In November, I presented a talk to a group of disability services personnel about the inaccessibility of the Amazon Kindle DX. Basically, the device is very cool, but has limited features that would allow those with print disabilities to access and use the device effectively. One of the key elements missing is audible menus, and a large range of font sizes.
Next year, Amazon hopes to add both of those things to the Kindle. This bit of news is encouraging. The National Federation for the Blind and the American Council for the Blind joined forces earlier this year to file suit against the Arizona State University System when they decided to forgo paper-based textbooks in favor of the Kindle. That suit is still pending, but is being watched closely by disability services advocates around the country. Several universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, formally announced that they would not be using the Kindle as textbook replacements due to the lack of accessibility features of the device.
Overall, even with talking menus, the device is probably not a reasonable replacement for textbooks. One thing students do is highlight, mark in the medians, and need to go to particular pages to read. While the Kindle allows some highlighting and text-marking, there is no way to “go to” a particular page in a document, and no way to write in the margins for later study. Overall, while the device has definite advantages (size, portability, cost), for textbook reading/studying it still has a ways to go. For pleasure reading, it fits the bill nicely.
It will be interesting to see what else Amazon comes up with to update the Kindle enough to make it a viable alternative to paper-based textbooks. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, so I’ll be paying attention.