Amazon acquires text-to-speech software company

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Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:22am

Amazon has announced it has acquired IVONA Software, a text-to-speech and voice recognition company, suggesting the accessibility of its future products and services could improve.

Amazon recently used IVONA Software for the text-to-speech and Voice Guide features included in the Kindle Fire eReader as accessibility features. Both the text-to-speech and Voice Guide feature allow blind and vision impaired users greater access to eBooks.

Text-to-speech technology allows text to be read aloud while the Voice Guide feature provides information about actions onscreen, such as announcing when an eBook has been opened. However, Amazon's latest eReader, Paperwhite, was released without speakers or a headphone jack – both necessary for text-to-speech and Voice Guide. The Paperwhite eReader only includes adjustable text size and a built-in light feature that improves the appearance of text and reduces eye strain.

A number of disability advocacy groups have made complaints about Amazon's failure to make their products accessible. In December, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) staged a protest outside Amazon's headquarters, claiming Amazon's eBooks were inaccessible by other eReaders such as the iPad. The NFB also claimed Amazon's US campaign to use Amazon eBooks in classrooms left out blind students because their education program didn't allow students to use non-Amazon devices.

Amazon is yet to confirm the inclusion of IVONA Software in its future products and services. However, if included, it will hugely increase the availability of eBooks for blind and vision impaired readers.

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