Bringing E-Readers into the 21st Century

E-reader devices, while convenient for the average reader, have remained largely inaccessible for users with impaired vision.

In general, they do not offer audio capability, changeable contrast settings, and changeable font sizes are limited to text only and do not apply to menus. The National Federation of the Blind published an excellent chart that illustrates the inaccessibility of Kindle e-books.

While e-reader tablets (such as the Kindle Fire) come equipped with limited features such as text-to-speech capability, which offer readers with visual impairments some choice, they are less compact and readable than traditional e-readers. Their functionsis far more limited  than a traditional tablet and far less specialized than an e-reader, making them less convenient to readers.

Furthermore, DRM (Digital Rights Management), the encryption used to secure content against piracy, also limits a readers ability to use accessible content on any device.

Perpetuating the problem is the leniency with which the FCC is treating e-reader manufacturers. For the past several years, e-reader manufacturers in the U.S. have been exempt from certain FCC accessibility standards, on the grounds that they are marketed to buyers simply as reading devices and therefore, cannot be classified as “advanced communication services” to which the 2010 accessibility act applies. David Rothman of Library City says of the FCC ruling:

“This decision is a setback not just for disability-related causes but also literacy-related ones.”

To have a literate and informed population, content needs to be accessible to everyone equally. In January 2016, this FCC exemption on accessibility regulations for e-readers expired. Now, e-reader manufacturers will have to bring e-readers into the 21st century with technology that allows everyone to use their devices.

Recently, we have seen an effort on behalf of e-reader manufacturers to improve accessibility. Amazon has recently added a VoiceView audio adapter that will read books aloud and provide audio cues for navigation. The announcement was made in their blog on May 10th, 2016. This would be the first step in bringing e-reader technology in line with the levels of accessibility which we would expect in 2016. We can only hope to see more manufacturers making new strides in the future.



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