December 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

Amazon will update Kindle with more features for the visually impaired

By next summer, shoppers will be able to purchase an enhanced Kindle for the visually impaired that features an audible menu to help readers navigate through books, as well as a font that is twice the height and width of the current type size.

Amazon.com Inc. will enhance Kindle, its electronic book reader, and make it more accessible for the visually impaired.

By next summer, shoppers will be able to purchase an enhanced Kindle for the visually impaired that will feature an audible menu to help readers navigate through books and other content. The updated Kindle will also feature a font that that is twice the height and width of the current type size.

The present Kindle already has some features for the visually impaired, including a menu of six font sizes and text-to-speech technology that helps dyslexic readers hear and read synchronized text, says Amazon. But the additional features will give visually impaired readers more diverse ways to access and read content, says Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name). “With some key modifications, we believe Kindle can be a breakthrough device for the blind,” says Amazon Kindle vice president Ian Freed.

Amazon didn’t coordinate the effort with the National Federation of the Blind, which has worked closely with Amazon on other past e-commerce projects. “The National Federation of the Blind has urged Amazon to incorporate accessible controls into the Kindle family of devices, but we are not currently working with Amazon on the features it announced on Monday,” says a federation spokesman.

Other companies developing electronic book readers should follow Amazon’s lead in upgrading their devices with more features and functions for the visually impaired, says the federation spokesman. Among the other e-book marketers are Barnes & Noble Inc., which introduced its Nook device in October, and Sony Corp., which rolled out two new editions of its Reader device in August. “The Nook and Sony Reader are not accessible to blind readers and do not even incorporate the read-aloud feature that is already part of the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX,” says the federation spokesman. “We hope that Amazon`s efforts will set an accessibility standard that will be followed by the manufacturers of other e-book devices.”

Barnes & Noble has yet to comment on enhancing Nook for the visually impaired. A spokeswoman for Sony says the Reader does have some audio capability. “We do not have any text-to-speech capabilities in our current devices,” says the Sony spokesperson. “Our Reader Touch and Daily Editions do have audio capability and can play unencrypted MP3 audio books. I’m not at liberty to reveal plans for new products or product enhancements, but more advanced audio functionality is certainly among the technologies being explored.”

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