Amazon introduced a new version of Kindle, its electronic book reader. But once more, the device fails to include many assistive technology features. To be sure, the Kindle 2 includes a sleeker design and a lighter console. For the disabled, the most interesting feature by far is a text-to-speech function that allows readers to listen to books with a robot-like computerized voice that is delivered — some say — with a Eastern European accent. What’s interesting is, though Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos didn’t say as much, his company partnered with a key assistive technology company, Nuance Communications, to build the speech capability into the Kindle 2. Nuance is the maker of RealSpeak software, which is the same technology that enables text-to-speech on Nokia cell phones and Freedom Scientific’s JAWS screen readers to make them accessible for the blind and visually impaired. Nuance also makes Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a speech-recognition program that’s popular among workers with mobility impairments who can’t type on PCs. Unfortunately, Amazon didn’t take advantage of Nuance’s full accessibility features, such as its menu of custom voices. Kindle 2 users can only choose between a male or female voice, which makes the speech function adequate for reading a recipe or a short article, but not a longer novel. However, Amazon calls the text-to-speech function “experimental” — so perhaps they’ll upgrade to more sophisticated voices in future versions.
Amazon Kindle 2 Fails Accessibility Test
March 11 2009 | by Suzanne Robitaille