Before we jump into Kindle DX’s rather strange dismissal by 2 universities let’s look at a little contrast -
- Kindle 2 is for $259.
- Kindle DX is for $489.
- Intel’s specially designed for the blind Intel Reader is $1,499.
We’ll come back to that in a bit.
Why did Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse Universities decide not to adopt the Kindle DX?
Here are their reasons (via BetaNews) -
Two universities running Kindle DX pilot programs have rejected the device as a potential textbook replacement, citing a poor feature set and the controversial accessibility issues.
Poor Feature Set of the Kindle DX.
This is interesting as there are some areas where Amazon deserve flak i.e.
- Limited PDF Support.
- No touch-screen.
- Note taking could be made better.
- Navigation could be a bit better.
There are also some areas where Amazon could do nothing – the state of eInk technology limits what the Kindle DX can do.
- Higher quality graphics – just not possible.
- Color and Video – just not possible.
Universities have a point here. Amazon pushed the Kindle in education initiative at a time when -
- Neither was Kindle DX the most that can be done with current eInk technology.
- Nor was eInk technology advanced enough to create a great textbook reader.
Kindle DX 2 or Kindle DX 3 might hit the feature-set and level of technology needed.
However, Amazon had to push the Kindle in education as soon as possible – they took a calculated risk and after this and Princeton’s problems it seems like it didn’t work out.
By pushing the Kindle DX to government funded Universities Amazon also opened itself up to a ridiculous attack i.e.
Lack of Accessibility for the Blind
Look at what Ken Frazier, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s director of libraries, has to say -
The big disappointment was learning that the Kindle DX is not accessible to the blind.
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.”
A Truly Universal eBook Reader that includes universal design for accessibility?
That would be Intel’s $1,499 reader for the blind.
- It is NOT relatively easy to envision an eReader that works for blind people – Intel spent 3 years on it.
- It is relatively easy to envision that adoption of eReaders makes things better for blind students
What the National Foundation for the Blind are ignoring is the natural progression i.e.
- Braille Textbooks (limited range and high prices).
- Textbook Reader that has text for speech and greatly increases number of titles blind students have access to (and at lower prices).
- Very Accessible eReader.
An eReader that is very accessible to blind students is as good as it’s going to get. Hate to break the news to NFB -
A truly accessible universal eReader would be too expensive to be a general device.
Additionally, the decisions you made to make it good for blind students i.e. big feel-able buttons, a camera to take pictures of pages and convert them to text, variable speech speed, etc. would make it a non-ideal eReader in general.
How short-term focused can the National Federation for the Blind be?
The NFB are trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Unfortunately – they are succeeding.
With the Kindle they were suddenly getting a device better suited to students than textbooks, and at a reasonable price.
If NFB thought of it as -
- Let’s encourage the growth of eReaders.
- Let’s fight for Text To Speech.
- As technology improves things will get better for everyone.
- Let’s push for additional accessibility and not demand an unrealistic ‘universal, true accessibility’.
- In the long run any advances in growth of eReaders and eInk technology increases the chances of better eReaders for blind students.
Then perhaps they wouldn’t be gleeful about this Pyrrhic victory.
Quite frankly, they’re slowing the growth and adoption of eReaders and eBooks with all their attacks and press releases.
What should Amazon and other eReader makers do?
Ignore the NFB. Let some other company help them and suffer their distorted worldview.
The NFB should just buy Intel’s $1,499 eReader.
Here is a laundry list of what NFB want -
- Accessible Menus.
- Accessibility for annotations and to advance features.
However that wouldn’t be enough?
There was a time when blind students would be happy to be given access to a lot more books than were available in Braille (and at lower prices).
As soon as they got accessible menus, NFB would sue and ask for A truly universal eReader (whatever that means).
Narrow-mindedness. That is what this really is – not some grand fight for rights.
NFB would rather shoot down the Kindle in education (and any other eReader that does not have universal accessibility) than look at the bonus for them in the short-term and the long-term.
On Amazon’s side it’s truly sad that eReaders in education get sidetracked for the wrong reasons. It would also help if Amazon didn’t promise to add menu accessibility and then forget to.