As mentioned on Editorsweblog.org:
Two American universities announced this week that they will be abandoning their plans to investigate further the possibility of Amazon’s Kindles replacing textbooks due to lack of accessibility to all students. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University both made their decisions due to the lack of universal access to the read aloud function of the Kindle. This makes the textbooks unusable to blind students as well as students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
The National Federation for the Blind commended the universities for their decisions. The Federation did acknowledge future potential in the devices, despite a current lack of universal access.
The lack of access is because the text-to-speech capability is not required for all books that are converted into Kindle compatibility. Shortly after the debut of the Kindle 2, a controversy over this feature erupted between the Author’s Guild and equal rights groups. The Guild wanted authors to be compensated for the spoken versions of their books or have no available spoken alternative. Equal rights groups argued that the feature should be made available for free for all books as an available aid. The Author’s Guild won the court ruling to make text-to-speech optional and the decision to provide a recording of a book fell to each individual author.
The University’s decisions come as another blow to the e-reader market, which has failed to gain the momentum it was once predicted to be able to reach. Kindles have already been rejected from permanent implementation into the curriculum at Princeton.
This announcement was made just a day after Intel introduced its new e-reader, the Intel Reader, which is specifically designed to be used by the blind or visually impaired. The e-reader includes a camera that can be used to take a picture of anything with text and then instantly read aloud to the user. It is also able to turn the audio of the text of a photograph, or entire book, into an MP3 that can be used on any other compatible electronic. Though the aim of the e-reader is to bring print to those unable to read, the Reader retails for $1 499, a steep price tag that will not be accessible to everyone.
Kindles are seen by many as a highly viable alternative to the expensive textbooks required by many University classes.