US uni­ver­si­ties shun read-aloud Kin­dle as prob­lem­atic for blind

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

SAN FRAN­CISCO: 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 US Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of the Blind an­nounced this week that the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son and Syra­cuse Uni­ver­sity in New York won’t con­sider big roll­outs of the elec­tronic read­ing de­vice un­less Ama­zon makes it more ac­ces­si­ble to vis­ually im­paired stu­dents.

Both schools have some Kin­dles that they bought re­cently for stu­dents to try, but now 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 fed­er­a­tion.

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

The fed­er­a­tion of the blind said there are about 1.3 mil­lion legally blind peo­ple in the US. Many more peo­ple have other dis­abil­i­ties such as dys­lexia that make it dif­fi­cult to read.

The Kin­dle could be promis­ing for the vis­ually im­paired be­cause of its readaloud 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 au­dio books or scan­ning

‘We’re not go­ing to adopt a tech­nol­ogy we know for sure dis­crim­i­nates against blind stu­dents’

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 of the blind 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.

Hop­ing to en­cour­age more peo­ple to try the Kin­dle, Ama­zon re­leased the R3 654 ($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 with dig­i­tal ver­sions of their text­books on them.

The fed­er­a­tion of 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 Kin­dle DX de­vices for use in a his­tory class this year.

Though he’s not sure how many blind stu­dents are at his school, he said many stu­dents have dif­fi­culty read­ing texts for var­i­ous rea­sons, such as learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

“Our ex­pe­ri­ence is that when you make tech­nol­ogy ac­ces­si­ble, ev­ery­body ben­e­fits,” he said. – Sapa-AP

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