Assistive Technology in Education/eBook
E-readers are devices designed primarily for the reading of digital books and other publications. Most E-readers make obtaining printed materials easy to obtain, store, and read. For reading, the portability, frugal energy use, and levels of gray scale offer e-readers advantages over multi-use devices such as laptops and netbooks. While makes and models differ, many e-readers can download free or low-cost print materials directly from the Internet, and store thousands of books and publications. Most printed materials can be downloaded in less than a minute.
Obtaining e-Book Content
There are an ever-increasing number of popular books, best sellers, newspapers, magazines, and blogs available for download. An e-Reader supporting Wi-Fi may deliver an entire book in fewer than 60 seconds. E-Books typically retail for $9.99 which is frequently less than a book’s hard-copy price. When making a purchase decision, several pages of e-Books are usually available for previewing. There are several websites from which one can download out-of copyright, pre-1923 books for free. Unless one is looking for a hard-to-find textbook, the availability of content should not impact the purchase decision.
E Ink Technology
E Ink technology is used in many e-Readers including: the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Plastic Logic’s Reader (E Ink, 2010). Because E Ink typically uses power only when the page turns, a battery charge can last a week (Educause, 2010). Currently, E Ink is available only in grayscale and provides no back lighting; this typically requires a user to have some kind of light when reading in the dark (Hamblen, 2010).
E-readers are now mass market consumer items whose pricing is several thousands of dollars less than the readers of the previous generation. Today, most e-readers include features which might be utilized to enhance learning or may be considered for adaptive technology. Most readers include a dictionary, highlight and note features, and the ability to search through text. E-Readers typically include a headphone jack which is suitable for headphones or external speakers. For individuals with low vision, e-readers offer a variety of text sizes as well as several levels of gray. Most e-Readers have the ability to convert text-to-speech and permit the user to choose from a variety of synthesized voices. While e-Readers may read aloud newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books, the menu choices typically are not read, making it difficult for anyone with low vision to manipulate the menu choices. Those lacking dexterity may also find that the small keyboard and small toggle found on many models may make the devices difficult to use.
The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind have complained that the Kindle devices discriminate against students with vision problems. Four U.S. universities, participating in a Kindle pilot program, have announced that they will not be promoting Amazon’s Kindle in classrooms after reaching an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The Kindle DX has the capability to convert text-to-speech, but the device does not include text-to-speech for its menu and navigational controls (Gross, 2010). Presently, a blind person could really only use the device with the assistance of a sighted person (Pate, 2010).
Makes and Models
The Kindle ($259) is a wireless e-reader which permits the downloading from Sprint’s 3G network. (The Sprint connection is free.) The six inch screen displays pages from books and publications using E Ink technology. The black-and-white screen has 16 shades of gray and several sizes of text. The Kindle supports text-to-speech. The model has the ability to store approximately 1,500 books.
Amazon Kindle DX ($489) The Kindle and DX model share similar features; however, in addition the DX has the ability to store approximately 3,500 books, and boasts a 9.7” display.
The Sony Reader PRS-700BC ($349) also uses E Ink technology which is considered frugal on battery power. Sony manufactures the first e-book reader with a touch screen which it claims makes manipulating through the content easier. Unlike the Kindle, the Sony e-Reader does not support text-to-speech, is not Mac compatible, and requires a USB computer connection to download new content (Consumer Reports, 2009).
Barnes & Noble Nook
The Barnes & Noble Nook ($259) also has built in wireless and utilizes a free 3G wireless connection. The nook features a virtual keyboard, a SD expansion slot, but no support for Word or text files. The Nook features a color touch screen, E Ink technology, and a removable battery.
Not Your Ordinary e-Reader . . .
The Kurtzweil National Federation of the Blind (KNFB) Reader Mobile ($550) is smaller than a tissue box, the reader offers not only portability, but also the ability to quickly “read” many varieties of text including: glossy, curved text, as well as text in columns. The mobile reader also has the ability to read currency. Disadvantages of this particular reader may be the extended time needed to scan textbooks.
The Apple iPad was released April 3, 2010. The iPad is a multi-tasking device which comes with a screen reader, support for closed-captioned content, and many other accessibility features. There are over 200,000 available applications for iPad. The 9.7” LED backlight touch-screen may be particularly appealing. Apple's pricing for the iPad is from $499 to $829.
Soon to be released . . .
The QUE proReader is a multi-tasking device with a full touch screen, virtual keyboard. The QUE comes with an 8 ½” by 11” screen which is the size of a standard sheet of paper. Users can adjust their screen to eight shades of gray, highlight text, add notes, and zoom. The manufacturer claims that users can quickly go back and forth between reports, spreadsheets, and presentations. This portable device, should be available during the 2010 summer. The Barnes & Noble website lists models which retail for $649 and $799. (QUE, 2010).
It is hoped that future electronic devices will continue to include an increasing amount of adaptive technology. In a press release, Amazon noted that the Kindle team is currently working on an audible menuing system so blind and vision-impaired readers can easily navigate to books unassisted. A super size font, which will be twice the size of the current largest font, will be also be added. These new features are scheduled for release by the summer of 2010 (Amazon Media, 2010).
- E Ink Corporation. Our Technology. Accessed March 8, 2010 at http://www.eink.com/technology/howitworks.html
- Educause Learning Initiative (2010) Seven things you should know about e-Readers. Accessed March 8, 2010 at http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7058.pdf
- Hamblen, M., (2010). In pictures: Apple's iPad vs. e-readers. Accessed March 8, 2010 at http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/print/9150039/In_pictures_Apple_s_iPad_vs._e_readers?taxonomyName=Mobile+Devices&taxonomyId=75
- Gross, G., (2010). Kindle in classroom hurts blind students, DOJ warns. Accessed March 8, 2010 at http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9144418/Kindle_in_classroom_hurts_blind_students_DOJ_warns?taxonomyId=13&pageNumber=1
- Pate, S., (2010). Kindle banned in schools discriminates against blind. Accessed March 3, 2010 at http://www.njnnetwork.com/njn/2010/01/kindle-banned-in-schools-discriminates-against-blind/
- Consumer Reports. (2009, July). Lab tests: E-readers: Kindle beats Sony, 39.
- Que. (2010). QUE proReader with 4GB and wi-fi. Accessed March 8, 2010 at http://buyque.barnesandnoble.com/Home-and-Gift/e/814311010036/
- Amazon Media Room. Blind and Vision-Impaired Readers to Benefit from New Kindle Features in 2010. Accessed March 8, 2010 at http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1362556&highlight
- The Amazon Kindle
- Sony Reader
- Barnes & Noble Nook
- K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc.
- Apple iPad Accessibility Features
- QUE proReader
- Blio – Free e-Reader Software
- Free e-Reader Application for the iPhone and iTouch
- Project Gutenberg – A source of free electronic books
- E Ink Technology Corporation – How E Ink Technology Works
- Gashel's Google Talk – James Gashel, blind from birth, gives a very thorough demonstration of a portable KNFB Reader.
- NFB – National Federation of the Blind