Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kindle Protests Continue

Back in April, I wrote about the protest over Amazon’s decision to place restrictions on the text-to-speech functions of its Kindle 2 device. This weekend, I read an article about Amazon’s newest version of Kindle, one targeting college bound students who will be able to access their textbooks on the Kindle.

The author of the article, Nicki, is a typical teenager. Nicki was a premature baby who is now blind, has Cerebral Palsy, and Spastic Diplegia. The text of her very insightful article is listed below:

As many of you who are college bound may know, Amazon is releasing a new version of Kindle. This particular version has a larger screen, and is primarily being marketed at a textbook reader. The marketing has in fact been so successful that many universities, not the least of which is Princeton, intend to present their students with a kindle at the beginning of their first semester, preloaded with key textbooks they will require.

Until this point, I have been rather ambivalent about the Kindle protests. I was not incredibly keen on the fact that Amazon used DRM files or that when you bought a book, you only bought the right to access that book, and not a copy you could share as you could with a hardcopy. However, I am finally beginning to become incensed. This newest version does include the text to speech feature Amazon has been advertising, plus the controls and interface are completely inaccessible to the blind, making it all but useless. And that is quite frankly, unacceptable. Having access to usable textbooks in this format could eliminate so many of the accessibility barriers blind individuals face within higher education.

In order to obtain good quality Braille or audio materials, students are often forced to preregister for their next semester’s classes six months early simply so they can get a list of their textbooks. After the list is obtained, they either have to give it to their Disability Services Office who will, if they are fortunate, have it transcribed into Braille through a service hired by the college, or they must contact Recordings For The Blind and Dyslexic, and send them a copy of the book so they can make a recording which will then be sent back to them. Downloading a textbook through kindle by comparison would only take seconds to a minute.

This would eliminate the constant stress of worrying about whether your books would reach you by the start of classes, even with all your prior planning and work. And although it would still be advisable for blind students to preregister, preregistering would not determine whether they had the books to begin the next semester.

I believe that by not making their kindle fully accessible to those of us with visual impairments, Amazon is making a grave marketing error. There is a large willing market for this product, especially for a version of the product specifically promoted as a textbook reader. Yes, making the Kindle accessible would take time, money, and effort. However, the profit Amazon would recoup would more than make up for whatever initial investments had to be made. That should be clear by the number of people who protested at the NYC author’s guild meeting, and by the fact that this is not fading from the blind community’s consciousness. We wish to be able to access books in the same format as the sighted, and we are more than willing to pay.

I hope Amazon takes these factors into consideration when designing the next version of Kindle. Having an accessible kindle would be a winning situation for both sides, exposing a new market for Amazon, and eliminating one of the greatest barriers which exists for blind students within secondary education.

1 comment:

Terri said...

I would think the AARP would be a good ally on this issue.