Monday, July 29, 2013

Amazon, Sony, and Kobo Don't Want to Make Their E-Readers Accessible

Some of the top names in the e-reader market are asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to waive the accessibility requirements for their devices. Amazon, Sony, and Kobo have all petitioned the FCC to waive the accessibility requirement for their e-readers. They do not want to have to make their devices "accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities."

The FCC requires advanced communication services (ACS) to be accessible to people with disabilities. The e-reader companies are arguing that their devices do not fall under the ACS classification because they are dedicated to e-book reading. The three companies also claim that adding accessibility features would decrease battery life, increase cost and increase bulk. They claim in the FCC document,
"Rendering ACS accessible on e-readers would require fundamentally altering the devices and it may not be possible to meet that requirement and maintain e-readers as inexpensive mobile reading devices, and yet the necessary changes, if they were made, would not yield a meaningful benefit to individuals with disabilities. It’s not merely cost but the very nature of a specialized e-reader device that is at issue."
Disabilities rights advocates content that because e-readers are not only being used for leisure, but also education the devices should be required to be accessible. Furthermore, Amazon has over a 100 million Kindle-exclusive titles according to the Wall Street Journal. If Kindles are not usable by the blind and people with other disabilities such as dyslexia they are shut out from this content.

It is questionable if adding accessibility features will really slow down and bulk up e-readers as the companies claim. A more realistic possibility is that the companies see adding accessibility features as an unwanted cost and challenge. Instead of requesting waivers from the government these e-reader companies should focus on making devices that are usable to the masses. Adding accessibility feature to devices is important and benefits the consumer as well as the company. With accessibility features e-readers can be purchased in public school, there are more potential customers, and the public will view the company in a better light.

The FCC is requesting the public's input in this matter through Tuesday, September 3. People interested in making a comment can do so by clicking here. The full petition can be read here.

Update: Amazon's newest Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX include new accessibility features. Click here to learn more about the new accessibility features.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sprint Introduces Mobile Captioning App for Hearing Impaired

Wireless service provider Sprint has released a new iOS app that captions conversations in real time. The app uses computerized speech recognition service to caption the caller on the other end. The user can hear the other caller if they are able to and use the captions if they are unable to hear the person on the other end of the line. Then they can respond by voice. It is unclear how accurate the automated captioning will be with people with heavy accents or in loud environments. Sprint says the following about the app:
"Wireless CapTel(R) by Sprint(R) is a free app available for individuals with hearing loss and understandable speech to place calls CapTel services on iOS. Using state of the art voice recognition technology, CapTel delivers captions of everything your caller says, while you listen (with your residual hearing) and speak directly to your caller."
The Wireless CapTel service is free for Sprint users with the Everything Data Plan. In addition to the iPhone Wireless CapTel is compatible with select Android smartphones from Sprint. To uses the service Sprint customers must download the app on the App Store. Click here to learn more about Wireless CapTel from Sprint.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bookshare Reaches 200,000 Accessible Downloadable Titles

Recently Bookshare's downloadable library of accessible ebooks reached 200,000 titles. The 200,000 mark comes just months after the 11th anniversary of the service. Bookshare books contain digital text and can be read with text-to-speech and synchronized highlighting. Text-to-speech paired with synchronized highlighting can help dyslexics with comprehension. Members can also read books on a refreshable braille display. As a result of funding from the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Bookshare is able to provide its services free to qualified U.S. students. For information on membership click here. Members are provided with software to read Bookshare books on their Mac or PC but  Bookshare books can also be read on many other devices including iOS devices using the  Read2Go or Voice Dream Reader app. An Android app called Go Read is also available.