

Of greater accessibility for blind students, Ms. Hill said, Amazon “just needs to focus on it and get it done. They’re just not prioritizing it.”

The problem, Mr. Danielsen says, isn’t Amazon’s alone, as blind readers have few options in the e-book world. K-NFB Reading Technology Inc. plans to release an electronic book reader that will be easier for  blind students to use. Mr. Danielsen said he wasn’t sure if course textbooks would be available on that reader.



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