By summer 2010, Kindle plans to introduce a new menu system that will help individuals who are blind or visually impaired to navigate the device unassisted as well as provide a new super size font. The new menu features will allow blind individuals the ability to buy e-books, select them for reading, and activate text-to-speech on their own.
When Kindle introduced its text-to-speech feature, which reads digital books aloud, it was marketed as being an advantage for people who are blind or visually impaired. However, the National Federation of the Blind voiced its displeasure over the fact that blind people could not use the feature without assistance. The 2008 National Health Interview Survey Provisional Report established that an estimated 25.2 million adult Americans have “trouble seeing” even when wearing corrective lenses, or that they are blind.
In response, Amazon has announced that it will bring out a new audible menu in 2010 that will allow blind and visually impaired readers the ability to navigate the device without assistance, in addition to listening to books as they can with the current feature, Read To Me. Kindle will also provide a new font size that will be twice the height and width of the current largest font available.
Two universities, the University of Wisconsin and Syracuse University, have been experimenting with the Kindle DX (which has a larger screen than the standard Kindle) for their students, but are now waiting to see how the new audible menu works for the blind before they expand their projects with Kindle. Amazon has been encouraging universities to adopt the device as a replacement for textbooks and course materials.
According to an Amazon announcement, Kindle has allowed many readers who are visually impaired to have access to books more easily than before, and it has also helped individuals who have a learning disability or dyslexia improve their reading skills. Ian Freed, vice president of Amazon Kindle, noted that “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. With some key modifications, we believe Kindle can be a breakthrough device for the blind, and the team is excited about making these enhancements.”
American Foundation for the Blind
National Federation of the Blind
TechFlash.com, Dec. 7, 2009