Kindle DX rejected by universities

November 12, 2009 | 10:17

Tags: #accessibility #e-book #ebook #e-reader #kindle #kindle-2 #text-to-speech

Companies: #amazon

Amazon's attempt at an electronic textbook replacement, the large-format Kindle DX, is getting short shrift from universities across the US.

As reported over on BetaNews, Amazon's education-focused device - which is based on the Kindle 2 e-book reader - has been undergoing trials in secondary schools and universities across the US, but the responses so far aren't exactly overwhelmingly positive.

With both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University having come forward in their rejection of the Kindle, the main sticking point appears to be the lack of universal accessibility for blind students - in particular the lack of complete support for text-to-speech, something which was originally promised in both the Kindle DX and its smaller brother the Kindle 2.

Sadly, the text-to-speech abilities of the Kindle were crippled shortly after launch following complaints from the Authors' Guild of America that the text-to-speech functionality in the Kindle 2 - which promised to bring the benefits of electronic books to blind and partially sighted people - were infringing authors' rights to be paid a separate royalty for all verbal performances of their works.

This disagreement - which saw Amazon head off a lawsuit by making the text-to-speech capability controllable by e-book publishers via a flag which disables the functionality - is directly responsible for the DX's main failings, at least according to the director of libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Ken Frazier: "the big disappointment [in the trials] 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, [but] this version of the Kindle e-book reader missed the mark."

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, is even more scathing in his disdain for the device: in a statement regarding the use of the Kindle DX in education as a replacement for traditional textbooks, Dr. Maurer states that "it is our position that no university should consider this device [the Kindle DX] to be a viable e-book solution for its students."

So far Amazon has not commented on the findings of the university, nor on the comments from the National Federation of the Blind - but it's hard to see how the company can possibly address concerns without re-implementing the original, universal text-to-speech capability and raising the ire of the Authors' Guild once more.

Do you believe that Amazon needs to tell the Authors' Guild where to go and bring the original accessibility features back, or are universities expecting too much from an electronic textbook device? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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