Universities reject Kindle DX as a textbook replacement

Two universities running Kindle DX pilot programs have rejected the device as a potential textbook replacement, citing a poor feature set and the controversial accessibility issues. Primary among these is the text-to-speech capability.

This capability came under fire shortly after the Kindle 2 debuted, as the Author's Guild wanted writers to be compensated for the spoken "performance" of books, or otherwise have the text-to-speech function disabled.

Meanwhile, equal rights groups like the American Council for the Blind, the International Dyslexia Association, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities wanted the feature to be kept free and available as an aid to the visually or cognitively impaired.

The Author's Guild ultimately won and the text to speech feature became optional, an issue for the authors to decide individually.

Since the large screen Kindle DX debuted in the spring, a number of schools -- secondary and beyond -- ran pilot programs which tested the device's viability as a textbook replacement.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University were two establishments running these pilot programs which recently decided not to adopt the device until its features are improved, including access to visually impaired students.

"The big disappointment was learning that the Kindle DX is not accessible to the blind. Advancements in text-to-speech technology have created a market opportunity for an e-book reading device that is fully accessible for everyone,"
Ken Frazier, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's director of libraries said. "This version of the Kindle e-book reader missed the mark. It is relatively easy to envision an improved e-book reading device that meets the needs of the entire university community. Such a device would include universal design for accessibility, higher-quality graphics, and improved navigation and note-taking. I think that there will be a huge payoff for the company that creates a truly universal e-book reader."

The National Federation of the Blind considers this a victory.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said in a statement that the Federation "commends the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University for rejecting broad deployment of the Kindle DX in its current form because it cannot be used by blind students and therefore denies the blind equal access to electronic textbooks. We do not oppose electronic textbooks; in fact, they hold great promise for blind students if they are accessible. But as long as the interface of the Kindle DX is inaccessible to the blind -- denying blind students access to electronic textbooks or the advanced features available to read and annotate them -- it is our position that no university should consider this device to be a viable e-book solution for its students."

This announcement comes just a day after Intel announced an e-reader designed especially for the visually impaired.

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