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Reprinted from PN January 2012

For avid readers, an e-reader can be a great thing. Here's how to understand what they are, what to look for, and how to prepare to purchase one.

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In November 2011, I gave you my suggestions for a holiday wish list (“High-Tech Holidays”). I started the list with the e-reader but didn’t cover in detail what they are, why people living with disabilities might benefit from using one, or what the marketplace has to offer. This time I do.

Defined by Wikipedia, “An e-book reader, also called an e-book device or e-reader, is a portable electronic device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading digital books and periodicals.”

The iPad, for all intents and purposes, qualifies as an e-reader. However, what I am writing about are e-book readers that use a special screen technology.

In its article about the device, Wikipedia goes on to explain, “The main advantages of e-book readers are better readability of their screens, especially in bright sunlight, and longer battery life. This is achieved by using electronic paper technology to display content to readers.”

The Right Tool

If you are an avid reader and live with mobility limits, an e-reader might be a good fit. They are light, hold a lot of books, have a long battery life, and are ruggedly durable. I can’t say the same thing for all disabilities, as some of the more popular brands of e-reader technology are not accessible for people with visual impairments or blindness; they lack text-to-speech and audible navigation.

E-readers generally use e-ink or electronic paper screens. I own an iPad (which has different screen technology) and find it adequate for use as an e-reader. If you like the right tool for the right situation and you like to read, start by exploring the marketplace.

Get Started

Begin by developing a list of the features you want. Here are a few to consider:

Apple iPad2


-   Wi-Fi: This allows you to easily add content to your device through wireless networking.

-   Internet browser:  Used to access information from the World Wide Web.

-   3G: This provides access via telecom carrier (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, etc.) for times when Wi-Fi access is not available.

-   Music: Some of the e-ink models provide the ability to store audio files. However, reports say they don’t make good music players. If music is important, consider the color tablet version.

-   E-mail: Some versions allow you to read and write e-mail.

-   Text-to-speech: This is more important for someone with a visual impairment. However, you may just like some content read to you.

-   Lending libraries or ability to share books: Amazon offers free lending without time limits if you have a Premier account; Barnes & Noble lets you share your titles with your friends. Check also to see if your library offers e-books for loan and in what format (EPUB, PDF, text, etc.). Make sure the model you find suitable supports the formats you will be reading.

Go Shopping

Test some devices to make sure they work for you. Best Buy and other retailers usually have devices on display such as the Kindle, NOOK, iPad, Sony e-reader and several other models. Don’t be afraid to write down prices and return if necessary to make your purchase.

Find a Deal

Do your research for the best deal. Having developed your list of features and testing their fit for you, jump on a web browser and do a number of searches. I recently found a refurbished Sony e-reader (from the Sony website) that was selling for a third of the price of a new one.

For avid readers an e-reader can be a great thing. Hopefully this article has helped you better understand what they are, what to look for, and how to prepare to purchase one.

I am planning to write about Android phones and applications in the next Tech Talk article. Send your insights, suggestions or questions by e-mailing me at  




E-readers with E-ink Screen Technology



Size & weight ---------------------------------------------------------------

Pro: Generally these devices can fit in a coat pocket and weigh less than a pound.           

Con: The small size and mini keyboard can prove difficult for navigation use by those with higher-level spinal-cord injury (SCI).


Capacity ----------------------------------------------------------------------

Pro: E-readers have large-sized memory with room for several hundred books. That makes taking a book “off the shelf” easy from a wheelchair.           

Con: It’s not easy to browse the stacks of books and read the cover. However, that may not be so important with today’s search engines or


Library Lending ------------------------------------------------------------

Pro: Many libraries now stock electronic books so there’s no need to physically check out a book.           

Con: Because they are fairly new, the selection of electronic books in a public library may be limited and in heavy demand.


Battery Life------------------------------------------------------------------

Pro: Because of the screen technology, energy is only expended when turning pages. Ten bestsellers range from 7,000 to 12,000 page turns (about one month).           

Con: Wi-Fi is convenient for downloading books to your device without being tethered, but it will greatly reduce the battery life if left on.


Built-in Aids ---------------------------------------------------------------

Pro: Perfect for the academic living with a disability, e-book readers provide you the ability to take notes, highlight passages, set electronic bookmarks, and define words.           

Con: If you’re in a book club and comparing page numbers with others reading the physical book or for academic pursuits needing to cite the page number, e-readers make it difficult.


Reading Outdoors ---------------------------------------------------------

Pro: E-ink screens work perfectly outdoors in contrast to other tablet technologies, which have screens that can overheat or are difficult to read in the sun.           

Con: Though it’s being worked on, color e-ink is still something in the future. E-ink screens will not give you vivid pictures


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