National Federation of the Blind Commends Schools for Demanding Accessibility for Blind Students.
The National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest organization of blind Americans, today applauded the decision of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University to not deploy Amazon's Kindle DX as a means of distributing electronic textbooks (e-books) to their students. The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud. The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, 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 available on the Kindle DX. Both universities have experimented with the Kindle DX to learn whether e-book technology is useful to their students. But the schools will not adopt the device for general use unless and until it is made accessible to blind students.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "The National Federation of the Blind 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."
The University of Wisconsin-Madison experimented with e-books for assigned course reading in an upper-level history seminar and encouraged students to give feedback about their experiences using e-books. Ken Frazier, the university's director of libraries, said of the Kindle: "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. 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."
Pamela McLaughlin, director of communications and external relations at Syracuse University, said: "The university purchased two Kindle DX devices to learn whether they might be an appropriate means of distributing textbooks and course materials. Students are experimenting with these devices so that we can learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of this technology. At this time, however, we have no plans to purchase any more of these units in light of the fact that they are inaccessible to blind students. If Syracuse University decides to use e-book technology on campus, we will require technology that can be used by all of our students, including those who are blind."
About the National Federation of the Blind
With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. The NFB improves blind people's lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence. It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation's blind. In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.