After 16 years of marriage, I am sleeping with someone new! And I love the change. Her name is Rosie and she is a character in John Irving's new novel, Last Night in Twisted River. Thanks to my new e-reader -- the Nook -- I have a new companion every week, and my wife isn't the tad bit jealous.
A little background: I am a congenital amputee. I was born in the late 1960s without the extension of my legs. My arms stop at my elbows and I have no hands. I have spent the better part of 40 years reading on the floor, propped up on a pillow. This way I can turn the pages, a very important component to reading a book. I have always dreamed of being able to hold a book while sitting or lying in bed. Now, my reading life has changed in the past two weeks: One click of a button and I am turning pages without hands!
I heard all about e-readers over the past year from friends. They all knew how much I liked to read and couldn't wait to tell me how it would change my life. Ever prudent, however, I was waiting to receive it as a gift, partly because I couldn't choose which one. Everyone I had seen in use was a Kindle, but I liked the look of the Nook. It had a touch screen interface (much like my iPhone), a very useful feature for someone without fingers. I would leave it up to my wife to decide.
E-readers -- especially the Nook -- are not without their controversies. Carl Jacobsen, president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York, wrote a great op-ed in the Albany Times Union in October advocating for accessibility for those visually impaired. Many individuals in the people with disabilities world are underserved without text-to-speech software. Amazon is finally addressing this situation with their Kindle 2 and Barnes & Noble needs to address it. According to most people familiar with Apple, text to speech will be available with iSlate.
While it has improved my life to be able to hold and read a book, I find myself feeling slightly guilty as it is not accessible for other people with disabilities. As I have my whole life, I advocate from the "inside." As an owner of an e-reader, I call on Barnes & Noble to make the Nook accessible to all. I expect them in the next firmware update to have this feature. Too much pressure has been placed on the manufactures of e-readers for Barnes & Noble not to be listening. Strictly from a monetary standpoint according to Reading Rights Coalition 30 million people (people with spinal cord injuries, amputees, visually impaired, etc.) are underserved if Barnes & Noble does not comply. Those people will move to Apple or Amazon.
Technology has improved so much for those not able to read. Intel has created the Intel® Reader that takes a picture of what ever text is in front of you -- say, a menu at a restaurant -- and it reads it to you. Intel sees an underserved marketplace and finds an answer. Capitalism and technology are working in harmony to advance the human experience.
As for e-readers, those that advance with the public need will answer the call of the marketplace. If B&N will not improve their firmware to include text-to-speech, Apple, Intel or Amazon will see those 30 million people as potential clients. There are many more potential customers out there beyond 30 million. Schools such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University will not purchase any readers for students yet because of a lack of accessibility. Imagine how many more you readers could be used in schools and universities if they were all accessible. Twenty years ago nobody had a laptop, now they are required at most schools. You can envision e-readers being required five years from now. Imagine if a state university system such as State University of New York required all students to purchase an e-reader, and it was your hardware that they "recommended."
As for me -- life without hands is better with my Nook. I only wish my friends with different abilities will be provided the same accessibility.