Some Universities Dissing Kindle DX Due To Blind-Unfriendliness

The first thing that popped to mind when Amazon issued its Kindle DX was this: textbooks! The size makes it perfect for using in place of those dusty old books, and we're guessing that most students would much rather lug around a single electronic device versus a sack full of heavy books that they'll only read a page or two from in any given class (after class is another story, right kids?).

But it seems as if not everyone is too keen on the Kindle DX replacing the textbook, and the National Federation of the Blind has today come forward to bring some attention to the matter. Both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University have elected not to rollout the Kindle DX as a means of distributing electronic textbooks (e-books) to their students, despite the fact that it features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud. Naturally, the Federation is applauding these decisions, but why? Here's the quote:

"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."

We guess that makes sense on some level. What good is a book reader that reads to you if you can't tell it to start reading, right? But on the other hand, it's tough to expect Amazon to make an e-reader specifically for those with damaged or no sight. We can certainly see both sides of the argument. At the end of the day, we highly doubt Amazon will take offense. What's more likely to happen is that another startup will see this as an opportunity and will fill the niche by creating an e-reader that's suited to the blind, yet not the best option for those with sight. We'll close with a quote from Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind:

"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."
Via:  PR Newswire
3vi1 5 years ago

They should enlarge the power button and put Braille text on it that says "hold until beep". When you hit the power button the screen should immediately say "release power button, or continue to hold for visually impaired mode".

If you turn it on, and continue to hold the power button until the beep, it should go into text to speech mode that reads all of the menus to you, and re-read the currently selected option when you change it via the navigation buttons (with raised up/down arrows).

This would require almost no effort to implement, and would make the device appealing to the complete audience.

ClemSnide 5 years ago

Or, the menus could be read depending on an option in the preferences. Blind people don't generally mind having someone set things like that up, as long as they can do the majority of the work themselves. They could even ship the units with the audible menu option turned on, and let people turn it off with a couple of button presses if they wanted. A minimum of thought and programming could have made this device accessible.

But we've gotten away from the days when Apple hired human factors (HF) designers to imbue products with more pleasant human-computer interactions. (If Microsoft ever did, it didn't show.) Now, engineers design interfaces, and as always, it's mostly for their own convenience, or based on their own expectations.

HF is a psychological field, though, which makes it a tough sell. Most people believe that they know more about human nature (including the way people learn and react) than people who've studied it. Oddly enough, this is called the Fundamental Attribution Error, which you learn in... psychology classes.

I wouldn't recommend the Kindle to a blind person, anyway; the spectre of remote deletion hangs over it. While a sighted user may be able to deal with it, having something you know you were reading suddenly disappear without warning would be much more confusing to a blind person.

gibbersome 5 years ago

Remember the outrage over the Kindles text-to-speech? Nobody's ever going to be completely happy with your device. However, like the above posters have mentioned, implementation of a easy access Text-To-Speech can be quickly implemented in a firmware upgrade perhaps?

On another note, aren't IPhones unfriendly to blind people as well?

ClemSnide 5 years ago

>On another note, aren't IPhones unfriendly to blind people as well?

iPhones, Androids, Pres, etc. etc. Pretty much anything with a touch screen that doesn't allow guided navigation of controls. And don't think that the existence of a mechanical joypad or keypad lets you do this-- most smartphones (the ones I've reviewed, at least) have the occasional screen where you have to use the touchscreen for some function or setting.

There's a wide range of visual impairments (VI), ranging from presbyopia (the reduced ability to focus at close range, common in older adults) to full nonsightedness. A large number of VI sufferers are classed as "Low vision" (LV): inability to differentiate colors, pinching of the visual field, lowered density of the retina, hazing or occlusions, cataracts, etc. In general, fully blind users require a screenreader or a Braille display to work with computers, whereas LV users can get away with a larger display font.

But, as I mentioned earlier, programmers don't design for users' convenience any more; but rather for their own convenience. Rather than try to figure out how to flow text larger than 9 point, Windows dialog boxes are set at that size, no matter what your other settings are. Microsoft Help is a flagrant example of this; its "Largest" is still tiny, and a narrow-stroke typeface that's not changable without major surgery. And that's with a huge monitor. Phones, with their miniscule screens? Rather than allow the user to scroll their displays, smartphones attempt to cram a lot of text into a little area.

The blind people I know use phones with verbal feedback (a Braille display, available for computers, would be much more difficult and expensive for a cell phone). They also prefer voice input of commands, which is often supported by only a couple of the apps-- Kevin has a GPS device on his phone which is completely useless to him, since that lacks the voice I/O support of the dialing program.

The sad thing is that a very little bit of thought or, dare I suggest it, the employ of a HF professional, would open these devices up to a wider range of clients. But that's not going to happen when profit margins are so razor-thin in the consumer electronics field.

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