Friday, February 5, 2010

Read Any Good e-Books Lately?

by Annette Cerreta

For people with reading-related disabilities, e-book readers can provide easy access to a world of literature and information. These portable devices store and read electronic books, and their accessibility features can include text-to-speech, audio-supported navigation, and enlarged print. Not all the devices offer all those features, however, so consumers need to shop carefully to find the e-book reader that best suits their needs and budget. Here is a look at pros and cons of three devices.

Classmate Reader by Human Ware

The ClassMate Reader is designed expressly for students with reading disabilities or low vision. It has text display, full text-to-speech capabilities, and is packed with such powerful features as a color screen that allows users to customize the contrast, color scheme, font size, and line spacing. In addition to synchronizing highlighted text with audio output, which helps the user to visually track the text while reading, the device includes several study supports, such as bookmarking, voice or text notes, and a speaking dictionary.

The ClassMate Reader features a touch screen that can be activated with a stylus or finger. While text can be enlarged significantly for the reader with limited vision, the menus lack audio support, so the device is not fully accessible by persons who are blind. It retails for around $499.

Intel®Reader by Intel

Designed specifically for people with vision impairments, the Intel®Reader is a mobile device that quickly captures images of print text, converts them to digital text, and then reads them aloud. The device is also of value to students with reading disabilities such as dyslexia. It features computer-generated text-to-speech voices that are arguably the best available. The device is as

easy to use as a point-and-shoot camera. Users might need a little practice to properly align the camera with the printed page, but the device does a remarkably good job of capturing the page and text accurately and quickly.

About the size of a large hand-held camera, the Intel®Reader boasts full audio support for navigating menus. An optional device can be purchased to make the process of capturing large amounts of print material, such as chapters, more efficient. This e-book reader retails for about $1,500.

Kindle by Amazon

The most popular accessibility feature of the Kindle2 is its text-to-speech capability. Unfortunately, due to digital rights concerns, each book publisher decides whether this feature can be activated for its titles. This limitation becomes a major barrier for readers with visual impairments, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities. Another accessibility issue for people who are blind is the lack of audio support for the onscreen menus. Due to numerous complaints from advocacy organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind, Amazon has promised to add audible menus and extra-large fonts to the next version of this e-book reader.

Access to the Kindle2’s menus is through a multi-directional toggle that can be controlled with a thumb or finger. The toggle works well for some people, but those with limited finger dexterity or strength may find it difficult to use. When doing a wireless search for titles, users can enter text with the built-in keyboard located below the screen. The Kindle2 retails for about $259.

When it comes to selecting an e-book reader, users have numerous choices, but the availability of accessibility features varies widely. By comparing your individual needs, preferences, abilities, and budget to the unique offerings of the devices, you’ll be well on your way to finding the best e-book reader for you.


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