A study sponsored by the Pearson Foundation for Harris Interactive surveyed 1,214 college students and 200 high-school seniors heading to college.  More than two-thirds of them showed overwhelming interest in tablet devices, and believed that tablets would transform higher education.

Interestingly, this same pro-tablet group largely did not own tablets: Only 7 percent of college students had a tablet, and only 4 percent of the high school students owned one.  Yet almost half those surveyed believed that digital textbooks would replace print textbooks in colleges within five years.

Of those who owned tablets, 73 percent liked digital formats over print; only 32 percent of the non-tablet-owners felt the same way (no surprise there).  The survey also indicated that 20 percent of students plan to but a tablet in the next six months.

This survey was reported on by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Alongside this survey release is a recent U.S. Department of Education addendum to their own 2010 letter, addressed to college or university presidents.  The original letter urged schools to ensure that devices like ebook readers did not discriminate against individuals with visual disabilities, as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The addendum, written as a FAQ, was designed to include online courses and their content, which was supposedly intended in the original letter, but some felt it was not explicitly stated to their satisfaction.

Both of these developments come on the heels of recent complaints and suits against colleges, and the use of digital textbooks or ebook readers that could not be used by those with visual disabilities. The Department of Education is clearly encouraging the use of digital media, and many professors have been eager to follow suit.  However, not all of those professors have been as diligent in following the government regulations on satisfying the needs of the disabled, and as a result, many students are left feeling unduly disadvantaged.

It probably wouldn’t hurt if the DoE was more involved with education efforts, perhaps providing deeper assistance to professors and schools in the process of updating their systems.  Unfortunately, the DoE tends to be reactive, not proactive, in these cases, and with no basic package of accessible hardware and software available “off-the-shelf” for schools to take advantage of, they are usually left to put their own systems together, then see whether or not they pass muster.


  1. Perry – I really don’t know what you are talking about. My company uses upward of 10 iPads among senior staff and colleagues and clients use it a great deal as well. I use it on the road 80% of the time as my main access to email, both passive and active, document resources and to create presentations. At home I use it about 20% of the time to do the same. I also use it in high level meetings with clients to great effect.

    What exactly qualifies as serious in you esteemed view ?

  2. I don’t see how the use of ereaders and tablets could do anything but increase ADA compliance.  This is one of the most exciting things about the tablet; not only for the disabled but also bringing mobile computing out of teensy tinsy smart phones and into a device which are easier for the elderly to manipulate.  (Just one reason I hope to see a tablet phone in the future.)

    As for the question of whether tablets are serious, they are.  And if current employment occupants don’t get with the program they are going to be blown out of the water by what these kids can do with their mobile information.

  3. @Loafingcactus: It all depends on how devices are used, whether they can be used by the disabled, and whether schools/professors provide workable alternatives when they don’t work for the disabled. As we’ve seen in the past year or so, programs have rolled out Kindles that were not compliant for the visually disabled, and did not provide alternatives (the books’ audio functions were locked out)… and iPads have been used, but were not compliant for those with physical disabilities (could not operate touch screen).

    In most cases, it only requires proper planning to make sure the chosen devices are adequate for the job, and that suitable alternatives are available for those who can’t use them. As time goes by, I expect a fairly comprehensive checklist of devices, procedures and alternatives to be developed by school systems… and hopefully more devices will be optimized for educational use, and eventually certified by the Dept of Ed as ADA-compliant.

  4. In the case of physical textbooks, the cost and availability of braille and large print versions can present significant obstacles that digital textbooks are fast overcoming.

    Take the iBooks.app on iOS devices as an example. It will read an ePub document aloud at no extra cost. Initiating that process might require the help of a sighted person unless a supported braille device is attached. Better, would be an extension of the Voice Control feature to the iBooks.app. That would overcome touch UI issues at zero extra cost.

    Of course ePub now supports embedded audio and that presents the opportunity to offer a more human voice. Video can include multiple audio tracks such as one aimed at the visually challenged that provide audio equivalents to video action as well as dialog and other audio. Again, initiating the feature is a current sticking point.

    Faculty don’t generally plan ahead for the occasional student who requires assistance so these developments are all to the good. One text for all with accessibility features built-in to the content or the reading device is ideal. Digital is clearly better both potentially and actually.

  5. Hi

    I want to introduce MultiReader an Android speech application.

    MultiReader speaks Word, Power Point, EPUB, PDF, RTF, text documents in several languages.

    Direct access (search & download) to online libraries.

    Availables voices : English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Finnish, all Android TTS Engines & languages…

    This application can be usefull in public transportation, to listen documents while driving, while doing sports, for people having difficulties with fine characters on mobile phones, eLearning, etc …

    Available on Android Market and http://www.handango.com/catalog/ProductDetails.jsp?storeId=2218&deviceId=2073&platformId=80&productId=242990

    Official web site :

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.