Text to Speech functionality in popular e-reader brands such as Kindle, Kobo, and Nook have received another major setback. The FCC has granted all major companies another exemption that expires in early 2016. This means that neither of these brands have to include audio to make the devices accessible to people suffering from vision problems.
Since 2013 all of the major North American and overseas e-reader companies that sell their devices in the US have not had to make their devices accessible to the blind or have folks who have dyslexia. The FCC has been granting a series of waivers that grants immunity to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.
This is a major setback to people who have vision problems and are looking to make an affordable investment in e-ink technology. The FCC is quite happy to perpetually relegate e-readers to being exclusively developed and marketed to people who have zero vision problems.
The lack of text to speech in e-readers is a barrier to having them in the classroom. Because they are not accessible to all students, you never hear about pilot projects to bring Kindles into schools and everyone is focusing on multimedia tablets.
The e-reader industry as a whole has lost most of its innovative spirit, the vast majority of companies that were around from 2007 to 2011 are not around anymore. There was some truly interesting e-paper technology that could have changed the game, such as Bridgestone e-paper, Liquavista, LG, Mirasol, Pixel QI, and Plastic Logic. The reason why most of these companies abandoned the e-reader space, was because all of the notable players were risk adverse. After bringing the entry level price from $399 to $99 for an e-reader, the price could never dramatically increase again. Companies these days are focused on the cheapest possible devices to appeal to the widest audience. This comes at the expensive of features like text to speech, which is seen as an unnecessary expense.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.