Half a loaf is not better than no loaf – menus on Kindle are not accessible to blind



Three universities have signed compliance orders with the Department of Justice agreeing not to promote Amazon.com’s Kindle in schools. Kindle has text to speech features which help the vision impaired; however, the menus and system screens are not adapted for the visually impaired. Amazon.com has agreed to modify the Kindle to comply with the DOJ sometime during 2010.

Use of the device by other students might give them an advantage over the vision impaired who cannot navigate to the book. If they can’t get to the book, what use is it if the Kindle will read text to speech. Picky you say? Well in this case, half a loaf is no loaf at all.

Try imaging some device you use – a car, TV or computer – where selection of an item or mode of operation was impossible. You simply wouldn’t be able to drive your car if you couldn’t start the motor and put it in gear. You would soon tire of a TV that didn’t allow the channel to be changed.

For someone with a disability, removing the barrier to accessibility makes all the difference in the world. Hat’s off the the US DOJ for putting up a defense for the disabled.

Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Pace University in New York City and Reed College in Portland, Oregon were using Kindle on pilot projects and have agreed not to proceed until Amazon.com makes the Kindle accessible.

“With regard to the Kindle DX, it can read books aloud, but a blind person cannot independently select a book, start the read-aloud function, or navigate within the book, among other things,” said Chris Danielsen, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind. “In other words, a blind student could only really use the device with the assistance of a sighted person.”

“Amazon.com is making changes to the Kindle to make it more accessible to blind people, a spokesman there said. The Kindle team is working on an audio-based menu system, and the devices will have a super-size font added, Amazon said in a press release. Those new features are due out by mid-2010, the company said.”

“Kindle is for anyone who loves to read — in fact, we’ve heard from thousands of vision-impaired customers and customers with learning disabilities over the past two years who have been helped tremendously by Kindle,” Ian Freed, vice president for Amazon Kindle, said in a statement. “With some key modifications, we believe Kindle can be a breakthrough device for the blind, and the team is excited about making these enhancements.”

“Advancing technology is systematically changing the way universities approach education, but we must be sure that emerging technologies offer individuals with disabilities the same opportunities as other students,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a statement. “These agreements underscore the importance of full and equal educational opportunities for everyone.”

Three other universities had already agreed in 2009 not to use the Kindle. They found the current Kindle menu system is not suitable for research and study. There is no intuitive way to move back and forth between the text and an index, appendix or other sections.

Having used the Kindle for a few months we find it handy for reading something from start to finish without the need to jump back. Even in novels that can be annoying when you forget some plot development of a character and want to go back. Nothing like a book for flipping back a few pages to find a reference.

Quotes and story from ComputerWorld