Schools shun Kindle, saying blind can't use it

Nov 11, 2009 By RACHEL METZ , AP Technology Writer
Kindle DX

(AP) -- Amazon's Kindle can read books aloud, but if you're blind it can be difficult to turn that function on without help. Now two universities say they will shun the device until Amazon changes the setup.

The National Federation of the Blind planned to announce Wednesday that the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University won't consider big rollouts of the device unless Amazon makes it more accessible to visually impaired students.

Both schools have some Kindles that they bought for students to try this fall, but now they say they won't look into buying more unless Amazon makes changes to the device.

"These universities are saying, `Our policy is nondiscrimination, so we're not going to adopt a technology we know for sure discriminates against blind students,'" said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation for the Blind.

Amazon.com Inc. spokesman Drew Herdener said many visually impaired customers have asked Amazon to make the Kindle easier to navigate. The company is working on it, he said.

According to the National Federation for the Blind, there are about 1.3 million legally blind people in the U.S. Many more people have other disabilities such as that make it difficult to read.

The Kindle could be promising for the because of its read-aloud feature, which utters text in a robotic-sounding voice. For blind students in particular, the Kindle could be an improvement over existing studying techniques - such as using or scanning books page by page into a computer so character-recognition software can translate it for a text-to-speech program.

But activating the Kindle's audio feature probably requires a sighted helper, because the step involves manipulating buttons and navigating choices in menus that appear on the Kindle's screen.

The federation says the device should be able to speak the menu choices as well.

Electronic books still make up a small portion of the overall book market, but it's a fast-growing segment. In hopes of getting even more people to try the Kindle, Amazon released the $489 Kindle DX this year, which has a large screen and is geared toward textbook and newspaper readers. The company then worked with several colleges to give out Kindles this fall with digital versions of their textbooks on them.

The Federation for the Blind sued one of the schools that participated in this pilot program - Arizona State University - in June, along with the American Council of the Blind and a blind ASU student, arguing it was discriminating against blind students. That case is ongoing.

The group also filed complaints with the Department of Justice against five other schools that are participating in the Kindle trial with Amazon. Wisconsin and Syracuse are not among those schools.

Ken Frazier, director of Wisconsin-Madison's library system, said the library bought 20 DX devices for use in a history class this fall. Though he's not sure how many blind students are at his school, he said many students have difficulties reading texts for various reasons, such as learning disabilities.

"Our experience is that when you make technology accessible, everybody benefits," he said.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 6

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jerryd
not rated yet Nov 11, 2009

The Kindle is a rip off, far too expensive and not flexible.

Far better, less costly is Net Books/mini laptops now available. In school quantities they would cost under $150 each, less than books and 50% less than the Kindle. And not dependent on big business like the Kindle is.
AceLepage
not rated yet Nov 11, 2009
A lawsuit against a school participating in a trial seems unwarranted. The purpose of a trial is to assess the product, discover deficiencies, and address those deficiencies. Having a lawsuit suggests that the school should not even participate in a trial, therefore, not assess the product, which would seem backward.
Bob_Kob
not rated yet Nov 11, 2009
How is this discrimination? Its like saying there should be no tv's there either.
vantomic
5 / 5 (2) Nov 11, 2009
ummmm....blind people can't use books either

no more books, they discriminate against blind people. Come on, at least this device has a chance of letting a blind person use it...a book never will.
Royale
5 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2009
yea vantomic. you're absolutely right. although, I suppose, they just want to push pressure on Amazon, because Amazon can do something about it; whereas bookmakers cannot.

I dont agree with jerryd's netbook argument though. E-ink technology is what's expensive. But it uses far less energy and has much greater contrast. Netbooks are just LED LCD screens. Although netbooks have better batteries than laptops, they're nowhere near as efficient as e-readers. I have a netbook but I'm still getting an e-reader for christmas. (They're really two very different things).
dsl5000
5 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2009
Lmao if amazon never had the read function would they still be yelling discrimination? Vantomic, haha u hit the bulls-eye...

btw that is the most backward comment from any university...they should be more forward thinking with technology. shoot...non discrimination my butt...all technology does that by catering to a specific group. Duke University's Ipod program can be classified as discriminatory for the hearing impaired lol

...simple, don't buy it if you can't use it...besides 1.3 mil(U.S. pop at est. 300mil) legally blind makes up 0.43% of the population unable to use it where as 99.57% can. If the person isn't blind and isn't illiterate they can definitely turn on the talk function(or read the paper manual to do so, or call support).

shoot...the percentage that 'can' use kindle is better than a condoms ability to prevent unwanted pregnancy when used correctly.