[tweetmeme service=”idbonline”] On Wednesday, July 28, Amazon announced that its Kindle electronic book reader will come equipped with a voice guide that reads all menu options aloud so blind and other print-disabled people can navigate the device menus.
Although this represents a positive step toward full accessibility by the blind to this popular reading technology, it cannot be viewed as providing complete access to all of the electronic books that can be read on the Kindle.
Advocates for full access by the blind and visually impaired to electronic books will remember that in June 2009, the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, two national consumer organizations of the blind, filed suit against Arizona State University (ASU) to prevent the university from deploying Amazon’s Kindle DX electronic book reader as a means of distributing electronic textbooks to its students.
The suit alleged that the Kindle could not be used by blind students. The Kindle DX featured text-to-speech technology that could read textbooks aloud to blind students, but the menus of the Kindle were not accessible to the blind–making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions.
Also, many (if not most) of the books available for the Kindle could not be read using the built-in text-to-speech technology because of restrictions imposed on Amazon by authors who maintained that the ability to read a book using synthesized speech constituted a violation of copyright.
The lawsuit has been settled, and Arizona State University has agreed not to deploy an inaccessible Kindle to its students. However, the question of whether or not it is legally permissible for books to be read without restriction using text-to-speech technology has yet to be settled.
The bottom line here is that while the blind and visually impaired will have access to the controls necessary to operate the Kindle, there is no guarantee that the books purchased from the Kindle store will be readable using synthesized speech.
As I say, this is a positive step forward toward full access to the Kindle, but many more steps need to be taken before the Kindle represents a viable reading technology for people who are blind or visually impaired.