The National Federation of the Blind staged an informal protest of around 100 people today at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Members in attendance included former Governor David Paterson of New York, who is legally blind, and President of the NFB, Marc Maurer.
Chris Danielson told Good e-Reader exclusively, “We had no direct interaction with Mr. Bezos or any Amazon executive. The employees we did encounter were polite and asked about our concerns, but gave no assurances or commitments. We gave letters from blind people across the country addressed to Mr. Bezos to staff at the entrance to the facility, and they were politely received. We got a great deal of attention from Seattle media and we consider the protest a success in informing the public of our concerns.
The main concerns the National Federation of the Blind raise are mainly attributed to the lack of functionality in the e-readers and tablets for disabled people. Amazon is pushing its products into schools and the NFB want to make sure no student is left behind. Blind Americans have been asking Amazon to make its Kindle products accessible for several years now. In 2009, Amazon introduced the first Kindles with text-to-speech output, but blind users could not independently access this feature. This may all change, at least with the tablets very soon.
Amazon is listening to all parties involved and is launching new accessibility features in Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, early next year. Voice Guide technology will allow menu navigation to be read aloud to the user and Voice Guide Navigation will tell users what they click on. For example, if you are clicking on an ebook, it will tell you what book it is and then read the book to you when you open it.
The tablets that Amazon issues may have expanded accessibility, but the same cannot be said about its current e-reader lineup. Neither the Kindle Paperwhite nor the Kindle 2012 models have any audio functionality at all. There are no headphone jacks and no text to speech, which makes the penetration of the K12 and University markets an uphill battle.