I’ve begged Jeff Bezos and crew to restore text to speech to E Ink Kindles. A decent selection of fonts—including the all-bold ones dear to me—would also help.
Those specifics may or may not have counted, but whatever the exact accessibility reasons, the New York City Department of Education has postponed Amazon’s $30M K-12 e-book contract for public schools. So says the Daily News.
As reported in the News, the department was acting in response to the National Federation of the Blind. The federation, says the News, warned that “visually handicapped students would have trouble using Amazon’s devices to navigate e-books and access graphics.
“The group had planned a protest to coincide with a Panel for Educational Policy meeting, but organizers canceled the protest after the city postponed the vote.”
The NFB’s press release is here.
Are Amazon’s K-12 challenges in NYC a form of fallout from the New York Times’s expose of working conditions among Amazon’s white-collar workers? Public officials in education and other areas have been known to read the papers. And the NYT-depicted Amazon was far from warm and fuzzy.
Meanwhile congratulations to the Education Department for doing the right thing even if it needed a nudge from the NFB. Now I’m waiting for the leaders of the National PTA to catch up. So far the PTA has valued its business relationship with Amazon over accessibility needs. The Kindle is the “official e-Reader” of the organization. The PTA has ignored the NFB’s pleas over the years for the organization to care more about accessibility. Let’s hope that the K-12 group changes under the new president, Laura Bay (from Washington state, location of Amazon headquarters). If not, I recommend the PTA as the site of the next threatened protest. I live in Alexandria, VA, just a few miles from the PTA, and would eagerly picket with the NFB.
Text to speech chips and audio navigation would cost a pittance to add to mass-produced E Ink Kindles. The expense of all-bold fonts, or an all-bolding capability for all fonts, would be close to zero.
Lack of action on these fronts is corporate arrogance at its worst. It’s also plain dumb, from a dollars-and-cents perspective. Amazon’s marketers have been so caught up in the “smaller and lighter” mantra for e-readers that they’ve neglected basics that could expand the Kindle market, especially in K-12. Look beyond the existing users and show a little guts, please. Think of all the millions of American schoolchildren with dyslexia and other learning disabilities beyond visual impairments per se. How obtuse can Jeff and his marketers be?
As for the New York contract, one compromise as I see it might be for the NFB to be flexible about the immediate situation, with the understanding that Kindles used in K-12 and elsewhere would get TTS and decent audio navigation and font selections within a certain time frame.
My standard reminder: I very much appreciate Amazon’s positives, such as its exemplary customer service and the overall quality of its hardware despite omission of some crucial accessibility features. I’m a steady customer. But the lack of TTS, despite the ease of restoring it to E Ink Kindles, fits in very well with the the Times’ portray of it as less than fully caring.