Possible Future for Braille eReaders

In regards to the lawsuit against Arizona State University, over the Kindle DX‘s inaccessibility for blind people, a quick search for braille eReaders brought up this prototype design.

Unfortunately, no such device is yet in production, but the basic technology already exists.  Braille displays for blind computer users have been around for decades, and it’s only the prohibitive cost that has kept an eReader like this from being developed.  As research continues, it can be expected that something like this prototype will one day exist.

A braille device that fell under the Kindle brand, or at the very least had support for the Kindle Store, would solve any problems surrounding the current suit against ASU.  But even more important would be the larger effect a braille eReader would have.  Unlike the purchase of a normal eReader, which essentially comes down to a consumer’s personal preference, a braille eReader would have near universal acceptance in the blind community.  With braille, a refreshable eReader with a limitless digital library would have clear benefits over the limited supply of bulky paper braille books.  If such a device could be developed at a reasonable price, the maker would  not only stand to help the disable but also to make a huge profit.

Arizona State University Being Sued For Discrimination Over Use of Kindle DX

Arizona State University is one of six schools of higher education that are planning to deploy the Kindle DX this fall.  They are, however, coming under fire from both the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind over its use.

The two organizations have jointly filed suit against ASU in an attempt to stop the Kindle’s planned usage.  While the Kindle does include a text-to-speech feature, all menus and navigation, including the ability to activate text-to-speech, are completely inaccessible to blind students.  According to the lawsuit, if any University uses the Kindle as their primary means of textbook distribution, it is in clear violation of federal accessibility standards.  A press release detailing the plaintiff’s position can be found here.

Public Universities, being governmental institutions, are required by federal law to meet strict guidelines regarding accessibility.  Since the Kindle clearly does not meet these guidelines, there only seems to be two possible ways this could turn out: Either ASU (and the five other schools) cancel their plans to use the Kindle, or Amazon releases  an update which adds accessibility features to the Kindle Store and menus.  It would be a relatively simple software change for Amazon to make, so hopefully that is the route that things take.  Then, the only problem would be the legal issues surrounding text-to-speech itself.