Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We already have a format that's inaccessible to LD students--it's called a book

Justice Dept. Settles Kindle-On-Campus Cases

This is an "old" story by now, but one that's been on my mind. There's a lot of buzz around various e-readers, and people inside and outside of school often ask me about Kindles, Nooks, and, recently, something called Blio (which hasn't been released yet, so I feel better about the fact that I know nothing about it). Because most e-readers have a built in text-to-speech function, a lot of people see them as a natural fit for students who need reading supports. And I agree that they have the potential to be incredibly useful.

Inevitably, of course, people ask if we have/when we will have/why we don't have Kindles/Nooks/e-reader of the moment in the library (which means I'm soon going to have to answer questions about the iPad with a straight face). I always feel oddly pressured in these moments--like I'm not doing something I really should be doing--but when I'm not on the spot, I do feel 100% confident in my decision not to purchase e-readers for the library. First, I don't feel like hitching myself to a particular wagon, especially when proprietary formats and digital rights management stuff is miles away from being figured out. What if I invest thousands in a collection of books for the Kindle, only to have the next great e-reader come out six months later? Will my collection transfer? Doubtful.

Also--as the above news story illustrates--while e-readers have the potential to be very useful for students with learning differences, they're not exactly designed from a universal design/assistive tech perspective. AT applications happened more by accident than by design. I also can't figure out if these e-readers support the file formats that are designed to be accessible to students with learning differences--whether that be DAISY, or Kurzweil, or whatever new program may be developed. All of the commercially viable e-readers I've seen have been designed with pleasure reading in mind, not curricular reading, and those are two different types of reading. Again, there may be features that support curricular reading, but they're not being designed with such features in mind. I am interested to see the results of these studies, as I think they will provide a baseline as e-readers inevitably make their way into the classroom.

There are a lot of interesting and exciting things happening in the development of both e-reader technology and making text more accessible to those with learning disabilities; they are, however, separate trajectories for the time being. But when that changes, I'll be first in line.


  1. Smart move. I remember in junior high, our library bought a bunch of laser-disc players and some laser discs. We all know what happened to those.

  2. Every once in a while while working at the library at Kent State someone would accidentally ILL a laser disc, expecting a DVD. The look on their faces when we handed them a laser disc. . . priceless.