National Federation of the Blind Commends University of Illinois for Commitment to Accessible E-book Technology
Champaign, Illinois (November 19, 2009): The National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest organization of blind Americans and a leading advocate for accessible e-book technology, today applauded the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for publicly announcing its commitment to purchasing e-book technology that can be used by the blind and others with print disabilities. The announcement comes on the heels of news that the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University will not broadly deploy Amazon’s Kindle DX e-book reading device, which Amazon is marketing as a replacement for traditional print textbooks, until the device is fully accessible to blind students. The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud. The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX.
In a statement issued yesterday, the University of Illinois said in part: “Quite apart from our legal obligations, we at Illinois believe that our technology choices should be shaped by our institutional values and aspirations. We will not embrace technologies that undercut our commitment to accessibility. We will instead apply our ingenuity to technologies that enable everyone to participate more fully in society.
“Like our colleagues at Wisconsin and Syracuse, we recognize the groundbreaking potential that read-aloud features have for making textbooks accessible to students with disabilities. Sadly, that potential can’t be realized until vendors of e-book readers, like the Kindle, add accessible read-aloud menus and basic navigation to their products.”
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “As publishers and e-book reading device manufacturers increasingly tout the e-book as a replacement for the printed textbook, it is critical that no artificial barriers be placed in the way of access to this exciting new technology by blind students. E-books are inherently accessible, and it is relatively easy to make e-book reading devices accessible as well. The National Federation of the Blind therefore commends the University of Illinois and other universities for taking the position that e-book technology must be accessible to all students, including the blind.”